Writing in the Irish Press in 1972, one sports journalist asked with tongue firmly in cheek why was it that “Irish footballers are not able to emulate English footballers to some small degree, when their supporters have no trouble in successfully aping the cross-Channel hooligan element.” While football violence in Ireland never reached the level of that in the U.K, the media was awash with stories of the hooligan threat to the Irish game in the 1970s and 1980s. This brief article will look at one Dublin stadium, Richmond Park in Inchicore, and see when ‘hooliganism’ was reported on in the ground during the period.
Much of the Irish media coverage of soccer hooliganism in the 1970s centered around violence in British football. The Irish Times for example quoted Magistrate Grahame Hands in March 1974 when he demanded “labour camps for soccer hooligans.” Considerable space was given to reporting the antics of ‘firms’ at some of Britain’s leading clubs.
Clashes between Shamrock Rovers and Saint Patrick’s Athletic fans in March 1972 brought the issue of soccer hooliganism in Dublin out of the sports pages and into the national news section of the mainstream media, with a youngster stabbed during a terrace fracas. Disturbances at Richmond Park between both sets of fans, the second example in weeks, brought The Irish Times to note that “the FAI can do very little about these occurrences once they do not interfere with the actual match”. The Irish Press would write that “Shamrock Rovers, like their great Glasgow contemporaries Rangers and Celtic, should declare WAR on the hooligans who are dragging their club’s name down to gutter-level.”
The stabbing of a youth in Inchicore put real pressure on Shamrock Rovers, who pledged to stop those banned from Miltown Road attending away games as supporters of the club:
Violence in Irish football in the 1970′s and 1980′s was not confined to Shamrock Rovers, or indeed Dublin. Clubs like Sligo Rovers, Bohemian FC, Linfield, Dundalk and others had witnessed clashes and violence, with the August 1979 clashes between Linfield and Dundalk fans entering Irish football folklore for their viciousness. Journalist Peter Byrne wrote of those clashes, when he stated that
This was the night when the concept of All-Ireland club football was killed stone dead. Two hours of raw, naked tribalism on the terraces of Oriel Park convinced even the most reformist among us that the dark gospel of the paramilitaries has permeated Irish sport to the point where all attempts at reconciliation are futile.
Richmond Park found itself on the front of national newspapers in January 1977, following clashes on the football pitch which would see two footballers hospitalised. Pats goalkeeper Mick O’Brien and Home Farm left-winger Terry Eviston sustained injuries following assaults on them by fans, and the referee had to be taken off the pitch. Dozens of fans made their way onto the pitch, and St.Pat’s manager Barry Bridges pleaded with angry supporters over the P.A system not to attack match officials or players. The game finished in a 2-1 victory to the Saints.
Richmond Park witnessed little in the line of football violence in the 1980s, but some incidents of note did occur. In February 1980 it was reported that Shamrock Rovers supporters “chanted slogans of a political nature”, and chanted their support for Celtic, during a Dublin derby encounter. Reports of a brief fracas between both supporters featured in coverage of what sounded like a thrilling game on the pitch.
Perhaps the most serious violence the stadium has ever witnessed though was to come later in the decade, on a day that proved embarrassing for club officials and the Football Association of Ireland, and sparked a media frenzy. On 13 April 1986, Saint Patrick’s Athletic welcomed Waterford United to Inchicore. The clash was a FAI Cup tie, yet it would make the front page of the following days newspapers for all the wrong reasons. Violence on the Inchicore terraces marred the clash, which was to be the first defeat inflicted on the saints in 20 outings. The game was a crucial FAI Cup semi-final, and the two sides went into the game at 1-1. It ended with a 4-2 win to the visitors on aggregate.
The clash between Waterford United and Saint Patrick’s Athletic supporters was by no means the beginning of a hooligan problem in Irish football. None the less, the scenes were ugly and demanded attention. The Irish Times noted in their match report that:
Richmond Park, so often an oasis in the turbulence of modern football, has never seen anything like it as the thug element in the crowd of 4,000 chose to ignore the days main attraction and involved themselves in a stone-throwing exercise that left several in urgent need of attention.
For a period, the players risked injury as the missiles, coming off the terraces, rained about them but eventually the referee, John Spillane, took the ultimate action of leading the team into the dressing rooms with the game in progress for just 19 minutes.
The blame for the hooliganism rested with the visiting supporters, as minutes before the unruly scenes the Saints had taken the lead in a match they would ultimately throw away. Paddy Dillon scored the goal for the Saints, and almost scored soon after the restart. Waterford came back into the game with a spring in their step however, and proved an unstoppable force. The blame-game began immediately after the clash, and it was reported in The Irish Times that “in another era, Jim Brannigan and his storm troopers might have dealt with the situation with some alacrity but in the modern concept of policing, it was decided on a containing operation.”
Interestingly, in Pats folklore the blame for this violence has often been rested with bikers from Waterford, a gang who had traveled to the fixture intent on causing trouble. This gang have been mentioned on several occasions by those who attended the clash.
The violence in the stadium attracted so much attention that the issue was raised in the Dáil by the late Tomás Mac Giolla, local T.D and veteran socialist. Mac Giolla asked Minister Alan Dukes ” if he is satisfied that sufficient gardaí were on duty at the recent FAI Cup semi-final at Richmond Park on April 13 when there was a serious outbreak of violence between sections of the crowd; and if the gardaí are planning any new moves to curb violence at football matches; and if he will make a statement on the matter.”
In the end, a very heavily policed Dalymount Park was the setting for a Cup Final which saw Shamrock Rovers defeat Waterford 2-0.
Of course, media coverage of football violence is often sensationalist. Anyone who can remember the visit of Linfield to Inchicore in 2008 will know how the media can make a paragraph out of the smallest detail in the interest of a good story. Still, coverage of football violence in Dublin in the 1970s and 1980s is interesting as much from the point of view of studying the media itself as learning the actions of football fans. Violent scenes in League of Ireland grounds are rare incidents these days, but interestingly when such scenes are witnessed, it is still the influence of British fan culture the media tend to turn to for blame.
Were you at any of these games, or can you remember violence at other football clashes in Dublin at the time? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section.