THERE was an expectation for something to happen last night; for it all to ‘kick-off’.
The eighteen years put between this friendly international and that infamous, violent night at Lansdowne Road in the mid-1990s seemed to suggest that these neighbouring countries simply don’t do friendly.
Can’t do it; won’t do it.
Fireworks would go off and violence would erupt. At least that’s what we were told. There’d be political chants, an influx of extremists and an air of menace about north-west London.
Such pre-match build up seems quite ridiculous now. Wembley was as close to an oasis of calm as it could be.
There was noise and there was passion, sure. The Irish were here en masse and they were as vocal in their support for the boys in green as we’ve come to expect.
If they couldn’t field a team to match such illustrious names as Lampard, Cole, Hart and Rooney, then they’d beat their opponents in the competition within the stands.
The 20,000 or so Green Army brought a sea of colour to a corner of Wembley and their chants easily rose above any noise the English could muster.
At times it seemed that England manager Roy Hodgson’s pre-match appeals to his side’s supporters had been misread. Not only was there no audible airings of ‘No Surrender’, there was hardly a chant of note from the English fans. When the Irish began a round of ‘you’re supposed to be at home’, they had a point.
In the lead up to kick-off, dots of green could be picked out around north-London. They weaved in and out of packed pubs and Tube stations.
On Kilburn High Road – an Irish hub for more than half a century – there were boys tucking into pints in pubs such as The Kingdom, The Black Lion and The Old Bell. With four hours to kick-off, some ruddy faces looked like they might not make the four stops on the Jubilee line to Wembley Park Station.
There was little talk of ‘trouble’, and less of Trap’s team selection. More than anything there was just a pride in the occasion; pride in being here and in wearing the green at Wembley, deep in the home of the beautiful game.
Outside the 90,000-seater stadium, Irish fans mingled with England fans. The sense that this really was a friendly meeting began to grow. Even the police looked a little surprised.
Many of the English fans were out with their families, bringing with them a generation who won’t ever associate this fixture with menace or fear. Maybe colour and noise instead.
When the national anthems passed off impeccably, you sensed a turning point. English fans respectfully applauded Amhrán na bhFiann and the same was true from the Irish when God Save The Queen rang out. There was applause too for the late Tony Grealish.
After that came indifference from the English fans and a sense of ‘meaningless friendly’.
It was there in their team’s play early on. England lacked the fizz of their Irish counterparts.
Robbie Keane darted across the pitch, chasing the ball, his evident enthusiasm forcing some careless shots and passes. It was heart over head stuff from the man not long off a transatlantic flight.
England were also thinking transatlantic.
You sensed they had one eye on Sunday’s glamour tie with Brazil in Rio only for Shane Long to bring them back into the room on 13 minutes.
It was one of the best Irish goals of recent memory. The roar was deafening. And it followed each subsequent English misplaced pass and foiled attack.
When Lampard poked home England’s equaliser 10 minutes later, it didn’t dampen the Irish party but instead brought the English fans into the mix.
By the time the 90 were up, the chants of ‘you’ll never beat the Irish’ had begun – a fourth draw in four (completed) meetings.
A 1-1 win they’ll call it. We can be thankful, at least, that that’s how the game will be remembered.