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Fortunes of War

Though our status as Ireland’s Oldest Football Club means Cliftonville FC have rarely been strangers to a variety of firsts throughout history, it goes without saying that the protective measures being taken to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus is an unprecedented development in the modern sporting world.

The Irish Football Association’s decision to suspend all affiliated football until April 4 represents one of the longest mid-season breaks experienced by the Club, with not even the outbreak of two World Wars enough to stop our domestic game, which did endure minor interruptions during both ‘The Big Freeze’ of 1963 and 2001’s Foot & Mouth crisis.

As Club Statistician Paul Treanor notes, remarkably there was no change at all during the 12 months after the First World War started, however the departures of Belfast Celtic, Shelbourne and Bohemians ahead of the 1915/16 season led to a six-team Wartime Regional League being contested by Cliftonville, Linfield, Glentoran, Glenavon, Distillery and Belfast United.

The Reds would register eight points from their 10 fixtures, ending up fifth – seven points ahead of Glenavon – in a table topped by Linfield and claimed two consecutive fourth-placed finishes before winding up last in 1918/19, when Belfast Celtic emerged as Champions after returning to replace their United namesakes in the competition.

The Second World War produced a similar story, with Irish League football continuing as normal for the first year until the withdrawal of Ards, Ballymena United, Bangor, Coleraine, Larne and Newry Town facilitated another Wartime Regional League that saw Cliftonville finish last in the inaugural campaign having conceded an almost impressive 117 goals in 28 games.

Linfield and Belfast Celtic regularly rotated the crown from one season to the next, with the Reds’ best performance coming in the 1943/44 term, which was the only time they did not occupy bottom spot; that distinction on this occasion belonging to Derry City, even though both teams banked a total of 11 points and the Candystripes played a game fewer.