RETRO | 1979: ‘The Battle of Oriel Park’ when Dundalk FC met Linfield in the European Cup

It’s 40 years ago since Dundalk FC played host to Linfield in the preliminary round of the European Cup. Dundalk Sport takes a look back at one of the darkest nights in Oriel Park’s history.

“August 29th 1979, was one of the saddest night’s in the history of Linfield and, indeed, of Irish football.”

The official history of Linfield FC.

The Belfast club’s management committee had issued a blunt seven-point directive to its 5,000 travelling support, which had as its basic theme — behave in a dignified manner.

Officials on both sides had feared the worst and had co-operated in mounting the biggest security operation ever seen at an Irish sporting occasion but it turned out to be a disaster on a more monumental scale than could have been imagined.

From early afternoon in the streets of Dundalk, there was growing evidence of the scale of the impending problems. On the terraces, before the game even started, it was open warfare with some of the bloodiest fighting ever seen at an Irish sporting venue. Extra riot police were called but to no avail.

That the game got underway was itself a miracle and after a pitch invasion, Linfield manager Roy Coyle, accompanied by his players, was appealing for the violence to stop. “I’m sick of people dragging our name through the mud,” was Roy’s comment afterwards and this summed up the feelings of most people who watched in horror and fear.

As for the game, after a scoreless first half, Warren Feeney put the visitors ahead, shortly after another pitch invasion. With the game running against Dundalk, the introduction of Liam Devine was decisive. Liam spread panic in the Linfield defence and with ten minutes remaining headed a beautiful equaliser.

The terrace violence seemed to escalate for a time after Dundalk scored and both teams simply played time out, leaving the issue to be decided on another day. To complete an appalling night, the Dundalk to Newry Road was littered with glass as the returning Linfield buses were ambushed.

That a drink-crazed minority of little more than 150 had caused the problems made not a whit of difference — the TV cameras and the international press headlines told their own story.

The reaction of UEFA was decisive and speedy. Dundalk were fined 3,000 Swiss Francs, £900, for inadequate security, but the price paid by Linfield was a heavy one.

The Blues were banned from playing their next two European matches at Windsor Park, pay for the damage to Oriel Park, cover any expenses incurred by Dundalk over what might reasonably be spent on a Belfast fixture and the second leg not be played at a ground within the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland.

On the back of good relations built up through participation in Youth tournaments, Linfield secured the cooperation of Haarlem, the Dutch Second Division club, and a week later the two clubs headed for Holland to a near-empty stadium to contest the second leg which Dundalk won 2–1.

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