Association football in Northern Ireland

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Association football in Northern Ireland, widely known as football or sometimes as soccer (to avoid confusion with Gaelic football), is the most popular sports in Northern Ireland. The governing body in Northern Ireland is the Irish Football Association (IFA) (not to be confused with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) in the Republic of Ireland). Gaelic football, rugby union and association football are the most popular sports in Northern Ireland. [1]


Governing body

The Irish Football Association is the organising body for football in Northern Ireland, and was historically the governing body for the whole of the Ireland until the FAI split away. The IFA has a permanent seat on the International Football Association Board, which is responsible for the laws of the game. [2]

The Northern Ireland Women's Football Association (NIWFA) is the IFA's women's football arm. It runs a Women's Cup, Women's League and the Northern Ireland women's national football team. [3]


The domestic league is the IFA Premiership. [4] Some of the major teams include Portadown FC, Glentoran FC and Linfield FC (although Derry City play in the FAI's League of Ireland). A notable historic club was Belfast Celtic, which won nineteen championships before resigning from the league and disbanding after a sectarian riot at its Boxing Day match against Linfield. Derry City FC also left the league following security issues arising from the Troubles, eventually to play in the League of Ireland. Linfield has won 54 league championships to date, more than twice as many titles as any other Northern Irish club and the highest tally of national top-flight titles won by any club worldwide. [5]

The Milk Cup is a successful international youth tournament held annually in Northern Ireland, in which clubs and national teams from anywhere in the world may compete. [6] Northern Ireland also played host to the 2005 UEFA Under-19 European Championships. [7]

The Setanta Sports Cup was set up by its sponsors, television channel Setanta Ireland. It is an all-island tournament (two groups of four, then semis and final) featuring eight teams, four being from the League of Ireland and four from the Irish League. Despite fairly low turnouts for each jurisdiction's leagues, the Setanta Cup drew relatively successful gate receipts and in its three-year existence has had one winner from the North (Linfield in 2005). [8]

National team

The Northern Ireland national football team is one of the oldest international teams in the world, it was founded in 1880. [9] It originally played as the Ireland national team until 1950 with players selected from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and competed in the British Home Championship which it won eight times. Northern Ireland joined FIFA in 1911, and UEFA in 1954. [10]

The team enjoyed a period of success in the early and mid-80s in which it qualified for two World Cups, most notably in the 1982 tournament in which it topped Group 5 above Spain, Yugoslavia and Honduras to proceed to the second round. [11] After a poor run of form in the late 1990s and first few years of the 21st century, and a corresponding slump in the FIFA World Rankings, there was a subsequent revival in the team's fortunes with home wins over Spain and England. The team came close to qualifying for the 2008 European Championships, and took part in the Nations Cup competition in 2011 along with Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland qualified for UEFA Euro 2016, progressing through the group stage and reaching the round of 16. [12] In 2018, the national team began their UEFA Nations League debut, in league B. [13]


Sectarian tensions have long been a cause of conflict at football matches in Northern Ireland, [14] and crowd trouble marred games throughout the twentieth century. [15] In 1949, Belfast Celtic withdrew from the Irish League after years of sectarian crowd problems culminated in a Boxing Day match against Linfield at Windsor Park which ended in a pitch invasion and riot in which Belfast Celtic's Protestant centre forward, Jimmy Jones, suffered a broken leg. [15]

Since 1968, Cronin argues that the sport has failed to include the Catholic community with Catholic clubs being either forced out of existence or transferring their allegiance to the FAI. [16] Hooliganism and sectarianism have remained problems throughout the Troubles and up to the present day. Northern Ireland football grounds have been described as "useful sites of public displays of political affiliation", and internal divisions between groups involved in political violence in the mid-1990s was reflected in the supporters of various clubs. [17] Incidents of violence include trouble after Linfield player Conor Hagan was struck by a rocket fired from the crowd, and disturbances between Linfield and Glentoran fans at the 2008 Boxing Day match between the two clubs. [18]

In addition to problems in domestic football, the Northern Ireland international team has also suffered from sectarian problems. In 2002 Celtic player Neil Lennon announced that he would no longer play for Northern Ireland because he received a death threat, [14] and death threats appeared on the walls of loyalist areas including in his home town of Lurgan, Co Armagh. [19]


Related Research Articles

Northern Ireland national football team Team representing Northern Ireland in international association football

The Northern Ireland national football team represents Northern Ireland in international association football. From 1882 to 1920, all of Ireland was represented by a single side, the Ireland national football team, organised by the Irish Football Association (IFA). In 1921, the jurisdiction of the IFA was reduced to Northern Ireland following the secession of clubs in the soon-to-be Irish Free State, although its team remained the national team for all of Ireland until 1950, and used the name Ireland until the 1970s. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) organises the separate Republic of Ireland national football team.

Irish Football Association

The Irish Football Association (IFA) is the governing body for association football in Northern Ireland. It organised the Ireland national football team from 1880 to 1950, which after 1954, became the Northern Ireland national football team.

Glentoran F.C. Association football club in Northern Ireland

Glentoran Football Club is a semi-professional football club that plays in the NIFL Premiership. The club was founded in 1883.

Linfield F.C. Association football club in Northern Ireland

Linfield Football Club is a semi-professional football club based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which plays in the NIFL Premiership – the highest level of the Northern Ireland Football League. The club was founded in 1886 as Linfield Athletic Club and in 1905 moved into their current home of Windsor Park, which is also the home of the Northern Ireland national team. The club's badge displays Windsor Castle, in reference to the ground's namesake. Historically, Linfield's main rival has been Glentoran with whom they contest the Big Two derby. This rivalry traditionally includes a league derby played on Boxing Day each year, which usually attracts the largest league attendance of the season. Linfield's average league home attendance is approximately 2,500, the highest in the division and more than double the league's overall average of about 1,000.

Irish Cup National football competition in Northern Ireland

The Irish Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly referred to as the Irish Cup is the primary football knock-out cup competition in Northern Ireland. Inaugurated in 1881, it is the fourth-oldest national cup competition in the world. Prior to the break-away from the Irish Football Association by clubs from what would become the Irish Free State in 1921, the Irish Cup was the national cup competition for the whole of Ireland.

Setanta Sports Cup

The Setanta Sports Cup was a club football competition featuring teams from both football associations on the island of Ireland. Inaugurated in 2005, it was a cross-border competition between clubs in the League of Ireland from the Republic of Ireland and the NIFL Premiership from Northern Ireland. The cup was sponsored by Setanta Sports, the Irish subscription sports television network. The competition was discontinued after the 2014 edition. A successor competition, the Champions Cup, was announced in 2019.

The Oval (Belfast)

The Oval is a football stadium in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which has been home to Glentoran F.C. since 1892.

Colin Coates is a semi-professional footballer from Northern Ireland who plays as a centre-back for NIFL Premiership club Glenavon.

This article covers the History of Derry City Football Club, from the club's early days in the Irish League, through the "wilderness years" and into the present day as the club competes in the League of Ireland. For season by season results see Seasons

Football Association of Ireland

The Football Association of Ireland is the governing body for association football in the Republic of Ireland.

The 2008–09 IFA Premiership was the first season after a major overhaul of the league system in Northern Ireland, and the 108th season of Irish league football overall. It was scheduled to begin on 9 August 2008. However, the start of the league was delayed by a week due to a referees' strike. The season eventually began on 16 August 2008, and concluded on 2 May 2009. Linfield were the defending champions, but narrowly fell short of retaining the title as rivals Glentoran pipped them by a single point to win their 23rd league title overall.

The 2009–10 IFA Premiership was the second season of the league in this format since its establishment after a major overhaul of the league system in Northern Ireland, and the 109th season of Irish league football overall. It began on 8 August 2009 and ended on 1 May 2010. Glentoran were the defending champions. On 27 April 2010, Linfield clinched the title after a 1–0 victory against Cliftonville at Windsor Park. On 14 May 2010, Institute were relegated to the 2010–11 IFA Championship, after losing the two-legged relegation play-off to Donegal Celtic, who took their place in the 2010–11 IFA Premiership.

The 2010–11 IFA Premiership was the third season since its establishment after a major overhaul of the league system in Northern Ireland, and the 110th season of Irish league football overall. The season began on 7 August 2010, and concluded on 30 April 2011.

The Women's Premiership is the top level women's football league of Northern Ireland. The league was called the NIWFA Division League 1 until 2003 and Premier League until 2015. In 2016, it was rebranded the Women's Premiership and is run by the NI Football League since.

The 2011–12 IFA Premiership was the fourth season since its establishment after a major overhaul of the league system in Northern Ireland, and the 111th season of Irish league football overall. The season began on 6 August 2011, and ended on 28 April 2012.

For the equivalent tournament in the Republic of Ireland, see FAI Women's Cup.

The 2012–13 IFA Premiership was the fifth season of Northern Ireland's national football league in this format since its inception in 2008, and the 112th season of Irish league football overall.

Big Two derby

The Big Two derby, also referred to simply as the Big Two or Bel Classico, is the name given to the Northern Irish association football derby between Belfast clubs, Linfield and Glentoran. The derby is also sometimes referred to as the Belfast derby. They are the two most successful and most supported clubs in Northern Irish Football. They traditionally face each other on Boxing Day each year which usually attracts the largest Irish Premiership attendance of the season. They regularly play each other in the league, and have contested more cup finals together than any other two clubs. They also make up two of the three clubs that have competed in every season of the Irish League's top flight since its inception in 1890 – neither club ever suffering relegation.

Sunday football in Northern Ireland has been a controversial issue. Until 2008, the Irish Football Association (IFA) under IFA Article 27, prohibited any clubs affiliated with them from playing association football matches on Sunday. The ban initially came from various government legislation, both local and national. Northern Ireland's Protestant Christian majority's observance of Sunday as the Sabbath, was also a major factor which amounted to a continuance of the observance of tradition for a lot longer than in the rest of the UK. It was also a way to combat a perceived encroachment on their culture by Catholics. Since the abolition of the ban, teams can play matches on Sunday if they have mutual agreement, although some teams such as Linfield have club rules against such games.

Newry City Ladies Football Club is a women's association football club based in Newry, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. They were founded in 2011 and re-founded in 2012. They are currently affiliated to Newry City A.F.C. men's team and play at The Showgrounds.


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See also