23 when Northern Ireland played the Republic, Gerry Taggart remembers the devastation that could have been

Like a number of Gerry Taggart’s friends that night, the Republic of Ireland has yet to return to Windsor Park. Brought along by Taggart for the experience, the hostile environment surrounding this clash was enough to turn some people off for good. 

Meeting again for the first time in seven years, it will be Northern Ireland who do the travelling. Speaking to The Keith Andrews Show ahead of tonight’s meeting between the teams, Taggart relived a night that will share little or nothing in common with that night in 1993.

“I remember there was a lot of bother in and around the ground at the time, and it was kicking off while the game was going on,” Taggart recalls.

“I had invited friends to go to that game, and some of them have never been back to Windsor Park, which is a shame.

“Obviously it was a massive game for both sides, and it was a red-hot atmosphere at Windsor Park. I’ve never known an atmosphere like it.”

With Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland playing for a place in the 1994 World Cup, the significance of the game was not lost on their Northern counterpart either.

After 13-years in charge, Billy Bingham was overseeing his final game in charge of a country he had brought to two World Cup finals. Between the surrounding atmosphere and the personal significance, Taggart experienced “a side of Billy Bingham I’ve never seen before.”

In Taggart’s recollection of events, it makes perfect sense.

 “In the lead up to the match there was a lot of press around, and a lot of hype surrounding the match. It was Northern Ireland versus the Republic of Ireland, and you can imagine, back in 1993 what implications that had.

 “When you were in the thick of it, you could hear the crowd going from chanting to just a sudden change in tone, the crowd’s tone just changes and then you look up into one of the stands and see it kick off.”

Thankfully, it never went much further than these minor scuffles. As Martin and Michael O’Neill prepare their respective sides for tonight’s game, Gerry Taggart is grateful that his experience twenty-five years ago looks set to remain rooted in the past.

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