Ireland V England: The unfriendly ‘friendly’ match of 1995

When is a ‘friendly’ not a friendly?

Ireland V England: The unfriendly ‘friendly’ match of 1995

When fans view soccer as war by other means, when they cause mayhem, throw metal and wooden poles, jeer at players, and shout Nazi salutes and turn a game of football into a full-scale riot.

That was Lansdowne Road 20 years ago when scores of England fans caused chaos in the stadium’s upper west stand, ripping up seats and hurling anything they could find in the direction of Republic of Ireland supporters and players.

There had long been hard-core England fans who saw Ireland as the enemy. This time round, their numbers were swelled by members of the neo-Nazi group Combat 18, who were not there for the craic but the crack.

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The perfect storm waiting to happen finally erupted when David Kelly — one of eight English-born players in the Republic of Ireland team — put the home side 1-0 ahead 21 minutes into the match.

Six minutes later it had to be abandoned as the violence threatened to get out of control. Afterwards, Ireland manager Jack Charlton said: “I’ve seen a lot in football but I’ve never seen anything like that. Every Englishman should be ashamed.”

His England counterpart Terry Venables was equally baffled. “There is no word to describe what I feel about people like that. It’s sickening,” he said.

There were two enduring images produced that day. One is of photographer Neil Fraser who found himself at the other end of the camera after having his skull fractured by an iron bar.

The other is of a little boy crying into his Ireland scarf as the violence flared around him. That boy was James Eager, 7, who was with his father Seamus at the match.

Father and son had gone to many games together without incident but this was the first time that Seamus felt a sense of foreboding even before the international got underway.

“You could see it on the way into Lansdowne Road,” Seamus said. “There was a feeling around that there was going to be some sort of trouble.”

But because it was an Irish game and there had never been any trouble before at the venue, he continued along with James and assumed everything would be OK. “James had been to football games with me on a good few occasions. We were at an English game three years earlier and there was no problem.”

At first it was just taunts and jeers, but as soon as Kelly scored the goal, all hell broke loose.

“We were in the lower west stand and they were straight above us,” Seamus told John Murray on RTÉ radio.

It was clear that he had to get his young son out of there. “There was a gate close to us and I took the decision that the pitch was the safest place to be. The pictures taken of people standing up and hurling things down, that was what we were looking at. We stayed for ten minutes and then the guards arrived and started to corral the English fans. We got out as quickly as possible.”

What neither knew then was that James was well on the way to becoming famous — the iconic photo of him weeping capturing the hearts of millions in Ireland and Britain.

“I got a phone call on the way home saying a photo of James was on television. I thought it was going to be a one-night-wonder. At around 11 the next morning I started to get phone calls to find out who James and I were. We had ITV, the BBC, and newspapers contacting us.”

Asked if it put him off attending international games, Seamus replied: “No. Trapattoni did that for me,” referring to the former Ireland coach.

England fan Annis Abraham, who describes himself as a reformed hooligan, was at the match. He remembers the moment Kelly scored: “Irish fans jumped up and were immediately attacked They fled for their lives as hundreds of England fans started tearing at benches. It was unbelievable.”

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