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GROUND // Solitude Stadium - Cliftonville FC (Northern Ireland)

Yes, still in Northern Ireland. There is yet another absolute gem we just simply had to visit. With a bit of luck (there was youth training at the moment of visiting), we were able to see the stadium on non match day. We even got a short tour and it was very noticeable they are very proud to be the oldest (Northern) Irish team - existing since 1879.

So, as mentioned before, everything started in 1879 already and in the beginning they had to be creative to be able to play. One week after they founded the team, they played their first game against a selection of rugby players named Quidnunces. Their first home ground was the Cliftonville Cricket Ground, which up to this day is still in use albeit only for gaelic games. One year after creating Cliftonville FC, John McAlery (who also was one of the founding members of the team) organised a meeting to form an Irish FA.

Cliftonville FC immediately took a prominent role in Irish football. From the start the reached the finals of the Irish Cup several times, but it would take until 1883 before they first won that cup. During the 1880s they often also played in the FA cup in England. A couple of years later, in 1890, again Cliftonville FC was the leading team to form the Irish Football League. The same year it started and together with Linfield and Glentoran, they never relegated from the Irish Premier League. Which doesn't mean they never ended on spots for relegation. But back in the days teams had to be selected to play in the IPL.

Again Cliftonville was the first - this time when it comes to using floodlights during games. In 1891 they played a first series of games, but it was soon dismantled again as spectators complained about the bad view on the pitch. Later on the floodlights did return. Around the century change a few other victories followed such as cups and also championships (the first one in 1906 and a second one in 1910).

Later on their influence would diminish. Mostly because Cliftonville stayed an all amateur team until the early 70s, while other teams professionalised sooner. By the end of the 70s another cup victory followed, but yet again Cliftonville fell back to the lower positions in the IPL. By the end of the millennium things changed again. Cup victories were followed by European football and championship victories in 1998, 2013 and 2014.

On to the reason for our visit; the Solitude stadium. After having played in the Cliftonville Cricket Ground in the beginning, Cliftonville FC moved to Solitude in 1890 (when the IPL started). Nowadays it's a pretty 'modern' stadium with two stands behind the goals that were built in this millennium and a plastic pitch. But the main stand is still standing in full glory. After a burnt down main stand during the end of the 40s, the current stand was built in the early 50s and has ever since seen a lot. The stadium after all is the oldest in the whole of Ireland and it can also take pride in the fact the very first penalty ever was given (and missed) on their grounds. It also hosted quite a lot of international matches until The Oval and Windsor Park took over that responsibility.

We don't know how long the main stand will stay there (as we heard the R word passing by there as well - redevelopment - we'll just refer to this as the R word in the future), but like many plans there are no dates set yet. Let's just enjoy this as long as we can. And when you visit, please try to enjoy the original dressing rooms as well. These are abandoned now, but still accessible in the stadium right next to the home turnstiles.


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