England v Ireland: View from the Other Side

England Ireland 88Ahead of this week’s massive meeting between England and Ireland at Wembley, 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”

Nowadays it’s actually fun to follow England – off the pitch anyway. You don’t want a return to the three-day riots in Marseilles in France 98 where people genuinely feared for their safety.

France+v+England+-+Group+D-+UEFA+EURO+2012I 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.

In terms of our game I think the timing is unfortunate. If it had been a year from now and England had qualified for Brazil (which is nowhere near certain at the moment) there would be a lot more interest.

That is a shame as it should be seen as a passionate fixture. I still haven’t got over Stuttgart and Ray Houghton in 88! I also think for a few people the Scotland friendly is being seen as the bigger “derby” this summer. It’s been a long season and not too many people are particularly excited about end of season friendlies to be fair – it’s almost being seen as just another match which is reflected in the sluggish ticket sales.

The England fans membership said the other day that only 800 tickets had been sold so far for the game in Brazil which says it all really. If I could turn the question around for those of you travelling to the Spain friendly in the US – which game is of more interest – England away or Spain in New York? Knowing the quality in the Spanish team and having been to New York I know which I’d be looking forward to more!

Although your 1-6 loss to the Germans must have been devastating, you can still qualify. You got a good point in Sweden and if you beat the Faroe Islands in early June then it sets it up nicely for the Swedes in Dublin in September.

Ashley_Cole_2573450bI think it’s a pity Kevin Doyle is out with his Achilles op as I like him as a busy forward who isn’t a bad finisher. I like Shane Long too. I saw Aiden McGeady play for Celtic against Arsenal at Celtic Park in a Champions League qualifier a few years back and thought he looked dangerous, though I’m not sure how he’s getting on at Spartak Moscow these days. I’ve heard Anthony Pilkington has had a call, I was impressed by his displays, certainly in Norwich’s 2011-12 season. I’ve also been struck with James McCarthy at Wigan.

Missing Richard Dunne is a big blow. He’s always been a colossus and there have been times over the years when I would have liked his solidity in the Gunners back four. Paul McShane is a good pro at Hull. For the keepers David Forde has never let anyone down at Millwall and Darren Randolph is coming off the back of an impressive season at Motherwell so there is a mix of promise and professionalism in Ireland’s squad which should make for an intriguing match on the 29th.

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 Wednesday) 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

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