Having operated under a host of Head Coaches and Trainers for more than 40 years, the appointment of Cliftonville’s first ever Manager heralded a new dawn at the Club.
Unfortunately, Len Oliver’s one and only season in charge of the Reds yielded a string of defeats and disheartening Cup exits, with the former Fulham and England right-half (left of main image, alongside Club Secretary T Douglas) departing at the end of the 1938/39 term.
Continuing a retrospective series examining noteworthy seasons in the Club’s history, cliftonvillefc.net today reflects on the facts and figures behind a campaign that rarely threatened to get out of first gear.
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Cliftonville played just a single friendly across the entirety of the season but, rather than acting as a warm-up ahead of the competitive action kicking-off, it was instead staged slap-bang in the middle of the campaign but was nevertheless a significant occasion as Len Oliver’s team travelled to Old Trafford for a clash with Manchester United – and we’ll leave it to your imagination to determine which team won 9-1.
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After commencing their League programme with defeats to Belfast Celtic (0-3), Derry City (1-5) and Ballymena United (2-7), it was not until their seventh outing that the Reds finally registered a win as strikes from DJ Browne, Sid Over and Robert Hutchinson earned a 3-2 success over Distillery at Solitude.
While that was swiftly followed up by a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Larne, Cliftonville bounced back with a stirring 5-2 triumph over Coleraine on a day that saw RJ Stewart record a hat-trick – but any hopes that a corner had been turned were kicked well and truly into touch by a nine-match losing streak that included a 10-1 thumping by Belfast Celtic.
Gilbert Roden’s treble helped arrest the slide with a 4-3 defeat of Ards a week before Christmas, while the same player scored all of Cliftonville’s goals in a 4-0 win at Coleraine before netting a double when Glentoran were put to the sword at Solitude on New Year’s Eve.
The Reds began 1939 with a goalless draw away to Linfield, but that would prove to be their last point of a campaign which ultimately ended with losses to Portadown (0-2) and Bangor (0-3).
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Having started the season so poorly, it came as little surprise that Cliftonville’s interest in the Gold Cup started and finished with a first round encounter with Derry City in mid-September; WA Thompson claiming the team’s consolation in a 4-1 reverse at The Brandywell.
County Antrim Shield
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Things got off to a better beginning in the County Antrim Shield when Distillery were beaten 2-1 at Solitude only for Glentoran to inflict a 4-0 quarter-final defeat just two days after Cliftonville had tackled Manchester United.
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What slim hopes the Reds might have had of going all the way in the City Cup will have been snuffed out pretty early on thanks to no fewer than eight straight losses
While the team did earn a by-now obligatory win against Coleraine and 2-0 triumph over Ards, reverses at the hands of Linfield, Distillery and Portadown contributed to a miserable record in the competition.
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After, almost inevitably, seeing off Coleraine with a 4-2 win at Solitude on January 21, Cliftonville enjoyed a 3-0 victory over Glenavon in the quarter-finals only for a 4-0 loss to Linfield at Grosvenor to send them tumbling out.
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The Charity Cup represented the Reds’ last shot at silverware but, in what would prove to be Oliver’s last game as Manager, a 4-1 defeat by Belfast Celtic brought Cliftonville’s season to a conclusion.
Cliftonville finished 13th in the 14-team Irish League table, three points ahead of bottom side Coleraine, seven behind 12th-placed Bangor and 28 off Champions Belfast Celtic.
The season was tinged with tragedy when on May 14 – the same day as the Club’s Annual General Meeting – Cliftonville President Robert Diamond passed away at the age of 70.
Having found the net 65 times and conceded an almost impressive 139, there were a total of 204 goals in the Reds’ 46 fixtures across all competitions.
With 40 appearances, Cecil Allen represented the Club more than any other player during the 1938/39 season, with goalkeeper Fred McCurry (33) and another Cecil – Crawford, this time (31) – his nearest challengers.
Gilbert Roden was Cliftonville’s top scorer with 11 goals in just 18 outings, taking the accolade by virtue of finding the net once more than RJ Stewart.