I felt sick at shameful scenes before my eyes... how our late, great, former sports editor Malcolm Brodie saw it
Linfield 1 Dundalk 1
Linfield player-manager Roy Coyle sat with his Dundalk counterpart Jimmy McLaughlin in the players' lounge at Oriel Park last night after this European Cup preliminary round tie. "I'm sick - sick of people dragging our game in the mud," he said. "Agreed," commented McLaughlin.
It was the feeling of most people who had watched in utter disgust and contempt the stone-throwing and missile hurling Linfield fans, the pathetic attempts at crowd control by the Gardai, who even resorted to tossing stones back, and white-coated official stewards whose decision to arm themselves with sticks only led to further provocation.
A night of shame. A night of degradation. A night when those 200 of the 3,000 Linfield fans who made the trip south may have brought dire consequences on the club. The repercussions could be devastating. Today in the cold light of dawn I only hope they realise the folly of their actions.
One finds it difficult to comprehend how so-called spectators with a deep feeling for any club could put it in jeopardy. They were warned by Linfield in a special directive. They were welcomed to the ground by posters. They were asked repeatedly over the public address system to remember what was at stake.
It was futile, like attempting to stop the tide. From 15 minutes before kick-off the stone-throwing began. It subsided at the start of the second half, delayed briefly while Coyle and the Linfield players pleaded with the mob on the terracing. Then it broke out again and finished with a mass baton charge by the blue-helmeted Gardai.
I was filled with complete revulsion. The game now meant very little for attention was diverted by the mayhem happening around you. All I wanted to do was get up - and get out. Never did I welcome the end of a match as I did this one. The environment was completely foreign to what football, indeed sport, should all be about.
Perhaps with hindsight one might ask should the game in the prevailing circumstances of Ireland have been staged in such a flashpoint area? Officials always feared the worst from the moment the two teams came out of the draw but it proved a disaster on a more monumental scale than anyone imagined. Today we can be thankful that players of both teams did not respond to the violence on the terracing. Their behaviour was impeccable as they put everything into an uncompromising 90 minutes handled superbly by referee Pat Partridge and his two linesmen.
The fact that the tie was finished at all is due in a large measure to this farmer from Middlesbrough.
Gardai attempted to escort him into the sanctuary of the dressing room at the finish but he remained until all the players had preceded him. Here was a performance not only of a high standard but one of common sense as well. Dundalk supporters, infinitely fewer in number, did not emerge with credit either. They raced at the gate in their compound like caged lions only to be driven back by Gardai.
They burned Linfield scarves and hurled missiles at the players when Warren Feeney put the Blues ahead in the 48th minute.
A cancer has crept into NI football which has been remarkably free of problems during these last 10 troubled years - a cancer based on bitter sectarianism. A cancer which could be terminal for the game.
Linfield can feel satisfied with a draw against a side with a solid defence and a midfield which created quite a few chances not accepted by the forwards. That goal, too, could count as double if the teams finish scoreless at the end of the second leg and - hopefully now - Linfield will qualify for the first round proper tie against Hibernian of Malta.
Peter Rafferty was supreme at the back. A colossus who dominated everything and whose heading ability at set pieces again proved devastating. Every time the ball was floated into the middle he rose like a diver surfacing from the depths.
Rafferty was the fulcrum of Linfield with his full backs John Garrett and Terry Hayes and central defender Peter Dornan all contributing a lot. Davy Nixon worked tirelessly in midfield but I was disappointed with Jonny Jameson in this department, with Colin McCurdy, much too slow in movement and thought at times, and Stephen McKee, a player who promised much but fulfilled little.
Lindsay McKeown helped the Blues gain control of midfield and if there had been a greater response from the strikers then the visitors could have left Dundalk with a convincing triumph.
Dundalk forwards were also shot shy. For instance Hilary Carlyle should have put his side ahead after five minutes; Terry Daly's cross floated into the goalmouth but Dornan, earlier injured, cleared off the line.
As for Linfield, a Feeney centre was knocked away by Paddy Dunning, a penalty claim when Jameson was brought down went unheeded and Rafferty headed a corner wide of the upright.
And so to half-time and the battle raging on the terracing. "Cool it," shouted the entire Linfield team as they pleaded with the mob from the touchline with the referee and the Dundalk players watching, wondering.
Off again - and within three minutes Linfield had scored. Feeney sprinted gazelle-like past Martin Lawlor to pick up a measured pass from McKee and as goalkeeper Ritchie Blackmore came out to cut the angle, he steered it over the line.
A second goal almost arrived when Kelly, attempting a clearance, nearly pushed it into his own net but 10 minutes from the end Dundalk equalised when Liam Devine, a substitute for Carlyle, headed Dunning's cross past George Dunlop who had played exceptionally well despite the constant bombardment by toilet rolls and more lethal missiles.
Two players were booked - McKee (Linfield) and Daley (Dundalk) - for fouls on opponents but it was not a roughhouse. Not by any means a match between two teams who deserve the plaudits of all for maintaining such a standard throughout a situation in which few players anywhere in the world would find themselves.
It was 10pm - almost an hour after the final whistle - when I strolled onto the pitch as Gardai collected their weapons of war - helmets, shields, batons and the stewards put away their sticks.
On the deserted stone-strewn terracing lay a crumpled Ulster flag. The Eire Tricolour on the unreserved stand which one fan had attempted to tear down was limp on the mast. Two sorry symbols of an island bathed in soccer shame by a few who, with apologies to Winston Churchill, have perpetrated so much anguish and pain on so many.
To leave Oriel Park, to get away from it all was such relief.
Like Coyle, like McLaughlin, I did feel sick. Most people did.
Dundalk: Blackmore, McConville, Martin Lawlor, Keeley, Dunning, Flanagan, Byrne, Mick Lawlor, Carlyle (Devine), Muckian, Daley.
Linfield: Dunlop, Garrett, Hayes, Jameson, Rafferty, Dornan, Nixon (Koch), McKeown, McCurdy, McKee, Feeney.
Referee: Pat Partridge (Middlesbrough)