English Football Association asks for calm ahead of Ireland friendly
LONDON (AP) -- English football authorities are going to great lengths to try to prevent Wednesday's celebratory friendly against Ireland being marred by political chanting and abuse.
The friendly at Wembley Stadium will celebrate the 150th anniversary of England's Football Association and will be the first time the neighbors have met since the 1995 match in Dublin which was abandoned when English fans rioted.
The English Football Association has sent an email written by England coach Roy Hodgson to all ticket buyers, imploring them not to take part in chanting which might offend.
"Wembley is considered the world over as the home of football and we ask those attending to not take part in any chanting - particularly of a religious or political perspective - which could cause offense to our visitors or fellow fans,'' Hodgson wrote.
England fans can still be heard chanting "No surrender to the IRA'' and similar at matches, a throwback to the times of `the Troubles' when the Irish Republican Army was challenging British rule over Northern Ireland, resulting in about 3,000 deaths over three decades.
It was against that background that English fans rioted during the previous friendly at Dublin's Lansdowne Road, forcing the abandonment of the game after 28 minutes as the traveling support tore up wooden benches and threw them at home fans. More than 20 people required hospital treatment and over 40 were arrested.
Alan Kelly, who is now Ireland's goalkeeping coach, was in goal on that day.
"It was horrendous ... the mayhem that was caused and the potentially life-threatening injuries some of the supporters could have sustained,'' Kelly recalled on Monday. "Some of the debris that came down from the stands was truly horrific.
"Unfortunately, I was on the pitch and saw it turn into a riot.''
The political and sectarian strife in Northern Ireland and between the two nations has eased considerably since 1995 but there will be large numbers of police and stewards and Wembley on Wednesday to guard against any repeat of crowd violence.
"Football has moved on and made great strides (since 1995),'' Kelly said. "We've got to be vigilant in terms of what could happen in terms of the fans but, listen, it's 150 years of the FA we are celebrating.
"We are delighted to be part of that, everyone wants to see a fantastic football game and that's what we want the game to be remembered for.''
Wembley did, however, witness an outbreak of disorder at an FA Cup semifinal last month when Millwall fans fought with stewards and each other during a loss to Wigan.
And in 2011, a Wales supporter was killed in an attack outside Wembley by an England fan, who was later jailed for three years.
For the most part, though, the once habitual hooliganism of England fans has passed, with fans traveling the world without major incidents for more than a decade.
"Long before I came into the job I knew that the behavior and reputation of England fans has developed into something we all should be very proud of,'' said Hodgson, who has been England coach for a year. "World Cups in South Africa and Germany in the last decade are shining examples of this.
"So I hope everyone who follows England understands that position has been built by many fans over a long period of time and sadly it can be undone very quickly by a minority.''
The last England-Ireland match to be completed ended in a 1-1 draw in March 1991 - four years before that dark night in Dublin.
"A lot has changed in both countries and football, and that has created a different culture about sport,'' Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni said.