The Last Tenants Move Out
It is probably in keeping with Lansdowne Road's nature as the rented home of Irish soccer that the last game in the old stadium sees the proverbial plumbers and waiters of San Marino providing the opposition this evening; them not being real footballers, and Lansdowne not being a real football ground, and all. But it has been mi casa for the eleven-man game as it is practiced on the southern portion of this isle for probably the most extraordinary period in the game's history here, or at least in terms of the fortunes of the international team.
The barnacle-encrusted old geezers of Irish soccer have always grumbled the case for Dalymount Park as the true spiritual home of Irish soccer, and Lansdowne, located as it is in the leafy lanes of Dublin 4, the rugger hotbed far from the rare oul' dirty old town the soccer people lived in, was destined to be unloved because of that. The irony of Irish soccer's one period of true success, or at least respectability coming when the heaving terraces of Dalyer had been deemed unsuitable and the only marginally more salubrious environs of Lansdowne were being frequented does little to help the foul humour of grizzled old schoolers at the mention of this sacrilegious relocation.
To those of us of a younger vintage, who don't remember the days of Giles, Givens, Tuohy etc., Lansdowne, for its considerable sins, has been inextricable when talk of the national team arose. The ground seemed to suit the team. Or did the ground help make the team? The team was never smooth and assured, silky or composed; the ground wasn't sweeping and dramatic, architecturally stunning or pristine of sod. The imperfections in one: goal-shy strikers, journeyman midfielders, ploughman's football - were matched in the other: draughty stands, exposed terraces, a pitch like as lush as the surface of Mars.
Did the ground limit the team, their expectations? Did the unprepossessing environment help propagate the knockabout, rough-and-tumble aura the Irish carried? Will the shiny new temple that will - hopefully - emerge onto the south Dublin skyline within three years play host to a new type of Irish football team, confident and bold, sleek and stylish?
Quite obviously not. Still, that I could waste several minutes considering such thoughts hints at how the dear old wreck of a ground has associated itself with the way in which we see our national football team.
Even if you never liked the ground - and it had its merits: a handy stroll from a vast selection of hostelries, on the Dart line, the opportunity during friendlies to watch top-class football from a terrace, enabling you for a moment to get lost in a reverie of imagined nostalgia, such that you might reach to throw your cloth cap in the air on the scoring of a goal - its passing, like that of a smelly, cantankerous, skinflint of a grand-aunt, deserves to be marked.
Here then are some personal favourite moments from the Irish teams tenancy:
Ireland 1-0 Brazil - May 1987
I have a friend who was at this game as a fresh-faced ten-year old. This fact has been used by him to establish all sorts of credentials and kudos in various situations:
Meeting the Taoiseach: "Yeah Taoiseach I was there meself that day, Chippy's goal wha'?
Job Interviews: "Well, for strengths, I would say...presence at Ireland v Brazil in 1986...no?
Prevention of mugging: "Lads, I wouldn't if I were you... I was at the Ireland v Brazil match in 19...ouch!Owww!
I say this, obviously, because I am jealous. Liam Brady scored a delightful goal with a disguised near post shot. Only about 20,000 were there though. Right, because there was so much else to do in Dublin on Saturday afternoon in 1987. Tch.
Ireland 3-0 Northern Ireland, October 1989
This game was played on a Wednesday afternoon, being as it was in the days before Lansdowne road deigned to add these new-fangled floodlights to the facilities available - well it was only in 1956 that the first ever Football League match under floodlgihts had been played - and it remains a fond memory for me not only for the vital three points secured on what would soon be incessantly known as the Road to Italy, but also for the fact that my primary school rigged up a TV in one of the classrooms so that everyone could watch the game. Imagine: football, on the telly, in school! Wow!
Ireland 2-1 Yugoslavia, Sept 1999
A loss and a draw in away games in Croatia and Macedonia - both to late goals - cost us a trip to the 2000 European Championships, after this performance had suggested great things. Goals from Robbie Keane and Mark Kennedy and a splendid performance from back in the days when we used to actually beat big teams at home.
Ireland 1-0 Holland, Sept 2001
I watched this in the Irish club in Perth, WA, having paid twenty-five hard-earned Australian dollars to squeeze into the sweat-sodden venue. Put several hundred drunk, emotional exiles in a room with a big screen, then broadcast one of Ireland's greatest ever victories and you can imagine what might ensue. Sweaty hugs from strangers anyone?
Perhaps my favourite memory, and I was ten thousand miles from Lansdowne at the time. Go figure....