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Scannal : More than a Game

Kelly had been part of the Irish squad since 1987 and had been given his chance to impress in this match. He looked sharp and his persistence was rewarded with a goal in the 21st minute, a proud moment for the son of a Dubliner. Unfortunately, it's not for that goal that the night is remembered. Six minutes later the match was abandoned due to the worst violence a sporting event in Lansdowne Road had ever seen.

"Watching this makes me feel sick of what they accomplished." - David Kelly, former Irish soccer international.

There is always something special about the clash of Ireland and England on the sporting field, be it in soccer, rugby or horseracing. The fact that this was a friendly did not make it any less of an occasion. The more recent encounters between the two teams had seen Ireland come out on top, so people expected a good contest.
The match was organised at a time when the Downing Street Declaration and the 1994 IRA ceasefire had brought hope and optimism to the people of Ireland, North and South. The Celtic Tiger was on the horizon and the feelgood factor was in vogue.

It was decided that the game would kick-off at 6.15pm and that the English fans would be seated at the south end of the Upper West Stand. A lot of English fans spent the day drinking in city centre pubs and by kick-off time the atmosphere around Lansdowne Road had turned nasty.

"We said to ourselves - oh God, what idiot let them in up there!" - Ben Eglington, former RTÉ cameraman

As the National Anthems were being played, trouble was brewing. Irish fans jeered 'God Save the Queen', which was being played at a soccer match in Dublin for the first time since 1964, while English fans stood and gave the Nazi salute during 'Amhrán na bhFiann', and chanted 'Sieg Heils', 'No Surrender to the IRA' and 'Ulster is British'.
However, nobody was prepared for what was to happen 27 minutes later.

English fans had begun ripping up seats in the Upper West Stand throughout the early stages of the match unbeknownst to officials or indeed the commentary team. When Kelly scored the flames were fuelled even more, so that when an apparent English equaliser was disallowed, it all kicked off. Large pieces of wood, metal and other objects were fired down at those seated below the West Stand. The referee immediately stopped the match and brought the players off. Hundreds of people spilled out onto the pitch to escape the missiles from above and eventually the authorities and the referee had no option but to abandon the match. The hooligans had won the day. Their disruption had the desired result as confusion and chaos took the place of a football game.

How was this allowed to happen? It later transpired that the violence was organised by Combat 18, a British Neo-Nazi organisation, and although the Football Intelligence Unit in the UK had given the Gardaí information about the travel plans of troublemakers who intended going to Dublin, most of them got into the ground without any problem. These hooligans had obtained tickets through the official England Travel Club. The FAI also stated later that the Gardaí never made them aware of the identity of the troublemakers.

Tickets had also been returned by the English FA to the FAI and these were sold on to Irish fans. An administration error by the FAI meant that a couple of rows of Irish fans ended up slap bang in the middle of the English mob and only by the grace of God managed to escape from the mayhem. Yet another glaring error had the Garda riot squad not even in the ground when the trouble started. The riot squad eventually dealt with the hooligans in Lansdowne Road, but the damage had been done.

You sometimes wonder where the writers of Father Ted get their ideas. .there's a riot in Lansdowne Road, the gardai are outside trying to get the stewards to let them in, and the stewards telling them "you're at the wrong gate"! - Aidan Fitzmaurice, journalist

A government investigation later laid the blame for the violence firmly with the English fans, although it also stated that the FAI, the Gardaí and the English FA were not without fault.

Scannal looks at the events of that infamous night and discovers an Ireland on the cusp of dramatic change that was still beset by a naivety that appears to be the main response for mistakes made.

Contributors include David Kelly who scored that goal and talks about his memories of the night as he looks back at footage of the match for the first time.
Sean Connolly, who was then Chief Executive of the FAI, talks about the mistakes that were made on the night.
Ger Canning was the sideline reporter for RTE at the match and he recalls the atmosphere after the trouble started.
Ben Eglington was working as a cameraman for RTE that evening. His perch sat precariously in front of the English fans in the Upper West Stand.
Dr Rogan Taylor from Liverpool University, an expert in the social history of football and hooliganism, gives an insight into the mindset of the English fan travelling abroad at that time.
We speak with two Irish fans, Alan Milton and Damian Mac Gabhann, who were present in Lansdowne Road that night. They talk about the nastiness of the atmosphere before the match and the aftermath.

And whatever happened to the boy whose face graced the international media the next day and whose expression became synonymous with that night, and a certain loss of innocence. The programme meets James Eager 12 years later.

Producer / Director Michael McCormack
Presenter / Reporter Garry Mac Donncha

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