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1979 European Cup – Linfield

As soon as the draw was made for the Preliminary round club officials from both sides realised that they faced a big challenge to avoid crowd trouble. Both clubs appealed to their supporters to behave themselves. Enda McGuill hoped “that we can show the world that we can stage a football match without trouble”. Linfield released leaflets to their supporters appealing for them to be on their best behaviour and to not bring any drink with them on the buses down to Dundalk. However with the situation in the North already  extremely tense, two events just days before the match meant that that the game was going to be played in an extremely hostile atmosphere. The death of Earl Mountbattan in Sligo and 17 British soldiers in Warrenpoint meant that trouble in Oriel Park was inevitable. The fear was that the trouble would be worse that 11 years previously when Glasgow Rangers came to town. The trouble began even before the 60 Linfield buses reached Dundalk. One pub in Banbridge was forced to close after its windows were kicked in. 12 Linfield fans were arrested after fighting in a pub in Carrickarnon.

The trouble in Dundalk started almost immediately after the Linfield buses arrived in town. Some buses were stoned as they made their way into town. Linfield fans marched up to the ground chanting political slogans and obscenities as there was fighting outside the ground. Once inside the ground there was a ready supply of stones on the ground for the rioters which negated the effects of the searches outside the ground by the Gardai. 300 gardai were on duty inside and outside the ground making it the largest police presence ever at a sporting event outside Dublin. Rival supporters traded insults and stones inside the ground. The game kicked off it was can only be described as a war zone.

As the match went on the situation became dangerously violent. Linfield fans pulled down an 8 foot barbed wire fence separating the rival fans, climbed onto the roof of the Shed and scaled the floodlights to display Union Jacks. They burned a tricolour and in the ensuing battles with the Gardai, who had by now been reinforced, left over 100 people injured including 56 Gardai. Mr Derek Corbett, Linfield secretary , appealed to Linfield fans over a loud speaker to “stop throwing stones. It is the name of Linfield FC that you are damaging.”

As a result of the trouble the events of the match have been largely forgotten. This is unfortunate as both teams did very well under the circumstances. Linfield especially looked sharp for most of the match.

Dundalk had the first chance of the match after 12 minutes when a Sean Byrne cross was pulled down by Hilary Carlyle for Cathal Muckian whose shot was superbly saved by George Dunlop. 2 minutes later Ritchie Blackmore made a great save from a 25 yard effort by Lindsey McKeown. After 35 minutes Dundalk had a real let off as Tommy McConville was dispossessed by Jamieson who would have opened the scoring only for a desperate last ditch tackle by Dermot Keely. 5 minutes before the break a cross from Terry Daly eluded Muckian but a bad bounce took it away from Dunlop. Only a miraculous clearance by Peter Dornan kept the score goalless at half time.

Trouble escalated at half time and the start of the second half was delayed. 5 minutes into the second half Linfield took the lead. A poor clearance by Blackmore was intercepted by McKeown who slipped it to McKee who played Feeney through to score from 12 yards. This provoked the Linfield fans into invading the pitch and the restart was again delayed. Once it did a stone struck Linfield full back Terry Hayes and the game was again delayed for some time. 20 minutes before the end of the match the Gardai baton charged the Linfield supporters out of the ground completely. As they fled up the Carrick Road they broke every window they could find. Back inside the ground Dundalk equalised with 10 minutes remaining when a corner was cleared as far as Paddy Dunning who whipped over a wonderful cross for Liam Devine to score with a close range header. Trouble continued outside the ground as the Linfield fans made their way to their buses at Harp Lager. One Pearse Park resident commented “They were dancing on the roofs of the buses and they were verbally abusing and exposing themselves to the residents”.

It was reported that one resident had his legally held shotgun at the door and threatened to use it if his home was attacked. Also a gang of about 25 locals attacked the Linfield buses with stones and petrol bombs. One Linfield bus got lost and ended up in Blackrock with the result of some damage and violent incidents along the route. Probably the most bizarre incident was when one local man was arrested for apparently waving a gun at people on the Carrick Road after the match. He later explained to the judge that he had found a toy gun on the ground and had used it to deter any Linfield fans from coming near him. Witnesses spoke of people diving for cover behind cars and walls outside the Garda station before a Garda arrested him.

The aftermath of the game was a very nervous one for both teams. The National Press had the events at Oriel Park on the front pages. Some were of the opinion that both teams faced expulsion from the competition. The Ulster Newsletter praised the Gardai for their actions (“The Eire police appear to have acted commendably and to have exercised proper control”) but claimed that a large number of Cliftonville fans had traveled to Dundalk with the intention of starting trouble. The Irish Press editorial stated “In the wake of Mullaghmore and Warrenpoint the game was played in an atmosphere of hatred. It should be added that both teams gave a fine display of football and sportsmanship despite the frightening conditions”.

2nd Leg
UEFA released their report two days later and laid the blame almost entirely at Linfield’s door. Linfield were forced to foot the bill for the second leg at a venue outside Ireland and also for the £5,000 worth of damage to Oriel Park. Dundalk were fined £870 for providing insufficient security at the match which led to several pitch invasions and a Linfield player being hit by a stone. Linfield suggested Harlem in Holland as the venue for the second leg because of the links between the two clubs after a youth tournament. At all times relations between the two clubs were, like today, very good. Linfield appreciated Dundalk’s gesture of only staying one night in Holland instead of the normal 2 or 3 in order to keep Linfield’s costs down. 

Dundalk’s league form was very poor and they had a practically full strength team beaten by non league Dunleary Celtic in the Leinster Senior Cup.

Jim McLaughlin said candidly “There is a dreadful feeling of depression among players because of our recent form. Our attitude is dangerous coming up to such an important match. If I have to I will give them a verbal lashing!”

McLaughlin received a boost however when transfer listed Jimmy Dainty, who hadn’t played since the Cup Final, agreed to play to ease Dundalk’s considerable injury problems. Despite of several bomb scares in the 12 hours preceding the match the game kicked off in the early afternoon in front of a 2000 attendance.

Dundalk dominated the early stages of the match and after 5 minutes Cathal Muckian missed the first of a succession of chances when he shot wide in front of an empty net. After 15 minutes Muckian rose unchallenged from a Daly cross and headed Dundalk into the lead.

Hilary Carlyle was giving the Linfield stalwart Rafferty a torrid time and also tested Dunlop. Having outplayed Linfield in the first half the Belfast team came back strongly in the second half with winger Davie Nixon causing panic in the Dundalk defence. After 65 minutes Martin Lawlor fouled Feeney. Despite suspicions of a dive Linfield were awarded a penalty. However, Feeney blasted it over the bar (his fourth miss in his last 5 attempts). After 70 minutes Feeney’s curling corner hit the inside of the post and cleared off the line by Keely. Dundalk survived the pressure and on the 87th minute Hilary Carlyle broke free and crossed low for Cathal Muckian to ram home his second of the evening.

“This is probably the proudest moment of my life” said Jim McLaughlin after the match. “Everyone was a hero in what must be the greatest day for the club”.

The Dundalk team that day was: Blackmore; McConville;Keely, Dunning, Martin Lawlor;Flanagan;Mick Lawlor; Byrne; Daly(Dainty); Carlyle;Muckian.

Normally I am the last person who can remember the details from matches. But I can remember this one! It was like playing a football match in the middle of a street riot. The match should have been called off. It was crazy. Stones being thrown, cops hauling people off the pitch, all of us avoiding one side of the pitch were the trouble was at its worst. It was a unique and terrifying experience. I still remember the chap shimmying up the flag pole to try to take down the Union Jack, being stoned, falling down, and going back up again. A crazy night.


Martin Lawlor on Linfield
It’s bizarre. While recognising the seriousness of the situation, a lot of it was funny. There was some real keystone cops stuff going on. But for people to use a football match as a conduit for violence was terrible.

Mick Lawlor
It was the most frightening of my career. The atmosphere was very intimidating and we found it hard to settle. How could you when at one stage I turned on the ball and saw 3 Gardai running straight at me across the pitch”.

Roy Coyle

“It came at a bad time, when Lord Mountbatten was murdered and there was the situation in Warrenpoint where a lot of soldiers were killed as well

“So there was a lot of tension about the place at the time. We could sense that there was going to be problems at the game, I remember looking across at the far stand and seeing both our supporters and supporters of Dundalk trying to climb onto the roof of the stand and create problems.”

“Then all of a sudden these guards ran across the field straight over to where the problems were happening.”

David Jeffrey

Out of all of that came the Dunfield project. People probably would have thought it never would have happened given that infamous night”,

“Our own youngsters went down to Dundalk. We had the Dundalk youngsters up here and there was a real bond between the clubs. There really was a tremendous way, you talk about something positive coming out of something negative. Dunfield was that”