Cliftonville supporters, players and officials alike have always enjoyed immense pride in being part of Ireland’s Oldest Football Club and we must never forget the catalytic contribution that founding father Mr John McCredy McAlery has made to all of our lives.
For it was on this very day back in 1879 that Belfast awoke to learn that the formation of the country’s first Association Football Club was gathering pace, with notices in The News Letter and Northern Whig requesting that ‘Gentlemen desirous of becoming members’ communicate with either McAlery or his accomplice RM Kennedy.
A farmer’s son from Rathfriland, McAlery had fallen in love with the game while in Scotland the previous year and, after taking it upon himself to bring the sport to Victorian Ireland, invited two Scottish teams to Belfast for an exhibition match and, on October 24, 1878, Queens Park beat Caledonians 3-2 at the Ulster Cricket Grounds in a game which whetted the appetite of the local public.
The Brookvale Terrace home of Robert Kennedy, meanwhile, was sited around the current Pim Street/ Churchill Street area of the lower Antrim Road and, though generally regarded as something of a background figure in the Club’s formation, he was recently discovered to have been more more heavily involved in Cliftonville’s development than has been appreciated, undertaking various administrative roles after a short playing career.
While nobody really knows the size of response their newspaper advert generated, it was certainly enough to encourage McAlery – who was honoured with the unveiling of an Ulster Historical Society Blue Plaque at Solitude in 2013 – to proceed with his dream because, just seven days later, the first ever Cliftonville team took to the field to face a side of Rugby players known as The Quidnuncs and lost the game 2-1 at Cliftonville Cricket Club – which had been the Reds’ original home ground prior to moving to the adjacent Solitude in 1890.
Though we have all enjoyed and endured so many thrills and spills in the near century-and-a-half years since, it is of course always worth noting that all of your individual Cliftonville related memories – be they Tony Bell’s iconic Irish Cup winning strike against Portadown, Mark Holland’s historic header in Latvia, George McMullan’s ice-cool title-clinching penalty or even last year’s madcap County Antrim Shield success – came as a consequence of one pioneering young man’s dream becoming reality 142 years ago today.