Politics On The Pitch #4: Groups of Death Part 1 (1950-1969)

Back in Politics On The Pitch #3 we looked at how the football world adjusted to life after World War 2, with carefully selected qualification groups removing the chance of “politically awkward” clashes. Now we take a look back to when this was not necessarily the case, and at some historical competitive fixtures with a non-sporting significance that could not be ignored.

Background:

Despite being widely recognised as one of the most corrupt organisms on the face of the planet, and turning their flagship tournament into a money making facade where sport is basically an afterthought (it is on this site too to be fair), FIFA is responsible for some good.

The World Cup’s hideous over-commercialisation can always be countered by the fact that the festival of football does bring simple folk from random corners of the world together when their teams are drawn. The often good-natured affairs, as well as the conscious global gaze upon each match, displays through the medium of football that no matter where somebody’s from, their class, race or if they’re religious, humans do have common ground through our unifying love of the game.

Even teams representing states of competing ideologies and their fans can come together in friendly rivalry, as an average population can often be far less enthusiastic about hating their fellow members of the species than their national regimes, or stereotypes, might lead you to believe. With countries like Cuba and North Korea joining the USA and it’s allies in the organisation’s ranks, the case of FIFA’s corruption is at least equal opportunity corruption.

But of course FIFA’s global inclusiveness also creates the opposite situation, where two peoples with a genuinely tense political or ethnic history (or present) are occasionally brought together for a sporting manifestation of their international grudge. At times this will be deemed concerning enough an issue for a country to not play altogether, as was the case when the British nations withdrew from FIFA in 1919 in protest at the continued inclusion of the Central Powers teams after World War 1.

Many times these games have gone ahead though, which inevitably creates interesting situations in the stadium, and on some occasions the simple novelty or expectation of an interesting draw is enough to secure its place in history. In this vein we will now look back at some of the most noteworthy groups, tournaments and match-ups from the 20th century that had elements beyond mere football competition.

  • 1954 World Cup Qualifiers

Group 1:

Norway
Saar Protectorate
West Germany

For the 1954 World Cup qualifiers, FIFA itself rather than it’s regional confederations was still arranging all qualification groups. They were organised by geographical consideration, although not necessarily by continent as Egypt and Italy proved in Group 9. Groups 7 (Hungary and Poland) and 8 (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania) comprised solely of eastern European communist representatives.

However it was Group 1 that stood out for it’s inclusion of a small side making it’s one and only appearance in a competitive campaign, and another much larger new state making it’s first in it’s current form. The group did not actually pit sworn rival nations against each other, quite the contrary. But the two referenced participants were born out of the greatest period of slaughter the world has known.

Located in southwest Germany, the Saarland (after the River Saar, which flows from northwest France into Germany) had become the French and British ruled Territory of the Saar Basin in the aftermath of World War 1. A plebiscite with 90.4% in favour returned the region to German hands in 1935, but ten years later the Allies would be back and again take control of the now renamed Westmark of the Third Reich. Following the end of World War 2, the region was partitioned from the rest of Germany and placed squarely under French control, becoming the Saar Protectorate in 1947.

The mostly ethnic German population still considered their land as part of Germany and never intended Saar to become it’s own country. Never the less, such national symbols as a flag (paying homage to both nations involved with the colours of the French flag divided by a white Nordic cross) and an international football federation were created. The clubs of Saar competed in the local Ehrenglia league, with the strongest club 1. FC Saarbrücken competing and winning in France’s Ligue 2 as guests in 1948/49.


Flag of The Saar Protectorate.

Three months after the Saar Fussball Bund was admitted to FIFA in 1950 (having rejected merging with it’s French equivalent the previous year), the Deutscher Fussball Bund also rejoined, now representing the Federal Republic of Germany, aka the partitioned state of West Germany, but claimed mandate over Germany as a whole. Both teams were placed in Group 1 of the upcoming World Cup qualifiers along with Norway, whose status as part of the Nazi occupied lands in WW2 under the puppet Quisling regime officially made this the “Reich group”.

By the time the qualifiers were to begin in 1953, Saar had already played a number of friendlies and had participated in several other sports at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. But as stated, they preferred not to be referred to as their own country, and in football the term “selection” was more commonly used than national team. Given the area’s German self-identification, it seems slightly frustrating that one of their few shots at international football competition was “wasted” on their follow countrymen, and not someone more exotic.

The Saarlanders would go on to display the prowess of German football even if  confined to a very small area, by defeating Norway 3-2 away from home and earning a 0-0 draw in Saarbrücken. Logically then, their bigger, but no more proudly Germanic neighbours would prove impassable. A 3-0 home win in Stuttgart on 11 October 1953 was followed by the last game of the group in March 1954, as West Germany again scored three (with the home support politely applauding each goal) but Saar at least grabbed a consolation penalty on home soil.


Interesting section of Hamburg's Volksparkstadion, West Germany vs Saar Protectorate, World Cup '54 Qualifier, October 1953.

The West German’s 5-1 demolition of Norway also guaranteed that Saar would not finish bottom of the group, securing a German one-two final positioning. As West Germany went on to win the World Cup they had qualified for, the people of Saar doubtlessly would have been rooting for them and over joyed at their success. As the following year, 20 years after the original plebiscite to join Nazi Germany, another referendum was held with the same result. The Saar Protectorate was absorbed into West Germany and once again became the region of Saarland in 1957, ending it’s brief adventure in international football.

 
The crowd applaud the home side's goal in a 3-1 defeat, Saar Protectorate vs West Germany, World Cup '54 qualifier, March 1954.

*

  • 1958 World Cup Qualifiers

CAF/AFC Second Round

Egypt
Indonesia
Israel
Sudan

For the next World Cup, FIFA handed over responsibility to the regional confederations for the organisation of their own qualification systems, and enforced defined geographical zones. This proved particularly problematic in Africa/Asia (with the CAF and AFC sections combined for this campaign), first as Turkey withdrew in protest at not being included in Europe. They had been scheduled to play Israel, who progressed automatically into a second round group (somewhat surprisingly Cyprus were also in Asia, giving it three different teams who would later “become” European)

This created another issue due to the Arab League boycott of Israel, the current iteration of which being in effect since the end of the Arab-Israeli War in 1949. The Arab League members of Egypt and Sudan hence refused to play Israel – who had actually previously competed as Palestine British Mandate before their independence in 1948 – and withdrew. It was to be the first of two successive World Cup qualification campaigns from which the pair would withdraw without playing a game, as for 1962 – with Egypt then competing as United Arab Republic –  FIFA refused their ultimatum to reschedule matches to avoid the monsoon season.

Another mostly Islamic state in Indonesia was the remaining team left in the group, and although they were prepared to play the Israelis, they were not prepared to travel the entire length of Asia to do so. Like Israel, the Indonesians had once competed under their pre-independence colonial name: the Dutch East Indies. But this time FIFA refused the Indonesian request for the game to be played on neutral ground which forced them to also withdraw, meaning that Israel had made it through two rounds to an intercontinental play-off without touching a ball. Here they would be at last stopped, as Wales were happy to play and defeat them for a place at the tournament.

UEFA Group 6

Finland
Poland
USSR

Back in the UEFA section itself, countries were also still placed in groups rather than drawn by seed. Cross Iron-Curtain encounters were now becoming more common, although still somewhat regional with Finland going to the USSR and Poland, Greece to Yugoslavia and Romania, but again slightly further afield for Wales who were placed with Czechoslovakia and the newly created East Germany (who’s entry during the years of Saar existence meant there had been three different German federations in FIFA at one point).

Group 6 with Finland, Poland and the USSR was the most emotionally charged on paper with both the Finns and Poles being former colonial subjects of Russia, and much more recently the Soviets’ (unsuccessful) Winter War against former and partition of the later (as well as events such as the Katyn Massacre, although Poland was by this time a satalite-state of the USSR). But knowing the steadfast resolve characteristic of all three peoples, it was surely business as usual as the Soviet Union ultimately made it to their first finals (Poland had previously competed too at 1938).


Finland vs USSR, World Cup '58 Qualifier, August 1957.

UEFA Group 1

Denmark
England
Republic of Ireland

On the other side of Europe, the Republic of Ireland met their own former colonial masters of England for the first time in a competitive setting, along with Denmark in Group 1 (with the English coming out tops). Although distrust of Englishness remained for many, with 36 years having elapsed since the Irish War of Independence the encounter was perhaps now not as significant as it would become later in the century when tensions on the island of Ireland dramatically increased once again.

At this time Ireland was also somewhat sportingly-divided between football and it’s own native Gaelic sports, with the rules of the latter forbidding those who played, or indeed watched, the “foreign” (English) sport of soccer from their ogranisation. Those who preferred football were sometimes scornfully looked down upon as “less-Irish” than those involved in Irish games, with more nationalist types therefore likely avoiding international football altogether.

  • 1966 World Cup and Qualifiers

World Cup Semi-Finals and Final

England
Portugal
USSR
West Germany

The ’66 World Cup in England was somewhat of a reunion for several of the major players from World War 2. While England, the USSR and West Germany had all qualified for the previous two editions, the West Germans had avoided their old regime’s two European enemies in ’58 (who played each other in the group stage) and all three had been knocked out in the quarter finals of ’62 before having a chance to meet.

But in 1966 the Germans would finally come up against their former double-fronted foes, first beating the Soviets in a Goodison Park semi-final before the famous final defeat to the hosts, which also crucially involved a Soviet linesman erroneously awarding England’s third goal.


Many men in suits and ties watch West Germany vs the Soviet Union in Goodison Park, World Cup 1966.

Asia/Oceania Qualifying Group

Australia
North Korea
South Africa
South Korea

The other stand-out thing was the appearance of North Korea, although the authoritarian dictatorships present in their fellow qualifying countries of Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Hungry, Portugal, Soviet Union and Spain at the time makes it not so novel. Their surprise debut at the finals was helped by the withdrawal of their South Korean cousins, citing logistical reasons in the combined Asian/Oceanian qualifying group. Given that few states held political ties with the North Koreans, all games were to be hosted by their allies Cambodia, but South Korea had been expecting Japan and left the group after the decision.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the group was also to contain South Africa (a weak Australia was the fourth team). Kicked out of the Confederation of African Football in 1958 due the apartheid regime’s player policy – by law only an all-white or all-black team could be selected – South Africa were in fact admitted to FIFA in the same year and placed in the Asian zone for the time being. But FIFA did give them one year to comply with their own anti-discrimination laws, which of course wasn’t done.

While the rest of the African teams boycotted the qualifying system entirely due to the lack of an automatic qualifying spot – as well as the original acceptance of South Africa into FIFA – South Africa were banned before their group games started (formally expelled in 1976 following the Soweto uprising) and wouldn’t play another international until 1992. This left North Korea with just two easy games against the Australians to qualify.

  • 1970 World Cup Qualifiers

AFC/OFC Second Round, Group 1

Australia
Rhodesia

The following tournaments qualifiers saw a similar situation: this time the unrecognised state of Rhodesia switched continents to play in the Asian/Oceanian section. Like South Africa, the country was ruled by a white minority elite, who had broken away from the British Empire in 1965.

But as Rhodesia agreed to FIFA’s regulations regarding mixed-race squads, they were allowed to stay in. Their only group opponent was Australia, with both games (and a third play-off game after two draws, won by Australia) played in Mozambique after the Rhodesian players could not attain Australian visas.

AFC/OFC Second Round, Group 2

Israel
New Zealand
North Korea 

Israel were also back in Asian/Oceanian having played in the UFEA zone for geographical reasons at the previous qualifiers (and originally Syria too before withdrawal). Although no other Middle Eastern side was involved this time, their presence still caused an issue as now North Korea refused to play them on political grounds and withdrew.

Victories over New Zealand and Australia meant that Israel were now going to their first World Cup, but under the initiative of Kuwait they would be expelled from an AFC with more middle eastern influence in 1974, and return to playing European and, later, more Oceanic opponents in the following decades.

CONCACAF Semi-Final Round, Group 2

El Salvador
Honduras

One of the most famous war related match-ups occurred during this campaign in the semi-final round of the North/Central American and Caribbean CONCACAF section, when El Salvador were drawn with neighbours Honduras. It is often said that their violent three games (again a play-off was needed and held in neutral Mexico City) sparked what is known as the Football War between the two countries, a 100 hour conflict (and so also known as the 100 Hour War) that remains officially in dispute at the time of writing.

While intense rioting had occurred at the two regular group games (as it was considered a group of two as opposed to a two-legged knock-out game), as well as violent play on the pitch, it was more a case of perfect timing rather than the actual cause of the war, as tensions had already been growing between the countries for bigger reasons. With the backing of large American fruit corporations, harsh new land and tax laws had come into effect in Honduras, that were particularly threatening to the large, undocumented El Salvadorian ethnic minority in the country.


Supporters of both teams and riot police, El Salvador vs Honduras, World Cup '70 qualifier, June 1969.

By the day of the play-off on 26 June, 1969 (3-2 to El Salvador after extra-time), the smaller but more populous El Salvador officially cut of ties with Honduras and would invade on July 15th starting the war. The situation was resolved through negotiation from the Organization of American States, lasting 100 hours, but the reluctance of El Salvador to withdraw meant their troops remained occupying part of the country until August. The bad blood between the two states, who share a common language, religion, general look and very similar flags, proves that not matter how close groups of humans seem, we can always find other reasons to hate each other.

*

Youtube Sources:
West Germany vs Saar, 1953
Saar vs West Germany, 1954
Finland vs USSR, 1957
USSR vs West Germany, 1966
El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969
El Salvador vs Honduras, 1969

*****

Retro Shirt Reviews #5

 

This time on Retro Shirt Reviews we have a sort of a “youth special”, with what is also the first fully identifiable club featured so far in the series, as well as TWO bonus shirts in International Selection at the end. Click here for all entries.

  • Club: Lørenskog IF (Norway)
  • Year: Circa 2001
  • Make: Umbro
  • Sponsor: COOP/Comet Sport
  • Number: 7
  • Similarly Worn By: n/a

Today’s shirt is the first long sleeve to feature in Retro Shirt Reviews and originally caught our eye last year due to the blue/red/white colourway, which we are a major fan of on kits. As with all in our collection, the shirts are purchased with the intention of being worn, but when this jersey arrived at POTP offices we discovered that it was in fact a youth team shirt which had not been evident online. It is quite a large youth shirt though and nearly did in fact fit, but not quite. Never the less we held on to it, since it is quite an interesting top and well worth discussing.

It is hard to make out the crest in the above picture due to the nature of dark red over blue and how the crest was printed on, but it is indeed that of Norway’s Lørenskog Idrettsforening. At the time of writing, Lørenskog are a member of the Norwegian “2. divisjon”, which of course like in many countries is in fact the 3rd tier.

On closer inspection of the crest below, an “LIF” is visible inside an odd curvy shape within a circle, strangely along with the date 19/11/1933; strange because the club was founded on April 17th, 1929, through the merger of Lørenskogkameratene and Solheim IF. The delightful word “FOTBALL” sits underneath (we are also big fans of very similar translations of the word “football” in non-English languages).

The mysteriously mismatched dates theme continues with the fact that the year “1924” is also patterned into the fabric – visible above to the bottom left and right of the crest – along with a 3D “UMBRO” motif – also visible above beneath the crest. 1924 is of course the year that Umbro were founded, at least explaining this one.

But as for 1933, could this have been when the team were first entered into the Norwegian league, or when the crest itself was designed? We don’t know, but as always please get in touch if you do and we will fill in the explanation here.

The modern iteration of the crest, incidentally, also contains white and blue making it far more legible, and some versions do actually include the 1929 date:

Going back to the shirt itself, and through a post on OldFootballShirts.com we can see that the senior team used the same template and that the shirt is apparently from the 2001 season, so that is what we are going with for the year of shirt.

Our original guess had been circa 1998, as this was when Umbro were reintroducing the double diamond logo to their shirts, albiet more usually in miniature beside the wordmark. The diamond taping, originally seen in the ’70s, had also made a return, also seen on the likes of the Manchester United jersey. But unlike United, here we have the addition of dual diagonal bars – in our eyes a welcome interruption to the taping, limiting it to the shoulders rather than full sleeve.

The red collar and cuffs with white trim are a sheer delight, and the collar itself employs a smart one button system to fasten (from the below shot we can also see that there is no label on the shirt). This use of white, as well as on the shoulders, gives the jersey some much needed “pop”.

It is unfortunate that a similar thought process regarding the white trim hadn’t go into the crest, although it was most likely far cheaper to have it printed on monochromatically. The rich red of the Umbro logo – felt, of course, rather than the printed crest and sponsor of choice which came later- displays a similar issue as it is not wholly legible to the untrained eye from a distance. It’s chunky, furry goodness, however, is extremely satisfying.

Adding more white, though, is the main sponsor: COOP, presumably as in “Cooperative”, which appears to be a supermarket chain. The fact that it is kind of reminiscent of a “CCCP” across the shirt gives it extra point from us.

While COOP was replaced on senior team shirts with another sponsor, the secondary sponsor did appear on both: Comet Sport. Comet are a Norwegian sportswear chain, as their athletic stick figures represent, one of which seems to be diving desperately for a dramatic table tennis shot.

The placement of this logo centrally in the chest, above the other sponsor, is a bit jarring and out of place in our opinion, and would have been better left free for potential cup final details, which admittedly would have been extremely optimistic and a huge loss of revenue.

Finally we come to the back of the shirt and Comet make another appearance here, inside the number, which for the second time in this series is a “boxed” 7. With the white again balancing out the red stripes, it is a nice size and not much else needs to be said. Nice.

Overall, the shirt has a lot of taking points and some nice features. As mentioned earlier, blue/red/white will always be a POTP favourite, and the cuffs, collar, felt Umbro, long sleeves, and number on the back are all major pluses. The main drawbacks are of course the fact that the shirt is too small to wear (at least for this writer), meaning it is merely a “collectable”, along with the slightly illegible crest and irksome second sponsor. As always, these are not major critiques, and like all shirts in football it is what it is, you can’t change it, and it is a part of history.

Bonus: International Selection

For this episode’s International Selection, it just seemed right to pair these two shirts together due to colour, style, year and country. They seemed especially appropriate to include with the above youth jersey, as both shirts are child sizes from the ’90s and were recently rediscovered in the POTP attic.

1st Half:

  • Country: Republic of Ireland
  • H/A: Away
  • Year: 1994
  • Make: Adidas

Here we have the marvelous Irish away shirt used at World Cup ’94 (admittedly not so marvelous to some prudish purists, but we’re the bold and brave type of purists), featuring three giant bars “disintegrating” down the shirt and a nice mix of white, green and orange – easily the most usage of orange on an Ireland shirt, home or away, until this point. The crest is probably the 2nd best Irish crest of all time, behind the one which preceded it at Euro ’88 and World Cup ’90 (for more info on said crest’s even longer history, click here), although purists would again probably argue that the original shield and shamrocks Irish badge tops both.

This is also of course a replica version, hence the inclusion of the OPEL sponsor. From a purely aesthetical point of view, and just accepting it for it is, this adds to the shirt in our opinion (we like to imagine it as a hypothetical club jersey) and while the orange employed does clash slightly with the orange outlines of the large vertical stripes, there wasn’t really any other option given the nature of the design.

A diagonal shadow stripe goes runs across the shirt, along with a faint but complex FAI pattern which can just about be seen (if not “made out”) in the image below. The Irish flag adorning the sleeve is a fun addition. Why not?

Somewhat strangely, due to circumstance, the shirt was debuted and used in three consecutive games during the 1994 World Cup (a loss to Mexcio, a draw with Norway and a loss to Netherlands), before never being seen again. It was the only one of it’s kind for this template at the tournament, although a similar design was also later used by the likes of Turkey, Stockport County, and Karlsruhe SC, all in 1996.

2nd Half:

  • Country: Republic of Ireland (away)
  • H/W: Away
  • Year: 94/95-95/96
  • Make: Umbro

Of course the reason that the above shirt was never to be seen again for Ireland was because after the World Cup the team’s kit deal switched to Umbro, meaning that it had been destined only to be worn at the World Cup. Ireland used their new Umbro home kits for the next two games, Euro qualifiers against Latvia and Lichtenstein. But an away tie to Northern Ireland in the next game presented the first need for the new away kit, with the shirt featuring strange, navy-trimmed orange and green bars emanating for the collar and widening as they go down, filling out the sides of the shirt.

Orange was clearly employed even more liberally that on the predecessor, comprising nearly a third of the shirt, and this trend would continue as the next Ireland away shirt would in fact be orange, and much maligned. As for this one, the positioning of the orange on the left is also quite strange as the bottom half of the shirt hence makes out the flag of the Ivory Coast. The out of place orange section in the middle of the green bar was apparently included so that the OPEL, now in green, would not clash where the L partially covered it.

On the back of course, the “flag” is reversed giving us an actual Irish tri-colour. The orange section on the green bar remains for continuity with the front.

On the backs of the actual player’s shirts, green numbers were used which fit nicely in the white middle, but the inevitable clash of the naturally wider double digits was remedied with a white border on the numbers.

There was little need for the shirt after this, although it did make a reappearance against Bolivia in the 1996 US Cup. Although slightly ludicrous, we loved it at that time of childish, blissful ignorance, and so it takes it’s place here in the hallowed halls of Retro Shirt Reviews.

***

Cold War Classic #7: Bulgaria vs Ireland, 1977

Our Cold War Classic series, made in conjunction with the brilliant Museum of Jerseys, continues this month with a second appearance for Bulgaria, while politically neutral Ireland make their debut. The mid-late ’70s saw a number of interesting of kit developments for both, including one particular Irish crest. See below for a preview and a link to the full article over on Museum of Jerseys.com. As usual amazing illustrations come from M.o.J. master Denis Hurley.

*

Cold War Classic no. 7 – Bulgaria v Republic of Ireland, 1977

…Compared to other western nations, this neutrality may have slightly lessened the intensity of trips across the Iron Curtain – such as the World Cup qualifier in Sofia in 1977 that we will be looking at – while no doubt also still a daunting task.

But with such journeys almost unheard of to the general public at the time, the athletes were probably more enlightened than most in being able to witness first-hand that locals from the ‘monstrous’ communist countries were actually friendly humans, just like at home.

On the kit front, the 1970s had already thrown up a couple of interesting situations for Ireland that have been covered on this website previously. With the likes of the French, Dutch and Germans leading the way in new concepts and designs, it was a time for change facilitated by new production techniques and a general creative freedom not seen in past generations…

-READ ON-

***

Football Special Report #2: Derry City vs Shamrock Rovers, League of Ireland 1994

Last time on the Football Special Report, we debuted the series with a look at a peculiar all-West African affair from 1973. We will continue to examine unique or interesting situations that don’t fit in our other categories, this time with a visit to Ireland in 1994.

While most of the country was focused on the national team and the upcoming 1994 World Cup, the long suffering League of Ireland ticked away as always in the background with it’s relatively small, but loyal, fan-base. The country tried to boast “the best fans in the world” at international level, but at home a League of Ireland game had yet to even be shown live on TV. A hardcore supporter of a local side was an increasingly mythical creature, and had somewhat become seen as a figure of ridicule. But this had not always been the case.

Background:

Domestic football in Ireland achieved it’s popularity hay day back in the 1950’s, with respectable attendances such as 11,000+ for Shelbourne FC vs Shamrock Rovers in 1954 and an FAI Cup semi-final crowd of 28,504 to watch Drumcondra FC and Waterford FC (later United) in 1955.

Dublin sides Rovers and Drumcondra were the top two teams of the late 50’s and their game in January 1958 was to be the first all-ticket affair in League of Ireland history. A capacity 19,503 filled Drumcondra’s Tolka Park with thousands locked outside, but after 25 minutes the mass of ticket-less supporters broke through the gates and into the ground. With the terraces already full, hordes of desperate Dubliners spilled onto the pitch and the match was abandoned.


Another packed house watch Drumcronda and Shamrock Rovers, FAI Cup Semi-Final, 1964.

Over the coming decades, attendances would gradually decline. This was in part due to mis-managment at home, along with the eventual marketing domination of the neighboring British clubs to who many would turn. Ireland is also in the unique position in Europe in having it’s own native competition to the sport in the form of Gaelic football.

Gaelic had it’s own fan scene that at times looked far more similar to continental football terraces. In the 1970s and ’80s you wouldn’t have been hard pressed to find crowd disturbances in the Gaelic football stadium of Croke Park (specifically the Hill 16 end of the Dublin GAA Supporters) as well as other supporter culture tropes such as flags and banners, swaying terrace masses, fighting with police, and people/projectiles/pyro making it’s way onto the pitch.


Dublin score a point as Hill 16 erupts, Dublin vs Kerry, GAA All-Ireland Football Final 1975.

Even though crowd figures at big GAA games dwarfed their League of Ireland counterparts, the League still maintained somewhat of it’s own supporter culture identity. More tifo-centric features like oceans of big flags (apart from cup finals) and pyro would take a while longer to translate over, but clashes between supporters were a reasonably common occurrence for certain clubs, even since the late ’60s. A St. Patrick’s Athletic vs Waterford game in 1968, for example, received media coverage for it’s terrace trouble.

As society itself “hardened” in the ’70s, along with the rise of youth subcultures, incidents and tension at games naturally increased. Like abroad, sinisterly named groups now attached themselves to some clubs, such as “Black Dragons” of Limerick FC (Aka Limerick United/City), “Red Alert” and “Bootboys” of Sligo Rovers, and “SRFC Mob” of Shamrock Rovers. A 1975 cup game between Limerick and Sligo was a particularly violent affair with hundreds involved, reported at the time as the Battle of Market’s Field, Limerick’s stadium.


Limerick fans invade the pitch as their team secure the league title, Athlone Town vs Limerick United, League of Ireland 1980.

The blossoming casual culture that was about to spring up in Britain would not yet spread to Ireland, but the ’70s and early ’80s did see the intermixing of the anarchy-driven punk/skin head/boot-boy scene into the football supporting population, which added to the potential for chaos (by 1973 they were already a problem in Limerick, as reported in another “Battle of Markets Field”).

One infamous situation even occurred when Waterford’s “Freewheelers” motorcycle gang traveled with supporters for a 1986 FAI Cup game between St.Pat’s and Waterford in Dublin, with the intention of causing trouble. The resulting projectile throwing and general ructions caused the referee to stop the game after 19 minutes and lead the players back into the dressing room.

Coinciding with the birth of the English Premier League, the League of Ireland as a whole slumped further by the 90’s and with even less in attendance, notable examples of supporter culture became more scarce. But the same media access to big foreign leagues that hurt the League of Ireland would also provide a window for a generation of youths becoming familiar with continental supporting styles that would go on to strongly influence and inspire the birth of the Irish ultras scene in the early 2000s.


Features such as "tifo flags" became common in some Irish grounds by the early 2000's, as seen at Shelbourne vs Drogheda United, League of Ireland 2003.

Until then, the Irish hardcore domestic supporter would remain largely ignored and underground in a sort of twilight era. But while the likes of Black Dragon and Red Alert were no more, supporter groups possessing a new mentality such as Shelbourne’s politically minded Alternative Reds Club had sprang up in the 80s, along with Bohemians’ Bohs Soccer Casuals on the pronounced hooligan side of things in 1992, and the era did see it’s own moments of mayhem that hearkened back to the chaotic days of the ’70s. Well, kind of.

The Match:

After all that background, our featured incident is a relatively short affair coming after a league game that pitted candystripes against hoops, Derry City vs Shamrock Rovers; a fixture that had seen trouble go down when last previously played. The footage comes from an Ulster Television (UTV) sports-news broadcast that couldn’t look more 1994:

UTV, being a station from Northern Ireland, were covering the game since Derry lies within the borders of the UK. The Derry team competes in the Republic of Ireland based League of Ireland, but this had not always been the case. As we do not have time to go into why here, check out People On The Pitch #4 fore more information on Northern Ireland’s footballing ethno-complexities (as well as a literal pitch battle between Linfield and Glentoran), and for the general split between Irish and Northern Irish football, check out Politics On The Pitch #2.

The game was in Derry’s Brandywell ground (now redeveloped), who’s fences, small terraces, tall walls and barbed wire gave a classic, rustic look (so “shit” to your modern barstool fan, which can only be a good thing).

The lack of crowds demonstrate the dwindling numbers of the League, although in saying that most supporters would have been underneath the camera side. Of course some also watch from outside the ground:

As mentioned, Shamrock Rovers were (and continued to be) one of Ireland’s most prominent clubs sides, both in terms of numbers as well as reputation for “troublesome” fans. Their visit to Derry, therefore, may have seen a larger traveling support than usual in the Brandywell, and after a long, no doubt thirsty journey from the capital to what is a traditionally belligerent area, and considering the existing history, it was not out of the realms of possibility that something might kick off.

And after a 1-0 win for Rovers, that is of course exactly what happened. All we know is that two groups of grown men from opposing sides come face to face at the away section, and following some sort of confrontation, a punch is thrown triggering the melee:

(Note the supporter, wrapped in Irish tri-colour, stood still as a statue in the seats, quite possibly experiencing a heroin comatose.)

Clearly this was a far cry from the mob warfare of the ’70s, or indeed the stylised, organised casual culture that was seeping in. Yes, just a good, old fashioned, spontaneous outbreak of violence between otherwise regular civilians, perhaps sparked by some sort of passing slight. Meanwhile in the back the of the stand, bodies scamper hither and thither as in any good donnybrook:

Ok, that part wasn’t very exciting. But the highlight of the whole fuss comes next, in the form of a Rovers fan who pretty much looks and acts exactly as Alan Partridge did at the time. “Alan”, obviously thinking enough is enough, has managed to find himself the corner flag, and after breaking free from his mates comes out swinging like a man possessed:

As you can see, the connection of the appropriated weapon with it’s initial northern target is followed by a shake of the poll and few little hops (clear body language suggesting “Come on then, who else wants it??” in angry, flustered Alan Partridge voice), as an innocent, bewildered, jersey clad by-stander attempts to take down his banner from the fence. A young child in a goalkeeper shirt also looks on attentively from a fine vantage point atop the greyhound boxes, as the Brandywell is also a greyhound racing stadium:

(It is worth noting that this is not the first time we have seen a supporter on Northern Irish soil commandeering a corner flag, refer to the afore mentioned People On The Pitch #4.)

The footage concludes with another Rovers fan approaching and engaging in some seriously menacing finger pointing, along with a few more threatening shakes of the poll for good measure. A good-hearted lady attempts to interject and cool things down, rightly concerned that another vicious “polling” is coming somebody’s way.

Very humorously, the perspective gives the impression that the pointing and threatening is directed straight at the kid in the goalkeeper top, who is also now the size of a man:

As we leave the scene, the UTV reporter informs us that Derry were considering banning Shamrock Rovers fans from the Brandywell for future games. Whether this was enacted or not, we do not know. But regardless, that is enough League of Ireland for today. We shall of course revisit the heroicness of Ireland’s little-known but fascinating fan culture soon, but for now, this is Pyro On The Pitch signing off for another Football Special Report.

*

Youtube link

Sources for some of the background info:

These Footballing Times: 1950’s Attendances

Come Here To Me (Dublin culture blog): Some media coverage of Dublin GAA fans and Hill 16 in the 1970s.

Come Here To Me: “Some examples of football violence in Richmond Park, Inchicore (1972- 1986)”

Rabble.ie: “Bootboys, Casuals and the Beautiful Game”

***

What Football Is Supposed To Look Like (Gallery) #1

Some classic grounds, shirts and general aesthetics of what football used to be.

Sand dunes, a car park, unorthodox ground sectioning, other random stuff laying around (handy for a riot) and a beautifully filthy pitch at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea vs West Ham, Division 1, 1986:

Away shirt of vintage post-Cold War side Representation of Czechs and Slovaks vs Wales, World Cup Qualifier, 1993:

Ireland away to Northern Ireland, World Cup Qualifier, 1988:

Classic advertisements, Brazil vs Chile, Friendly, 1985:

Brentford FC vs Blackburn Rovers, FA Cup, 1989:

Malta score away to Hungary, World Cup Qualifier, 1989:

“English Supporters Please Remain In This Stand”, England away to Luxembourg, European Championships Qualifier, 1983:


(Taken from Pyro On The Pitch #4)

Dutch flags, Netherlands vs Greece, European Championships Qualifier, 1987:

“HOOLIGANS”, Italy vs Scotland, Friendly, 1988:

Armed guards behind the goal, Ecuador vs Romania, Friendly, 1984:

Pyro On The Pitch #2: Netherlands vs Ireland, World Cup Qualifier, 09/09/1981 (Plus Bonus)

Today, the image of Dutch football supporters to the world at large is that of smiling, orange clad children’s entertainers (just put “Dutch football supporters” into Google right now and look at the images), but as far back as possibly the late 60’s onward, the nation saw it’s fair share of football related “madness”.

This included supporters of both clubs and the national team, as we will delve into further in the future. Therefore, the scene covered here was not at all out of the ordinary, in what is possibly one of the most underrated countries in Europe in terms of supporter culture history.

Back in the good old days, De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam had an extremely sinister…railing? Fence?…at each of the ends, as seen above. Adding to the aesthetic was often silhouetted rows of presumably shady individuals, hanging around watching the game behind the bars. Was it a prison maybe? That would be novel. Although considering Chile, maybe not. Moving swiftly on, the terraces were above this and here, behind and to the side of one of the goals, the Ireland support’s banner-hanging effort (which incorporated the fence to great effect) is definitely worthy of note and praise:

There was of course an intense atmosphere for this important World Cup qualifier (although neither side would end up qualifying) which would manifest in the throwing of some pyro by what we can only assume was a young Dutch fanatic, presumably overcome with exhilaration brought on by the occasion.

In the the 64th minute, a penalty was awarded to the hosts at the opposite end to the Ireland supporters and firstly a “bomb” can be heard going off as the Irish players protest the decision. Then, as Arnold Mühren stepped up to take the spot kick, our unknown enthusiast takes the opportunity to ignite and launch what at first appears to be a flare (seen just above the penalty takers head below):

Unfortunately, it does not make it past the advertisement hoardings (although if the supporter was merely trying to encourage his team, while harbouring no intention of disrupting actual play, then it was an excellent shot).

When on the ground, we can see that what was thrown is actually some sort of of firework which starts a miniature fizzing blaze all around it. I am sure that concern will have swiftly spread round the ground for any valuable, cool, retro 1981 electronic equipment that may have been inadvertently damaged. The smoke and fireworks can be seen to the right of the goal as we look on, under the red hoarding:

Yes, the fact that the pyro was at least thrown toward the pitch and landed kind of beside, if not on the actual grass, qualifies it for this series. As the goal is scored to put the Netherlands 2-1 up, an utterly dejected Liam Brady, clearly already accepting of defeat, lethargically walks away. The plumes of smoke billowing behind him appear to be the last thing on his mind:

Despite this display of despair from captain Brady, Frank Stapleton would later equalise for Ireland to secure a 2-2 draw.

Youtube link

Extra Time Bonus: France vs Ireland, World Cup Qualifier, 28/10/1980

Brady, already at Juventus, will have no doubt been familiar with the type of scene featured above due to his time in Italy, as perhaps might some other top players due to experience in European fixtures with their clubs. Any other seasoned pro would have been already well acclimatised to pretty chaotic scenes on British terraces and pitches (where most of the Irish squad were based), but it is interesting to think how this foreign “continental” vibe might have phased them.

When Ireland played France in Paris just under a year earlier in the same group, forwards Stapleton and Michael Robinson couldn’t help but take note when a flare from behind the goal landed in between them near the center circle, just before the start of the match. Considering the distance, this was probably some sort of rocket flare, but for the sake of whimsy we shall leave the door open to an absolutely Herculean throw from some brutish Parisian. Perhaps this consideration may have thrown off the Irish strike-force, who were helpless in preventing Ireland from suffering a 2-0 defeat. Unfortunately, we only have a couple of old, literal screen shots and cannot at this time find footage of the game, so instead of it being it’s own entry we are sneakily including it here: