Hill 16, the terrace of Croke Park, is a source of immense pride to Dublin sporting fans. There is a widely believed (but untrue) story in Dublin has it that the original Hill was built using rubble from the Easter Rising and the destruction of O’Connell Street, but while the Hill may not have a connection to the folklore of Easter Week it is certainly central to the folklore of the GAA and the historic trials, tribulations and successes of the Dubs in particular.
While researching the problem of “hooliganism” (real or often merely perceived) in Irish football (by which I mean the game where you get sent off for using your hands, unless you’re a goalkeeper) throughout the 1970s, I was struck by the number of references to crowd trouble and percieved ‘hooliganism’ at Croke Park. For the sake of this brief post, I am going to limit the focus to Dubs fans in the 1970s, and I emphasis that the post is about media coverage of events.
‘CROKE PARK MUST ACT TO PROTECT PUBLIC’ (1975 headline)
The All-Ireland football semi-finals in 1975 led to a number of articles in the mainstream press attacking GAA authorities and the existing Croke Park security arrangements over a problem element gathering on Hill 16. One newspaper noted that “a group of Dublin followers, mostly teenagers, threw stones and bottles at stewards and Gardaí before and during the minor game between Tyrone and Kildare and after the senior game between Dublin and Derry inciting violence which resulted in injuries to a number of people.” The blame was firmly placed on the fans who congregate on the Hill terracing, with Paddy Downey in The Irish Times comparing the actions of fans there to the behavior that was common on English football terraces. Downey wrote that “a large force of Gardai, at least 40 and in riot gear if necessary” should be put in the area behind the Railway goal, as “the presence of such a force would act as a deterrent, not only in the main trouble area, but also over the whole of Hill 16.”
Ironically, only a year before this Downey had been dismissive of talk of hooliganism marring the 1974 final, by writing:
How serious is the threat of violence on the Croke Park terraces during the All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Galway next Sunday? Perhaps this is a better question: How serious is the talk of the threat of violence at an event which is renowned for the good behavior of spectators, whose numbers exceeded 80,000 several times before the capacity of the stadium was reduced? Fear fashions a good headline.
In the run up to the 1975 All Ireland football final between Kerry and Dublin the Irish Press reported that:
Croke Park’s notorious Hill 16 may be surrounded by a 12-foot-high barbed-wire fence. But GAA Director-General Sean O Siochain stressed last night there will be no such security arrangements at the All Ireland hurling final next Sunday. Hurling supporters are a race apart, and we will not need any special precautions next Sunday” he said.
The same newspaper warned that the GAA, if unable to confront the problem head-on “could have a problem of the magnitude of that facing the British soccer world.” Double the number of Gardaí who were present at the semi-final appeared in Croke Park for the 1975 football final, and the Irish Independent noted that “another problem facing the Gardaí is the possibility of a hooligan element “going on the rampage” after the game if Dublin lose – and even in victory.” In the end, despite a Kerry victory, the ugly scenes of the semi-final were not repeated, perhaps to the dismay of the nations journalists.
“Where did ‘Boot Boys Rule O.K’ begin? Didn’t the Skinhead cult begin in Britain?”
So asked one letter writer to the Independent in 1975. A common argument made in the media throughout the 1970s was that Irish football and GAA fans were merely aping the behavior of fans across the water.
At last year’s All-Ireland football final I was standing on Hill 16 in the middle of a huge crowd of Dublin fans. It was a disappointing experience. Gone was the wit, the good humor and the banter of other years. Also the sportsmanship. Instead, we had silly, tribal chanting, foul language and a terrible attitude of hostility towards the Galway team and its supporters. Just like Old Trafford, White Hart Lane or Highbury! When the match ended the Dublin captain’s speech was drowned out by ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ It could have been the Kop or Wembley.
Interestingly, GAA authorities did look towards British soccer clubs for some help in this period – with approaches made to Manchester United for information on fencing arrangements at Old Trafford.
Coverage of Hill 16 during the 1978 campaign:
An August 1978 Irish Independent report on a game between Dublin and Offaly noted that two theories “were blown sky-high at Croke Park on Sunday.”
Two theories were blown sky-high at Croke Park on Sunday.” First, that hooliganism is confined to the small minority of Dublin hangers-on on Hill 16; second, that a seating only stadium would end the troubles. There were, of course, the usual skirmishes on the Hill, but the more serious trouble came from the exalted areas of the Hogan Stand from which bottles, cans and other dangerous missiles were hurled at the referee as he left the field at half-time.
The Irish Times report of the football semi-final, which Dublin succeeded in winning, noted that Hill 16 “found time to fight among themselves and ignored the National Anthem while conducting their internecine wars.” Of the final itself, the same paper reported that “”things bordered on the chaotic for a time at Croke Park yesterday….angry youths hurled drink cans and fruit at Gardaí and other supporters at the Hill 16 end and also demolished a wire fence while more biddable spectators spilled onto the pitch and disrupted the minor final when they found that seats they had paid for were already occupied.”
Criticism of Dublin GAA supporters sometimes came from those within the GAA community in the capital. One individual associated with Artane was quoted in the Irish Independent as stating “lets face it, a large proportion of the present Dublin following consist of hooligans, louts and foul-mouthed ruffians who have absolutely no interest in Gaelic football or the GAA.”
Into the 1980s…
While perhaps the subject for another article, a perceived ‘hooligan’ problem among the Dublin GAA support continued to fill column inches into the early 1980s. In 1984, newspapers noted that as many as 250 youths “fought running battles” with Gardaí following the defeat of the Dubs in an All-Ireland Football Final, with the GAA distancing themselves from the events, with one official stating “whatever happened was caused by a group of flag-waving rowdies who behave in the same way no matter what sports organisations are running a match in Dublin.”
Overcrowding on the Hill was also frequently condemned by the media, in particular following the 1983 All-Ireland football final, leading to significant improvements to the Hill.
Media reports only give one insight into a story of course, and can sometimes be exaggerated or downplayed. As always on the blog we welcome comments from people who were there.