Cliftonville FC is considered as the oldest football club in Ireland. The club is turning 140 years old within a couple of months, and it is great to be able to explore the life of John McCredy McAlery, founder of the club, driven by passion and a love for the sport. McAlery was born in Rathfriland the year 1849. His father was a farmer, and he went on and became the boss of the Tweed House in Belfast. McAlery was a great cricketer and was involved in the Cliftonville Cricket Club as their treasurer. It was however during a visit to Scotland on his honeymoon that McAlery fell in love with a different sport, football.
The Exhibition Match
McAlery just had to bring the sport to Ireland, and he managed to convince two Scottish teams to partake in an exhibition match which was arranged to take place in Belfast on 24 October 1878. During the game at Ulster Cricket Grounds, Queens Park managed to beat the Caledonians 3-2. The match delivered the interest which he was hoping for, and McAlery started to search for enough players to begin a club of his own. It was even advertised in the News Letter on 20 September 1879, calling all “Gentlemen desirous of becoming members of the club” to contact him.
Uncertainty remains on how many gentlemen responded to the advertisement to show up for the first practice of Cliftonville Association Football Club, but it was enough for McAlery. A mere nine days after the first practice his team was up against The Quidnuncs, a group of rugby players. McAlery’s team lost the match 2-1 in the Clifton Cricket Club. The cricket club became the team which were later on referred to as the Reds, first home ground. They only made a move to Solitude in 1890.
Finding Competition to Play Against
It was great that McAlery managed to get a team for his club together, but they needed competition to play against. He thus started to reach out to other areas in the near vicinity to introduce them to this new game. Hence, he played a significant role in helping other clubs to get established, including Knock FC. Knock FC also played in a cricket club, and most of the team members came from a lacrosse club in the area.
The Birth of the Irish Football Association
During November 1880, a meeting was held between Avoniel FC, Knock FC, Distillery FC, Oldpark FC, all from Belfast as well as Moyola Park FC from Casteldawson, Alexander FC from Limavady and then Cliftonville FC and McAlery. The meeting was held at the Queen’s Hotel in Belfast and served as the birth of the Irish Football Association. McAlery, later on, became the first captain of the Irish team who played against England in their first international game, which ended up in a 13-0 defeat. McAlery kept on expanding the sport and were also involved in refereeing Home Nation games until 1887. He passed away in 1925.