The Irish Football Association (IFA), the governing body for association football in Northern Ireland, is founded on November 18, 1880. It organises the Ireland national football team from 1880 to 1950, which after 1954, becomes the Northern Ireland national football team.
The IFA is founded by seven football clubs mostly in the Belfast area, as the organising body for the sport across all of Ireland. A meeting is called by Cliftonville F.C. of other football clubs that follow the rules set out by the Scottish Football Association (SFA). At that meeting at Queens Hotel, Belfast, the seven clubs form the IFA, making it the fourth oldest national football association in the world, after those of England, Scotland and Wales. The founding members are Alexander F.C., Avoniel F.C., Cliftonville F.C., Lisburn Distillery F.C., Knock F.C., Moyola Park F.C. and Oldpark F.C..
The IFA’s first decisions are to elect its first President, Major Spencer Chichester, and to form an annual challenge cup competition similar to the FA Cup and Scottish Cup competitions, called the Irish Cup. Two years later, Ireland plays its first international against England, losing 13–0, which remains a record for both teams, a record win for England and a record loss for Ireland.
Shortly after the partition of Ireland in 1921, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) is established as a rival association to regulate the game in what is to become the Irish Free State. The immediate cause of the split lay in a bitter dispute over the venue for the replay of an Irish Cup match in 1921 involving Glentoran F.C. of Belfast and Shelbourne F.C. of Dublin. When the first cup match is drawn in Belfast, because of the Irish War of Independence, the IFA reneges on a promise to play the replay in Dublin and schedules the rematch again for Belfast. Shelbourne refuses to comply and forfeits the Cup.
Such is the anger over the issue that the Leinster Football Association breaks away from the IFA and forms its own national association. Those behind the FAI believe that football should be regulated by a federation based in the Irish Free State’s capital, Dublin. They also accuse the IFA of neglecting the development of the game in the South. The IFA’s supporters argue that the federation should be based where the game is primarily played – namely Ulster, and its principal city Belfast.
Both associations claim to represent the whole of the island, each competing internationally under the name “Ireland” and selecting players from both the rival national leagues, which also split at this time. Interventions by FIFA give the FAI de jure organising rights over the 26 counties of the Republic, with the IFA restricted to Northern Ireland. From the 1950s onwards, the IFA no longer claims it is the association for the whole of Ireland.
In 1960, the association moves to its present location on Windsor Avenue in south Belfast, in a building once occupied by Thomas Andrews. The IFA continues to regulate the game in Northern Ireland, and all results obtained by the Irish national side and records in the Irish Football League and the cup competition stand as Northern Irish records.