Oíche amárach ar RTÉ One ag 7.00, féachann Scannal siar ar an méid a thit amach i bPáirc Windsor, ar an 17 Samhain 1993 trí shúile na ndaoine a bhí ann..Northern Ireland were due to host the Republic of Ireland in a vital World Cup Qualifier. Off the pitch, things were equally tense as the previous month had been one of the worst months of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
October 1993 was one of the bloodiest months of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In the Shankhill Road bombing alone 10 people were killed and just week later a further 8 were slain in the Greysteel Massacre. The following month, Northern Ireland were due to host the Republic of Ireland in a vital World Cup Qualifier in Windsor Park, Belfast.
FIFA already had security concerns about the match after the Shankhill Bomb but the Greysteel atrocity copper-fastened their fears and it was widely reported the game would be moved from Belfast to England or even the continent. However the final decision was left with the IFA (Northern Ireland Football Association) who said that they could guarantee the safety of the players, and FIFA decided to let the game go ahead in Windsor Park despite the security concerns of the FAI.
The scene was set for the showdown on the 17th of November. A win for the Republic would guarantee qualification for the World Cup in the USA while a draw could still suffice, as long as Spain and Denmark didn’t draw their match in Seville – when goal difference would come into the equation. Northern Ireland could not qualify for USA ‘94. However, this was a game of huge significance for the home side. They were looking for revenge having been humiliated 3-0 by the Republic in Dublin the previous March. It was also the final game for their manager and hero Billy Bingham, who had played with and managed Northern Ireland in World Cup Finals.
The Irish team travelled from Dublin to Belfast by plane, as it was felt that a team bus crossing the border could present paramilitaries with a potential target. Even their bus transfer from Belfast Airport was secured by undercover British Special Branch dressed in Irish tracksuits. The few Irish fans who travelled to the match were advised not to wear colours or bring flags or make it obvious, in any way, that there were supporting the Republic of Ireland. It was also decided that the Irish flag would not be flown nor would the National Anthem be sung. For most of the game there wasn’t much action on the field but off the field the stands were filled with venom towards the Irish team. Billy Bingham and Jack Charlton were also less than friendly on the sideline. The North scored first to send the home crowd into raptures but Alan McLoughlin equalised for the Republic and the match finished level. A Spain win meant the the Republic of Ireland had qualified for the World Cup Finals in the United States of America the following June.
Off the pitch, things were equally tense, the Hume-Adams initiative had just begun before this match. By the end of November a series of secret talks between the British Government and Sinn Féin had been confirmed. And hardly a month after the game, then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds agreed the Downing Street Declaration with British Prime Minister John Major. But these green shoots of peace faced many setbacks and Ireland’s World Cup match against Italy in USA ’94 would be the backdrop for one of the darkest days, when two armed UVF men burst into the Heights Bar in Loughinisland, Co. Down shortly after the second half had kicked off at Giants Stadium, and opened fire. 6 men watching the match were killed and 5 were injured. One of those murdered at Loughinisland was pensioner Barney Green. At 87, he was one of the oldest victims of the Troubles.
Amárach, Tuesday 11th June, 7.00pm ar RTÉ One.