Not only was John McCredy McAlery’s membership of the Cliftonville Football Club Hall of Fame guaranteed, the naming of the assembly in his honour ensured no formal induction was ever necessary.
Reds 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 McAlery has made to all of our lives.
For it was on September 20, 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 the County Down town of Rathfriland in 1849, rather than following his father’s footsteps, McAlery travelled to Belfast to serve his time in the Drapery business in a rapidly growing city. He quickly became a very successful businessman and opened his own premises, The Tweed House on Royal Avenue.
A talented cricketer in his youth, he helped in the formation of the Cliftonville Cricket Club in 1870 and in time rose to the rank of Treasurer within the Club.
He was also a great supporter of Rugby but, during an 1878 trip to Scotland, he witnessed his first ever game of Football and, like so many of us, was instantly hooked.
He took it upon himself to invite two Scottish teams to Belfast for an exhibition match and, on October 24 of the same year, Queens Park beat Caledonians 3-2 at the Ulster Cricket Grounds in a game which whetted the appetite of the local public.
While nobody really knows the size of response his September 1879 newspaper advert generated, it was certainly enough to encourage McAlery to proceed with his dream because, just nine 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.
In those early days, the Club’s ground was enclosed only by a thin hedge and among McAlery’s secretarial duties was the task of ensuring nobody jumped said hedge and gained admission without paying entry. Nor was it a rare sight to see him scurry from the centre spot on a rainy day with buckets of water in each arm in a valiant attempt to ensure the pitch was playable.
McAlery knew that, without opposition, Cliftonville would not last very long and so he took it upon himself to to help the members of Knock Cricket and Lacrosse Club form their own Football Club.
He had similar messages for other Cricket sides and certainly had a positive impact because, on November 18, 1880, a meeting was held at Cliftonville’s request in the Queens Hotel in Belfast which saw the formation of the Irish Football Association.
Major Spencer Chichester, from Moyola Park, was appointed President, while McAlery asumed the Secretary’s role but his role in the game was not confined to administrative duties – he was also captain and right-back of those early Cliftonville teams, noted as “a splendid full back who kicks well with either foot and is a remarkably good tackler”.
The Reds made it to the inaugural Irish Cup Final in 1881, only to lose 1-0 to Moyola Park, and they would suffer a similar fate the following year when they lost 2-1 to Queen’s Island in the showpiece fixture.
At the third attempt, however, McAlery finally got his hands on the Cup when Cliftonville defeated Ulster 5-0 at Knock.
While all this was going on, though, there were other things in the bigger picture to be attended to.
The IFA played their first international against England at Bloomfield in Belfast on January 30, 1882, and, with McAlery in his usual skipper’s role at right-back, they were comprehensively beaten 13-0 and it is said the experience left him in tears in the dressing room afterwards.
He earned one further international cap in a 7-1 defeat to Wales in Wrexham a week later before deciding to concentrate his efforts on off-field matters.
He held the position of IFA Secretary until 1887 and, during that time, also acted as a referee in several international games.
John McCredy McAlery – a man to whom all Football fans in Ireland owe so very much – passed away at the age of 75 on December 3, 1925 at his home on the terraces of Belgravia on the Lisburn Road.
The Football Club he left behind remain eternally proud of, and grateful for, his pioneering spirit and it was with great fulfilment that the Cliftonville FC Hall of Fame was named in his honour.