Football in Northern Ireland Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Football in Northern Ireland

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Football in Northern Ireland undoubtedly hit fever pitch in the summer of 1982 when the little team from 'Norn Iron'1 took on the Spanish host of that year's World Cup in Valencia2 and scored an emphatic 1-0 victory to top the group and go into the second phase to face France and Austria.

This level of competition was not new to Northern Ireland, indeed the manager, Billy Bingham, had played on the team that made the quarter finals of the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.

Later, goalkeeper Pat Jennings3 brought to a close his illustrious career against the best team in the world, Brazil, in Mexico in 1986.

However, while the fans on the terraces hope for a return to the glory days of international success - for Northern Ireland, just qualifying for a World Cup is success - football carries on at a domestic level with the teams of the Premier League, Division 1, or the Junior Leagues.

The Teams

Undoubtedly the big two teams in the Irish League are Linfield4 and Glentoran5. These two Belfast teams have dominated Northern Irish football for so long that only occasionally has another team been allowed a share of the spoils. Indeed, Linfield hold the rare distinction of being the only team to be undefeated in the English FA Cup6.

Carrying the hope of Catholic North Belfast against these two giants is Cliftonville. However, the hostility at the games, especially against the Glens (Glentoran), has made this fixture difficult to police until recent times. The other Belfast team is the Crusaders.

Two teams have mounted the most consistent challenge to the Belfast throne. These are the 'Wee Glens' (Glenavon) andPortadown.

Coleraine and Ballymena United have at times also shone.

In North Down there is rivalry between Bangor and Ards, but both of these teams are currently facing financial difficulty. From across Belfast Lough is another local rivalry between Carrick Rangers and Larne.

Following the tragic bombing, Omagh Town hold the distinction of being the only Irish league team to host Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the same season, for a series of charity matches.

One team that still seems to uphold the Irish reputation for drinking is Lisburn Distillery, who, until 1999 were simply Distillery. This team chose to add Lisburn to their name despite being based in Lambeg, and most people not in the know would have to travel back on themselves after travelling in to Lisburn.

Newry Town are the most southerly team in the Irish League being just over the border in the shadow of the Mournes.

Recent expansion of the league has seen the addition of several new teams into senior football, Armagh City, Ballyclare Comrades, Dungannon Swifts, Institute and Limavady.

One team which suffered in the troubles of the 1970s, and which was forced to leave the Irish League (although it now plays in the League of Ireland - the Irish Republic's equivalent - is Derry City. Another famous old club, Belfast Celtic, sadly no longer exist.

1This is how the words 'Northern Ireland' might sound when spoken by someone with a Northern Irish accent.2A stadium in which the national team had never been beaten before.3Pat Jennings incidentally made his debut on the same night as soccer legend George Best.4Linfield have won 43 league titles and 35 Irish Cups.5Glentoran have won the league 20 times and have had 17 Cup successes.6They were invited to play one year and won their first round game, but since they couldn't afford to travel to the second game they remained undefeated...

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