As England contemplate a return to Dublin (7/6/15) to play the Republic of Ireland in a football friendly, the old clichés about crowd disturbance at the same fixture twenty years ago (when the match was abandoned after Ireland scored) have been trotted out. This will no doubt occur with increasing frequency as the game approaches. The standard version, summarised in one evidence-free BBC article, states the “trouble [was] subsequently found to have been orchestrated by a far right group known as Combat 18” [A]. In a recent Daily Telegraph article, Football Correspondent Henry Winter stated he had “witnessed Nazi salutes by members of Combat 18” [B], and earlier claimed everything was “clearly orchestrated” [C]. In response to a tweet from my colleague Dr Paul Stott criticising his repeating the “myth of C18 involvement”, Winter declared he had “covered the riot, spoke to the police, saw the evidence” [D]. Though of course he hasn’t provided any. Nor did he at the time to his Telegraph colleague Paul Goodman: especially interesting as Goodman actually looked for some (unsuccessfully). But then, Goodman always was a cut above colleagues: including MPs [E].
Speaking of orchestration, it is important to reiterate that at the time Searchlight magazine (March 1995 Editorial p.2) clearly stated “Combat 18 nazis orchestrated the riot at the Ireland v England football match in Dublin on 15 February”. That same editorial, as referenced below, also stated “Putsch, Combat 18’s internal bulletin, issue number 21, contained the coded words directing its followers to kick off the riot”. Furthermore, current ‘Hope Not Hate’ Co-ordinator Nick Lowles, using the pseudonym Peter Brighton (described as a “senior researcher with the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, currently involved in making a documentary for World In Action on Combat 18”) [referred to below], wrote the following in March 1995. He described “Combat 18 and the Chelsea Headhunters working as one…the violence in Dublin, Bruges and at the recent Chelsea v Millwall game suggests the unholy alliance is maturing well” [F]. All this is relevant because subsequently, most recently in the latest edition of the book ‘White Riot’, Lowles has played a rather different tune, pouring scorn on any suggestion C18 were involved, even sneering at a Football Intelligence Unit “suggestion that the playing of the English National Anthem prior to the match would be the signal for some sort of disorder” [G]. No mention of the Searchlight editorial. Yet inasmuch as Searchlight at the time spoke of their intelligence being identical to the FIU's (see below), and never suggested any other signal, the original editorial could only have been referring to the National Anthem reference in Putsch. Now, either Searchlight knew at the time C18 weren’t involved, and deliberately lied about it, or didn’t have a clue: whichever way you look at it, neither Searchlight, or indeed Hope Not Hate which Lowles heads up, deserve to be taken seriously as a credible source. Yet sadly they will: except for anybody interested in truth.
Getting back to the disorder at hand, I am not saying, and nor would I, that no C18 members were in Dublin (some were) or the stadium (they may well have been) that night, or that none would have participated in the mayhem if there (they surely would). What I am saying, now as then, is that no specific and credible substantiated names have ever been produced for C18 being inside the stadium, and the events as they unfolded undermine, rather than corroborate, fanciful claims of C18 ‘orchestrating’ the disturbance. It is timely, therefore, to put on-line this little piece I wrote for Animal magazine (Class War) issue 2 in 1997. In particular because it is now almost impossible to obtain otherwise. Aside from adding sub-headings, tidying up foot-notes, and rectifying typographical errors, I have not altered the original, tempting as that may have been! Down that road lie all the perils of internet ‘hindsight’. The piece as originally written is hopefully rigorous in method, and cautious in evidence-based conclusion: two qualities that elude many commentators in this and other areas now as then. Enjoy.
Larry O’Hara 25/5/15
[A] ‘England V Republic of Ireland: Riot marred Lansdowne Road Friendly’ (Steven Fottrell and Simon Austin)BBC Sport 28/5/13 (last accessed 25/5/15)
[B] Daily Telegraph 20/5/15
[C] The journal.ie 15/2/15 (on-line, last accessed 25/5/15)
[E] Bucks Free Press 5/6/09 (Oliver Evans), outlines Goodman’s reasons for resigning as an MP.
[F] ‘Mortal Combat’ Time Out 22/3/95 p.12-13
[G] Nick Lowles ‘White Riot: The Violent Story of Combat 18’ Milo Books 2014 p.178. Pages 170-84 cover the Dublin events.
COMBAT 18 & THE DUBLIN RIOT REVISITED
LARRY O'HARA 16 September 1997 (first published in Animal issue 2 1997)
Few events at football matches in recent years have been given the degree of media hype that the violence at the Lansdowne Road friendly between the Republic of Ireland and England was in February 1995. It is now almost fixed in stone in the popular sub-conscious that this riot was organised by Combat 18, an attribution that is in my opinion bogus, something that could and should have been evident at the time. In what follows I'll review evidence that the riot may or may not have been planned in advance, including the notion of how important timing was. Then I'll look at the various claims of fascist involvement put out by various sources--the state, politicians. Searchlight, various fascists.
PLANNING FOR MAYHEM?
According to one football source, leaflets urging attendance at the Dublin match for political purposes were given out at a Chelsea match a few weeks before by "20- 30 BNP/C18" members . Given he could not produce a copy of these alleged leaflets, and nor has anyone else, this seems highly doubtful - a suspicion confirmed by the revelation this source was an Anti-Nazi League member: who know as little about Nazism as they do about football. Another source arguing for the 'preplanning' thesis was a self-proclaimed anonymous 'mole' inside C18 who spoke "exclusively" to Irish paper the Sunday World . According to this joker, "small teams of 'army style tacticians' came to Dublin before Christmas .... drew up detailed plans... [and] pored over Dublin street maps and plans of the ground. Nothing was left to chance". That he was a fraud, and most likely a member of the Searchlight gang trying to pull a cheap seam on the unsuspecting Irish press is strongly indicated by the only other source quoted in this article being Tony Robson, the Searchlight office tea-boy, who of course backed up this story , for which no trifling details like names and dates were forthcoming.
THE POLICE SPIN ON EVENTS
Turning to the police version of the planning thesis, there are two distinct parts to this. Firstly, the wholly unexceptional and plausible claim that certain known football hooligans were in Dublin. After the event, to cover their back, the National Football Intelligence Unit (FIU) speedily leaked to the media extracts from a report sent to the Gardai on 7/2/95 giving precise details of known hooligan's travel arrangements . What is absent from the report as printed however, is any specific information on fascist-oriented key players, as opposed to general claims about hooligan movements. While it may suit the bourgeois media and the state to blur the boundaries between football supporters and organised fascists, that isn't a trap we should fall into. According to the Irish Times, the FIU claimed to have told the Irish 50 BNP sympathisers were on the way, but police sources themselves were quick to dilute this claim in relation to C18. In the very same page of the Irish Times, another National Criminal Intelligence Service spokesman (of which the FIU is a subordinate part) stated that 'we are not able to comment on any individuals or groups but we know some are affiliated to extreme right wing groups" . Sue Daniels of the NCIS stated shortly after that "for us political affiliation is a side issue", and the unusually perceptive journalist who spoke to her (Paul Goodman) ascertained that "while a scattering of BNP members were on the unit's blacklist, no member of Combat 18 was" . In this case, the thesis of C18 involvement in pre-planning, and police fore-knowledge of such begins to look seriously frayed already.
Nonetheless, a Detective Inspector with the FIU, Peter Chapman, stated over a month after the riot that there were "a small hard-core, no more than 50 at most, intent on using that game to prove a political point": without being able or willing to substantiate any of this with specific evidence . What this points to is that the FIU, always something of a 'rogue' outfit in police terms, isn't necessarily in accord with the priorities of the NCIS as a whole, being far closer to Searchlight/M15 than Special Branch. According to Searchlight, both they "and the special police football hooligan intelligence unit had almost identical advance intelligence about the Intentions of this Nazi terror group" .
PUTSCH OR NOT?
The second part of the pre-planning claim was very specific. This was the contention, advanced by the 'unholy trinity' of Special Branch the FIU and Searchlight that the timing of the riot had been contained in issue 21 of the C18 newsletter Putsch out in early February . The relevant section said exactly this--"The British National Anthem will be played on the 15th, before the Ireland v England game say the FA". And that's it--no reference to attending the match (as alleged in one piece of fiction In the Sunday Mirror ) or indication as to a recommended course of action once there. According to one FIU detective (who wisely declined to be named) "It was agreed that ' they would make fascist salutes to ensure enough of them had made it into the ground during the national anthem and they would try to provoke the Irish fans by chanting 'No Surrender' and then the violence would begin" . This was echoed by Searchlight's editorial for March 1995, unequivocally declaring that "Putsch issue number 21 contained the coded words directing its followers to kick off the riot" (p 2). This claim about the 'instructions' in Putsch is, to put it mildly, horse-shit. For a start, the National Anthems of both countries were played starting at 6 13 pm, and the game itself kicked off at 6.15 pm — with at this stage nothing more than anti IRA chanting being heard. It was not until 6.37 pm, when David Kelly scored for the Republic, that serious disorder broke out . In which case, if the anthems had been signals for disorder to break out, they had clearly been ignored.
If the supposed 'signals' were ignored by those supposed to respond, then there are only two explanations, not mutually exclusive -- either those meant to take their cue weren't in the stadium, or this supposed 'coded signal' was nothing of the sort. The most logical comment on this signal was provided (strange to say) by the very next issue of Putsch. The anonymous editor (probably Steve Sergeant) "noted with interest that it was in fact this publication that incited the riot! One thing that puzzles me, if this was so, how would anyone know? They'd only know this was the code if they'd already been told, so if they'd already been told, why use the code?" . The hypothetical answer might be that members had been issued with some kind of 'code book' to interpret these instructions, but in this case, as the writer says, why directly mention the match? Indeed, if the intent was to kick off trouble after the National Anthems, then surely a coded message would contain no reference to the anthem at all?
A FALL-BACK FANTASY
Cryptographic considerations aside, the most telling indication there was no 'instruction' to riot has to be the sequential pattern of events themselves, triggered by events on the pitch not off it. With the collapse of the Putsch instruction as a serious piece of evidence, there is little more to fall back on, save the fantasies of the 'mole' mentioned above. This character "revealed" that the "big offensive was scheduled for AFTER the game ... at 9 pm in the city centre", but "minutes before the game the group decided to strike early... inside the ground rather than on the streets afterwards. The word was quickly and quietly sent around to the foot soldiers and the chanting of anti-Irish slogans and the Nazi salutes began". Aside from the point made above--there are no specific names or dates given, thus far this account is hard to utterly disprove. However on reflection it is subject to the same problems as the Putsch 'instruction' thesis-the question of timing. For admitting that Kelly's goal was the "fuse that ignited Combat 18's troops into full scale war" is to again remove any external objective evidence for 'pre-planning', in which case we are back at square one .
C18 PRESENCE IN DUBLIN: THE KNOWN FACTS
Even if it is conceded that there was no preplanning of the Dublin events by C18, at least on current available evidence, this certainly wouldn't rule out a significant fascist presence there. It is undeniable that C18 activists have attended previous England internationals and caused trouble at various clubs up and down the country domestically, most notably in their attacks on members of the Chelsea Independent Supporters Association on at least two occasions. Not that the presence of organised fascists in the shape of CI8 was needed for trouble to kick off: Colin Ward recounts how England's previous visit to Dublin in a European Championship qualifier also sparked violence, in which anti-IRA feelings played a part . On that occasion though, violence took place primarily outside the stadium, but violence there most certainly was, before C18 even existed. When it came to Dublin 1995 however, the vast majority of articles merely asserted C18 presence, without thinking anything so mundane as proof had to be provided That somebody photographed and charged waved the union jack flag around in a drunken manner is not 'proof’ yet this was the usual standard adopted by the press. We have already seen how the police were unwilling to give any specific details of activist’s political affiliation that would stand up to scrutiny.
One particularly amusing aspect of media coverage was an early allegation of National Front involvement. Thus the Times (17/2/95) illustrated an evidence-free tale of NF involvement with a (Flag) NF sticker tracing back to the old Worthing PO Box (230) not in use for 5 years. The Daily Express (18/2/95) spoke of 75 men shouting 'NF slogans' who were turned away from outside the stadium. This would amount to over half the total active Flag NF membership, most of whom could not be described by any stretch of the imagination as 'young'. The NF themselves were most aggrieved, and soon effectively disposed of accusations as to their involvement. The BNP were suggested as plausible candidates by those wanting to appear slightly more in the know, the great advantage of asserting BNP involvement is that this could then, using the BNP=C18 line, be presented as proof of C18 involvement by proxy. Dougie & Eddie Brimson, fiction-writers for the 'acid generation' printed a whole chapter of twaddle in one of their pot-boilers on 'Far Right' involvement in the Dublin events. This first-hand account, supposedly written by a BNP member from the North of England , contains grandiose claims of BNP involvement almost to the exclusion of C18. Thus this un-named person "could clearly see how the majority of the English fans were being manipulated by the number of BNP members present" |18]. Ingeniously, this 'source' explains declining coverage of BNP involvement by a “cover-up in the British press” . Little credence can be attached to this account for a number of reasons. Firstly, if it wasn’t actually written by the Brimsons themselves (my suspicion) its claims are not analysed in the slightest, but accepted as fact. Not good enough. Secondly, no proof in terms of names or even specific BNP branches, is given. Thirdly, the account of the articulation between C18 and BNP is unreal—not capturing either the occasional closeness and overlap (e.g. Oldham/Nottingham) or very real hatred (e.g. attacks on Lecomber/Butler by C18). The BNP themselves predictably denied involvement , something they would no doubt have done whatever the circumstances. In this case, speaking of the organisation, I tend to believe they were right.
What is surprising, given allegations of BNP/NF/C18 involvement, is the relative lack of overt fascist propaganda found in/near the ground. The only pieces of fascist insignia (as opposed to a bewildering array of football crew calling cards) reported to my knowledge were a National Alliance sticker found on a lamp-post  and various NF stickers featured on Channel Four news two days afterwards. Why, exactly, would C18 operatives put up these rather than their own stickers, which were being produced in large numbers? What would be the point in making a protest against the Northern Ireland peace process/IRA ceasefire and then giving the political ‘credit’ for it to other groups? It might be said fascists wouldn’t want to carry propaganda for fear of getting ‘pulled’ by the police, but if the intent was political, then at least some leaflets/stickers would have been handy, but none have been disclosed.
Of those arrested, research suggests three have fascist connections, hardly a major haul. And only in the case of one (Jerry Lindley) is there definitive public proof of his affiliations—past membership of the now defunct Nazi November 9th Society in Milton Keynes. It is possible some involved, especially experienced hooligans, were able to evade arrest. In this regard it is interesting that a claim by Charlie Sergeant, former C18 boss, that he and others attacked a group of Irish supporters wearing Celtic shirts on the way to the ground seems to have been borne out by the Celtic supporters themselves, in the fanzine Tiocfaidh ar La!. The Sunday Express even printed a photograph of what appeared to be Sergeant inside the ground, something that has not been commented on by any other source. My information is that although he was in Dublin, he didn’t enter the ground—so this photo (which isn’t definitely him by the looks of it) isn’t what it seems. Given the large fee he was reputedly paid by Mark Porter for the interview, he would have a clear motive for exaggeration and even a degree of fabrication . If Sergeant was there, that puts in the shade the admission by Searchlight editor Gable, when pressed by journalist Paul Goodman, that having studied film of the riot he was “unable definitely to identify a single member of the organisation” . A month after the riot, a much-hyped World In Action TV documentary (27/3/95) covered earlier C18 involvement in soccer-related violence but failed to provide any proof of C18 involvement in Dublin other than a steward claiming he saw a C18-style flag produced and waved at key moments by a mysterious figure. Nobody thought to ask him exactly what symbols this flag had on it, thus this unsubstantiated statement is hardly significant—other than if this was the best that could be produced over a month after the event, the overall evidence of C18 involvement is as weak as I have maintained it to be.
CONCLUSION: C18 NOT THE REAL STORY
In terms of individuals let us assume for the sake of argument that, say, Charlie Sergeant and thirty or so C18 personnel were inside the ground, most of them escaping arrest. Let us further assume that if there they would have played a part in chanting pro-Loyalist songs and hurling seats down from the stand. Both things are eminently possible, even if the evidence for a major C18 presence is sketchy. The real question though is whether these things in themselves would constitute C18 orchestration of the riot, as opposed to mere participation. I strongly contend that presence and participation is not the same as control and origination.
It is certainly possible that C18 might have in theory sought to orchestrate a riot - but the only evidence advanced to show they did is threadbare, contradictory and bore no relation to what actually happened. The real story of C18 'involvement' in the Dublin riot therefore turns out to be not their actual role in the events themselves (minimal) but the exaggeration of this by diverse slate agencies, including the security services and their media toads. More of that elsewhere.
1) Steve Sexton on BBC2 Newsnight 16/2/95, a claim repeated in the Guardian by him 17/2/95
2) Sunday World (Dublin edition) 19/2/95
3) The scam would have involved Searchlight getting paid twice for the article--once as themselves, a second time as cash for this 'mole'.
4) See Daily Telegraph, Independent & Irish Times for 17/2/95
5) Irish Times 17/2/95
6)Sunday Telegraph 19/2/95
7)World in Action 27/3/95
8)Searchlight issue 237 March 1995 p.2 (which also has a dig at Special Branch).
9) Sunday Times 19/2/95 (Special Branch sourced-journalists John Davison Adrian Levy & John Bums), Irish Times 17/2/95 puts the FIU view, and see Searchlight 237 March 1995 p2
10) Sunday Mirror 19/2/95, by-line Dennis Rice, a novelist familiar to us.
11) cited in the Irish Times 17/2/95
12) If memory serves me right, the move that led to the goal was made possible by Paul Ince losing the ball in midfield. Even Searchlight couldn't accuse him of being in league with C18--or could they?
13) Putsch Issue 22 March 1995 p.8
14) Sunday World 19/2/95
15) Colin Ward 'AII Quiet on the Hooligan Front’ Mainstream (Edinburgh) 1996 p.97-102
16) See The Flag issue 84 March 1995 p.2. The organisation producing this has now renamed itself the National Democrats
17) If it were Peter Rushden that would be Interesting...
18) 'Everywhere We Go’ Headline Books 1996 p.65
19) ibid p.68
20) Spearhead issue 313, March 1995 p.5
21) The National Alliance is a US Nazi group with circa 15 members in the UK
22) Sergeant's claim featured in the Sunday Express 19/2/95, the Tiocfadh Ar La! report was in issue 12 May 1995 p.10
23) The article reports as though fact Sergeant’s claims of 45 convictions for violence and seven jail sentences, including ones for gun-running to Sweden supposedly. The stuff of legend (and Holsten Pils).
24) Sunday Telegraph 19/2/95