Cliftonville F.C.

Cliftonville Football Club
Full name Cliftonville Football & Athletic Club
Nickname(s) The Reds
Founded September 1879 (1879-09)
Ground Solitude, Belfast
Ground Capacity 3,200
Chairman Gerard Lawlor
Manager Gerard Lyttle
League NIFL Premiership
2015–16 NIFL Premiership, 4th

Cliftonville Football & Athletic Club (the Reds) is a Northern Irish semi-professional association football club playing in the NIFL Premiership. Founded on 20 September 1879 by John McCredy McAlery in the suburb of Cliftonville in north Belfast, it is the oldest football club in Ireland and celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2009. Since 1890, the club has played at Solitude. Cliftonville contests the North Belfast derby with nearest rivals Crusaders, and also has historical rivalries with Belfast's Big Two clubs, Glentoran and Linfield.

The club has won the Irish League championship four times outright and once shared, the Irish Cup eight times and the NI Football League Cup five times.


The founders of football in Ireland

Cliftonville F.C. was founded on 20 September 1879 after an advertisement in the Belfast News-Letter and Northern Whig in which John McAlery, a young Belfast businessman and manager of the "Irish Tweed House", Royal Avenue, and later with premises in Rosemary Street, asked people to sign up with "Cliftonville Association Football Club".[1][2]

Only one week after the advertisement was published, Cliftonville played its first recorded game at Oldpark Avenue against a selection of rugby players known as Quidnunces, the game took place on 29 September 1879. The newly formed club, however, was beaten 2–1. In its first match against the Scottish club Caledonians, it fared worse: a 1–9 defeat.[1]

In 1880, it was again John McAlery who was the moving spirit in the formation of the Irish Football Association. He issued an invitation to interested parties in Belfast and district for a meeting to be called. The first meeting took place on 18 November 1880 at Queen's Hotel, Belfast, presided over by John Sinclair, from which the Irish Football Association was formed. While Major Chichester was appointed president, McAlery became the honorary secretary of the association. This meeting also paved the way for the Irish Cup.

The early years

The first Irish Cup final, played at Cliftonville on 9 April 1881, saw a 1–0 defeat against Moyola Park, an opponent that was well known for "rough and brutal play". In the following year Cliftonville lost again in the Irish Cup final, this time by 2–1 against Queen's Island. In 1883 Cliftonville won the cup for the first time with a 5–0 win over Ulster.[1]

During the 1880s Cliftonville also played in the English FA Cup, competing in the competition proper in 1886–87 and 1887–88. In 1886–87 they finally lost in the third round 11–0 at home to Partick Thistle after beating Blackburn Park Road 7–2 in an earlier round. In 1887–88 they scratched their match with Church (Accrington).[3] The match lost to Linfield 7–0 in 1888 is the only FA Cup match to be played on Christmas Day.[4]

The inaugural meeting of the Irish Football League was held on 14 March 1890 in the Belfast Estate Office of the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava with M. McNeice (Cliftonville) as its first president. Eight clubs agreed to participate: Cliftonville, Clarence, Milford, Oldpark, Distillery, Glentoran, Ulster and Linfield. In the 1905–06 season Cliftonville won the League for the first time, a success that was repeated in the 1909–10 campaign.[1]

In 1891 Cliftonville became the first Irish football club to use floodlights at games. As reported; "It seems to be incredible, but it is a fact that in 1891 two matches were played under electric lights at Cliftonville: Distillery defeated the Reds 4–2 and the Black Watch held Cliftonville to 2–2 draw. Kick-off in each case was at 8 pm with lights suspended across the pitch. These were dismantled later with the announcement that spectators found it difficult to follow the action and that "the player seemed to have all the fun in the middle". It had been a bold experience, but not a highly successful one with the public skeptical, almost contemptuous of this enterprising project." [5]

In 1897 Cliftonville won the Irish Cup after a 3–1 win over Sherwood Foresters. A quite unusual protest was launched by Cliftonville after being beaten by Belfast Celtic in the 1900 Irish Cup competition. The Celtic goalposts were eventually measured and it was found out that they were much too short. A replay took place, in which Cliftonville reversed the 4–0 defeat in the earlier match. Subsequently they won the Cup that year, after beating Bohemians 2–1 in the Final.[1]

Long gap between victories

Being an all-amateur team until the early 1970s, Cliftonville subsequently played a minor role in Northern Irish football as professionalism took hold. It was only in 1976, under manager Jackie Hutton and his assistant Jackie Patterson, that Cliftonville experienced a "revolution in fortune" which peaked on 28 April 1979 in the Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park. In front of 15,000 spectators, the largest attendance for many years, Cliftonville beat Portadown 3–2 with goals from John Platt, Mike Adair and a late winner from Tony Bell. Unusually, the Reds were playing in yellow and blue that day. A similar strip was launched for the club's appearance in the 2009 showpiece.

In the years after this achievement, Cliftonville returned to the lower reaches of the Irish League, and in the Nineties were often closer to relegation than to the top. However, things started to improve after winning the Floodlit Cup in 1996 and the County Antrim Shield in 1997 for the first time in 88 years.

Under manager Marty Quinn, a player from the cup-winning side of 1979, Cliftonville won the Irish League in 1997–98 for the first time in 88 years at Solitude after a 1–1 draw against Glentoran. UTV's coverage of the post-match wait in the home changing-room, which erupted in celebration once the title win had been confirmed, brought the Reds' victory to a wide audience. After the Cliftonville players returned to the Solitude pitch, Reds Captain Mickey Donnelly lifted the Irish League trophy. Donnelly was made new Captain at the start of the season after replacing Marty Tabb.

Yet the championship was followed by another potential highlight that turned out badly for Cliftonville, when the 1999 final of the Irish Cup between Cliftonville and Portadown was cancelled due to a Cliftonville player who had featured in the semi-final being deemed ineligible. Portadown were given a walkover in the final.

The new century

Former player and Captain Marty Tabb was appointed new manager and former defender Stephen Small was appointed Assistant Manager at the turn of the century. The Reds subsequently reverted to type, escaping relegation by beating Ards in relegation matches in two consecutive years. Nevertheless, in 2003 the Reds caused an upset by winning the Irish League Cup, beating Larne. The Reds were back in the relegation play-off in the 2003–04 season, but comfortably disposed of Armagh City over the two legs. After a string of poor results, Tabb resigned in 2004. Former Institute boss Liam Beckett took over but only managed the club for the 2004–05 season.

Since then the Reds have progressed, with a fifth-place finish in 2005–06 under new manager Eddie Patterson, (who replaced Liam Beckett), and his Assistant Tommy Breslin. Fifth was the club's highest finish since the league win of 1997–98.

The 2006–07 season was a successful one for the club getting to the League Cup final and winning the County Antrim Shield. Finishing third ensured European football for the first time in five years.

Cliftonville won their first ever game in Europe beating Dinaburg of Latvia in the First Round of the UEFA Intertoto Cup 2007, the home leg was played at Windsor Park, Belfast and finished 1–1 with Kieron O'Connor scoring the Cliftonville goal, on his competitive debut and the away leg was played at the Celtnieks Stadium in the Latvian city of Daugavpils. Mark Holland scored the only goal of the game, which brought the travelling Red Army to their feet and secured Cliftonville's first victory in European competition.

During the 2007–08 campaign Cliftonville's performances in the first half of the season had seemed to make them genuine title contenders, spending much of the early and middle part of the season top of the table, going top with five games to go, however a poor run of form in the final fixtures of the campaign ended their hopes of winning the biggest prize in local football. The Reds finished the league campaign in third position fourteen points adrift of Champions Linfield.

However Cliftonville again secured European football, in the shape of the UEFA Cup. This success meant that the club became the first Northern Irish side to play in all of UEFA's competitions. This time being drawn against Danish giants Copenhagen, the home leg took place at Mourneview Park, Lurgan and resulted in a 4–0 defeat with the return leg two weeks later held in the Danish National Stadium, Parken Stadium and the result again was unfavourable – this time a 7–0 defeat.

During the 2008–09 campaign Cliftonville struggled in terms of their league performance but finished strongly to secure a top 6 finish. They won the County Antrim Shield and reached the Irish Cup final, 30 years since their previous victory in the competition. Alas it was not to be a victorious occasion with the Reds losing out to their near neighbours, Crusaders. The season was a success on a personal note for captain Chris Scannell, who finished top goalscorer in all competitions, and won the coveted Ulster Footballer of the Year trophy.

The Reds began the following season, 2009–10, eager to carry on the largely good form of the last few months of the previous one. That run largely continued, with the highlight a 4–0 destruction in the derby game against Linfield at Solitude. The Reds finished second on 69 points, a 1–0 defeat away to Linfield in the penultimate game cost the Reds the championship.

The 2010–11 season began with a 1–0 aggregate win over Croatian side HNK Cibalia in the second qualifying round of the Europa league. Cliftonville lost to CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria in the first match of the third qualifying round, 3–0. In the 2nd Leg Cliftonville lost 1–2 on the night which secured a 5–1 aggregate success for Sofia, who were allowed to remain in the competition when UEFA ruled that Cliftonville's appeal over the ineligibility of CSKA midfielder Spas Delev had not been lodged within the required 24-hour time frame.[6] At the end of the 2010–11 season, Eddie Patterson became the first manager to be sacked in the clubs history. He was replaced by Tommy Breslin.

The 2012–13 season was the most successful in the club's history. A win in the 2012–13 Irish League Cup final in January 2013 over rivals Crusaders was followed up with a League Championship, courtesy of a ninety second-minute penalty from George McMullan against Linfield on 14 April 2013. The club missed out on a treble when they were defeated 3–1 after extra time in the 2012–13 Irish Cup final by Glentoran on 4 May 2013.

The club started the following season in the UEFA Champions league second qualifying round, losing to Scottish champions Celtic[7] in both legs. In January 2014, the club lifted their second consecutive League Cup against the same final opponents as the previous season, Crusaders. A 3–2 penalty shoot-out victory after a 0–0 draw was enough to earn the club's third League Cup title overall. The next year, Cliftonville defeated Ballymena United 3–2 in the League Cup final at Windsor Park to secure a third League Cup in a row. On 13 February 2016, Cliftonville won its fourth League Cup four in a row by defeating Ards 3–0 in the final at Solitude.

European Cups history

As of 23 July 2013

Competition Matches W D L GF GA
UEFA Champions League 4 0 0 4 1 18
UEFA Cup/Europa League 10 2 2 6 4 22
UEFA Cup Winners' Cup 2 0 0 2 0 8
UEFA Intertoto Cup 10 1 2 7 5 23
TOTAL: 26 3 4 19 10 71

Current squad

Note: Flags indicate national team as defined under FIFA eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-FIFA nationality.

No. Position Player
1 Northern Ireland GK Jason Mooney
2 Northern Ireland DF Jaimie McGovern
3 Northern Ireland DF Levi Ives
4 Republic of Ireland DF Caohimin Bonner
5 Northern Ireland DF Chris Ramsey
6 Republic of Ireland DF Jason McGuinness
7 Northern Ireland MF Chris Curran
8 Northern Ireland MF James Knowles
9 Northern Ireland FW David McDaid
10 Northern Ireland FW Stephen Garrett
11 Northern Ireland MF Martin Donnelly
No. Position Player
12 Republic of Ireland GK Peter Burke
14 Northern Ireland FW Daniel Hughes
15 Northern Ireland DF Eamonn Seydak
16 Republic of Ireland FW Ruairí Harkin
17 Northern Ireland MF Ryan Catney
18 Northern Ireland MF Jude Winchester
22 Northern Ireland FW Ross Lavery
23 Northern Ireland MF Tomás Cosgrove
26 Northern Ireland FW Andrew Mooney


Senior honours

Intermediate honours

† Won by Cliftonville Olympic (reserve team) ‡ Won by Cliftonville Strollers (reserve team)

Junior honours

† Won by Cliftonville Olympic (reserve team) ‡ Won by Cliftonville Strollers (reserve team)



In Cliftonville's early history its support was mainly drawn from middle class Protestants. However, since The Troubles the club's support has been mainly Roman Catholic.

There are currently 6 known Supporters Clubs:

Solitude Reds

Greenisland Reds

North Belfast Reds

Social Reds

Carnlough Reds

Whiterock Reds

Notable supporters include:


The club's mascot is Red Arnie


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Malcolm Brodie, "100 Years of Irish Football", Blackstaff Press, Belfast (1980)
  2. Northern Whig, 20 September 1879
  3. Collett, Mike (2003). The Complete Record of The FA Cup. p. 239. ISBN 1-899807-19-5.
  4. Collett, Mike (2003). The Complete Record of The FA Cup. p. 878. ISBN 1-899807-19-5.
  5. Belfast Newsletter, Thursday 9 April 1891
  6. "Cliftonville miss out on Europa League reprieve". BBC. 17 August 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  7. "Celtic face Northern Irish side Cliftonville in Champions League". BBC Sport. 24 June 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.

External links

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