The game forgotten as sirens wail

Glenn Moore
Thursday 16 February 1995 00:02

BY Glenn Moore

Football Correspondent

It began with chants of "No surrender to the IRA", and ended with the wail of sirens and bark of police dogs. In between there was a little bit of football but, in the circumstances of what happened at Lansdowne Road last night, that is irrelevant.

Less than 24 hours after the British and Irish governments announced solid progress on the Ulster question, England's football supporters have done inestimable harm to Anglo-Irish relations, in particular, and English football in general.

From the moment supporters began gathering in England the day before the game trouble was on the agenda, with fights at Manchester Airport between Leeds and Manchester United fans. The problems continued in Ireland with running battles - primarily between gangs of English fans - in Dublin on Tuesday night and yesterday afternoon. About 30 known hooligans were reported to have travelled and there was evidence of right-wing extremists being among the 3,000 band of fans.

By the time the match had begun the Irish police - who cancelled all leave - were understandably concerned. It did not take long for their worries to be realised.

Most of the English fans were based in the Upper West tier at the end England were defending. Given the antiquated nature of the seating, the location seemed a risk. But away fans are often put in the upper tier (it is common practice at Millwall, for example) as it reduces the chance of pitch invasons.

However, it also gives supporters an excellent location to propel missiles from and, soon after the Irish scored, bits of metal, then chairs, then whole benches, began hurtling from the stand. Everything happened so quickly. The Irish police appeared to be caught by surprise. There were plain-clothes officers among the English supporters, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. It took a long time for the riot police to arrive and the stadium's outdated design - long benches and narrow aisles - made it impossible for them to penetrate the mob.

It was a wonder none of the players were hit and, within minutes Dennis Jol, the Dutch referee, had taken the players off. It quickly became clear there were only two possibilities: either the police cleared 2,000-plus fans out of the upper tier, or the match was abandoned. In the circumstances, abandonment was the only possibility.

Jack Charlton, the Irish manager and former English international, went over to appeal for calm but was greeted with chants of Judas and pelted with missiles. Charlton, visisbly angry, argued with several supporters and had an altercation with a cameraman. "Send them home," he told officials, and had to be physically restrained after he grabbed one fan, apparently Irish, whom he said he had seen throw a bottle back into the crowd.

This was not a small minority. This was a substantial number of fans bent of causing trouble, and it seems astonishing that FA officials can pick out known hooligans in the ground - as they did last night - but are unable to prevent them travelling with England.

As the Irish fans - who were impeccably behaved - filed out of the ground riot police moved in and stood guard on the English and waited. It took more than an hour to clear the area, and 90 minutes before transport arrived at the, fortunately convenient, railway station under the stand.

But it was still not over. As the public address announcer, who was a model of calm and sanity, told the supporters who came by ferry they could board the train for Dun Laoghaire, a scuffle broke out on the lower tier.

It quickly became a full-scale fight between the well-armed police and English fans. I saw one fan, cornered, heavily beaten by several police officers. But there were innocents there. I also saw a supporter attempting to shield his terrified girlfriend as the battle raged around them. Some Valentine's Day treat.

Again, missiles rained down from the upper tier. Eventually, two hours after the abandonment, that train left. Another, bound for the airport and city centre, departed and, after two-and-a-half hours, the stadium was quiet. Sensible people cancelled plans for a night out in the city while England, stunned and distressed, flew back to Luton.

In the match itself they had gone behind in the 27th minute to a well- taken goal from David Kelly, and minutes later David Platt put the ball in the Irish net but the whistle had already gone for offside. The two events may have been the catalyst for the missile-throwing for it broke out at this point but, as Graham Kelly said, it appears there were some elements bent on causing trouble from the very start.

Until these people are incarcerated, or decide to use their energies elsewhere, it seems England cannot risk playing outside the country again.

As Kelly, again, noted, supporters who want to travel and riot will do so even if the FA does not sell tickets. At the other end there will always be touts willing to supply them. Even if the FA bought all spare tickets, and exported a massive police presence, there can be no guarantee of peace.

Neither can the safety of spectators be assured for the European Championship finals. Any repeat of these incidents in England and it could well be that Terry Venables will have been wasting his time because there will be no finals to play in - certainly not in England. And no one will be inviting us to visit them.

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