Northern Ireland Football League

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"Irish Football League" redirects here. For the football league of the Republic of Ireland, see League of Ireland.
This article treats the Northern Ireland Football League and all previous Northern Irish national football league systems since 1890 collectively as a single article.
Northern Ireland Football League
Northern Ireland Football League.jpeg
Country  Northern Ireland
Confederation UEFA
Founded 2013
Divisions NIFL Premiership
NIFL Championship 1
NIFL Championship 2
NIFL Reserve League
NIFL Youth League
Number of teams 40
Level on pyramid 1–3
Relegation to Ballymena & Provincial League
Mid-Ulster Football League
Northern Amateur League
Northern Ireland Intermediate League
Domestic cup(s) Irish Cup
NIFL Charity Shield
League cup(s) Northern Ireland Football League Cup
George Wilson Cup
International cup(s) UEFA Champions League
UEFA Europa League
Setanta Sports Cup
Current champions Crusaders (5th title)
(2014–15)
Most championships Linfield (51)
Website www.nifootballleague.com
2015–16

The Northern Ireland Football League (commonly abbreviated to NIFL) is the national association football league in Northern Ireland. The league was formed in 2013 to assume independent collective management of the top three levels of the Northern Ireland football league system, which had been under the direct management of the Irish Football Association: namely the IFA Premiership and both divisions of the IFA Championship.[1] The NIFL also operates the Northern Ireland Football League Cup for the 40 members. For the reserve and youth teams of the member clubs, the league also operates the NIFL Reserve League and the NIFL Youth League, as well as the George Wilson Cup for Reserve League teams, and the NIFL Youth League Cup for Youth League teams. Operated as a limited company, the member clubs act as shareholders with one vote each.[2]

Historically the league for the entire island of Ireland, it became Northern Ireland's national league after the partition of Ireland in 1921. The league should not be confused with the League of Ireland, which is the football league for the Republic of Ireland.

History[edit]

Senior[edit]

Main article: NIFL Premiership

Originally formed in 1890, the national football league of Northern Ireland is the second-oldest national league in the world, being formed a week earlier than the Scottish Football League. Only the Football League in England is older.

The Irish Football League was originally formed as the football league for all of Ireland (although initially all of its member clubs were in fact based in what would become Northern Ireland). It became the league for Northern Ireland in 1921 after partition, with a separate league and association (the Football Association of the Irish Free State – now called the Football Association of Ireland) – being formed for the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland). The league's records from its days in operation as the league for all of Ireland stand as the records for Northern Ireland (as is the case for the Northern Ireland national football team).

In its first season, seven of the eight teams came from Belfast, and the league – and Irish football – continued to be dominated by Belfast clubs for many years. In 1892, Derry Olympic became the second non-Belfast side, but only lasted for one season. In 1900, Derry Celtic joined the league and, in 1901, a second Derry team, St Columb's Court, was added. St Columb's Court lasted just one season, before being replaced by the league's first Dublin team, Bohemians, in 1902. Another Dublin side, Shelbourne, was added in 1904. In 1911 Glenavon, from the County Armagh town of Lurgan replaced Bohemians, who resigned from the league, but were re-admitted in 1912. During 1912 there were three Dublin sides, with the addition of Tritonville, but, like Derry Olympic and St Columb's Court before them, they lasted just one season. Derry Celtic also dropped out in 1913, so that when the Irish League split in 1921, Glenavon was the only non-Belfast team left. No southern clubs (from what would become the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland) ever won the championship. The highest place achieved by any of these clubs was second, by Shelbourne in 1906–07.

During the 1920s, however, the league expanded and soon achieved a wide geographic spread across Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, no club from outside Belfast won the League championship until Glenavon took it to Co. Armagh in 1951–52. In 1957–58, Ards became the first team from Co. Down to win the League, and in 1964–65, Derry City were the first Co. Londonderry club to do so. Derry City – now of the League of Ireland – played in the Irish League from 1929 until 1972 and won the title in 1965, but eventually resigned during the Troubles after the League voted narrowly to continue a ban on their home ground imposed by the security forces, even after the security forces had lifted it.

Historically, with relatively few league fixtures each season, the Irish League organised a number of other competitions for its members. While some of these enjoyed considerable prestige over the years, they have been phased out over the years due to fixture congestion caused by the expansion of the league, and reduced spectator interest. These competitions were: the City Cup; the Gold Cup; the Ulster Cup and the Irish League Floodlit Cup. In addition, clubs still compete in their respective regional cup competitions: the County Antrim Shield (for clubs within the jurisdiction of the North-East Ulster F.A., also known as the County Antrim & District F.A.); the Mid-Ulster Cup (for clubs within the jurisdiction of the Mid-Ulster F.A.); and the North West Senior Cup (for clubs within the jurisdiction of the North-Western F.A.).

From 1995–96 until 2002–03, the senior League was split into two divisions: the Premier Division and First Division. Since 2003, there has been a single division, albeit with relegation to intermediate leagues below. In 2003, the Irish Football Association took direct charge of Northern Ireland's top flight with the creation of the Irish Premier League (IPL). As in England and Scotland, the old Irish Football League retained a separate existence, but controlling only two feeder leagues: the First Division and Second Division. In 2004, the IFA took over control of the remaining IFL divisions and renamed them as the IFA Intermediate League First Division and Second Division, effectively winding up the Irish Football League after 114 years.

The first ever Irish League match to be broadcast live on television took place on 24 September 2007 when Sky Sports showed Cliftonville and Linfield draw 2–2 at Solitude. In 2008, the IFA took over responsibility for the Senior League under the name IFA Premiership, and the IFA Intermediate League was replaced by the IFA Championship.[3][4] After five years under the auspices of the IFA, it was decided to create a single Northern Ireland Football League to assume responsibility for all the national leagues from the 2013–14 season.

Crusaders are the current champions, after they secured the title for the fifth time in the club's history on 18 April 2015 - their first title since 1997.

Intermediate[edit]

The NIFL Championship, as the highest-level of intermediate football in Northern Ireland, is the successor to the IFA Championship, IFA Intermediate League, the Irish Football League First Division during its last season (when it had intermediate status), and ultimately the Irish League B Division (latterly known as the Irish League Second Division).

The B Division of the Irish League was founded in 1951, and originally consisted of the reserve teams of the senior Irish League clubs alongside some of the top intermediate clubs. The B Division was split geographically into North and South sections in 1974 (with a play-off to determine the winners in 1974–75 and 1975–76), and then into Section 1 (containing the intermediate clubs) and Section 2 (the reserve teams of senior clubs) in 1977.

In 1999, the B Division Section 1 was renamed as the Irish League Second Division, and Section 2 became the Reserve League.

There was never any automatic promotion and relegation between either the B Division or Second Division and the senior Irish League.

In 2003, the Irish Premier League was formed by the top sixteen senior teams in the senior Irish League (which, since 1995 had been divided into a Premier Division and a First Division). The four remaining senior teams reverted to intermediate football, along with the top eight teams from the previous year's Second Division - in the Irish League First Division (which now became the top intermediate league), with the Second Division continuing with twelve teams. Automatic promotion and relegation between senior and intermediate football was introduced. There was also automatic promotion and relegation between the two divisions of the (now intermediate-status) Irish League.

In 2004, the Irish Football League was wound up and replaced by the IFA Intermediate League, consisting of two divisions of twelve, with promotion and relegation between the two. This continued for four seasons, until the Championship was created.

For one season only, 2008–09, there was also an IFA Interim Intermediate League for those former members of the IFA Intermediate League which had failed to meet the criteria for the Championship. These clubs were given a year to make improvements in order to join the Championship for 2009–10. Ten of the 12 clubs succeeded in meeting the necessary standard in 2009 and the Championship was then divided into two divisions.

In 2010–11, a "pyramid" system was introduced, with the possibility of promotion and relegation between the Championship and the four regional intermediate leagues, namely the:

Clubs in these leagues may only gain promotion to the Championship if they win their respective league championship and meet the necessary criteria. In the event that more than one league champion meets the criteria, only one will be promoted, to be decided by a play-off or series of play-offs.

In 2013, the Northern Ireland Football League assumed responsibility from the IFA for the Championship, which became two intermediate divisions of the NIFL and was renamed as the NIFL Championship.

2015–16 membership[edit]

Listed below are the 40 member clubs for the 2015–16 season.[5]

Senior (12 clubs) Intermediate (28 clubs)
NIFL Premiership NIFL Championship 1 NIFL Championship 2
Ballinamallard United Annagh United Banbridge Town
Ballymena United Ards Coagh United
Carrick Rangers Armagh City Dollingstown
Cliftonville Ballyclare Comrades Dundela
Coleraine Bangor Glebe Rangers
Crusaders Dergview Limavady United
Dungannon Swifts Donegal Celtic Moyola Park
Glenavon Harland & Wolff Welders Newington YC
Glentoran Institute Portstewart
Linfield Knockbreda PSNI
Portadown Larne Queen's University
Warrenpoint Town Lisburn Distillery Sport & Leisure Swifts
Loughgall Tobermore United
Lurgan Celtic Wakehurst

UEFA coefficient and ranking[edit]

For the 2015–16 UEFA competitions, the associations were allocated places according to their 2014 UEFA country coefficients, which took into account their performance in European competitions from 2009–10 to 2013–14. In the 2014 rankings used for the 2015–16 European competitions, Northern Ireland's coefficient points total was 3.625 and was ranked by UEFA as the 47th best association in Europe out of 54 for the second consecutive season.

Senior[edit]

List of champions and runners-up[edit]

Irish Football League (1890–1995)[edit]

Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals
1890–91 Linfield (1) Ulster Distillery Robert Hill (Linfield) 20
1891–92 Linfield (2) Ulster Lancashire Fusiliers Tim Morrison (Linfield) 21
1892–93 Linfield (3) Cliftonville Distillery Robert Hill (Linfield)

James Percy (Cliftonville)

9
1893–94 Glentoran (1) Linfield Cliftonville Michael McErlean (Linfield) 9
1894–95 Linfield (4) Distillery Glentoran George Gaukrodger (Linfield)

Joe McAllen (Linfield)

4
1895–96 Distillery (1) Cliftonville Linfield
1896–97 Glentoran (2) Cliftonville Linfield Johnny Darling (Linfield)

Richard Peden (Linfield)

6
1897–98 Linfield (5) Cliftonville Glentoran
1898–99 Distillery (2) Linfield Cliftonville
1899–1900 Celtic (1) Linfield Distillery
1900–01 Distillery (3) Glentoran Belfast Celtic
1901–02 Linfield (6) Glentoran Distillery
1902–03 Distillery (4) Linfield Glentoran
1903–04 Linfield (7) Distillery Glentoran
1904–05 Glentoran (3) Belfast Celtic Linfield
1905–06 Cliftonville (1) / Distillery (5)[n 1] Linfield
1906–07 Linfield (8) Shelbourne Distillery
1907–08 Linfield (9) Cliftonville Glentoran
1908–09 Linfield (10) Glentoran Shelbourne
1909–10 Cliftonville (2)[n 2] Belfast Celtic Linfield
1910–11 Linfield (11) Glentoran Belfast Celtic
1911–12 Glentoran (4) Distillery Belfast Celtic
1912–13 Glentoran (5) Distillery Linfield
1913–14 Linfield (12) Glentoran Belfast Celtic
1914–15 Belfast Celtic (2) Glentoran Linfield
1915–19 League suspended due to the First World War
1919–20 Belfast Celtic (3) Distillery Glentoran
1920–21 Glentoran (6) Glenavon Linfield
1921–22 Linfield (13) Glentoran Distillery
1922–23 Linfield (14) Queen's Island Glentoran
1923–24 Queen's Island (1) Distillery Linfield
1924–25 Glentoran (7) Queen's Island Belfast Celtic
1925–26 Belfast Celtic (4) Glentoran Larne
1926–27 Belfast Celtic (5) Queen's Island Distillery Joe Bambrick (Glentoran) 28
1927–28 Belfast Celtic (6) Linfield Newry Town
1928–29 Belfast Celtic (7) Linfield Glentoran Joe Bambrick (Linfield) 43
1929–30 Linfield (15) Glentoran Coleraine Joe Bambrick (Linfield) 50
1930–31 Glentoran (8) Linfield Belfast Celtic Fred Roberts (Glentoran) 55
1931–32 Linfield (16) Derry City Belfast Celtic
1932–33 Belfast Celtic (8) Distillery Linfield Joe Bambrick (Linfield) 40
1933–34 Linfield (17) Belfast Celtic Glentoran
1934–35 Linfield (18) Derry City Belfast Celtic
1935–36 Belfast Celtic (9) Derry City Linfield
1936–37 Belfast Celtic (10) Derry City Linfield
1937–38 Belfast Celtic (11) Derry City Portadown
1938–39 Belfast Celtic (12) Ballymena United Derry City
1939–40 Belfast Celtic (13) Portadown Glentoran
1940–47 League suspended due to the Second World War
1947–48 Belfast Celtic (14) Linfield Ballymena United Jimmy Jones (Belfast Celtic) 28
1948–49 Linfield (19) Belfast Celtic Glentoran Billy Simpson (Linfield) 19
1949–50 Linfield (20) Glentoran Distillery Sammy Hughes (Glentoran) 23
1950–51 Glentoran (9) Linfield Glenavon Sammy Hughes (Glentoran)

Walter Allen (Portadown)

23
1951–52 Glenavon (1) Distillery Coleraine Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 27
1952–53 Glentoran (10) Linfield Ballymena United Sammy Hughes (Glentoran) 28
1953–54 Linfield (21) Glentoran Glenavon Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 32
1954–55 Linfield (22) Glenavon Cliftonville Fay Coyle (Coleraine) 20
1955–56 Linfield (23) Glenavon Bangor Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 26
1956–57 Glenavon (2) Linfield Glentoran Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 33
1957–58 Ards (1) Glenavon Ballymena United Jackie Milburn (Linfield) 29
1958–59 Linfield (24) Glenavon Glentoran Jackie Milburn (Linfield) 26
1959–60 Glenavon (3) Glentoran Distillery Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 29
1960–61 Linfield (25) Portadown Ards Trevor Thompson (Glentoran) 22
1961–62 Linfield (26) Portadown Ballymena United Mick Lynch (Ards) 20
1962–63 Distillery (6)[n 2] Linfield Portadown Joe Meldrum (Distillery) 27
1963–64 Glentoran (11) Coleraine Derry City Trevor Thompson (Linfield) 21
1964–65 Derry City (1) Coleraine Crusaders Kenny Halliday (Coleraine)

Dennis Guy (Glenavon)

19
1965–66 Linfield (27) Derry City Glentoran Sammy Pavis (Linfield) 28
1966–67 Glentoran (12) Linfield Derry City Sammy Pavis (Linfield) 25
1967–68 Glentoran (13) Linfield Coleraine Sammy Pavis (Linfield) 30
1968–69 Linfield (28) Derry City Coleraine Danny Hale (Derry City) 21
1969–70 Glentoran (14) Coleraine Ards Des Dickson (Coleraine) 21
1970–71 Linfield (29) Glentoran Distillery Bryan Hamilton (Linfield) 18
1971–72 Glentoran (15) Portadown Ards Peter Watson (Distillery)

Des Dickson (Coleraine)

15
1972–73 Crusaders (1) Ards Portadown Des Dickson (Coleraine) 23
1973–74 Coleraine (1) Portadown Crusaders Des Dickson (Coleraine) 24
1974–75 Linfield (30) Coleraine Glentoran Martin Malone (Portadown) 15
1975–76 Crusaders (2) Glentoran Coleraine Des Dickson (Coleraine) 23
1976–77 Glentoran (16) Glenavon Linfield Ronnie McAteer (Crusaders) 20
1977–78 Linfield (31) Glentoran Glenavon Warren Feeney (Glentoran) 17
1978–79 Linfield (32) Glenavon Ards Tommy Armstrong (Ards) 21
1979–80 Linfield (33) Ballymena United Glentoran Jimmy Martin (Glentoran) 17
1980–81 Glentoran (17) Linfield Ballymena United Des Dickson (Coleraine)

Paul Malone (Ballymena United)

18
1981–82 Linfield (34) Glentoran Coleraine Gary Blackledge (Glentoran) 18
1982–83 Linfield (35) Glentoran Coleraine Jim Campbell (Ards) 15
1983–84 Linfield (36) Glentoran Cliftonville Martin McGaughey (Linfield)

Trevor Anderson (Linfield)

15
1984–85 Linfield (37) Coleraine Glentoran Martin McGaughey (Linfield) 34
1985–86 Linfield (38) Coleraine Ards Trevor Anderson (Linfield) 14
1986–87 Linfield (39) Coleraine Ards Ray McCoy (Coleraine)

Gary Macartney (Glentoran)

14
1987–88 Glentoran (18) Linfield Coleraine Martin McGaughey (Linfield) 18
1988–89 Linfield (40) Glentoran Coleraine Stephen Baxter (Linfield) 17
1989–90 Portadown (1) Glenavon Glentoran Martin McGaughey (Linfield) 19
1990–91 Portadown (2) Bangor Glentoran Stephen McBride (Glenavon) 22
1991–92 Glentoran (19) Portadown Linfield Harry McCourt (Omagh Town)

Stephen McBride (Glenavon)

18
1992–93 Linfield (41) Crusaders Bangor Steve Cowan (Portadown) 23
1993–94 Linfield (42) Portadown Glenavon Darren Erskine (Ards)

Stephen McBride (Glenavon)

22
1994–95 Crusaders (3) Glenavon Portadown Glenn Ferguson (Glenavon) 27

Irish Football League Premier & First Division (1995–2003)[edit]

Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals Second-level senior champions
(number of second-level senior titles)
Runners-up Third
1995–96 Portadown (3) Crusaders Glentoran Garry Haylock (Portadown) 19 Coleraine (1) Ballymena United Omagh Town
1996–97 Crusaders (4) Coleraine Glentoran Garry Haylock (Portadown) 16 Ballymena United (1) Omagh Town Bangor
1997–98 Cliftonville (3)[n 2] Linfield Portadown Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 22 Newry Town (1) Bangor Distillery
1998–99 Glentoran (20) Linfield Crusaders Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 19 Distillery (1) Ards Bangor
1999–2000 Linfield (43) Coleraine Glenavon Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 29 Omagh Town (1) Ards Limavady United
2000–01 Linfield (44) Glenavon Glentoran Davy Larmour (Linfield) 17 Ards (1) Lisburn Distillery Armagh City
2001–02 Portadown (4) Glentoran Linfield Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 30 Lisburn Distillery (2) Institute Dungannon Swifts
2002–03 Glentoran (21) Portadown Coleraine Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 29 Dungannon Swifts (1) Ballymena United Limavady United

Irish Premier League (2003–2008)[edit]

Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals
2003–04 Linfield (45) Portadown Lisburn Distillery Glenn Ferguson (Linfield) 25
2004–05 Glentoran (22) Linfield Portadown Chris Morgan (Glentoran) 19
2005–06 Linfield (46) Glentoran Portadown Peter Thompson (Linfield) 25
2006–07 Linfield (47) Glentoran Cliftonville Gary Hamilton (Glentoran) 27
2007–08 Linfield (48) Glentoran Cliftonville Peter Thompson (Linfield) 29

IFA Premiership (2008–2013)[edit]

Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals
2008–09 Glentoran (23) Linfield Crusaders Curtis Allen (Lisburn Distillery) 19
2009–10 Linfield (49) Cliftonville Glentoran Rory Patterson (Coleraine) 30
2010–11 Linfield (50) Crusaders Glentoran Peter Thompson (Linfield) 23
2011–12 Linfield (51) Portadown Cliftonville Gary McCutcheon (Ballymena United) 27
2012–13 Cliftonville (4)[n 2] Crusaders Linfield Liam Boyce (Cliftonville) 29

NIFL Premiership (2013–present)[edit]

Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals
2013–14 Cliftonville (5)[n 2] Linfield Crusaders Joe Gormley (Cliftonville) 27
2014–15 Crusaders (5) Linfield Glenavon Joe Gormley (Cliftonville) 31

Bold indicates Double winners – i.e. League and Irish Cup winners

Italic indicates Treble Winners – i.e. League, Irish Cup and at least one other national trophy

Summary of champions[edit]

Performance by club[edit]

Clubs in italics either no longer exist (Belfast Celtic, Queen's Island) or no longer compete for the title (Derry City).

Club Winners Runners-up Winning seasons
Linfield 51 22 1890–91, 1891–92, 1892–93, 1894–95, 1897–98, 1901–02, 1903–04, 1906–07, 1907–08, 1908–09, 1910–11, 1913–14, 1921–22, 1922–23, 1929–30, 1931–32, 1933–34, 1934–35, 1948–49, 1949–50, 1953–54, 1954–55, 1955–56, 1958–59, 1960–61, 1961–62, 1965–66, 1968–69, 1970–71, 1974–75, 1977–78, 1978–79, 1979–80, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1984–85, 1985–86, 1986–87, 1988–89, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2003–04, 2005–06, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2011–12
Glentoran 23 23 1893–94, 1896–97, 1904–05, 1911–12, 1912–13, 1920–21, 1924–25, 1930–31, 1950–51, 1952–53, 1963–64, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1969–70, 1971–72, 1976–77, 1980–81, 1987–88, 1991–92, 1998–99, 2002–03, 2004–05, 2008–09
Belfast Celtic 14 4 1899–1900, 1914–15, 1919–20, 1925–26, 1926–27, 1927–28, 1928–29, 1932–33, 1935–36, 1936–37, 1937–38, 1938–39, 1939–40, 1947–48
Distillery 6[n 2] 8 1895–96, 1898–99, 1900–01, 1902–03, 1905–06,[n 1] 1962–63
Cliftonville 5[n 2] 6 1905–06,[n 1] 1909–10, 1997–98, 2012–13, 2013–14
Crusaders 5 4 1972–73, 1975–76, 1994–95, 1996–97, 2014–15
Portadown 4 10 1989–90, 1990–91, 1995–96, 2001–02
Glenavon 3 10 1951–52, 1956–57, 1959–60
Coleraine 1 9 1973–74
Derry City 1 7 1964–65
Queen's Island 1 3 1923–24
Ards 1 1 1957–58

Total titles won by town or city[edit]

Twelve clubs have been champions, and the overwhelming majority have been from Belfast.

Town or city Number of titles Clubs
Belfast 104[n 2] Linfield (51), Glentoran (23), Belfast Celtic (14), Distillery (6),[n 2] Cliftonville (5),[n 2] Crusaders (5), Queen's Island (1)
Portadown 4 Portadown (4)
Lurgan 3 Glenavon (3)
Coleraine 1 Coleraine (1)
Derry 1 Derry City (1)
Newtownards 1 Ards (1)

Records[edit]

The first Irish League champions were Linfield, and the first runners-up were Ulster. Of the 114 completed championships, the title has only been taken out of Belfast on ten occasions. The last club to do so was Portadown in 2001–02. They are also the most successful provincial club, with four championships overall.

In 1961–62, Linfield famously achieved the feat of winning seven trophies: the Irish League; Irish Cup; City Cup, Gold Cup; Ulster Cup; County Antrim Shield; and North-South Cup. This was a repeat of a similar feat in 1921–22, when Linfield won the Irish League; Irish Cup; City Cup, Gold Cup; County Antrim Shield; Belfast Charities Cup and Alhambra Cup.

The record for consecutive titles is six, which has been achieved by two clubs. Belfast Celtic won five consecutive titles between 1935–36 and 1939–40, before the suspension of the league in 1940 due to World War II. On the resumption of the league in 1947–48 they won their sixth consecutive title, albeit eight years after the fifth. Linfield are the only club to achieve six consecutive titles without a hiatus, from 1981–82 to 1986–87. The longest gap between title wins is the 88 years separating Cliftonville's wins in 1909–10 and 1997–98. A total of 12 different clubs have won the championship, Linfield holding the record for the most wins (51).

Tiebreakers[edit]

In the 1905–06 season, the championship title was shared after Cliftonville and Distillery could not be separated after two play-off matches. This is the only occasion in the league's history that the title has been shared. In the 1992–93 season, Linfield became the first club to win the championship on goal difference, when they finished level on 66 points with Crusaders, but eight goals better with a +34 goal difference to Crusaders' +26.

Before goal difference was introduced, if the top two teams finished the season with the same number of points, the championship title was decided by a play-off. Nine such championship play-offs took place over the years as follow:

Season Winners Score Runners-up
1895–96 Distillery 2–1 Cliftonville
1898–99 Distillery 2–0 Linfield
1904–05 Glentoran 3–1 Belfast Celtic
1905–06 Cliftonville 0–0 Distillery
Replay Cliftonville 3–3 Distillery
1910–11 Linfield 3–2 Glentoran
1937–38 Belfast Celtic 2–2 Derry City
Replay Belfast Celtic 3–1 Derry City
1949–50 Linfield 2–0 Glentoran
1960–61 Linfield 2–0 Portadown
1961–62 Linfield 3–1 Portadown

Unbeaten seasons[edit]

On seven occasions, a team has completed a league campaign unbeaten. Linfield have done so four times, but with fewer fixtures relative to Belfast Celtic's unbeaten seasons in 1926–27 and 1928–29. Glentoran were the last club to achieve an unbeaten league season, when they won the 1980–81 Irish League title by two points after completing 22 league games without defeat. They again came close in the 1991–92 Irish League season, losing only once in 30 league games. Linfield also came close in the 2003–04 Irish Premier League season, when they too lost just one league game all season. Between 2005–06 and 2006–07, Linfield lost just two league games in two seasons - one in each season.

Season Club Matches played Wins Draws
1892–93 Linfield 10 8 2
1894–95 Linfield 6 4 2
1903–04 Linfield 14 12 2
1921–22 Linfield 10 7 3
1926–27 Belfast Celtic 22 15 7
1928–29 Belfast Celtic 26 22 4
1980–81 Glentoran 22 15 7

Senior club membership history[edit]

A total of 46 different clubs have been members of the senior league since its inception - ten of which have been members for only one season. The newest members are Warrenpoint Town, who joined the league in 2013 for the first time. That was the second consecutive season that a new member club had made its first appearance in the league, following Ballinamallard United's debut a year earlier in 2012. Three clubs – Cliftonville, Glentoran and Linfield – have retained unbroken membership since 1890: 126 years and 115 seasons (due to eleven suspended seasons).

In 1891, the league expanded to ten clubs, but shrank again after only one season to six clubs for the 1892–93 season. Only four clubs competed in 1892–93 and 1893–94, then six clubs for the following season, until a membership of eight was achieved for the 1901–02 season. With the exception of one season (1912–13) in which there were ten clubs, membership stayed at eight until the southern clubs resigned in 1920, anticipating the formation of the separate League of Ireland in what would become the Irish Free State. (The League was suspended from 1915 to 1919 because of the First World War.) Prior to the split, three southern clubs had participated in the League: Bohemians, Shelbourne and Tritonville. In the early years, Army regiments stationed in Ireland had also participated in the League: the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1891–92; the North Staffordshire Regiment for three seasons from 1896–99; the Royal Scots in 1899–00 and the King's Own Scottish Borderers in 1903–04.

Only five and six clubs competed in 1920–21 and from 1921–23 respectively, but expansion began with the admission of four new clubs in 1923, another two in 1924 and a further two in 1927, giving a membership of fourteen from 1927 until the League was suspended in 1940 because of the Second World War. When the League resumed in 1947 it was reduced to twelve clubs, and stayed at this number until 1983 when membership was increased to fourteen.

In 1990, a further two clubs brought the membership to sixteen, and the League was divided into two divisions (the Premier and First Divisions) of eight in 1995, with promotion and relegation between the two. In 1996 the results from the Premier Division and the First Division started to be featured on the Press Association vidiprinter. In 1997, membership increased again to eighteen, with ten in the Premier Division and eight in the First Division. Between 1999 and 2003, the League had a record twenty clubs in membership. From 1999 to 2002, ten clubs each competed in the Premier and First Divisions and in 2002–03 there were twelve in the Premier Division and eight in the First Division.

In 2003, with the creation of the Irish Premier League, the senior league was reduced to a single division of sixteen clubs, although for the first time with relegation to, and promotion from, a league below (a rump Irish Football League in 2003–04 and subsequently the IFA Intermediate League). In 2008, with the creation of the IFA Premiership, the league was reduced to twelve. The Northern Ireland Football League was formed in 2013 to assume independent collective management of the top three levels of the Northern Ireland football league system, which had been under the direct management of the Irish Football Association: namely the IFA Premiership and both divisions of the IFA Championship.[6]

Membership summary[edit]

Listed below are all the League members from 1890 up to and including the 2015–16 season in the following competitions:

  • Irish Football League (1890–1995)
  • Irish Football League Premier & First Division (1995–2003)
  • Irish Premier League (2003–2008)
  • IFA Premiership (2008–2013)
  • NIFL Premiership (2013–present)
Club Location No. seasons in league Membership years
Cliftonville Belfast 115 1890–
Glentoran Belfast 115 1890–
Linfield Belfast 115 1890–
Lisburn Distillery[n 3] Ballyskeagh[n 4] 112 1890–2013
Glenavon Lurgan 93 1911–2004, 2005–
Portadown Portadown 84 1924–2008, 2009–
Coleraine Coleraine 82 1927–
Ards Newtownards[n 5] 77 1923–2006, 2013–2014
Ballymena United[n 6] Ballymena 75 1934–
Bangor Bangor 70 1927–2003, 2008–2009
Crusaders Belfast 66 1949–2005, 2006–
Larne Larne 53 1923–1940, 1972–2008
Newry City[n 7] Newry 45 1923–1940, 1983–2011
Belfast Celtic[n 8] Belfast 38 1896–1920, 1924–1949
Derry City Derry 36 1929–1972
Carrick Rangers Carrickfergus 22 1983–2003, 2011–2012, 2015–
Dungannon Swifts Dungannon 19 1997–
Omagh Town Omagh 15 1990–2005
Ballyclare Comrades Ballyclare 13 1990–2003
Bohemians Dublin 13 1902–1911, 1912–1920
Derry Celtic Derry 13 1900–1913
Shelbourne Dublin 12 1904–1920
Institute Drumahoe 11 1999–2006, 2007–2010, 2014–2015
Limavady United Limavady 11 1997–2008
Queen's Island Belfast 8 1921–1929
Armagh City Armagh 7 1999-2003, 2005–2008
Ballymena[n 6] Ballymena 6 1928–1934
Ulster Belfast 6 1890–1894, 1901–1903
Barn Carrickfergus 5 1923–1928
Donegal Celtic Belfast 5 2006–2008, 2010–2013
Ballinamallard United Ballinamallard 4 2012–
Loughgall Loughgall 3 2004–2007
North Staffordshire Regiment Army team 3 1896–1899
Warrenpoint Town Warrenpoint 3 2013–
Ligoniel Belfast 2 1891–1892, 1893–1894
Oldpark Belfast 2 1890–1892
YMCA Belfast 1 1891–1892
Clarence Belfast 1 1890–1891
Derry Olympic Derry 1 1892–1893
King's Own Scottish Borderers Army team 1 1903–1904
Lancashire Fusiliers Army team 1 1891–1892
Milford Milford 1 1890–1891
Milltown Belfast 1 1891–1892
Royal Scots Army team 1 1899–1900
St Columb's Court Derry 1 1901–1902
Tritonville Dublin 1 1912–1913

Bold – a current member
Italics – a club no longer in existence, or no longer competing in Northern Irish football
Includes membership of the senior second tier between 1995 and 2003 – the Irish Football League First Division

Relegation and promotion history[edit]

Between 1995–96 and 2002–03, the league was split into two divisions, with promotion and relegation between the two as follows.

Season Relegated to First Division Promoted to Premier Division
1995–96 Bangor Coleraine
1996–97 - Ballymena United
Omagh Town
1997–98 Ards Newry Town
1998–99 Omagh Town Distillery
1999–2000 Lisburn Distillery Omagh Town
2000–01 Ballymena United Ards
2001–02 - Lisburn Distillery
Institute

At the end of the 2002–03 season, the league was reformed as the single-division Irish Premier League. Four clubs were relegated to intermediate football, and thereafter there has been relegation and promotion between the senior Irish League and the top intermediate league below (now NIFL Championship 1).

Season Relegated Promoted
2002–03 Armagh City
Ballyclare Comrades
Bangor
Carrick Rangers
-
2003–04 Glenavon Loughgall
2004–05 Crusaders
Omagh Town
Armagh City
Glenavon
2005–06 Ards
Institute
Crusaders
Donegal Celtic
2006–07 Loughgall Institute
2007–08 Armagh City
Donegal Celtic
Larne
Limavady United
Portadown
Bangor
2008–09 Bangor Portadown
2009–10 Institute Donegal Celtic
2010–11 Newry City Carrick Rangers
2011–12 Carrick Rangers Ballinamallard United
2012–13 Donegal Celtic
Lisburn Distillery
Ards
Warrenpoint Town
2013–14 Ards Institute
2014–15 Institute Carrick Rangers

Intermediate[edit]

List of champions[edit]

Irish League B Division (1951–1977)[edit]

Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
1951–52 Linfield Swifts (1)[n 9]
1952–53 Linfield Swifts (2)[n 9]
1953–54 Cliftonville Olympic (1)[n 9]
1954–55 Larne (1)
1955–56 Banbridge Town (1)
1956–57 Larne (2)
1957–58 Ards II (1)[n 9]
1958–59 Glentoran II (1)[n 9]
1959–60 Newry Town (1)[n 7]
1960–61 Ballyclare Comrades (1)
1961–62 Carrick Rangers (1)
1962–63 Ballyclare Comrades (2)
1963–64 Larne (3)
1964–65 Larne (4)
1965–66 Larne (5)
1966–67 Larne (6)
1967–68 Dundela (1)
1968–69 Larne (7)
1969–70 Larne (8)
1970–71 Larne (9)
1971–72 Larne† (10)
1972–73 Carrick Rangers (2)
1973–74 Ballyclare Comrades (3)
1974–75 Carrick Rangers (3)[n 10]
1975–76 Linfield Swifts (3)[n 9] [n 10]
1976–77 Carrick Rangers (4)/Dundela (2)[n 11]

Irish League B Division Section 1 (1977–1999)[edit]

Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
1977–78 Ballyclare Comrades (4)
1978–79 Carrick Rangers (5)[n 2]
1979–80 Ballyclare Comrades (5)
1980–81 Newry Town (2)[n 7]
1981–82 Dundela (3)[n 2]
1982–83 Carrick Rangers† (6)[n 2]
1983–84 Limavady United (1)
1984–85 Chimney Corner (1)
1985–86 Dundela (4)[n 2]
1986–87 RUC (1)[n 12]
1987–88 Dundela (5)[n 2]
1988–89 Ballyclare Comrades (6)
1989–90 Dundela (6)[n 2]
1990–91 Dundela (7)[n 2]
1991–92 Dundela (8)[n 2]
1992–93 Limavady United (2)
1993–94 Dundela (9)[n 2]
1994–95 Loughgall (1)
1995–96 Loughgall (2)
1996–97 Loughgall (3)
1997–98 Loughgall (4)
1998–99 Chimney Corner (2)

Irish League Second Division (1999–2003)[edit]

Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
1999–00 Dundela (10)[n 2]
2000–01 Dundela (11)[n 2]
2001–02 Moyola Park (1)
2002–03 Ballinamallard United (1)

Irish League First & Second Division (2003–04)[edit]

Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2003–04 Loughgall‡ (5) Coagh United (1)

IFA Intermediate League First & Second Division (2004–2008)[edit]

Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2004–05 Armagh City‡ (1) Tobermore United (1)
2005–06 Crusaders‡ (1) Portstewart (1)
2006–07 Institute‡ (1) Ballyclare Comrades (1)
2007–08 Loughgall (6) Dergview (1)

IFA Championship & Interim Intermediate League (2008–09)[edit]

Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2008–09 Portadown‡ (1) Harland & Wolff Welders (1)

IFA Championship 1 & 2 (2009–2013)[edit]

Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2009–10 Loughgall (7) Harland & Wolff Welders (2)
2010–11 Carrick Rangers‡ (7)[n 2] Warrenpoint Town (1)
2011–12 Ballinamallard United‡ (2) Coagh United (2)
2012–13 Ards‡ (2) Knockbreda (1)

NIFL Championship 1 & 2 (2013–present)[edit]

Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2013–14 Institute‡ (2) Armagh City (1)
2014–15 Carrick Rangers‡ (8)[n 2] Lurgan Celtic (1)

Elected to senior football
Promoted to senior football

Summary of champions[edit]

Club Wins Winning seasons
Dundela 11[n 2] 1967–68, 1976–77,[n 11] 1981–82, 1985–86, 1987–88, 1989–90, 1990–91, 1991–92, 1993–94, 1999–00, 2000–01
Larne 10 1954–55, 1956–57, 1963–64, 1964–65, 1965–66, 1966–67, 1986–69, 1969–70, 1970–71, 1971–72
Carrick Rangers 8[n 2] 1961–62, 1972–73, 1974–75, 1976–77,[n 11] 1978–79, 1982–83, 2010–11, 2014–15
Loughgall 7 1994–95, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1997–98, 2003–04, 2007–08, 2009–10
Ballyclare Comrades 6 1960–61, 1962–63, 1973–74, 1977–78, 1979–80, 1988–89
Linfield Swifts[n 9] 3 1951–52, 1952–53, 1975–76
Ards 2[n 13] 1957–58, 2012–13
Ballinamallard United 2 2002–03, 2011–12
Chimney Corner 2 1984–85, 1998–99
Institute 2 2006–07, 2013–14
Limavady United 2 1983–84, 1992–93
Newry Town[n 7] 2 1959–60, 1980–81
Armagh City 1 2004–05
Banbridge Town 1 1955–56
Cliftonville Olympic[n 9] 1 1953–54
Crusaders 1 2005–06
Glentoran II[n 9] 1 1958–59
Moyola Park 1 2001–02
Portadown 1 2008–09
RUC[n 12] 1 1986–87

Knock-out competitions[edit]

In 1982, a knock-out competition for members was introduced, known as the B Division Knock-out Cup and sponsored by Smirnoff. It was discontinued after 2002, but a new IFA Intermediate League Cup was played between 2004 and 2008, sponsored in its first season by the Daily Mirror and thereafter by Carnegie. In 2008–09, there was no knock-out competition for Championship clubs, who participated with Premiership clubs in the Irish League Cup. In the 2009–10 season only, however, while Championship 1 clubs continued to participate in the Irish League Cup, a Championship 2 League Cup was inaugurated for those in Championship 2. From 2010–11 onwards, all Championship clubs from divisions 1 and 2 also competed in the Irish League Cup, and the Championship 2 League Cup was abolished.

Season Winners
B Division Knock-out Cup
1982–83 RUC[n 12]
1983–84 Ballyclare Comrades
1984–85 RUC[n 12]
1985–86 RUC[n 12]
1986–87 Chimney Corner
1987–88 Dundela
1988–89 Ballyclare Comrades
1989–90 Omagh Town
1990–91 Dundela
1991–92 Dundela
1992–93 Limavady United
1993–94 Dungannon Swifts
1994–95 Dundela
1995–96 Limavady United
1996–97 Institute
1997–98 Harland & Wolff Welders
1998–99 Ballymoney United
1999–00 Moyola Park
2000–01 Harland & Wolff Welders
2001–02 Harland & Wolff Welders
2002–03 No competition
2003–04 No competition
IFA Intermediate League Cup
2004–05 Bangor
2005–06 Crusaders
2006–07 Institute
2007–08 Loughgall
2008–09 No competition
Championship 2 League Cup
2009–10 Harland & Wolff Welders

Summary of winners[edit]

Club Wins Winning seasons
Dundela 4 1987–88, 1990–91, 1991–92, 1994–95
Harland & Wolff Welders 4 1997–98, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2009–10
RUC[n 12] 3 1982–83, 1984–85, 1985–86
Ballyclare Comrades 2 1983–84, 1988–89
Institute 2 1996–97, 2006–07
Limavady United 2 1992–93, 1995–96
Ballymoney United 1 1998–99
Bangor 1 2004–05
Chimney Corner 1 1986–87
Crusaders 1 2005–06
Dungannon Swifts 1 1993–94
Loughgall 1 2007–08
Moyola Park 1 1999–00
Omagh Town 1 1989–90

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The 1905–06 league title was shared when Cliftonville and Distillery could not be separated after two play-off matches – the only season in the Irish League's history in which the title has been shared.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Including one shared title
  3. ^ Changed name from Distillery to Lisburn Distillery in 1999.
  4. ^ Moved from Belfast to Ballyskeagh in 1980.
  5. ^ Sold home ground in Newtownards in 2002, and has subsequently played in Carrickfergus, Belfast and Bangor.
  6. ^ a b Ballymena United F.C. were formed immediately after Ballymena F.C. dissolved in 1934, following expulsion from the league. Generally, Ballymena United assume the history of the previous club, however technically they were two different entities.
  7. ^ a b c d Changed name from Newry Town to Newry City in 2004, and was dissolved in 2012 following financial problems.
  8. ^ Changed name from Celtic to Belfast Celtic in 1901. Club was dissolved in 1949.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reserve team of senior club
  10. ^ a b After play-off between winners of North and South sections
  11. ^ a b c Shared between winners of North and South sections
  12. ^ a b c d e f Now PSNI
  13. ^ Includes one title by Ards II (reserve team)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Irish Football Association (2013). We're Not Brazil... We're Northern Ireland: The Irish Football Association Strategic Plan 2013/18, p.16.
  2. ^ Articles of Association of the Northern Ireland Football League Ltd
  3. ^ "Premier Intermediate League (PIL)". Irish Football Association. irishfa.com. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "IFA Championship". Irish Football Association. irishfa.com. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  5. ^ http://nifootballleague.com
  6. ^ Irish Football Association (2013). We're Not Brazil... We're Northern Ireland: The Irish Football Association Strategic Plan 2013/18, p.16.

External links[edit]