Belfast Telegraph

A sporting tribute to the man who brought football to Ireland

By Dave Whelan

A north Belfast man who first introduced the game of football into Ireland has been honoured with the unveiling of a Blue Plaque at the home of Cliftonville FC.

The plaque dedicated to John McCredy McAlery was unveiled at Solitude by Chairman of Cliftonville FC and the vice -Chairman of FIFA Jim Boyce.

John McCredy McAlery was born in 1849 in Rathfriland, Co. Down. McAlery was the manager of the Irish Tweed House gentleman's outfitters in Belfast and became interested in the game of football when attending a match in Scotland. as there was no tradition of the game in Ulster.

While on honeymoon in Scotland in 1878, he watched football being played for the first time. He was already an accomplished cricketer and Treasurer of Cliftonville Cricket Club was so enthralled by the sport of football that he invited the Caledonians' captain, J.A. Allen, to bring a match to Belfast.

on October 24, 1878, a properly organised game of Association Football was first played in Ireland between Scottish sides Caledonians and Queen's Park at the Ulster Cricket Club in Belfast. The game in Ireland grew from that landmark and on September 20,1879, in an advertisement in the News Letter, McAlery invited "Gentlemen desirous of becoming members" to an open practice for Cliftonville Association Football Club (Scottish Association Rules). The first match played by an Irish Association Football club was between Cliftonville and Quidnuncs, a team of rugby players, on September 29, 1879, which the rugby players won 2-1.

McAlery set about the problem of finding rivals, by helping to found Knock FC. The formation of Knock followed a familiar pattern, with a team made up of members of an existing lacrosse club, as Cliftonville had been from an existing cricket club. McAlery travelled far and wide across Ulster to encourage others to try his 'new' game.

On November 18, 1880, McAlery and Cliftonville FC organised a meeting at the Queen's Hotel in Belfast, attended by representatives from Avoniel FC, Distillery FC, Knock FC, Oldpark FC (all Belfast), Moyola Park FC (Castledawson) and Alexander FC (Limavady). It was at this meeting that the Irish Football Association was formed, creating a constitution and formalising the game rules along the lines of the Scottish Association.

On February 18, 1882, John McAlery captained Ireland's first-ever international match, against England, in a 13-0 defeat at Bloomfield. A week later he led Ireland in their first away match against Wales, who won 7-1 in Wrexham. Although those were his only 'Caps' McAlery remained actively involved in international football, regularly acting as referee at Home Nations matches until 1887.

McAlery died on 3 December 1925.

Alan Boyd,Secretary of the Ulster History Circle, Jim Boyce ( FIFA Vice President and Cliftonville President ), Tom Scott (Ulster Scots Agency), Gerard Lawlor (Chairman of Cliftonville FC) and Trevor Parkhill (Ulster History Circle) at the unveiling of an Blue Plaque for John McCredy McAlery, the founder of Cliftonville FC, 134 years ago today (Saturday), was honoured by the Ulster Historical Circle at Solitude.

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