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5.0 out of 5 stars It was a kip, but it was our kip, 20 Sep 2010
This review is from: Lansdowne Road: The Stadium; the matches; the greatest days (Paperback)
IN MARCH OF 1970, aged nine, I attended my first Five Nations match. I had no ticket. My father had given me a ten-shilling note - enough to buy five terrace tickets - in case I met a tout or was able to grease the palm of a turnstile attendant. My mother, alive to the possibility of biting winds, insisted I wear a pair of her black woollen tights. I loitered with intent but without success outside Lansdowne Road for hours beforehand. Three minutes before kick-off I ran into the brown coat of my father's friend Dan Daly, a Sunday's Well man. "What ails you, child?" he asked. When I explained he led me to a turnstile. "This little fella's lost his ticket" he said, his huge hands (said never to have dropped a pass) lifting me up and over the stile. I was in. Against all odds, Ireland beat Wales 14-0, and I was hooked.

You'll have your own Lansdowne story. Your first game. Your first time watching Ireland win. This book recalls the quaintness of the old Lansdowne Road. The creaking stands. The swirling wind. The alarming proximity of the crowd; if you were in a touchline seat you'd a good chance of getting a game, especially if things weren't going well. The cheesy hoardings, my favourite being the bathroom-appliance manufacturer's that proclaimed "Mira: They're a great shower." The mythical Lansdowne roar, which doesn't seem to have put off the opposition, as Ireland's rugby team has won less than half of the games played there to date. (The soccer team's record is better.)

All this, of course, is harmless nostalgia. The truth is that Lansdowne Road was a bit of a kip. But, as Siggins and Clerkin point out, it was our kip. There was something parochial about the ground; a feeling that everybody knew everyone else, including the players; the first person to plant a kiss on Mick Galwey after he scored in 1993 against England was his sister Mary. Despite the limited facilities and the distressing crowd surges that sometimes occurred on the North and South Terraces, Lansdowne was generally family-friendly.

Pet-friendly, too, at times. I recall seeing a goat in Young Munster colours being led around the ground during the showdown AIL game between Young Munster and St Mary's in 1989, when Brent Pope was famously sent off.

The array of sports played in the ground added to the parish atmosphere, especially in earlier days. As well as rugby (and later soccer), tennis and cricket briefly flourished. Originally an athletics ground, Lansdowne hosted the Olympic gold medallists Fanny Blankers-Koen and Ronnie Delany at meetings in the 1940s and 1950s.

More exotic games took place also, such as lacrosse (the Canadian Indian team were addressed by their head-dress-wearing, tomahawk-wielding captain on the pitch before the game) and pigeon-shooting (feathered, not clay), all gleefully recounted by Siggins and Clerkin in their excellently researched and highly entertaining book.

Their account of famous occasions at the ground is enlivened by social detail. During the controversial South African rugby tour here in 1970, one letter to The Irish Times objecting to the behaviour of certain objectors was from a student named Michael McDowell. The owner of the banner "Go Home Union Jack" - a protest at the appointment of Jack Charlton as manager of the soccer team in 1986 - might not know that the British cavalry grazed their horses here, and the IRFU Volunteer Corps drilled at the ground in preparation for serving the crown in the Great War.

When the all-Ireland Shamrock Rovers XI played Brazil, in 1973, there was no home national anthem or flag, but that didn't stop the band playing A Nation Once Again before kick-off. A few weeks after the Dáil had liberalised the sale of contraceptives the French team lining out in March 1985 included Jean Condom, opposite Ireland's Willie Anderson. "Our Willie Is Bigger Than Your Condom" read the inevitable banner.

Packed with pictures, drawings, programme notes, ticket stubs and other memorabilia, the Siggins-Clerkin book is a comprehensive and well-written account of the history of Lansdowne Road.

The consensus is that neither rugby nor soccer really took off at Croke Park. I suspect, however, this apathy has more to do with spectators' expectations than the limitations of any ground. Having gorged ourselves on the successes of the rugby and soccer teams we are greedy for more, though we may be waiting a while. We are less forgiving, less tolerant of failure or defeat. Reared on multiple camera angles and instant analysis, we want it all, and we want it now. The new stadium is equipped with every modern facility. Whether it will endear itself to the nation in the same way Lansdowne Road did, as recounted in this book, remains to be seen. We know we can sing when we're winning, but it's when we're losing that our teams need us most of all.
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Lansdowne Road: The Stadium; the matches; the greatest days
Lansdowne Road: The Stadium; the matches; the greatest days by Gerard Siggins (Paperback - 3 Aug 2010)
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