#20: Charming Yet Inhospitable, Remembering The Old Lansdowne Road

Home to Irish football and rugby for over a hundred years, the old Lansdowne Road stadium was the scene of a myriad of special moments in Irish sporting history before being demolished to make way for the Aviva Stadium.

Ste McGovern, Colm Boohig and Peter Henry (FootballFaithful.com), reminisce about the old ground, freezing cold nights, pissing on the terraces, five Mars bars for a pound, and some incredible football memories along the way.

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Remembering The Old Lansdowne Road

What makes a house a home?

Rose-tinted glasses make everything look, well, rosier, but every now and again we permit ourselves to out on a pair of hindsight spectacles and reminisce fondly.

Despite never actually belonging to the sport’s governing body in Ireland, Lansdowne Road felt like the true home of Irish football for several generations of fans. Residents of Dalymount park still cling to that moniker, but it is a relic of a bygone era that somehow still remains. Lansdowne at least had the good grace to make way, eventually.

While the East Stand was impressive in a way, the rest of the ground was ancient. The terraces were the product of a different time. As were the beams holding up the West Stand, obstructing views right, left and centre. The place shook ever so slightly whenever a DART ran underneath, a sure sign of its age. Those with standing tickets had to queue to use the temporary portaloos, leading some to not bother waiting in line and relieve themselves there and then on the South Terrace.

And in typically Irish fashion, the weather was generally unforgiving. On a sunny day you were oppressed by the heat beating down on you. On a rainy day you were soaked to the bone. Almost every time I attended a match there I was frozen solid. You were truly at the mercy of the elements in the open arena.

And yet, there was a charm to it all. The floodlights. The clubhouse inside the ground. Being able to see inside the stadium from the DART. The old school scoreboard. Getting five Mars bars for a pound.

As all of my memories of the old Lansdowne Road are exclusively from my childhood, the schoolboy stand holds a special place in this writer’s heart. The access to cheap tickets was tremendous, allowing our entire football team attend together on occasion. That in particular is sorely missed. Sure, there are child season tickets available at decent rates these days. But it’s not the same. Whereas the terrace allowed you to roam wherever you please — sometimes allowing you to jump into the premium front row seats when they had been vacated towards the end of a game — now the youngsters have to be piled into one row of seating. Perhaps this is just a personal grievance, given I had to sit in front of one such restless group during the famous 1-0 win over Germany.

The age of the ground was a problem, of course, but it also had its benefits. The dressing rooms and other surrounds were not up to the same standards to which more salubrious opposition were accustomed. This was taken to another level every now and again, the level of the grass changing depending on the technical ability of the visitors. A bit of shithousery never hurt anyone.

Like any home, it carries bad memories as well as good ones.

The English riot in 1995 is the obvious go-to here, but there was also Jack Charlton’s first game as Ireland manager, which ended in a 1-0 friendly loss to Wales in 1986. Big Jack would have to wait over a year to get his first win at the ground; a 1-0 friendly victory over Brazil.

From that point until 2007, the Republic of Ireland lost just five competitive games at the old Lansdowne Road (Spain, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France). A fortress, pure and simple.

The shiny new Aviva Stadium has already played host to as many competitive losses in half that time (Russia, Germany, Sweden, Serbia, Denmark), including a couple of heavy beatings. Is there a connection there? Maybe, maybe not. A more welcoming ground might give you less of an edge, but there are many variables at play here, not just the stadium.

It does play into this narrative that the Aviva is not really ‘home’. It is superior than its predecessor in almost every conceivable way; better seats, better toilets, better bars, and just better aesthetics. By the end of the previous era, sports fans were crying out for a new stadium we could be proud of. We’ve got that now, but for all we’ve gained, we’ve also lost a lot. The aforementioned affordable tickets, the ease of access which has been replaced by the maddening crowd control, and, most of all, the once great atmosphere.

Ironically, the Dublin 4 venue always felt like a football stadium, despite being owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union. Now it feels like a rugby venue in which football just happens to be played in, despite the fact the FAI no co-own it.

In so many ways, the old Lansdowne Road stadium was an anachronism. It was impoverished, creaking, and past its sell-by date. A real shithole. But it was our shithole. Home.


 

#15: How Atletico Madrid Broke Up LaLiga’s Duopoly

We spoke to Euan McTear about Atletico Madrid, their rise from the second division of Spanish football to their crowning glory just 14 years later, and how they finally split up Real Madrid and Barcelona’s stranglehold on the league. (Read More Below)

Listen to the latest episode here:

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It must be hard being the little brother. I wouldn’t know: I’m the eldest of three brothers and one sister. I got to lord it over them as the boss of the house, at least until my dad balled me out of it. Still, I was a saint to my siblings compared to the kind of pummeling that Real Madrid inflicted on their closest rivals down the years.

In the noughties Atletico Madrid were very much the poor put-upon younger sib in Spain’s capital city. Not only was silverware nowhere to be seen — while Los Blancos triumphed in Europe and at home — they were relegated to the Segunda in 2000, and didn’t return to the Primera for two years. Even then, their hardship was only compounded by a failure to get one over the elder brother.

Atleti won the Europa League twice, in 2010 and 2012, finally reclaiming a level of respectability befitting the third most successful club in Spain. Alas, no derby day win came.

And then the 2013 Copa Del Rey happened.

Facing Real Madrid in the final. Facing Cristiano Ronaldo on the field. Facing Jose Mourinho on the sideline. Facing thousands of baying supporters in white in the Bernabeu, Real’s home ground.

And yet… they did it. They won the final. They broke the hoodoo. They didn’t have to fear the bigger brother anymore. And what made it all the sweeter was, they didn’t deserve to win the game, such was the dominance of the ‘home’ side.

Real would go on to defeat Los Rojiblancos in the next four editions of the Champions League, twice in the final, proving they still held a curse over their heads. But that victory on May 17, 2013 was the catalyst for greater things. A league title, two Champions League finals, another Europa League. It instilled in the club a belief that they deserved to be at the top, to be amongst the cream of the crop.

They may not have old big ears (yet), but they at least they’re not the little brother anymore.

You can buy Euan’s book, Hijacking LaLiga, on Book Depository (free delivery).

#9: The Last Great Tears Of An Irish Fan

LISTEN – Episode 9, Ireland vs Spain, World Cup 2002:

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Intro theme by The Shaker Hymn.


When the next World Cup comes along, it will have been twenty years since Ireland last appeared at the tournament.

More time will have passed between our jaunt in Korea & Japan and Qatar 2022, than between Italia ’90 and 2002. The more you think about it, the worse the reality gets. It is an absolute age to have not competed at a World Cup.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Ireland’s last game in the competition, a penalty shootout loss to Spain, has become one of the most reminisced upon games in Irish sporting history.

ireland vs spain

It might seem somewhat glib to speak of it in those terms. After all, a defeat is a defeat. But much like the quarter-final loss to hosts Italy three decades ago, Ireland’s final game at the 2002 edition was the side’s best performance of the tournament.

The void, that absence of similar moments on the world stage, and the wider it becomes, the more importance we attach to it.

We recall the moments, the big chances, Duffer’s stellar performance on the right wing, the elation of Robbie Keane getting us to extra time, the penalties – those scored and, regrettably, those missed. But most of all, we remember the tears. The ones shed by the players, but mainly the ones shed by us, the fans.

ireland vs spain

It had been a rollercoaster of a month for Irish supporters, between the seismic activity of Saipan and the opener against Cameroon, Keane’s last minute equaliser and the rout of Saudi Arabia, so much had happened. We — all of us, fans, players, staff — were tired and emotional by that stage.

But we didn’t want it to end.

Anything but that.

Then Gaizka Mendieta showed up. He didn’t even start, but then again it’s all about where you finish. And he finished with the ball, slowly bobbling over Shay Given’s outstretched leg, passing him by centimetres. “By fuck all” as he puts himself.

Shite.

ireland vs spain
16 June 2002; Gaizka Mendieta, Spain, puts his penalty past Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given to win the penalty shoot out. FIFA World Cup Finals, 2nd Round, Republic of Ireland v Spain, Suwon World cup stadium, Suwon, Korea. Soccer. Cup2002. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE *EDI*

The collective regret has been enormous ever since. What could have been? A quarter-final with South Korea. And then what? A possible semi-final with Germany? Sure we already knew they were no great shakes.

It hurts to think about those possibilities, even still. Because we haven’t been able to fill that void. 16 years and no World Cup. Germany, South Africa, Brazil, Russia. They all got on grand without us. Ouch.

Sure we had Euro 2016, and we’ll always have it. The night Robbie Brady put that that ball beyond the Italy keeper with that beautiful mallet head of his. The emotion on that night was incredible, a few tears were shed on that occasion alright.

But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the World Cup.

The longer the wait goes on, the more you wonder “will it ever happen again?”

Oh, what I’d give to cry like that again.


Absolute must-watch; Japanese highlights of Ireland vs Spain, great quality too. The commentators get very excitable at times:

Highlights of the game, featuring commentary from Ian Darke, which i didn’t know existed until now:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2ni5at

RTE’s incredible montage from the 2002 World Cup. We dare to watch this and not well up with emotion. Go on:

The BBC highlights of Spain vs Ireland, 16 minutes long and with Barry Davies commentary. Oddly, this video doesn’t include the Morientes goal:

https://dailymotion.com/video/x5u3j9m

 

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