Pyro On The Pitch #10: Shelbourne FC Away to Bohemian FC, League of Ireland, 23/10/1994

The following piece was first published in the June 2018 edition of the Shelbourne FC fanzine Red Inc., produced by the group Reds Independent (as reported here at the time). As a festive, end of year treat we now present online this special “print debut” installment of Pyro On The Pitch in full.

 

Intro:

Although a health and safety aficionado’s nightmare, the practice of pyrotechnics emanating from the stands and ending up on the playing surface at football matches has a proud, mischievous tradition that goes back decades and can represent several profound meanings. Sometimes it’s appearance acts as a symbol of euphoria upon a goal or team victory, while on other occasions flares and smoke bombs have been used as a tool by disaffected supporters in “political” fan actions. Random pyro on the pitch was somewhat of a regular occurrence in the ’80s and ’90s in certain European grounds with players and referees alike often happy to play on around the flaming phallus on the grass, contently accepting an intimidating and difficult atmosphere as simply part of the magic of the game back then. Of course on other occasions, it was a straight forward act of belligerent “hooliganism”.

The League of Ireland is no exception to any of these tropes, with it’s own unique supporter culture added into the mix. Indeed the use of pyro in Irish football has a far longer heritage than one might imagine, with a Dublin newspaper reporting in 1905: “Tar Barrels and bonfires were blazing across Ringsend and Sandymount that night as the Irish Cup was paraded around the district”. The team responsible for such celebrations were local side Shelbourne FC, the first winners of the IFA Cup not to have come from present day Northern Ireland.

In the early 2000s, the modern cultural ancestor of that 1905 mentality emerged in the form of the Irish ultras scene, now approaching two decades of existence at the time of writing.  Tifo-centric features such as pyro, large flags, stadium displays and most notably organised named groups have become commonplace for the larger League of Ireland clubs. St. Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers led the way with establishment of the Shed End Invincibles and SRFC Ultras respectively in 2001, and heavily influenced by continental leagues that had become accessible in the media driven ’90s, “tifo flags” began appearing at clubs even yet without groups – as evident at Shelbourne vs Drogehda United in 2003:


Shelbourne and Drogheda supporters with flags in 2003. Credit to Marucie Frazer - Youtube

By the end of that season Shels would have their own group in the form of Briogáid Dearg (BD), with the appearance of an “SFC Ultras” banner at games even preceding this. The one remaining Dublin club, Bohemains, were still on the “tifo flags level” and would take a few more years to progress to a named ultras group in the Notorious Boo Boys, although the existence of the Bohs Soccer Casuals since 1992 perhaps filled the vacuum. Meanwhile, BD would be recognised among the Irish supporter culture community as an influential player with it’s own unique identity, and will no doubt go down in future histories as an integral part of the original scene.

Despite this, as most Shelbourne fans will know, it is common for derision to come from the likes of Bohs regarding the perceived gap in support between the clubs. Obviously this sort of “banter” is tiresome at best, and while it may be true that there is somewhat of a gulf in numbers at games these days, it is also likely that the Bohemian support base would find themselves in a very similar position had their club gone the through the financial collapse and year-after-year of First Division football that the Shelbourne loyal have had to put up with.

Further to this, the league can actually thank Shelbourne fans for being among the original pioneers of bringing the European supporting style to Ireland, even before any of Ireland’s ultra groups had been conceived of. For the reasons why, we must go back to the proto-years of the era we have been talking about.

Background:

Non-club affiliated “supporter units” were nothing new as, like in England, feared organsied mobs had sprang up in the 1970s. The “Black Dragons” and skinheads of Limerick FC, along with “Red Alert” and the boot-boys of Sligo Rovers were among the most notorious and violent. Waterford also had a bad reputation, and games involving certain Dublin clubs always had the propensity for trouble.


Front page of a Limerick newspaper after some of the worst Irish domestic football violence to date, involving a mob of 80 Sligo youths following a tense Limerick FC cup game against Sligo Rovers, 1975.

 

***For more old school League of Ireland grittiness, click here for Football Special Report#2: Derry City vs Shamrock Rovers 1994***

For Shelbourne, the ’70s were a decade of gradual decline that would continue into the ’80’s when the club experienced one of their lowest ebbs until modern times. For comparison, in the domestic attendance golden age of the ’50s, a league game against Shamrock Rovers had drawn 11,000+ spectators to Tolka Park and the ’60s saw European competition for the first time. But many poor years cumulated in 1987 as the Reds suffered relegation and were soon being watched by a paltry fraction of the above figure at a derelict Harold’s Cross.

However, there was one bright spark born of the dark days of the era. This arose in the form of a new supporters group, autonomous from the club but also not hell bent on mindless violence like the chaotic mobs of the ’70s. The politically minded and opinionated Alternative Reds Club (ARC) was formed in the 84/85 season, with a new mentality more in style with continental sides.

While Shels were not in European competition themselves, some ARC members were known to travel abroad with the national team and perhaps this experience of foreign environments was influential at club games back home. Either way, Shelbourne’s long awaited return to success with a 1992 league win saw some exemplary fence climbing on the last day of the season away to Dundalk, fitting for any classic European arena; or indeed Oriel Park:

One outlet for the ARC to express themselves was through the group’s fanzine “From Home To Home” (presumably the first fanzine in Shels history) from which their philosophies could be spread to other supporters. The title was in reference to the clubs varied history of home grounds which included Shelbourne Park, Irishtown Stadium and at times Dalymount Park, as well as the aforementioned Tolka Park and Harold’s Cross. It remained an appropriate name as Shelbourne moved again to Tolka Park on a more permanent basis in 1989.


A 1993 ARC fanzine.

The ARC were also making their presence felt in the grounds with the appearance of an another important development: the group banner. Along with other flags, the banners went a step further in using the platform of the football stadium to deliver an overtly political message; also a feature of certain continental support basses. At the above mentioned Dundalk game for example, we can see the classic ARC banner baring group initials along side hammer & sickle, while at a home game against Bohs the same season, an actual Soviet Union flag is also present. Both left little doubt regarding the direction of the group’s leanings:

At the corresponding fixture the following year – where we can also see another beautiful ARC banner, in this instance devoid of other insignia – the hammer & sickle flag (now with added Irish tri-colour) is humorously placed near an American Confederate flag. The “Battle Flag”, as it is known to American history, is commonly displayed as an extreme right-wing symbol in certain European countries, but more than likely innocently employed for the colour-scheme here:

Despite the appearance over the coming years of some other left-associated symbols at Shels games, such as Che Guevara (see the picture vs Drogheda above), the Starry Plough (associated with Irish socialism), and the national flags of Euskal Herria & the Lebanese Republic, the support base remains apolitical on the whole. If anything in these divided times, the club provides a common ground for Dubliners of different ideals to come together over the slightly absurd but shared cause of the Reds, which can only be a positive thing. In that way, the Confederate flag sitting side by side with the Soviet symbol is an apt image, although a little extreme for most supporters real ideological beliefs these days.

Speaking of flags and banners, the European style was also appearing through external forces as Shels’ resurgence on the pitch brought back continental competition. Being drawn in consecutive years against recently independent Ukrainian opposition – Tavriya Simferopol in the 92/93 Champions League preliminary, Karpaty Lviv in the 93/94 Cup Winners Cup preliminary – meant that at first very few away fans were present, with ARC banner again visible at the latter; perhaps wisely without hammer and sickle:

But victory against Lviv meant the visit of ultras royalty Panathinaikos in the Cup Winner’s Cup first round proper on September 29th, 1993, and the resulting adornment of Tolka Park with several impressive standards displaying exotic Greek characters and symbols:

Visible on one banner is a “13”, of course referencing the mammoth Gate 13 supporters association that was founded in 1966 – more than likely the first ultras group to be represented in Tolka Park. At the same game on the Shels side, a very pleasing, long red and white banner could be seen, the bold simplicity of which is quite beautiful. The thoughts of one inspired and heroic supporter (or several) going to the effort of constructing this piece, bringing it to matches, and erecting it on fences brings us much joy, as well as indicating the increased pro-activity of the display minded Shelbourne fans:

At Dalymount Park (home of Bohemians) in the same season, the Shels fans inhabited the Tramway End (now closed) behind another classic parameter fence, perfect for hanging flags. While the ARC flag appears notable by it’s absence (or just off camera), an amazing large red and white banner with huge black “SFC” text can be seen to the left of the goal, more than making up for it.

The ARC would soon wind down as an active and cohesive unit, their mythical place in Shelbourne folklore already sealed as the revered, original fan culture group of the club. But the next generation had already begun, doubtlessly spurred on by the presence of a respectable “in the know” group like the ARC paving the way. This new attitude was especially evident the following season, as yet another game with northside neighbours Bohemians would provide a seminal supporter culture moment for the Reds.

The Match:

The game in question was the first of three league encounters between the sides for the 94/95 season, with a home tie for Bohemians on October 23rd, 1994. Again the away fans were in the Tramway End, as always providing a perfect banner hanging fence at the front of the terrace with the vintage staple of some steamers on the pitch. An interesting red and white saltire is also in view:

But from that same terrace early in the game would come the whole reason we are writing this article, bringing us right back around to where we started hours ago. As a Shelbourne team in sky blue away shirts (unlike the previous year’s white) defended their goal, a small but definite smoking flare landed on the pitch just inside the box:

If you had to classify it, the throwing of the flare was of the random mid-match variety that we highlighted earlier; a truly pure endevour of European supporter passion. As was expected of professionals in this gilded age, the players played on around the burning hazard and the game continued without question, as a closer camera angle gives us a better shot:

After this, the match went on as usual and eventually ended in what would probably be described as a thrilling 3-3 draw in some publications. But more importantly, history had gone down with what we are calling beyond doubt the first reported incident of pyro on the pitch in League of Ireland history (that may not be true but it suits our narrative). Incidentally, we have it on very good authority that the launcher of said flare, also present as a young supporter at Dundalk in ’92, would unsurprisingly go on to be a highly influential member of the Shelbourne supporter community.

Aftermath:

Up until this point we have not yet included an “Aftermath” section in our articles, but our story here certainly warrants it’s debut. As the decade progressed, usage of pyro at games involving League of Ireland clubs increased, all leading up to the inevitable evolution to actual ultras groups post-millennium. Sligo Rovers, for example, could be seen lighting up Tolka Park’s Ballybough End away to Shels in the 1996 League Cup 2nd leg, a match that we will cover in full in the future:

As for Shelbourne themselves, new groups such as Reds Independent and BD would pick up where the ARC left off, resulting in this very fanzine and many future flags, banners and displays at Shels games. While the likes of Shamrock Rovers will always try to boast the biggest following, and St. Pat’s the earliest Irish ultras group, we have demonstrated here that Shelbourne supporters were as important as any in introducing a more dynamic atmosphere to the country’s domestic league, as well as a new mentality. And since that Dalymount game in ’94, rightly or wrongly flares have made their way on to the pitch to accompany several other historic Reds moments including a last minute winner away to Bray Wanderers, an FAI Cup Final goal in the Aviva Stadium, and perhaps some other obscure occasion. Of course we would never condone or condemn such actions, as we are a 100% objective website. We are simply reporting history.

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People On The Pitch #9: Pescara vs Salernitana, Serie B, 09/06/1996

Welcome back to another edition of People On The Pitch, the series in which the “People” in question should not technically be on said pitch (as opposed to the players and match officials). As we have seen already, there can be several reasons for this such as spontaneous outbursts of celebration, supporter demolition jobs, and pure drunken mischief. But we have also seen episodes of pure violence and this is once again another one of those times, so send the children to bed right now.

Background:

In Europe, certain fanatical supporter groups such as “Torcida” of Hajduk Split (established in 1950), “Gate 13” of Panathinaikos (1966), and many in England, are often rightly cited as pioneers of the universal fan scene that has evolved to the present day. But surely few would disagree that the location of the true historical crown is Italy – home of the ultras and arguably the most influential of all of nations in the supporter culture world.

While “Torcida” was formed in Split by inspired Yugoslavian sailors who had been on hand to witness the colourful home support of the 1950 Brazilian World Cup (“torcida” being Portuguese for “crowd”), the Italians weren’t far behind as their own domestic breed of group reportedly began to spring up from 1951, with Tornio’s “Fedelissimi Granata” (Faithful Maroons) leading the way. In 1968 came Milan’s “Fossa Die Leoni” (Lions Den), considered to be the first true ultras group.


Demonstatrion of early "ultra action" - pyro comes from the crowd as AC Milan and Ajax Amsteram emerge for the 1969 European Cup final, Santiago Bernabéu Madrid, 28/05/69.

The term “Ultras” itself (from the Latin for “beyond”) was originally used by some groups as a stand alone name. But the phrase was so apt that it soon came to be synonymous with these ultra-passionate tifosi (fans) units as a whole, with an explosion of activity particularly from the 1970s onwards.

Partly inspired by the flourishing English fan scene (much more colourful at the time than it would later be), but very much born of a uniquely a continental zest, most clubs across Italy soon had their own ultras groups; each with their own name (many deriving from a set selection of motifs), stadium sector, group banner, and often a political affiliation. Large flags, immense creative banners, chaotic pyro and tremendous noise were characteristics on the “curva” behind the goal, where the groups were mostly to be found, but an equally important element was that of violence.

With provocative new regiments from rival cities now entering your turf as away fans on a regular basis, it was natural that like minded supporters organised to defend their town, stadium and the club’s “regular” support, as well as to urge on the team during the game. The post-apocalyptic atmosphere was reflected in some regularly incorporated group names that evoked images of New York city street gangs, such as “Commandos“, “Fighters“, “Brigate“, “Militia“, “Vigilantes“, and “Rangers” (as well as the straight up “Hooligans” moniker”).


Scenes from the Italian ultra scene, circa 1980.

As in England, a general sense of meaningless in the post World War 2 decades had left a generation disillusioned with a society that was hollow to them. But the football club and the group was something real and tangible; a social microcosm to be defended with pride and an important local symbol, as well as being a platform to promote the extreme political leanings of many supporter pools.

By the 1990s, club success in Europe and increased domestic footage through lucrative international television deals meant that Italian football and it’s fan scene were exposed to new audiences, many of whom marveled at the amazing atmospheres and tifo displays. Again as in England, big clubs like Juventus, Milan, Inter, and other premier teams of the 90s greedily increased their global fan bases as they began to evolve from football clubs into corporate brands.

But away from the eyes of the world, lower league match-goers continued to support their less glamorous sides with just as much passion as those in Serie A, along with equally passionate clashes against rivals and the police. Thusly, for our featured incident it is to the Serie B of 1996 that we now turn, with a tie between two clubs that have only spent a combined 8 years in the top flight of Italian football at the time of writing: Pescara and Salernitana.

Pescara are a club we have come across before on the site through International Duty #1, with some groups’ banners present for an Italy vs Norway friendly hosted in their Stadio Adriatico in 1988 (a common theme for Italian clubs with the national team’s brilliant rotation of home staiums). While many sides’ fans would generally swing one way or the other with regards politics, Pescara present an interesting (but not unique) example to the contrary using the two groups on show at this match: “Park Kaos” display a Jamaica/Bob Marley flag in the middle of their group banner signifying a left-wing leaning (with Jim Morrison on one version), but this regularly sits happily beside the “Bad Boys”‘ equivalent that featured a US Confederate flag (with overlayed Confederate solider parelling Marley), indicating the opposite alignment.


Pescara group banners at Italy vs Norway, friendly, 19/10/1988.

Of the other Pescara groups, among the most prominent were “Rangers”, “Bronx” and “Cherokee” (with the banner of Vicenza’s “Fabio Group” also often present, due to a strong friendship between fans of the two clubs). While Some members of these groups were no doubt involved in the incidents that were to come on the last day of the 95/96 season (with nothing to play for for solidly mid-table Pescara), it was the promotion pushing visitors from Salerno who would take the main focus.

Salernitana, another maroon/granata wearing team of a mostly right-wing persuasion, were very well represented on the terraces of their 30,000+ capacity home Stadio Arechi. Throughout the years, this included the groups “South Force”, “Ultras Plaitano”, “Salerntiana Bersagliera” (Sharpshooters), “East Side”, “Fighters”, “Dragano Granata”, “Panthers”, “Wild Group”, “Nuova Guardia”, “Nucleo Storico”, “Point Break” “Iron Boys”, “Scon Volts” (sconvolti directly translating to upset, but Italian slang for “Stoners”), and “Ultras Ghetto”.


Salernitana's home curva in all it's glory, circa 1988.

Going into the final series of games in 95/96, the team needed a win away to Pescara in order to be in with a chance of securing the last promotion place of the top four still up for grabs – and in doing so make it to Serie A for the first time since their one and only appearance up to that point back in 47/48. But going up would be still out of their hands, as they had to hope that Perugia didn’t get more than a draw at home to Verona at the same time.

The Match:

Pescara vs Salerntiana, Serie B, Stadio Adriatico, 09/06/1996

With a decent home crowd in the Adriatico for 9th placed Pescara’s low-pressure last game of the season, the away end is definitely packed out with hopeful Salernotanians, many of whom are volatile young men:

Arguably this is Salernitana’s biggest game of all time, as victory on the pitch could potentially deliver huge away trips to Italy’s top clubs the following season for the first time in many of the supporter’s lifetimes. Showing their appreciation for the concept of the club itself rather than the player’s efforts, emotional text banners are displayed roughly translating to “You are our pride” and “There is not a thing as beautiful, as unique, as immense as you are when you want; thank you for existing”:

The sentiment may seem grandiose to those football fans who lazily support bigger clubs on television, which often also brings a tendency to look down on underachieving sides like Salernitana. But the great days and sense of community that the club had given the Salerno tifosi over the years had clearly instilled something in them that will forever be lost to many unknowing bar-stoolers.

The home support display banners of there own, including at least the words “you will be luckier” – presumably as part of a message implying that luck won’t be with their opponents today:

But the dramatic optimism of the traveling contingent seems to pay off, as after only ten minutes striker Giovanni Pisano pounces on a rebound to knock the ball into the goal on front of  the away end. Through the ecstatic scenes that follow on the terraces, we get a look at “Bologna Maroons“, “Iron Boys” and “Nucleo Storico – Ultra Salerno” group banners:

Earlier in the season, Pescara had come to Salerno and won 0-2. But expectations of a reverse result tentatively rise as the ultras’ drums beat:

Things get even better after half an hour when a supporter with a classic 90s mobile phone relays that Verona have scored in Perugia, triggering another heartwarming outpour of emotion among the away fans:

Everything seems to be going to plan for the Granata, until two goals in two minutes for Perugia just before half-time suddenly shifts things around. The second half produces more nervy moments as the home side go close to scoring, giving us a chance to see more of the away support’s array banners:

At least two flags from allied fans seem to be among them. Salernitana are known to have links with Bari, Brescia and Reggina, but here an unknown “OFC” is represented in blue and white on the left:

While on the other side of the goal, a possibly related banner hangs. If you have idea of what team(s) this could be, do get in touch:

80 minutes into the game, news suddenly filters through that Verona have scored again to make it 2-2; as it stands, a relieved Salernitana are going up:

But in a matter of moments, the Salerno May-daydream turns into a daymare, as Federico Giampalo shockingly equalises for Pescara only one minute after the Verona news. This is shortly followed by Marco Negri scoring the goal that will send Perugia up in the other match, making the whole thing academical.

The Pescara fans have been generally quiet in this whole affair, but members of their support are the first people on the pitch as the final whistle is blown, clearly taking great joy in the part their side have played in ruining the visitor’s party:

Meanwhile, the understandable devastation of the away fans swiftly evolves into rage among some, who are quick to make their way through the containment fence off screen. Clearly anticipating something like this, a combined riot squad of state police and Carabinieri (we’re guessing) begin to make their way from the running track by the centre of the pitch towards the away end:

They are met with a barrage of projectiles, including smoke:

Seen in the background of the gif above, a small troop (including one in a brown suit and helmet) is already on hand at one section where some ultras have attempted to break through through, plugging the hole:

Never  the less, the coppers are stretched and many fans do make it to the pitch. Hand-to-hand confrontations between the two sets of fanatics occur on the grass, with the ever popular belt a common choice for auxiliary weaponry:

With some police standing around utterly aimlessly, eventually they attempt to break up the main scuffles. But not before one topless Pescara maniac clearly gets the best of a stripy-topped Salernitana supporter (visible in the gif above already on the back foot), who has obviously been caught up in the excitement and is in over his head:

Below we see another popular weapon of choice in this sort of situation, as a long bendy flag pole stick is employed. A devastating graze on the knuckles may have been delivered before the clumsy coppers swarm, with the threat of a whack off the butt of a rifle enough to send the fan back towards the away end:

The security forces later get a grip on things and successfully divide the supporters. In one somewhat farcical scene, an entire army surrounds a woman as she “delivered” to a sinister man in a beige suit:

On a progressive note, her presence proves that the hooligan game is not male exclusive, demonstrating that perhaps the infamously chauvinistic Italian culture could learn some lessons from the tifosi. The camera man still makes sure to get a shot of her legs as she led away, just to make sure we know it’s a female:

Back to the main “front” at the running track and there are still a lot of shady characters lurking around and throwing things, while smoke bombs continue to reign down from those in the stand:

It would be remiss not to highlight that one smoke canister does end up on the playing surface, meaning that this whole episode would have qualified as an entry for Pyro On The Pitch, but it’s a small footnote in the over all story with the match already long over. As this happens, a photo-journalist argues with an officer along side the man in the brown suit and helmet, who has shown his experience by confiscated the corner flag:

One careless supporter gets too close for comfort to the guards, receiving several licks of the baton before fleeing and probably exclaiming the Italian equivalent of “Ow! My back! My comfort!”:

By this stage, the hardcore home support has realised that this is no longer their battle and have retreated to stand on front of their curva, curiously watching the show:

The overall scene now appears to be a warzone, with “Nuovia Guradia”‘s large NG banner hanging defiantly in the middle:

In addition to the smoke from the fans, the police also appear to be firing something into the crowd:

A large majority of the Salerno support take this as their cue to get out and turn to escape through the exit in a potentially dangerous panic/crush situation. Here we see that many others are also wearing the horizontal striped shirt seen on the fan on  the pitch earlier:

But not all are intent on leaving, such as one incensed man who careers back down the steps with a huge flag poll (and no flag to wave with it):

On the track below, the riot squad now zone in on individuals, with the old bill taking their anger out on this unlucky fellow who had been holding a pole earlier as well as seen on the picth:

Clearly identified as a serious threat, he is engulfed by even more police (now including the man in the beige suit – he too has found himself a riot helmet to add to his expensive ensemble) and given a violent thrashing:

Amazingly the beaten man actually walks away from the assault, bruised but free. His jersey appears to be an away shirt using the clubs original colours of sky blue and white vertical stripes:

Some police briefly attempt to infiltrate the away sector itself via an internal stairwell, before furious fans make sure to know they are not  welcome. A helicopter surveys the scontri (clashes) from above, showing the seriousness of the situation in the eyes of the authorities:

As the Iron Boys take down their banner, here we get a view of the action from the perspective of  the home supporters who are left:

Needless to say, they are absolutely loving this:

Finally the last stragglers are literally hunted down in the corners of  the ground:

With all banners now removed from the curva and most fans on their way out, the exhausting situation at last simmers down:

No amount of sticks, smoke or rage were going to change the fact that Salernitana wern’t going up. But for certain individuals, the ritual conflict that transpired may well have been just as exhilarating as watching a group of strangers winning a sports game.

Within a couple of years, the long wait to get back to the big time would in fact end as promotion was achieved at the end of 97/98 (going straight back down the following season, never to be seen in Serie A again).

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