Ahead of this weekend’s massive meeting between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium, Póg Mo Goal looks at the view from the other side. Layth Yousif is an acclaimed football blogger, long-time England supporter, and contributor to the Arsenal fanzine.
My first England game was at the old Wembley just after Italia 90 versus Poland. I’m showing my age as Lineker and Beardsley scored. I’ve been to four tournaments with the Three Lions and countless home and away qualifying games. Highlights include watching every England game in Japan (my favourite game was the 1-0 win over Argentina in Sapporo), attending the never-to-be-forgotten 5-1 in Munich, and David Beckham’s last minute equaliser at Old Trafford v Greece. As I’m sure it is with Ireland fans, following your team abroad is not just about the football. I recall fantastic trips to Israel, Greece, Azerbaijan and three and a half weeks in sunny Portugal during Euro 2004, where to be fair we also played some of the best tournament football I’ve seen from an England side and Wayne Rooney in particular.
“England away games have moved on since the debacle at Lansdowne Road in ’95. I think the banning orders have made a huge difference in the make-up of those who travel. I can remember a time when every away game I went to, there was a mini riot or, at the very least, bars being smashed up”
I didn’t travel to Dublin in ’95 as I’d heard it was going to be mayhem. I’ve been in Athens when we spent a day in one particular bar ahead of a qualifier and they couldn’t do enough for us. A big mob of a certain team turned up mid-afternoon and simply smashed the place up. It was embarrassing. The bar owner looked at me and my friends as if to say “Why”? Needless to say we couldn’t answer that question.
I’ve got three young kids now and I just want to have fun off the pitch. Having said that, I went to for a Poland qualifier down in the mining area of Katowice a few years ago and that was a bit hairy, not to mention Moscow which is like the Wild West in terms of hooliganism so it wasn’t just England fans who used to look for trouble. Nowadays 99.9% of the support is extremely well behaved which is the way it should be.
I have a lot of respect for Irish supporters. They were there in huge numbers in Japan just like the English. We are very similar fans in many respects. Passionate, knowledgeable, who like a drink and will always turn out in massive numbers.
I always take it as a back handed compliment when people say they hate England. I’ve had loads of conversations with Irish fans over the years where there will be a lot of mickey-taking and stuff like ‘We hope you lose’ but it’s all in good humour and if that’s your opinion then good luck to you and thanks for your honesty. England have enough on their plate without getting too precious about whether other teams like us or not.
For me personally I would always wish Ireland the best (apart from Sunday) because of various Irish friends of mine and your excellent fans in general, not to mention the Arsenal Irish links from many moons ago from the likes of Liam Brady and David O’Leary to name but two.
Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29