Lansdowne Road Stadium was the brainchild of a Trinity College graduate, Henry Wallace Doveton Dunlop who wanted to develop a venue for sports in the city.
In 1871 Dunlop took a sixty nine year lease on the land in Ballsbridge to set up the Lansdowne Tennis Club, Lansdowne Archery Club, Lansdowne Cricket Club and Lansdowne Rugby Club. In 1880 Wanderers Rugby Club moved in to share the ground. The clubs had their own pavilions at either end.
Three hundred cartloads of soil dug from the nearby railway were banked up to give Dunlop an arena that was highly envied. Rugby was the main sport played and on March 11th 1878 it hosted the games first ever international between Ireland and England. In 1887 the IRFU bought the lease from Dunlop to maximise their own profits.
In 1908 the first covered grandstand was erected on the Railway Side with an open stand in the north west corner by the Lansdowne pavilion. In 1900 the first football international at the ground saw England beat Ireland 2-0. The Irish Free State played Italy at the ground in 1926, which proved to be the last football game at the ground until Waterford United took on Manchester United in 1968.
The day after the UK declared war in August 1914, three hundred and fifty rugby union players met at the ground to be addressed by FH Bowning the President of the IRFU to join the 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers. A memorial was erected to those who fell in the Great War and was kept after the stadium redevelopment. After that War, land was reclaimed from the River Dodder so that two extra pitches could be laid and the main pitch be re-aligned to its present angle.
In 1927 an East Stand was built with terracing below it, while in 1930 Lansdowne LTC relocated over the Dodder to Londonbridge Road. The IRFU also let the ground be used for occasional athletics meetings. Rugby internationals were shared with Ravenhill Stadium in Belfast until 1954 when a new Upper West Stand was erected.
The West Lower Stand was replaced in 1978 while Lansdowne RFC moved to a new pavilion off site as the North Terrace was demolished and then extended. Their mock tudor room was taken over by the IRFU. The East Stand was replaced in 1983.
The FAI leased Lansdowne Road for matches in 1971 and then again from 1990 as an aging Dalymount Park was proving insufficient for modern demands. Floodlights were installed around 1993. Following the signing of the IRA ceasefire in 1994, England visited for a football international. The match was abandoned owing to the disgusting actions of many of the visiting supporters as seats were ripped out of the West Stand and used as missiles towards the Irish supporters and the Garda.
The final football game at the old stadium was the FAI Cup Final on 3rd December 2006 which saw Derry City defeat St Patrick's Athletic. The final rugby game came on December 31st 2006 when 48,000 fans saw Leinster defeat Ulster in a Magners League clash. Demolition of the stadium began in May 2007 as both international sides decamped to Croke Park.
Over the next three years a magnificent stadium took the old grounds place. Holding 51,700 seats and capable of accommodating 65,000 for concerts, it is also aesthetically beautiful.
The stadium was designed by HOK Sport, who also had major roles in the development of the New Wembley Stadium and Stadium Australia (Olympic Stadium). The pitch was moved several metres away from the railway side to allow the structure to be built.
Aviva Insurance bought the naming rights for the stadium in a ten year deal from 2009. A 50/50 deal between the IRFU and the FAI was signed for a period of sixty years when the IRFU will take over.
The stadium was officially opened by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen on 14th May 2010. The ticket pricing charged by the IRFU caused controversy. The rugby teams first game was on 6th November 2010 which saw South Africa run out 23-21 winners. The ground only drew a crowd of 35,515 in a backlash to the charges. The first Republic of Ireland international was against Argentina on 11th August 2010, with the visitors winning 1-0.
The stadium became home to the FAI Cup Final and a huge crowd of 36,101 turned out to see Sligo Rovers defeat Shamrock Rovers on penalty kicks.
In May 2011 the Aviva Stadium staged the Europa League Final in which FC Porto defeated Braga in an all Portuguese clash. The stadium held the 2013 Heineken Cup Final between Toulon and Clermont Auvergne.
Republic of Ireland 1 England 1 (Wednesday 14th November 1990) European Championship Qualifier (att: 46,000)
I had been to Italia 90 to follow England with my brother Nick, so when the draw was made for the European Qualifiers, this game stood out as a must do. Crusher and Ade Stelling, my regular companions at Wembley were also England Travel Club members, so when we were all fortunate enough to be allotted tickets a plan was hatched.
Nick set off to Dublin a couple of days before us. I was a bit concerned as reports were filtering through of trouble in the Irish capital involving local republicans. England football fans were obvious prime targets. I set off with Crusher along with Steph, a Leeds supporting mate of old on the train to Leeds where we were to meet another old face, Timmy in the Scarbrough Hotel who was with Ade.
Suitably refreshed we caught another train to Chester. The plan was to have a few beers there before connecting with the train to Holyhead where we were to catch the 3am ferry which was included in our cheap ticket. At 11pm we tried to get into a couple of night clubs but the local bouncers were obviously wised up to the threat of visiting football fans. We only wanted a beer! Plan B was to go to an Indian restaurant as we could be fed and they served alcohol. This was Crusher's first ever visit to such an establishment and set him off on his curries for many years to come. The lads threatened to do a runner and leave me with the bill, playing on my naivety.
We eventually caught our final train which was full of southern based fans on the 'dry' train who were trying to get some sleep. Timmy had to be ushered along as he offered feedback to a carriage full of Chelsea fans! The ferry ride seemed to pass quickly enough as hundreds of lads sprawled out wherever they could.
On arrival in Dublin, a coach dropped us off near to Connolly station. The match had a 1.30 kick off because Lansdowne Road still hadn't installed floodlights. The pubs were already open, albeit packed out. Ade fought his way to the bar to order us three Guinness as Steph and Timmy had gone their own way to find their hotel.
I was originally alarmed as I thought the barman was topping up slops. How little I knew! It was my first experience of the proper dark stuff, and I loved it. We headed off towards O'Connell Street where we found a couple of bars off side streets as well as one by the Liffey. We then caught a heaving train from Tara Street to the stadium.
It was pandemonium trying to get inside the ramshackle old stadium. We were located in the upper tier of the West Stand. It was a decent enough view but the atmosphere was hostile. To the right was a strange shaped large open terracing. Opposite was the East Stand with two tiers of seats and then terracing at the bottom. Another irregular shaped North Terrace was to our left which fitted in the little room left from the street behind.
Graham Taylor was the England boss and he sent the blood pressure of the visiting fans soaring when it was announced that Paul Gascoigne was left out to be replaced by Gordon Cowans.
The game was the usual fare served up between the two teams. Jack Charlton's teams were no thing of beauty but they got stuck in and negated their opponents slightly more creative style. It was goalless at half time before David Platt gave England the lead. Tony Cascarino equalised to send the stadium into raptures. The game finished in a draw, which was about right.
I had caught up with Nick and he had told us of a pub to meet him in around 6pm. Ade had gone to his hotel to meet up with us again later. Crusher and I decided to walk back into town rather than wait for the trains. We thought we were doing well in quite an increasingly nasty atmosphere keeping our heads down (my choice of a green sweater over my England shirt was proving an inspired choice) when a double decker bus went by. Timmy and Steph spotted us and made it known. I was praying for a manhole to open for us!
We got back to O'Connell Bridge and it was soon apparent that something was badly wrong. Garda riot fans were everywhere with their sirens screeching out and people were running about randomly. There were scuffles further up the main street. We just put it down to rival hooligans or even a bomb scare. We got into a shop doorway just as the shutters were coming down.
It turned out that Margaret Thatcher had ordered the extradition of IRA prisoner Dessie Ellis to the mainland. Ellis had earlier been impounded for the possession of explosives in the USA and sentenced to ten years in an Irish gaol. He was five weeks into a hunger strike when Thatcher got into action. This was not a total coincidence with England playing in Dublin the same day. Thatcher and her sidekick Colin Moynihan were forever looking for ways to punish all football supporters. This was perfect for them.
Extremists were looking for blood and England fans were top of the menu. We got into a bar for a couple of beers before we set out to find the pub described by Nick. We eventually found him as we went downstairs. It was a very dicey situation. Extremists were infiltrating bars listening out for English accents. A group of men could see our predicament and intervened. We were placed with them, but not all together and told if anyone asked, that we were their relatives. The gents were from Galway and were possibly life savers. We weren't allowed to go to the bar as the Guinness flowed. We got talking to another set of fellas who belonged to St Francis FC, the non league side that had reached the previous seasons FAI Cup Final. I was nervous when the oldest of the Galway gang asked me what I thought of the IRA? I bumbled a reply about how I could understand their feelings but thought their actions a little severe. My drinking partner took about four stones of my shoulders with his reply. "Rob, they are bastards." The conversation and stout flowed a lot easier after that.
It was eventually time to get back to the ferry. We managed to get our bags out of left luggage despite the office being closed. It was good to find plenty of good Irish folk. Tales were exchanged on the ferry after the taxi ride back to port. Some were pretty frightening. We got back to England very early in the morning and after several changes on the train we got back to Scarborough at lunchtime. We certainly had a tale to tell!
Thursday 14th October 2010
I had arrived in Dublin the previous evening for a few days of sightseeing, socialising and visiting stadiums. I had earlier booked a stadium tour of the Aviva before leaving England for the Thursday morning so I could go on to Belfield afterwards where I had an appointment with UCD manager and Scarborough FC hero, Martin Russell.
I was also looking to retrace my footsteps from twenty years previously. I had seen the stadium from a distance on arrival on the ferry. I was really looking forward to my visit. The memories were certainly flowing with the Guinness the previous evening as I found some pubs I'm sure I went in last time. My train took me under the stand on Thursday morning as before, as the train pulled into Lansdowne station.
The stadium was certainly striking with its undulating wave like appearance and glass facade. I found the entrance for the tour and before long our female guide was telling us all about how the stadium was built with the assistance of a short film. We did all the usual tour things, like visiting the media facilities, the changing rooms and going up the players tunnel.
I was blown away with my first view at pitchside. It was certainly a big difference from the old place. Three sides had four tiers. The top and bottom were for general spectators with the middle two for the use of corporate boxes and premium tickets. The North end was single tiered owing to its proximity to local housing, but this seemed to add to the design.
We were told all about the concerts that are required to make the stadium pay its way including the likes of Michael Buble. We were taken to the top level behind the goal which offered a great view of the arena and Dublin beyond.
The lift took us back to our departure point where our guide said goodbye. I had been most pleased when she told me that both rugby clubs were still being looked after with new facilities after the rebuild. Sadly the old mock Tudor pavilions were gone forever.
I telephoned Martin on leaving the stadium and set off on my way passing the RCD Showgrounds which had covered while the redevelopment took place for a while, as well as Donnybrook rugby ground. I went on the walk down Stillorgan Road delighted with my morning out.