When you say the words, “Hooligan” to a modern day football fan, memories of dark and dreary days from the 80’s are conjured up of fights, riots and everything in between. Yet, now in 2014 with banners of “football for hope” being displayed before UEFA Champions League games and advertised to the ends of the earth; can we say those days are honestly and truly behind us?
I’m not going to lie here and I’m certainly not going to try and sugar coat anything. There may not be riots and murders after every game anymore but hooliganism is certainly present in today’s game. I’m not talking about burning cars after a game or people being killed for supporting the wrong team altogether, I’m on about smaller incidents, more personal ones.
Friendly matches are always a good place to start; not only do they tell us what formations and players are needed for the months ahead, it’s also the place where I first saw hooliganism fully in all its hooded and swearing glory. It was late summer in 2012, Cork City FC; my boyhood club, where playing English Championship side Watford on a sun soaked Tuesday night in Turner’s Cross. I was 16 years old and only interested in one thing that night; a night of football, banter and hopefully goals.
So the game kicked off, City passed the ball, Watford attacked and a night of football awaited us. As if mapped out, when City started playing well and attacking all our attention wasn’t on the players and the game. To be honest, that was just an afterthought with what was going on in the Shed End, where Cork City FC fans where arguing with Watford fans for covering up flags and banners with their own. Around half time tempers flared, bottles and burgers where thrown and before they knew it the Guards where around segregating the fans.
Funnily enough, this is the least of the incidents.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with endless stories, facts and figures. If you want that RTE do a great show on Monday nights, with an extra guessing game of figuring out the panel from former League of Ireland players and managers to who scored in the UEFA UNDER 19’S Championship 3rd place playoff a few years back.
Hooliganism exists in many different forms, from attacking people to just being down right abusive.
Take a league game between Cork City FC and Shamrock Rovers in March 2012, where Rovers snatched a late equaliser to deny Cork City their first league win. How did the Rovers fans celebrate? Charge at members of St John Ambulance and afterwards bottle houses on St Anne’s Park and smash windows on cars. Or even four months later, a small group of Cork City fans celebrated a 0-0 draw at home to Shellbourne by bottling and stoning Shellbourne fans post match all in the name of “A chase”.
My personal favourite is the “Bohs Baby Crew” who enjoyed starting fights in Turners Cross in March 2013, disrupting a game for five minutes while Guards pulled fans off each other. Or even the Shamrock Rovers fans who hospitalised a funeral goer with a fractured eye socket following the 2014 EA Sports Cup Final in Dundalk.
So really, if you ask me honestly and truly, hooliganism is alive and well in Irish football and it’s not going away easy.