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War wounds

The conclusion of the Second World War did not herald the end of the Wartime Regional League – and nor, sadly, did it bring about any upturn in Cliftonville’s form.

The 1945/46 season saw the Reds ship 139 goals in just 39 fixtures during a campaign that yielded a grand total of five wins – while indicative of the team’s luck is the fact the also contrived to lose a match on corners!

Little wonder, then, that one of the highlights of the year was when Solitude hosted an Irish League XI’s 1-0 victory over a Combined Forces side on a day when the Reds’ sole on-field representation amounted to a single player in the form of John Wilson (main image, third from left on the back row).

Continuing a retrospective series examining noteworthy seasons in the Club’s history, today reflects on the facts and figures behind the term that saw serious question marks raised about the Reds’ Amateur status.

Gold Cup
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The old saying about stats not lying is certainly borne out here as a quick glance at the figures above indicate; Cliftonville endured an atrocious Gold Cup campaign.

After kicking off with an 8-0 defeat to Distillery on August 18, Tommy Sloan’s men suffered a 3-1 loss against Belfast Celtic before the run of reverses – which included an 8-2 thumping by Linfield and 6-2 loss to Derry City – was ended with a 2-2 draw at home to Glentoran.

Respite was in short supply, though, with Distillery (2-4), Belfast Celtic (0-4), Linfield (1-4) and Derry City (1-2) inflicting more misery before the Glens came to the rescue again; Cliftonville banking a 4-3 victory at Grosvenor Park (the east Belfast side’s adopted home ground in the aftermath of its bombing during the Belfast Blitz in 1941) to end their Gold Cup campaign on a positive note.

Victory Cup
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The inaugural Victory Cup, which would later morph into the Pioneer Cup, was lifted by Bohemians, who triumphed 9-8 on corners following a 3-3 draw at Dalymount Park in between the Reds’ first two Gold Cup outings.

An account of Cliftonville’s 5-0 loss to a ‘bad’ Linfield team

Regional League
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A week after that Gold Cup triumph over Glentoran, Cliftonville were brought back down too earth when their Regional League campaign commenced with a 4-2 loss at the hands of Distillery.

That was the first of eight consecutive defeats, with the Reds’ first points coming in a 3-2 win over Derry City at Solitude on Christmas Day, which was duly followed by 1-1 draws against Glentoran and Distillery as Sloan’s charges saw out 1945 in relatively promising form.

The New Year, however, began with a 4-0 reverse at home to Donegal Celtic and an 8-1 hiding by Linfield ahead of Derry exacting revenge with an 8-2 success in early February.

A second run of back-to-back 1-1 draws with the Glens and Whites followed, only for the east Belfast side to finally get the better of Cliftonville with a 5-0 victory at the end of March.

The Reds’ final win of the campaign came against Derry (4-1) ahead of the Regional League ending with a 3-2 loss against Linfield at Solitude.

Irish Cup
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Cliftonville enjoyed successive wins against RAF Aldergrove in the two-legged First Round of the Irish Cup but, following that 6-3 aggregate triumph, they were eliminated when Belfast Celtic Seconds claimed a 3-1 success at Solitude on February 23 – when two of the Hoops’ goals were scored by none other than future Reds legend Kevin McGarry.

County Antrim Shield
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After a 1-1 draw at home to Bangor Reserves, Cliftonville’s County Antrim Shield interest was ended when the Seasiders’ second string claimed a 5-0 win in the replay (when, it’s worth noting, Reds keeper James Little was forced to retire injured).

Inter City Cup
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Another competition, another early exit; Shelbourne this time doing the damage courtesy of a 7-1 aggregate scoreline.

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Cliftonville did enjoy victories in two late-season friendlies at Solitude, where English Universities (2-1) and Queens Park (3-2) were overcome.

In Review
Cliftonville unsurprisingly finished bottom of the six-team League table, three points behind Derry City and 26 off Champions Linfield.

The Reds made use of a staggering 61 players (including seven goalkeepers) in just 39 fixtures across all competitions.

Herbie Hegarty was the only player to feature in every match, with closest challenger John Wilson making 36 appearances.

Joint top goalscorers were B Duncan and Leonard Fenton, who were both on target seven times.

It wasn’t just the first team that had a propensity for conceding goals; Cliftonville Olympic suffered a remarkable 8-7 defeat to Ballyclare Comrades in an Intermediate League tie.