Cliftonville’s interest in European action this season might have been ended by Thursday night’s defeat to Nordsjælland, but our mini series of continental anniversaries carries on to its penultimate chapter and one of the most remarkable results in the Club’s history.
Today marks eight years since the Reds shocked HNK Cibalia with a scoreless draw in the baking heat of Croatia to secure their progress to the Third Qualifying Round of the Europa League.
Despite claiming a 1-0 win when the sides had locked horns in the first leg at Windsor Park seven days earlier, Cliftonville nevertheless arrived in Vinkovci derided by the local media, with one source now infamously referring to ‘a team of fishermen’ who were destined for humiliation at the hands of Cibalia’s full-time professionals.
As if the footballing challenge wasn’t menacing enough, the Reds also had to battle against soaring temperatures and even resorted to partially flooding their own changing room by blocking up the shower drainage in a futile attempt to keep cool both pre-match and at half-time.
That the 90 minutes that followed delivered no goals owed much to the magnificence of goalkeeper John Connolly, although the visitors – who had defender Mark Holland stretchered off early on – were not without chances of their own and could have enjoyed a more comfortable night’s work had either Liam Boyce or Mark Patterson been able to convert opportunities which fell their way.
The full-time celebrations among the travelling Red Army were in stark contrast to the fury exhibited by the vast swathes of home fans, who roundly booed and jeered their team while a small pocket in a corner of the imposing Stadion Cibalia toasted an incredible performance and result from the away side.
While July 22 delivered that historic Europa League upset, today is also the anniversary of two defeats in the Champions League.
For it was on this day in 2014 that 10-man Cliftonville were beaten 2-0 by Debrecen in the Nagyerdei Stadion in Hungary in the second leg of a tie that had yielded no goals in the previous week’s encounter at Solitude while, 20 years ago today, the Reds competed in Europe’s premier Club competition for the very first time.
Slovakian kingpins FC Kosice clocked up an impressive 5-1 victory in Belfast on a night that saw Gerry Flynn become our first (and, to date, only) goalscorer in the Champions League ahead of Jody Tolan missing the target with a penalty which had, up until last Thursday’s battle with Nordsjælland in Denmark, been the only spot-kick the Reds had ever been awarded in continental action.