There was great excitement when we qualified for Europe for the first time in about six years by beating Villa 3-2 in the last game of the previous season. I myself had never been to an away game in Europe and was looking forward to a nice trip to Germany or Holland. So it was a bit of an anti-climax being drawn against Bohemians. I wasn't even sure whether it really counted as abroad or not. In those days they even had the same money as us! The enthusiasm for our UEFA campaign was dampened generally by the start we had in the league that season. After beating Leeds at home on the opening day we went on the longest losing streak in the league in the club's history. It eventually stretched to ten games, and was five by the time we played the first leg in Dublin. Largely as a result of our league form there weren't that many Toon fans made the trip. Most that did go went with the club and caught the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin. I had a student railcard in those days and so jumped on the train to Holyhead and then took the ferry over to Dun Laoghaire. It was my 21st two days before the game and I'd asked everyone to give me money to pay for my trip.
My mother had warned me to be careful (as mothers always do!) because I was going to Ireland. I told her not to worry as I was going to Southern Ireland, not Northern Ireland which was where there were big problems at the time. Being young and naive I had absolutely no understanding of what was actually behind the problems in Northern Ireland, and therefore didn't realise that there were a lot of people in the South that aren't too keen on the British. I soon learnt. To be fair though, most people over there were great, but we did get the odd bit of abuse shouted at us from passing cars.
Ireland was a real culture shock. We arrived in Dublin itself at about half 7 in the morning and were amazed to find that there were pubs open. Of course, we had to dive straight in one. But it wasn't that long before the novelty wore off and we headed off to get some breakfast and find digs for the night. Once a hotel was sorted we still had a load of time to kill before the game. A trip to the Guinness brewery was the natural thing to do, and we hoped that we might get some free beer out of it. Not surprisingly we weren't the only Toon fans with the same idea. We had to sit through a pretty boring slide show about the brewery, but eventually we were indeed taken to a bar for a couple of free halves.
Next on the agenda was a trip to Dublin Zoo, conveniently not far from the ground. A couple of hours later and we rolled up at the ground. I haven't got a clue what time this was, but it was early. I can safely say that we were the first fans, ours or theirs, to get there. We had a bit of a walk around the outside of the ground. It was pretty much totally dead, but we eventually bumped into some sort of club official. We asked him which end of the ground the away fans went in. He replied that, depending on which way the teams were kicking, the home fans went in one end, the away fans went in the other, then they swapped at half-time. We thought that this sounded very civilised and wandered off in search of refreshment. The barman in the pub we ended up in was an absolute star - even when it got really busy approaching kick-off he always knew who was next. A bit different to most bar staff today.
After several Guinnesses it was finally time to go to the game. We left the pub to find that things had totally transformed while we'd been sinking our pints. Now there were people all over the place, and the crowd was obviously going to be a lot higher than the thousand or so they got for league games. When we got to the ground we were told to go in the terrace along the front of the main stand. So much for swapping ends at half-time then. Inside the ground the atmosphere was anything but friendly. I can't actually remember much about the first half, but the second half was when it all happened. In fact it all started before their team came out after half-time. We'd come out first and the players had naturally gone down to the end we would be defending. There were fans sitting on the top of the stand at that end (how football's changed!) and some of them decided to start lobbing missiles at Mick Mahoney, our keeper. Before long something landed right on his head and knocked him out! The Toon fans were going mental and would have quite happily got stuck into the Irish lot, but we were fenced in so couldn't. Still, eventually "Super Goalie" recovered, their team came out, and the second half kicked-off. Next thing you know though their fans behind one of the goals decided to invade the pitch, a lot of them running over to where we were. At this point I was very glad we were fenced in! One of their fans slipped up though. He came right up to the fence to hurl abuse at us, but he had a scarf fastened around his neck and a Toon fan reached through the fence and grabbed it and pulled his head right up against the fence, and he got a good punching from our lot. The pitch invasion lasted for ages. There'd only been six Garda (police) in the ground for an attendance of 25,000, so there wasn't much they could do about it. After a while though reinforcements arrived and they cleared the pitch and the game was finished. The final score was 0-0 for the record. We had planned to have a few pints after the game, but we bottled it and got a taxi straight back to the hotel and never went out.
Next morning we called in for a pint before catching the train back to Dun Laoghaire for the ferry. It was the same pub we'd been in 24 hours earlier when we first arrived in Dublin. The barman had actually been to the game and was really embarrassed about what had happened and couldn't apologise enough. Imagine our amazement then when shortly after we saw the papers. Both their papers and ours were making out that it was our fans that had caused the trouble. To make matters worse, Russell Cushing did his best to confirm their interpretation of events by apologising for our behaviour. Strange that Bohemians were banned by UEFA from playing at home for two years then!
After seeing off Bohemians back at the Toon we were drawn against Bastia in the next round. I fancied going over there for the first leg, but decided against it. I'd only started my first job a couple of weeks earlier and thought it might go down well taking a few days off. Plus I was really short of cash. I decided I'd save up for the next round instead. Big mistake. It would be 17 years before our next away game in Europe - Antwerp. And that's another story.