Lansdowne shame casts doubt on '96

DISGRACE IN DUBLIN: England international is abandoned because of crowd trouble for the first time in the history of football
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The Independent Online

As the first calls were made last night for England to withdraw from staging the 1996 European Championship finals following the abandonment of last night's international in Dublin, Graham Kelly, the chief executive of the Football Association, insisted it was too early to make such a decision.

A riot by England supporters at Lansdowne Road, in which missiles were thrown from an upper tier of a stand behind the England goal on to those below, caused the referee to call the players from the pitch and officials to call off the match. The game had been in progress for 27 minutes.

Alan Mullery, the former England captain, said the FA should pull out as hosts for the 1996 Championships. Speaking from Lansdowne Road, he said: "If you can't trust less than 2,000 fans to come here and behave, what's going to happen when you have 40,000 at a European Championship game?

"I think it will be impossible for England to stage it now. I don't know who England can play now. Where does Terry Venables go for opposition? Who will invite us to play in their countries now? Its very sad. These people are a disgrace. They are worse than animals."

However when Kelly was asked about England's role as hosts he said: "I really can't answer that question at the moment, but it is a situation we will have to face. We are very distressed by what has happened tonight. We need to assess the situation as best we can, but at the moment there is a very dificult situation for the authorities to deal with. There will be a prompt and urgent joint inquiry with the Football Association and the Football Association of Ireland to find effective answers sooner rather than later."

Kelly explained how English football has tried to come to terms with the hooligan disease.

He said: "We have faced our responsibilities by doing everything we possibly can to ensure genuine supporters travel with England through the England Travel Club although it is clear that something has broken down along the way in that respect. We can't drive this hard core from the game.

"I understand the managers didn't want the game to be abandoned quite so quickly, but a decision had to be made and we have no complaints. It is obviously very distressing and shocking for everyone.

"This has taken us back so much. I couldn't see very much from my seat on the half-way line, but it seemed a small number of people were intent on trouble from the outset. They were shouting abuse and giving abuse right from the first moment. That escalated to a situation where the safety of innocent people just trying to enjoy a football match was endangered."

The England coach, Terry Venables, was appalled: "It was terrible," he said. "I have not got words strong enough to describe how we feel about this. I wouldn't try to criticise anybody on the decision to abandon the game. Whatever the police felt was right we have to go along with. We don't like to see the type of person who caused this win in this situation. The game could have gone on, but someone could have got hurt."

Jack Charlton, the Republic manager, was a member of England's World Cup winning side of 1966 during a long career, but he had never experienced anything like last night. "Every Englishman should be ashamed,'' he said.

Charlton would not be drawn on the issue of England's possible withdrawal from the Championship. "Don't ask me that. It has got nothing to do with me," he said. "It's bad enough we've had all this, a real disaster for Irish football. I have seen a lot in football but nothing like this. I didn't want the game abandoned because what do you do with 2,000 English fans running around the town?"

Charlton described how he saw the trouble begin. "I was just standing there enjoying the game. Suddenly there was something happening up in the stands and in the corners. We could see missiles being thrown and I grabbed the referee's attention. He looked and told me that he was taking the players off. I said fine. What do you do?

"I've never known anything like this. It happened in seconds and within moments it had gone beyond everybody's control. I don't know why.

"I saw seats and balustrades coming over the top and hitting people underneath. The English fans were being bombarded by some of their own. And they brought out the worst in some of ours. I grabbed what I assumed was an Irish supporter throwing a bottle back into the crowd and chucked him out."

A senior Irish police officer said the decision to stop the game was taken in the interests of safety, but thousands of English supporters, kept behind to allow the safe evacuation of the stadium, revived the missile- throwing riot when they were herded out an hour and a half after the initial stoppage. There were ugly scenes as police with batons fought with fans.

The England captain, David Platt, said: "I cannot believe that a game has been stopped by what has happened off the pitch. Five or 10 years ago we were renowned around Europe for the sort of thing that has happened tonight. In one incident we have gone back down to where we were before. This will get written about around the world."

Gary Lineker, the former England captain, thought the decision to abandon the game seemed "a bit premature - a little bit rushed. The referee could have waited to see if things calmed down. It seemed to exacerbate the sitution. In a way, it was surrendering to the hooligans."

Less than a month ago Lansdowne Road staged the Ireland v England rugby union international with out any trouble, but last night's events left rugby officials worried about security. Bobby Deacy, of the Irish Rugby Football Union, said that their relationship with the FAI would be reviewed.

"I saw it only on television, but it was horrific, and it was something which never happened before in this country," he said.