Ward’s bad memories of England’s last Dublin visit

Stephen Ward of Republic of Ireland. Picture: Getty Images
Stephen Ward of Republic of Ireland. Picture: Getty Images
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Republic of Ireland defender Stephen Ward is hoping to erase his childhood memories of England’s last visit to Dublin.

The 29-year-old was a schoolboy back in February 1995 when rioting England fans forced the abandonment of a friendly fixture between the two nations at Lansdowne Road.

Ward, watching on television at home with his mother, could not understand what was happening at the time, but 20 years on, is hoping a new generation of fans from both sides of the Irish Sea will be able to enjoy a good and trouble-free game of football when the pair go head-to-head in the city for the first time in 20 years.

Asked if he had memories of that night, the Burnley defender said: “Yes, I do, actually. It was obviously a strange night.

“I remember watching at home with my mum – my dad was working – and it was a weird night. I didn’t really understand it at the time, I was quite young

“But looking back, it was a night that people want to forget, and I think it’s going to be a lot different this time.

“Football has moved on, I’m sure we have moved on here, the country there, and hopefully it will be a good game of football with a good atmosphere, a nice derby atmosphere – but obviously a peaceful one this time.”

For all the significance of the fixture in the context of what happened two decades ago, the game represents far more than a ceremonial occasion with both sides preparing for vital Euro 2016 qualifiers, the Republic against Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on 13 June and England against Slovenia in Ljubljana the following day.

With that in mind, Ward insists he and his team-mates, if not the supporters, will be using it as a means to an end.

He said: “Obviously it’s a massive game – it’s a local derby, really, and we want to get one over on them (England) and perform well for our fans here.

“It’s probably the ideal game to play leading up to Scotland because that’s going to be pretty similar, the same sort of atmosphere, probably an English-type game of football.

“Yes, it’s going to be a big occasion, a great game, but the lads are quite good here at keeping their heads quite grounded and taking each game as it comes.”

l Martin O’Neill fielded two entirely different XIs as the Republic of Ireland played out a 0-0 draw with neighbours Northern Ireland in their behind-closed-doors friendly. The Republic boss rang the changes at half-time at the Aviva Stadium as he attempted to improve match-fitness levels ahead of Sunday’s friendly against England and the Euro 2016 qualifier against Scotland next weekend.

O’Neill told FAI TV: “It was more than useful, it was very good, particularly for some of the players who had not played for quite some considerable time.”