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Abandon ship!

Having discovered that not even the outbreak of war was deemed sufficient to bring Irish League football to a halt, the ongoing suspension of the current season continues to inspire some introspection and, though no previous campaigns have ever been put on hold for longer than a handful of weeks, there exists a long and interesting back story of Cliftonville matches that did not last the course.

Marking 50 days since the Reds were last in action, this afternoon examines the 19 abandoned fixtures in the Club’s history, from the first way back at the beginning of the last century up until the most recent example, which occurred just over two years ago, and the varying factors that led to time being called earlier than scheduled.

It all started way back on February 18, 1901.

On that occasion, an Irish Cup Quarter-Final tie with Belfast Celtic was brought to a finish with the Reds 4-2 up courtesy of goals from McKimmie, Bennet, Kirkwood and Scott.

Early Edwardian era football rarely contemplated abandonments, however it was not uncommon for results to be protested or scratched. Celtic appealed against the outcome of the game for reasons unknown but, whatever they were, the authorities deemed them inadmissible and Cliftonville’s place in the Semi Finals was ratified.

Seven years later, a City Cup encounter with Glentoran lasted just 70 minutes, but the 1-1 scoreline was allowed to stand.

The same teams got through even less time on the park in a League game on October 23, 1909 but, despite there being just 55 minutes on the clock when the referee intervened, Cliftonville’s 1-0 lead – which came courtesy of a McAuley penalty – remained in place.

The 2008/09 season opener at Linfield lasted just over half an hour

A further nine years would pass before the Reds’ next abandonment and, as was evidently par for the course, no replay was ordered for the 78 minute-long 1-1 draw at Distillery.

A goalless draw at home to Newry Town in 1923 lasted 67 minutes and a remarkable 20 years came and went until the next early wrap-up; a 2-1 win over Glentoran in December 1943.

The next two abandonments came in North Belfast Derbies, with a 1-1 draw in 1950 standing, as did a 4-0 defeat in 1965 – when the action at Solitude was ended due to bad light (an affliction which appeared to be impacting the hosts long before anyone else noticed).

The same problem occurred almost six years to the day later and, once again, Cliftonville found themselves on the wrong side of a scoreline that was sanctioned while, in January 1982, heavy fog forced another joust with the Crues to be wound up at 1-1.

Eight years on, a 2-1 defeat to Portadown was rubberstamped despite the game’s abandonment and it took until August 1994 for Cliftonville to come out on the right side of an early end to proceedings when a 1-0 Ulster Cup win over Ballyclare Comrades – courtesy of a Shaun Strang goal – was awarded despite another floodlight failure at Solitude.

In fact, just six of the 19 abandonments in the Reds’ history were carried out away from home, with the next two falling into that category – a 1996 Premier League battle with Portadown (when, leading 1-0, Marty Quinn’s players refused to return to the field for the second-half when they learned that travelling supporters had been attacked by a violent mob outside Shamrock Park; needless to say, they lost the replay) and the 1997 County Antrim Shield Final against Ballymena United, when referee Alan Snoddy deemed that a bottle being thrown onto the pitch was reason enough for everyone to go home.

Fans stream out after high winds forced an early end to the 2018 home game with Ballymena United

Arguably the greatest rationale for a match to be stopped short – in the history of football, not just Cliftonville – came in January 1998 when, shortly after Marty Tabb had equalised in a snowstruck encounter with Glenavon, a linesman complained of frostbite and that was that.

In 2002, a hardy group of Omagh Town fans (who had missed kick-off after being held up in traffic en route from Tyrone) were doubtless thrilled when a League Cup encounter lasted just 23 minutes before the weather intervened.

Two years later, a similarly grim downpour meant that a 1-0 lead against Glenavon was relinquished and, in the summer of 2008 (a week after the opening round of Premiership fixtures was postponed due to a refereeing strike), Cliftonville’s second attempt at a curtain-raiser was held up when a Windsor Park showdown with Linfield was played in frankly ludicrous conditions before referee Alan Black came to his senses and accepted he was swimming against the tide – almost literally – on the day of the infamous Westlink flooding in Belfast.

All of which takes us up to the January 2018 meeting with Ballymena when, with the score locked at 1-1 amid Storm Eleanor’s severe swirling winds in north Belfast, it was perhaps the sight of advertising hoardings having to be reinforced that made ref Evan Boyce’s mind up for him and the contest was duly halted at half-time – much to the relief of everyone in the ground.

A History of Abandonments
February 18, 1901: v Belfast Celtic
November 21, 1908: v Glentoran
October 23, 1909: v Glentoran
September 21, 1918: v Distillery
October 27, 1923: v Newry Town
December 12, 1943: v Glentoran
November 18, 1950: v Crusaders
November 27, 1965: v Crusaders
November 20, 1971: v Ards
January 2, 1982: v Crusaders
September 28, 1990: v Portadown
August 16, 1994: v Ballyclare Comrades
October 19, 1996: v Portadown
February 4, 1997: v Ballymena United
January 3, 1998: v Glenavon
November 5, 2002: v Omagh Town
April 17, 2004: v Glenavon
August 16, 2008: v Linfield
January 2, 2018: v Ballymena United