June 20, 2024

The History of Irish Soccer

Organised soccer in Ireland can trace it’s historical roots to 1878. It is widely accepted that the history of Irish soccer began with Belfast merchant John McAlery. McAlery was on his honeymoon in Edinburgh, Scotland on his honeymoon when he saw his first organised football match. He was taken by the game and decided to introduce association football to Ireland by inviting two football teams from Scotland, Queens Park and Caledonians, to play an exhibition game at Ulster Cricket Grounds in Ballynafeigh on the 24th October 1878. Queens Park won the football match 3-2.

History of Organised Irish Football

John McAlery went on to form the first known football club in Ireland when he established Cliftonville in 1879. He placed the following advertisement in the News Letter and the Northern Whig:

(Scottish Association Rules)

GENTLEMEN DISIROUS OF BECOMING MEMBERS of the above club will please communicate with

J.M.McAlery, 6, Donegall Street or
R.M.Kennedy, 6, Brookevale Terrace, Antrim Road


Cliftonville’s first match was 1-2 defeat to Quidnunces on 29th September 1879. The club’s first victory was on 1st November 1879 when Cliftonville beat Knock 2-0.

On November 18th, 1880 in Queens Hotel in Belfast, the Irish Football Association (IFA) was established. The founding members were all from Northern Ireland, and the clubs were Alexander (Limavady), Avoniel, Cliftonville, Distillery, Knock, Moyla Park, and Oldpark. The first competition introduced by the IFA was the Irish Cup and the inaugural winners were Moyla Park, who beat Cliftonville 1-0 in the 1800-01 season. It would take a further ten years before the establishment of an Irish football league.

The first meeting of the Irish Football League took place in the Belfast Estate Office of the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava on the 14th March 1890. The founding member clubs were Clarence, Cliftonville, Distillery, Glentoran, Linfield, Milford, Oldpark, and Ulster. The first president of the Irish Football League was M McNiece of Cliftonville.

Because of John McAlery’s involvement in the history of Irish soccer Ireland’s second city, Belfast, was the home of the sport. Every other sport in Ireland had it’s headquarters in Dublin.

First Irish Soccer International Match

Ireland played it’s first international match on 18th February 1882 (although some reports suggest that it was 30th January) at Bloomfield Park in front of an attendance of 2,500. England provided the opposition and Ireland lost heavily by a scoreline of 0-13. This remains Ireland’s heaviest defeat in and international football match.

The team representing Ireland on that day was; James Hamilton (Knock), John McAlery – Captain (Cliftonville), Don Rattray (Avoneil), David Martin (Cliftonville), John Hastings (Knock), James Buckle (Cliftonville), Billy McWha (Knock), John Davison (Cliftonville), John Sinclair (Knock), Andy Dill (Knock), Davy McCaw (Malone).

A week later Ireland played Wales in the second Irish international match and although the match ended in another heavy defeat, 1-7, the match was notable for one particular reason. Sammy Johnson (Distillery) scored the first Irish goal at international level. Ireland’s first result at international level was a 1-1 home draw with Wales on 17th March 1883. William Morrow (Moyola) scored the Irish goal. Ireland’s first international victory came at the 16th attempt when Wales were beaten 4-1 in Belfast.

Encyclopedia of British Football; Richard William Cox, Dave Russell, Wray Vamplew (2002); Routledge
Freestaters: The Republic of Ireland Soccer Team 1921-1939; Donal Cullen (2007); Desert Island Books Limited

Irish Soccer History – Some key events, developments, people, and places in Irish football

Spain V Ireland 1965 – Glenmalure Park – Granny Rule & Ireland – John Giles & Shamrock Rovers
Merriongate – Saipan Incident – Dublin Dons – Irish Manager of Barcelona – Appointment of Jack Charlton – Lansdowne Road Riot – Republic of Ireland FIFA Rankings

Irish Soccer Information
Irish Football Club Directory Irish Soccer Leagues Women’s Soccer in Ireland
Dublin Football Clubs Football Association of Ireland Irish Soccer Players
Dublin Football Clubs by Area Irish Football Club Websites Futsal in Ireland
Irish Soccer Managers
Aviva Stadium
Irish Soccer Results
Irish Football History
Football Books
Football Pundits
Irish Soccer Referees
Irish Football Quotes
Republic of Ireland Managers
League of Ireland
Irish Qualifier Results
Irish Football Statistics
Ireland’s 2018 World Cup Group – Euro 2016 Qualification Campaign – Euro 2016 Appearances
Euro 2016 Play-Offs – Republic of Ireland FIFA Rankings