Unpredictability has long been one of football’s most intriguing facets and Cliftonville’s history is littered with tales of upsetting – and falling foul of – the odds.
The 1922/23 season delivered a little bit of both, with early trophy promise making way for a distinctly unremarkable League campaign and early Cup exits before Hugh McAteer’s side almost inexplicably powered past all before them in the final competition of the campaign.
Continuing a retrospective series examining noteworthy seasons in the Club’s history, cliftonvillefc.net today reflects on the facts and figures behind the term that saw the Reds’ only Alhambra Cup success and first ever Gold Cup triumph.
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Cliftonville’s campaign began with a 1-1 draw with Glenavon in an Alhambra Cup Semi Final clash on August 26.
The teams returned two Windsor Park two days later, when a John Robinson hat-trick earned the Reds a 3-1 victory in the replay ahead of strikes from Bob Collins and Sam Andrews seeing off Linfield in the decider at The Oval a further 48 hours on.
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The Blues would exact revenge on September 2, however, when they claimed a 1-0 win on the opening day of the League programme.
After suffering another loss when Queen’s Island won 2-1 at Solitude, Cliftonville finally registered their first points thanks to a 1-0 triumph over a Glenavon side they had met three times in as many weeks.
That would prove to be the team’s last win until the final day of the League season, when Andrews and Robert Watt netted in a 2-0 success against Distillery on November 4.
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With the 10-game League schedule complete, attentions then turned to the first of four further tournaments, beginning with the City Cup.
Unfortunately, however, the change in competition did not inspire much improvement in Cliftonville who, having started with a 1-0 loss at home to Glentoran, would suffer defeats in half of their fixtures, while getting the better of Queen’s Island (2-1), Glenavon (2-0) and Distillery (1-0) in sporadic successes.
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Somewhat inexplicably, the Reds proved themselves an unstoppable force when the turn of the year heralded the arrival of the Gold Cup.
After kicking 1923 off with a 2-1 defeat of Distillery at Solitude, the team bagged a 1-1 draw away to Linfield and were held 2-2 by Queens Island before seeing off Glenavon 3-0.
That win commenced a run of five straight victories, with the April 21 return clash against the Lurgan Blues seeing Cliftonville secure the trophy thanks to a solitary R Ralph goal, before the newly-crowned Gold Cup Champions completed the season with an Andrews double as Glentoran were overcome at Solitude.
County Antrim Shield
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A week on from their opening Gold Cup outing, the Reds hosted Crusaders in the first installment of the modern North Belfast Derby and, indeed, the Crues’ first ever senior fixture; Andrews again on target to ensure progress to the Semi Finals.
After drawing 1-1 with Glentoran, Cliftonville’s interest in the competition was brought to a conclusion in the replay at Windsor, where the east Belfast men triumphed 2-1 – J Gault having scored for the Reds in both meetings.
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A 2-0 defeat to Linfield on January 27 told the full story of Cliftonville’s Irish Cup exploits for the season.
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The last competition of the campaign began on April 18, with Crusaders exacting revenge for their earlier derby loss when they earned a shock 1-0 win at Solitude in the middle of a lengthy winning sequence that would see the Reds lift the Gold Cup just three days later.
Cliftonville finished fifth in the six-team Irish League table, 10 points behind Champions Linfield and just one ahead of bottom side Glenavon.
Despite being the two lowest-ranked teams in the League, the Reds and Lurgan Blues finished first and second in the Gold Cup standings, with Cliftonville’s 18 point return four better than Glenavon and 14 ahead of Linfield and Glentoran at the bottom.
Goalkeeper Nathaniel Adams (main image, in cap) and Bob Collins both played in all 38 of Cliftonville’s fixtures, six more than nearest challengers Robert Falloon and Eddie Lyttle.
A total of five players – Adams, Collins, Sam Andrews, Robert Falloon and William ‘Jocky’ Simpson – each participated in all 10 of the Club’s League matches.
Sam Andrews was the team’s top scorer with 14 goals in 27 appearances.