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20 September 2009

On this day in history: Foundation of first Irish football club, 1879

While on honeymoon in Scotland in 1878, a young businessman from Belfast called John McCredy McAlery watched soccer being played for the first time. McAlery, an accomplished sportsman, became enthralled by the sport and decided to introduce it to his native land. In October that same year, he arranged an exhibition match at the Ulster Cricket Grounds between the Scottish teams Queen's Park and Caledonians.

A year later he decided to go one better and found the first Irish football club. On 20th September 1879 a notice appeared in the Belfast newspapers the News Letter and the Northern Whig, which read:

Cliftonville Association Football Club (Scottish Association Rules.) Gentlemen desirous of becoming members of the above Club will please communicate with J. M. McAlery, 6 Donegall Street; or R. M. Kennedy, 6 Brookvale Terrace, Antrim Road. Opening practice today at 3.30.

Nine days later the Cliftonville team, including McAlery, played their first game at Cliftonville Cricket Club against a team of rugby players called the Quidnunces to whom they lost 2:1.

Aware that the locals would soon lose interest in a sport with only one club, McAlery aided the Knock Cricket and Lacrosse Club in the formation of their own football team. As happened across the Irish Sea, many other cricket clubs formed their own football teams in order to compete in a winter sport. In November 1880 there were enough of them to form the Irish Football Association with McAlery taking on the role of secretary.

To learn more of the history of Cliftonville F.C., see the history page on the official web-site

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