Alan Kelly will coach the Republic keepers at Wembley tomorrow but, 18 years ago, he watched from between the sticks as England fans went on the rampage in Dublin

Evening Standard

England have not played the Republic of Ireland for nearly 20 years but Alan Kelly knows how significant it is when the two countries meet.

“Playing England has an extra edge,” says the Republic’s goalkeeping coach ahead of only the 15th meeting between the nations at Wembley tomorrow night. “The past history between England and Ireland and what that brings to such an occasion can’t be escaped.

“There’s a real competitive spirit and will to win and what makes it unique is that a lot of these players face each other week in, week out. This day couldn’t come too soon for us.”

The last meeting between the nations was, however, significant for all the wrong reasons, the match in Dublin 18 years ago having been abandoned after 27 minutes due to rioting English fans.

Kelly, 44, was in goal at Lansdowne Road on 15 February 1995 but hopes tomorrow will be “remembered for football and nothing else”. He says: “Hopefully, it will show how much football has moved on and, for a lot of people, put to bed the memories of 1995.”

Kelly went into that match hoping for some very different memories to treasure, having been confirmed as Packie Bonner’s successor as No1.

“I was playing in England [for Sheffield United] but this was the first time I had played against England for the senior team and I was thinking it would be a smashing match.”

The first hint of what was to come happened during the national anthems.

“Neither anthem was respected,” he says. “There was lots of booing, something I hadn’t experienced in terms of that level of noise when the anthems were being played. I sensed that something was on.”

The riot was all the more unexpected because, just previously, the Republic had played Northern Ireland in Belfast in the Euro 96 qualifying campaign. “We had beaten them 4-0 at Windsor Park and, although the Anglo-Irish peace process had not completed, we’d had no such problems,” he says.

For the first 15 minutes there was little for Kelly to worry about, or even do. David Kelly put Ireland ahead after 22 minutes but everything changed when David Platt put the ball in Kelly’s net.

“The English fans erupted,” he says. “But then the Irish fans cheered back when it was given offside. That was the catalyst for the trouble to erupt.”

There were reports of sustained chanting of “No surrender to the IRA” and, though Kelly did not hear it, he adds: “I heard a cacophony of sound and when there’s an aggressive crowd you feel an aggressive tension.

“There was a political motive behind the English fans’ behaviour, that was certainly part of the catalyst, hijacking a sporting occasion to promote their own beliefs.”

Positioned almost 70 yards from the English fans, he had a grandstand view of the grisly events that followed.

“I had a better view than anybody else because I was in goal and the play was at the other end,” he says. “My goal was at the south stand and the violence in the upper west stand to my right.

“The old-fashioned floodlights almost produced a misty element and I could see this shower of wrought iron missiles flying down, huge chunks of seating being thrown over on to the crowd below by what seemed like a wave of people. Debris was being thrown down on to the people, coming on to the pitch area, it was just incredible.”

So confused was the situation, that when referee Dick Jol, from Netherlands, took the players off they expected no more than a brief stoppage.

“Among the players there was just disbelief initially,” recalls Kelly. “We were standing outside in the tunnel area, expecting to go back on when everything had been sorted out. We were told it had been abandoned 10 minutes later, when we were in the dressing room.”

By then the Irish players were worried about their families: “Most of us had families there with all the tickets together in the upper west stand. My wife and family were within 20 or 30 yards of the English fans.

“God knows what would have happened if the English contingent that were wreaking mayhem had decided to attack to their left, where our families and all the Irish fans were sitting. That fortunately didn’t happen.”

Stuck in the dingy dressing rooms, it was another quarter of an hour before Kelly knew that his wife and family were safe.

“Denis [Irwin] went looking for his family, saw my wife and brought her back to safety,” he says.

Then, with police holding the England fans, the players and their families were escorted out of the ground.

Much has changed since that awful night, not least in football. Then, there were no specialist coaches. Kelly practised on his own with Bonner at the far end of the training ground. “Packie shot at me and I shot at him. Once, Jack [Charlton, the manager] was in his suit and fishing jacket with his brogues on taking about 10 to 20 shots at us in his leather shoes.”

Kelly will be more traditionally attired when he puts Millwall’s David Forde, likely to be in goal, through his paces tomorrow. “I’ll tell him to try to get in the way of as many shots as possible,” says Kelly, aware that Forde will know all about the England squad. “The great thing is the familiarity that all the players have with English players and their talents: left-footed, right-footed, Lampard’s shooting, Rooney’s deftness, whatever it is they will be aware of.”

Another reason for Kelly and Forde to be wary of Rooney is the forward’s frustration at his lack of game time for Manchester United.

“Therein might be his release in terms of playing for England. He’s got none of that stuff that’s hung over from United,” Kelly says. “We’re hoping he doesn’t bring his A game but then you have Lampard, Ashley Cole, all these players that can contribute to England’s success.”

Kelly also concedes that compared to 1995, most of the Irish team are drawn from the Championship or less highly ranked Premiership sides, many aged 30 or over.

“The talent and the pool of players that England have is far greater,” he says. “But we have a bunch of players who are desperate to play for their country and get results. This team aren’t frightened of England. We are unbeaten away in five years in a competitive game in qualifying, excluding the Euro finals. The way we are set up we always seem to do well away from home. We play on the counter.

“From what I saw in England’s last game there’s maybe two England teams, one that comes out and really fires for the first 45 minutes. Then if a goal doesn’t go in, or if they hit the bar or something, then the degree of angst comes in.”


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