Wed Sep 14, 1977 – Bohs 0 Newcastle Utd 0
Thirty years ago today was finally the big one. Newcastle United in the UEFA Cup was a far more attractive Wednesday evening option than watching the Benny Hill show on the telly. I and some friends brought a large red and black banner, onto which my mother had carefully stitched white letters that read ‘Gypsies Eat Magpies’. It was concise, if politically incorrect by today’s standards, and looked much more professional than our usual hand-painted domestic-game banners. Bohs had reduced the admission prices to encourage a big crowd, so we paid only 50p to get into the terraces. The reserved terrace cost 80p and the stand £2; to put that in perspective, the Evening Press had just warned that an electrician would now charge £10 to call to your house.
With 25,000 in attendance, the shed end began the Dalymount roar long before the game started. ‘B-O; B-O-H; B-O-H-S; Bow-ez!’ ‘I’d walk a million miles for one of your goals, oh Tuuuurleeee!’ As the teams came out, one key player was still missing. Centre-half Joe Burke was still on ice, having missed the Waterford game the previous Sunday after scalding his foot at work. So the line-up was Mick Smyth in goal; Eamon Gregg, John McCormack, Padraig O’Connor and Fran O’Brien in defence; Pat Byrne, Niall Shelly, Tommy Kelly and Gerry Ryan in midfield; Turly O’Connor and Eddie Byrne up front.
I was, as usual, unrealistically optimistic about the result, but not without some justification. Bohs were scoring for fun and playing very attractive football, while Newcastle were struggling through a poor start to the English season. Their new manager Richard Dinnis had only got his job after the team threatened to go on strike unless he was appointed. And we came so close to taking an early lead, with a long-range shot by Gerry Ryan, a glancing header from Eddie Byrne and a Turly O’Connor weave around three defenders before mistiming his shot. Then we were under pressure, with Mick Smyth saving from Micky Burns, and Eamon Gregg heading off the line from Irving Nattrass. And Newcastle ended the first half looking much the more comfortable of the two teams.
The second half kick-off was delayed as ‘fans’ in the shed threw missiles that hit Newcastle keeper Mike Mahoney and several policemen. Then, at the corner of the old stand at the other end of the pitch, more of our home-grown hooligans threw missiles at their Newcastle counterparts, while chanting ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!’ The Geordies, it appears, did think they were hard enough, they did ‘come and have a go’, and pandemonium ensued with the trouble spilling off the terraces and onto the pitch. With discretion the better part of valour, we folded our ‘Gypsies Eat Magpies’ banner as it transubstantiated into a target for rocks, bottles and other assorted missiles. The second half eventually started, but not for long. As the violence continued, the referee halted the game, bringing the teams off the pitch for ten minutes. More police arrived, and several ‘fans’ were arrested and taken out of the ground.
Late in the game, Bohs finally started to turn on the form that we had shown in the league so far. Gerry Ryan in particular was superb, teasing and tormenting the Newcastle defence, and with only minutes to go, he set up an incident that still remains vivid in my memory today. Bohs were attacking the shed end, and Ryan put Turly O’Connor through for a one-on-one with Mike Mahoney. Turly’s run took just a few seconds, but during that micro-time a million thoughts flashed through my mind. Anticipation as I recalled all of the similar one-on-ones where Turly had scored for Bohs, followed by exhilaration as the reality dawned on me: we had a serious chance of knocking Newcastle United out of the UEFA Cup. As Turly weaved to the left I was already looking forward to gloating in front of my school pals who slagged off League of Ireland football. But already the Magpies keeper had slid out to snatch the ball from Turly’s feet.
Perhaps we should have brought the ‘Thor-lough O’Connor: God of Goals’ banner instead of the ‘Gypsies Eat Magpies’ one.
The match ended scoreless, and I strongly believed that we still had a chance in the return leg. But that, of course, was not to be the news story of the day: the story was Hooligans halt football match, instead of Great performance by Irish side in Europe. It didn’t really matter that crowd trouble was common in those days, or that there was even worse trouble the same evening at the Manchester United game against Saint Etienne. What mattered was that a good result by an Irish team against European opposition was overshadowed by what happened off the pitch. Maybe things would change if we were to win the second leg in Newcastle. We could only hope.