Region = British Isles
The FA Cup! Really? Yes, Irish clubs did really compete in the FA Cup. In the beginning the competition was open to all countries in the Union. The competition, officially known as the Football Association Challenge Cup, started in the 1871/1872 season but it wasn’t until 1881 that Irish clubs got involved. The first club from these shores to enter was Kildare. They actually competed in three successive seasons. The first Northern club into the competition was Cliftonville in the 1886/1887 season. They did pretty well getting through rounds one and two before falling to Partick Thistle in round three. Distillery were the representatives the following season and they made it as far as round two.
By the 1888/1889 season the competition was becoming so popular that the FA had to introduce qualifying rounds. Four clubs from the North were involved this season in various qualifying rounds. These were Belfast YMCA, Cliftonville, Linfield Athletics (as they were then known) and Ulster. Ulster were drawn against Everton but surprisingly the Merseysiders withdrew and Ulster went into the next round unopposed. The second qualifying round pitted Ulster against Linfield Athletics and Belfast YMCA against Cliftonville. The two visiting teams were successful. In the third qualifying round Linfield Athletics beat Bolton Wanderers and another Liverpool team, Liverpool Stanley, followed Everton and withdrew rather than face Cliftonville. Linfield Athletics and Cliftonville were drawn together in the fourth qualifying round and it took three attempts before Linfield Athletics prevailed 7 – 0. This match, played on Christmas Day 1888, set a record which will probably never be matched. It was the only FA Cup match ever to be played on a Christmas Day!
In the first round proper of the 1888/1889 tournament Linfield Athletics were then drawn away to Nottingham Forest. This was a formidable task but the Blues put on a great show and earned a replay with a 2 – 2 draw. The replay was set for the Ulster ground at Ballynafeigh and a huge crowd turned up. The match ended 3 – 1 in favour of the home team and the throngs streamed out afterwards in great spirits. They had been conned however! Before the match was played the Athletics management discovered that under the competition rules, a Linfield player who had played in the first game had been ineligible. Five minutes before the start of the game they registered their guilt and although the match went ahead none of the players, nor indeed the spectators realised that this had now become a friendly game and that Forest would proceed to the next round. To say that there was some fallout after that game would be a considerable understatement!
The following season, 1889/1890, featured four clubs from these shores with Belfast North End, YMCA Belfast, Cliftonville and Distillery all taking part. All of the clubs received byes or walkovers at some stage but it was Distillery who got the furthest before falling to Bolton Wanderers 10 – 2 in round 1. The 1890/1891 season was the last time that Irish clubs entered the competition with Linfield and Cliftonville entering at the first qualifying round stage. Whilst Linfield lost, Cliftonville made it to qualifying round four. The FA Cup adventure was over.
Scottish Challenge Cup
The Scottish Challenge Cup started in Scotland in the 1990/1991 season. In 2016/2017 the net was widened to include two clubs from the Irish League and two from the Welsh Premier League. That season they entered at the fourth round stage. Linfield were drawn away to Queen of the South in Dumfries and lost 2 – 0. Crusaders were drawn at home to Livingston and lost 2 – 1. However it was subsequently discovered that the Livingston team included a player who was serving a suspension. Normally this type of offence would lead to a forfeit but for some reason the match was ordered to be replayed. Livingston won 3 – 0 on the second occasion.
The following season two teams from the Republic of Ireland were added to the pot and this time the Northern Ireland teams came in at the second round stage. Linfield and Crusaders were again the Irish League’s representatives. This time both teams were more successful with Linfield beating Spartans 2 – 1 in Edinburgh and Crusaders beating Motherwell’s under-20s team 3 – 2 in Belfast. In the third round Linfield lost 1 – 0 away to Dundee United but Crusaders triumphed 3 – 0 over Cove Rangers in Forfar. In the quarter-finals Crusaders lost out 2 – 1 to Linfield’s conquerors in Dundee.
The following season the geographical scope was widened again with two teams joining from the National League in England. Crusaders were again in the competition this time being joined at the second round stage by Coleraine. Crusaders suffered a 4– 3 defeat in Dumfries to Queen of the South but Coleraine beat Formartine United 2 – 1 on penalties after a 1 – 1 draw in Coleraine. In the third round, Coleraine fell 2 – 0 to Connan’s Quay Nomads in Wales.
Irish League clubs decided not to enter the 2019/2020 competition but re-joined for the 2022/2023 season. If nothing else it gives supporters from here a good day (or night as well perhaps) away from home without having to consider an expensive European competition trip to somewhere like the Faroe Islands or Norway!
The competition was also known as the Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup after the sponsoring company.
The Texaco Cup, not to be confused with the Texaco (All-Ireland) Cup, was a competition introduced in the 1970/1971 season and was designed for teams who had not made it through to a European competition. It was one of the first football competitions to receive sponsorship, taking the name of American petroleum company Texaco for £100,000, and was introduced to help promote Texaco's recent purchase of the Regent filling station chain.
Teams from England (six), Scotland (six), Northern Ireland (two) and the Republic of Ireland (two) were invited to compete. The format was knock-out with each tie being decided over two legs. There was a first round, quarter finals, semi-finals and a final. Although the competition lasted for five years, the teams from the Irish League and the League of Ireland only competed for the first two years. Ards and Derry City joined Limerick and Shamrock Rovers for the first season and Ballymena United and Coleraine joined Shamrock Rovers and Limerick for the second. Northern Irish teams did really well getting a team through to the semi-final stage in both seasons. In 1970/1971, Derry City beat Limerick and Shamrock Rovers before falling to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semi-final. In 1971/1972, Ballymena United beat Waterford and Shamrock Rovers before losing to Airdrieonians in the semi-final.
After that they withdrew because of the increased civil unrest in Northern Ireland. Texaco hadn’t forgotten the Irish clubs however and reappeared in 1973/1974 to sponsor a new North-South competition called the Texaco (All-Ireland) Cup. See the separate entry for details.