As ancient as it was lovable, the old Lansdowne Road stadium was home for Irish football fans.
It was far from perfect, but it was the place where many a famous sporting memory was made before being demoilshed.
Ste McGovern, Colm Boohig and Peter Henry of Football Faithful, remember the old ground, its special qualities, and some of the best moments that it featured.
Home to Irish football and rugby for over a hundred years, the old Lansdowne Road stadium was the scene of a myriad of special moments in Irish sporting history before being demolished to make way for the Aviva Stadium.
Ste McGovern, Colm Boohig and Peter Henry (FootballFaithful.com), reminisce about the old ground, freezing cold nights, pissing on the terraces, five Mars bars for a pound, and some incredible football memories along the way.
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Rose-tinted glasses make everything look, well, rosier, but every now and again we permit ourselves to out on a pair of hindsight spectacles and reminisce fondly.
Despite never actually belonging to the sport’s governing body in Ireland, Lansdowne Road felt like the true home of Irish football for several generations of fans. Residents of Dalymount park still cling to that moniker, but it is a relic of a bygone era that somehow still remains. Lansdowne at least had the good grace to make way, eventually.
While the East Stand was impressive in a way, the rest of the ground was ancient. The terraces were the product of a different time. As were the beams holding up the West Stand, obstructing views right, left and centre. The place shook ever so slightly whenever a DART ran underneath, a sure sign of its age. Those with standing tickets had to queue to use the temporary portaloos, leading some to not bother waiting in line and relieve themselves there and then on the South Terrace.
And in typically Irish fashion, the weather was generally unforgiving. On a sunny day you were oppressed by the heat beating down on you. On a rainy day you were soaked to the bone. Almost every time I attended a match there I was frozen solid. You were truly at the mercy of the elements in the open arena.
And yet, there was a charm to it all. The floodlights. The clubhouse inside the ground. Being able to see inside the stadium from the DART. The old school scoreboard. Getting five Mars bars for a pound.
As all of my memories of the old Lansdowne Road are exclusively from my childhood, the schoolboy stand holds a special place in this writer’s heart. The access to cheap tickets was tremendous, allowing our entire football team attend together on occasion. That in particular is sorely missed. Sure, there are child season tickets available at decent rates these days. But it’s not the same. Whereas the terrace allowed you to roam wherever you please — sometimes allowing you to jump into the premium front row seats when they had been vacated towards the end of a game — now the youngsters have to be piled into one row of seating. Perhaps this is just a personal grievance, given I had to sit in front of one such restless group during the famous 1-0 win over Germany.
The age of the ground was a problem, of course, but it also had its benefits. The dressing rooms and other surrounds were not up to the same standards to which more salubrious opposition were accustomed. This was taken to another level every now and again, the level of the grass changing depending on the technical ability of the visitors. A bit of shithousery never hurt anyone.
Like any home, it carries bad memories as well as good ones.
The English riot in 1995 is the obvious go-to here, but there was also Jack Charlton’s first game as Ireland manager, which ended in a 1-0 friendly loss to Wales in 1986. Big Jack would have to wait over a year to get his first win at the ground; a 1-0 friendly victory over Brazil.
From that point until 2007, the Republic of Ireland lost just five competitive games at the old Lansdowne Road (Spain, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France). A fortress, pure and simple.
The shiny new Aviva Stadium has already played host to as many competitive losses in half that time (Russia, Germany, Sweden, Serbia, Denmark), including a couple of heavy beatings. Is there a connection there? Maybe, maybe not. A more welcoming ground might give you less of an edge, but there are many variables at play here, not just the stadium.
It does play into this narrative that the Aviva is not really ‘home’. It is superior than its predecessor in almost every conceivable way; better seats, better toilets, better bars, and just better aesthetics. By the end of the previous era, sports fans were crying out for a new stadium we could be proud of. We’ve got that now, but for all we’ve gained, we’ve also lost a lot. The aforementioned affordable tickets, the ease of access which has been replaced by the maddening crowd control, and, most of all, the once great atmosphere.
Ironically, the Dublin 4 venue always felt like a football stadium, despite being owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union. Now it feels like a rugby venue in which football just happens to be played in, despite the fact the FAI no co-own it.
In so many ways, the old Lansdowne Road stadium was an anachronism. It was impoverished, creaking, and past its sell-by date. A real shithole. But it was our shithole. Home.