Cliftonville Football & Athletic Club, the oldest association football club in Ireland, is founded on September 20, 1879 by John McCredy McAlery in the suburb of Cliftonville in north Belfast.
Since 1890, the club has played home matches at Solitude. Cliftonville contests the North Belfast derby with nearest rivals Crusaders F.C., and also has historical rivalries with Glentoran F.C. and Linfield F.C. The club has won the NIFL Premiership five times outright including one shared title, the Irish Cup eight times and the Irish League Cup five times.
The foundation of Cliftonville F.C. is announced on September 20, 1879 in notices in the Belfast News Letter and Northern Whig, which asks “gentlemen desirous of becoming members” of the “Cliftonville Association Football Club (Scottish Association Rules)” to communicate with John McAlery, a young Belfast businessman and manager of the “Irish Tweed House”, Royal Avenue, and later with premises in Rosemary Street, or R.M. Kennedy, and advertising an “opening practice today at 3:30.”
Only one week after the advertisement is published, Cliftonville plays its first recorded game at Cliftonville Cricket Ground on September 29, 1879 against a selection of rugby players known as Quidnunces. The newly formed club, however, is beaten 2–1. In its first match against the Scottish club Caledonian, it fares worse, suffering a 1–9 defeat.
In 1880, it is again John McAlery who is the moving spirit in the formation of the Irish Football Association. He issues an invitation to interested parties in Belfast and district for a meeting to be called. The first meeting takes place on November 18, 1880 at Queen’s Hotel, Belfast, presided over by John Sinclair, from which the Irish Football Association is formed. While Lord Spencer Chichester is appointed president, McAlery becomes the honorary secretary of the association. This meeting also paves the way for the Irish Cup.
The first Irish Cup final, played at Cliftonville on April 9, 1881, sees a 1–0 defeat against Moyola Park F.C., an opponent that is well known for “rough and brutal play.” In the following year Cliftonville loses again in the Irish Cup final, 1–0 against Queen’s Island F.C. In 1883 Cliftonville wins the cup for the first time with a 5–0 win over Ulster F.C.
The club celebrates its 142nd anniversary in September 2021.