Northern Ireland Football League Cup
|Number of teams||41|
|Most successful club(s)||Linfield (9 wins)|
The Northern Ireland Football League Cup (known as the WASP Solutions League Cup for sponsorship purposes) and previously the Irish League Cup, is a national football knock-out cup competition in Northern Ireland open to the 41 Northern Ireland Football League clubs. It is the third-highest rated competition in domestic Northern Irish football after the NIFL Premiership and Irish Cup. It should not be confused with the Irish League Floodlit Cup which ran from 1987–88 to 1997–98 initially under the sponsorship of Budweiser and latterly Coca-Cola. The winners qualify for the next season's all-Ireland Setanta Sports Cup. The cup is operated by the Northern Ireland Football League, who in 2013 took over the administration from the Irish Football Association (IFA) for the 2013–14 season onwards, after which the cup became known as the Northern Ireland Football League (NIFL) Cup.
Currently sponsored by WASP Solutions, the competition's previous sponsors include Irn Bru (2011–12 and 2012–13), Co-operative Insurance (2001–02 to 2010–11), Coca-Cola (1998–99 to 2000–01), Wilkinson Sword (1991–92 to 1997–98), and Roadferry Freight (1986–87 to 1990–91).
Cliftonville are the current holders, after they defeated Ballymena United 3–2 in the 2015 final. In doing so, they won the competition for a fourth time and became only the second club to win the competition in three consecutive seasons, emulating Linfield who won three consecutive cups in 1997–98, 1998–99 and 1999–2000.
The competition is open to the 12 NIFL Premiership clubs and the 29 NIFL Championship clubs, and uses a knock-out system. The top 16 ranked clubs from the previous season's league system receive byes into the second round, which includes the 12 Premiership clubs, and the top four ranked clubs from Championship 1. Of the remaining 26 Championship clubs, 20 enter in the first round, with the remaining six randomly drawn to receive byes into the second round. The second round draw is seeded so that the top 16 clubs from the previous season avoid each other. The second round is the only round of the competition in which seeding is used. From there on, the competition has a third round, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final.
Each round consists of a single match. In the event that the scores are level, extra time is played, and if the teams are still level, there is a penalty shoot-out. The semi-finals are played at neutral venues. The final, generally, is played at Windsor Park.
The competition began with 32 clubs in a straight knock-out format in February 1987, and included teams from the Irish League B Division until 1997–98. From 1998–99 until 2007–08, only senior (Irish League and Irish Premier League) teams competed, but the competition was opened up to the 17 Championship clubs in 2008–09, and again in 2010–11 to include clubs from Championship 2, after the Championship 2 League Cup was abolished. From 2001–02 until 2007–08, a group stage followed by a knock-out system was used instead of the straight knock-out system, and for two seasons (2008–09 and 2009–10) two-legged home and away aggregate ties were used up until the quarter-finals, instead of single matches.
When it was first introduced in the 1980s, it was one of a number of senior cup competitions run by the Irish League, originally to compensate for the relatively few league fixtures (traditionally 22 or 26), but also as vehicles for sponsorship revenue. The League Cup would have been considered less prestigious than the long-standing Gold Cup and Ulster Cup. Over time however, these other cup competitions were phased out as the number of Irish League fixtures increased and the public appetite for additional competitions reduced, leaving the League Cup as the only cup competition run by the Northern Ireland Football League and now established as the third most prestigious competition in Northern Ireland after the national top-flight and national cup. The actual trophy presented to the winners is the old City Cup, which was another senior Irish League competition that was discontinued in 1975.
The first final took place on 9 May 1987 at Glentoran's ground, the Oval, and was contested by Linfield and Crusaders. Linfield became the inaugural winners of the cup, defeating Crusaders 2–1. Linfield have gone on to win the competition nine times overall – more than any other club. They have appeared in twelve different finals, which is a record they share with rivals Glentoran. Linfield and Cliftonville have both won the competition in three consecutive seasons, which is the record for the most consecutive wins. The most common final has been the Big Two Derby which has occurred seven times, with the last time being 2005–06. Linfield have won on four occasions and Glentoran on three. The 1988–89 final, played between the two sides at the Oval on 11 November 1988 was won courtesy of a goal by Glentoran goalkeeper Alan Patterson, via a kick from his own penalty area. This was the first time that a goalkeeper had ever scored in a British football final.
Thirteen different clubs have reached the final, but only ten clubs have won the cup and only five of them have done so more than once. Ballymena United, Larne and Newry City are the three clubs to have played in the final but never won. In 2011, Lisburn Distillery became the tenth different club to win the cup, in what was their first and to date only ever appearance in the final. In 2008–09, Championship side Portadown became the first intermediate club and the first club from outside the top flight to reach the final. They subsequently became the first intermediate club and the first club from outside the top flight to win the cup, after defeating Premiership side Newry City 1–0. That was also the first final to be played outside Belfast, with Mourneview Park, Lurgan hosting the match. It was attended by UEFA President Michel Platini and Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington who was in Northern Ireland for the FIFA meeting held in Newcastle.
The biggest winning margin ever recorded in a final is 4–0, which has occurred twice: in 1999–2000 when Linfield defeated Coleraine, and in 2012–13 when Cliftonville defeated Crusaders. On four occasions, the same two clubs have met in consecutive finals. Linfield and Glentoran have done so three times: 1997–98 & 1998–99, 2001–02 & 2002–03 and 2004–05 & 2005–06, while Cliftonville and Crusaders repeated the feat in 2012–13 and 2013–14. Both clubs agreed to toss a coin for home advantage in the 2013–14 final, with Cliftonville winning the toss. As a result, Solitude was chosen as the final venue for the first time in the competition's history.
- Most wins: 9, Linfield
- Most consecutive wins: 3, joint record:
- Most final appearances: 12, joint record:
- Most consecutive final appearances: 3, joint record:
- Most final defeats: 5, joint record:
- Most consecutive final defeats: 3, Glentoran (1996–97, 1997–98 & 1998–99)
- Biggest final winning margin: 4–0, joint record:
- Longest gap between wins: 15 years, Crusaders (1996–97 and 2011–12)
- Longest gap between final appearances: 19 years, Newry City (1989–90 and 2008–09)
- Most final appearances without winning: 2, joint record:
- Most common final: Glentoran v Linfield (7 times)
|*||Match level after 90 minutes. Decided in extra time.|
|Match level after extra time. Decided by a penalty shootout.|
(number of wins)
|1986–87||9 May 1987||Linfield (1)||2 – 1||Crusaders||The Oval, Belfast|
|1987–88||28 November 1987||Coleraine (1)||1 – 0 *||Portadown|
|1988–89||30 November 1988||Glentoran (1)||2 – 1||Linfield||10,000|
|1989–90||19 December 1989||Glenavon (1)||3 – 1||Newry Town||Windsor Park, Belfast||1,000|
|1990–91||13 March 1991||Glentoran (2)||2 – 0||Ards||4,000|
|1991–92||14 April 1992||Linfield (2)||3 – 0||Larne||The Oval, Belfast|
|1992–93||20 April 1993||Bangor (1)||3 – 0||Coleraine||Windsor Park, Belfast||2,000|
|1993–94||26 April 1994||Linfield (3)||2 – 0||Coleraine||The Oval, Belfast||4,500|
|1994–95||25 April 1995||Ards (1)||p)0 – 0 (2 – 0||Cliftonville||Windsor Park, Belfast||3,500|
|1995–96||19 September 1995||Portadown (1)||2 – 1||Crusaders||2,600|
|1996–97||15 October 1996||Crusaders (1)||1 – 0||Glentoran||3,000|
|1997–98||9 September 1997||Linfield (4)||1 – 0||Glentoran|
|1998–99||4 May 1999||Linfield (5)||2 – 1||Glentoran||6,500|
|1999–2000||18 April 2000||Linfield (6)||4 – 0||Coleraine||2,963|
|2000–01||24 April 2001||Glentoran (3)||1 – 0||Glenavon||2,515|
|2001–02||27 November 2001||Linfield (7)||3 – 1||Glentoran||6,200|
|2002–03||3 December 2002||Glentoran (4)||2 – 0||Linfield||5,700|
|2003–04||11 November 2003||Cliftonville (1)||p)1 – 1 (5 – 4||Larne||3,000|
|2004–05||9 November 2004||Glentoran (5)||2 – 1 *||Linfield||6,000|
|2005–06||10 December 2005||Linfield (8)||3 – 0||Glentoran||6,845|
|2006–07||2 December 2006||Glentoran (6)||1 – 0||Cliftonville||6,910|
|2007–08||2 February 2008||Linfield (9)||3 – 2||Crusaders||5,200|
|2008–09||28 February 2009||Portadown (2)||1 – 0||Newry City||Mourneview Park, Lurgan||4,000|
|2009–10||27 March 2010||Glentoran (7)||p)2 – 2 (4 – 1||Coleraine||Windsor Park, Belfast|
|2010–11||2 April 2011||Lisburn Distillery (1)||2 – 1||Portadown||Mourneview Park, Lurgan|
|2011–12||28 January 2012||Crusaders (2)||1 – 0||Coleraine||Ballymena Showgrounds, Ballymena|
|2012–13||26 January 2013||Cliftonville (2)||4 – 0||Crusaders||Windsor Park, Belfast||4,948|
|2013–14||25 January 2014||Cliftonville (3)||p)0 – 0 (3 – 2||Crusaders||Solitude, Belfast||4,300|
|2014–15||24 January 2015||Cliftonville (4)||3 – 2||Ballymena United||Windsor Park, Belfast|
Performance by club
|Linfield||9||3||1986–87, 1991–92, 1993–94, 1997–98, 1998–99, 1999–00, 2001–02, 2005–06, 2007–08|
|Glentoran||7||5||1988–89, 1990–91, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2006–07, 2009–10|
|Cliftonville||4||2||2003–04, 2012–13, 2013–14, 2014–15|
Total cups won by town or city
Ten different clubs have won the cup, and the overwhelming majority of cups have been won by clubs from Belfast.
|Town or city||Cups won||Clubs|
|Belfast||22||Linfield (9), Glentoran (7), Cliftonville (4), Crusaders (2)|
|Ballyskeagh||1||Lisburn Distillery (1)|
There have been 29 League Cup finals contested during the competition's history so far, played at five different grounds. Windsor Park has been the most common venue, having hosted 20 finals.
|Venue||Finals hosted||First final||Last final|
- "NI FOOTBALL LEAGUE CUP SPONSORSHIP ANNOUNCEMENT". nifootballleague.com. 20 January 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
- "NORTHERN IRELAND FOOTBALL LEAGUE". NIFL Premiership.
- Irn Bru unveiled as new League Cup sponsor
- "League Cup final: Ballymena Utd 2-3 Cliftonville". BBC Sport. 24 January 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
- Glentoran Football Club – The Pride of East Belfast – Legends
- "Cliftonville get home advantage for League Cup final". BBC Sport. 28 December 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- NIFL official website
- Irish league Cup archive at the Irish Football Club Project
- Northern Ireland - List of League Cup Finals, RSSSF.com