The famous Lansdowne roar was in full evidence recently against France as we were treated to a raucous and stirring fan reaction to the arrival in Dublin of the World Cup Finalists. As ever, we were the 12th man for our Boys in Green. Lansdowne Road (or the Aviva if you prefer!) is a special place when Ireland play. But what of the history of the Irish soccer team at this famous venue?
Located in Dublin 4 (Ballsbridge) and nestled beside the River Dodder, the venue is named after the nearby road, which in turn was called after William Petty-FitzMaurice (the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne).
The history of the ground can be traced all the way back to 1872, when it was founded by Henry Dunlop, a track walker, an engineer and Trinity College graduate who founded the Irish Champion Athletic Club and was the organiser of the first All-Ireland Athletics Championships.
Image: Getty Images – Michel Piquemal/Icon sport)
The orientation of the old ground was initially East/West, changed to North/South and the first stand was a covered stand on the West side with an uncovered stand to the left (completed in 1908). In 1928 the East side of the ground was fitted with a stand. The West stand was then replaced by a two-tier structure in 1955. In 1974 the lower tier of the West stand was renovated and then the East stand was completely rebuilt in 1983. The old Lansdowne Road had some iconic touches (such as the rail track running directly under the West Stand).
It was of course used primarily for Rugby (for international fixtures and Lansdowne Rugby Football Club and Wanderers Rugby Football Club), but the first international soccer match took place at Lansdowne Road on 17th March 1900 between Ireland and England (this was a time when the Belfast based Irish Football Association controlled the game throughout the island of Ireland) and England won 2-0. In 1927 the Irish Free State played an international game against Italy and this was the last soccer game played at the venue until Manchester United played Waterford in a European Cup tie in September 1968.
The FAI first leased the ground for international matches in 1971 and from 1990 until 2006 the ground was used for the vast majority of the home fixtures for the Irish soccer team. The traditional home of Irish Football is of course Bohemians Dalymount Park in Phibsborough (a wonderfully historic and atmospheric old venue with a storied history all of its own), but when Dalymount was deemed no longer suitable to host international fixtures, games were eventually moved to Lansdowne Road and the last full Irish international match played at Dalymount was in 1990 (in a friendly versus Morocco).
As most of the games were played at Lansdowne Road post 1990, floodlights were installed in 1993 to allow international soccer matches to take place in the evenings.
In 2010 the famous old ground was replaced by a 51,700 all-seater football and rugby stadium. The development of the new stadium was announced in January 2004 at an initial cost of approximately €365 million (growing to €410 million). €190 million was to come from the Irish government with the remainder paid by the IRFU and the FAI.
The development was originally meant to begin in January 2007 but was slightly delayed (works commenced on 17th May 2007). While the stadium was being rebuilt internationals were mainly played at Croke Park with matches also staged at the RDS and Thomond Park in Limerick.
In February 2009, a sponsorship deal, reported to be in the region of €44 million for 10 years, was struck under which the new stadium would be known as the Aviva Stadium and it officially opened on 14th May 2010.
Unlike the old ground, which was exclusively owned by the IRFU, the Aviva Stadium is owned and controlled by the IRFU and the FAI through a 50:50 joint venture which has a reported 60-year lease on the stadium.
The revamped stadium is a bowl shape with four tiers on three sides of the ground. The North Stand incorporates only the lower tier of the bowl (with the roof dipping and rolling down at this end) and is mostly used by away fans for international games. Planning permission was granted for this stand on the condition that it did not intrude on the local housing any more than the previous section of Lansdowne Road did. Decked out in green seats, on a match night the lit-up stadium with flashing lights and booming music is quite a sight and experience.
The first international game at the revamped stadium was a friendly against an Argentina side featuring Lionel Messi on 11th August 2010 and the first competitive goal was scored by Kevin Kilbane against Andorra on 7th September 2010. It is also the current venue for FAI Cup Finals.
The Aviva Stadium is Ireland’s only UEFA Category 4/Elite Stadium and has won recognition (including an award by the British Construction Industry for the innovation of its design).
There have been lots of famous games and moments over the years. Think Liam Brady’s winner over Brazil in 1987. Jason McAteer’s goal and our outstanding win against Holland in 2001. Shane Long’s breakaway strike in the crucial 1-0 victory against Germany in 2015. Special times that are seared into the memory of Irish football fans.
Admittedly, after the rebuild, the cavernous new Aviva Stadium felt corporate and sterile. We missed the famous creaky old Lansdowne Road with its memories of agony and ecstasy. But new grounds take time to bed in. We needed to get acquainted with our new home. And as the years have gone by, we have begun to feel comfortable in our surroundings. And that was in full evidence when France came to town. What an atmosphere (of course driven by our singing section in the South Stand!). And although we didn’t get the result we craved, we left the stadium with heads held high, and back into the night proud of our players and fellow supporters. The feeling and emotion that we collectively created was special.
Here is to more great memories in our famous home!