Northern Ireland Football League


The Northern Ireland Football League (commonly abbreviated to NIFL), known historically, and still colloquially, as the Irish Football League,[2][3][4] is the national football league of Northern Ireland. The Irish League was originally formed in 1890, with the league in its current format created in 2013 to assume independent collective management of the top three levels of the Northern Ireland football league system; namely the Premiership, Championship and Premier Intermediate League.

Northern Ireland Football League
Founded1890 (as Irish Football League)
Country Ireland (1890–1921)
Northern Ireland (since 1921)
ConfederationUEFA
DivisionsNIFL Premiership
NIFL Championship
NIFL Premier Intermediate League
NIFL Premiership Development League
NIFL Youth League
NIFL Women’s Premiership
Number of teams35
Level on pyramid1–3
Relegation toBallymena & Provincial League
Mid-Ulster Football League
Northern Amateur League
Northern Ireland Intermediate League
Domestic cup(s)Irish Cup
League cup(s)Northern Ireland Football League Cup
George Wilson Cup
International cup(s)UEFA Champions League
UEFA Europa Conference League
Scottish Challenge Cup
Current championsLinfield (55th title)
(2020–21)
Most championshipsLinfield (55 titles)
TV partnersBBC NI (highlights via BBC iPlayer)[1] Sky Sports (5 games a season and League Cup Final)
Websitewww.nifootballleague.com
Current: 2020–21

In addition to the league divisions, the NIFL also operates the Northern Ireland Football League Cup for its member clubs, as well as the NIFL Development League and George Wilson Cup for their reserve teams, and the NIFL Youth League and NIFL Youth League Cup for their youth teams. Operated as a limited company, the 35 member clubs act as shareholders with one vote each.[5][6] The NIFL is the successor to the Irish Football League, which was historically the league for the entire island of Ireland upon its formation in 1890; it became Northern Ireland's national league after the partition of Ireland in 1921.

Linfield are the current champions, after winning the 2020–21 title on 25 May 2021 with a 1–1 draw against Coleraine. This was a world record equalling 55th top flight league title, a record shared with Scottish club, Rangers.

History


Senior

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 English Football League is older. (The Dutch Football League formed properly on the same year as the Scottish and Irish leagues, making it the first league in Continental Europe. Although it did have two previous seasons, thus making it equal in duration with the EFL, these two seasons did not have an equal number of matches per club).

The Irish Football League was originally formed as the football league for, in theory, all of Ireland (although, for cultural reasons, all of its member clubs were in fact based in two zones: initially in what would become Northern Ireland, and, from 1900, in Dublin). 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. From 2003-16, there was a single division, albeit with relegation to intermediate leagues below, and from 2016 there are two senior divisions (Premiership and Championship). 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.[7][8] 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.

Intermediate

The NIFL Premier Intermediate League, as the highest-level of intermediate football in Northern Ireland, is the successor to the intermediate-status IFA Championship (2008-16), IFA Intermediate League (2004-08), the Irish Football League First Division (2003-04) 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 Championship 2 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.

In 2016, Championship 1 acquired senior status and Championship 2 was renamed as the Premier Intermediate League, thus succeeding the Championship as the top intermediate league in Northern Ireland.

2020–21 membership


Listed below are the 35 member clubs for the 2020–21 season.

Senior (24 clubs) Intermediate (11 clubs)
NIFL Premiership NIFL Championship NIFL Premier Intermediate League
Ballymena United Annagh United Armagh City
Carrick Rangers Ards Banbridge Town
Cliftonville Ballinamallard United Bangor
Coleraine Ballyclare Comrades Dollingstown
Crusaders Dergview Limavady United
Dungannon Swifts Dundela Lisburn Distillery
Glenavon Harland & Wolff Welders Moyola Park
Glentoran Institute Newington
Larne Knockbreda PSNI
Linfield Loughgall Portstewart
Portadown Newry City AFC Tobermore United
Warrenpoint Town Queen's University

UEFA coefficient and ranking


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


List of champions and runners-up

  • Bold italic indicates team achieved a Treble – winners of league, Irish Cup and at least one other national trophy
Irish Football League (1890–1995)
# Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals
1 1890–91 Linfield (1) Ulster Distillery Robert Hill (Linfield) 20
2 1891–92 Linfield (2) Ulster Lancashire Fusiliers Tim Morrison (Linfield) 21
3 1892–93 Linfield (3) Cliftonville Distillery Robert Hill (Linfield)

James Percy (Cliftonville)

9
4 1893–94 Glentoran (1) Linfield Cliftonville Michael McErlean (Linfield) 9
5 1894–95 Linfield (4) Distillery Glentoran George Gaukrodger (Linfield)

Joe McAllen (Linfield)

4
6 1895–96 Distillery (1) Cliftonville Linfield
7 1896–97 Glentoran (2) Cliftonville Linfield Johnny Darling (Linfield)

Richard Peden (Linfield)

6
8 1897–98 Linfield (5) Cliftonville Glentoran
9 1898–99 Distillery (2) Linfield Cliftonville
10 1899–00 Celtic (1) Linfield Distillery
11 1900–01 Distillery (3) Glentoran Belfast Celtic
12 1901–02 Linfield (6) Glentoran Distillery
13 1902–03 Distillery (4) Linfield Glentoran
14 1903–04 Linfield (7) Distillery Glentoran
15 1904–05 Glentoran (3) Belfast Celtic Linfield
16 1905–06 Cliftonville (1) / Distillery (5)[n 1] Linfield
17 1906–07 Linfield (8) Shelbourne Distillery
18 1907–08 Linfield (9) Cliftonville Glentoran
19 1908–09 Linfield (10) Glentoran Shelbourne
20 1909–10 Cliftonville (2)[n 2] Belfast Celtic Linfield
21 1910–11 Linfield (11) Glentoran Belfast Celtic
22 1911–12 Glentoran (4) Distillery Belfast Celtic
23 1912–13 Glentoran (5) Distillery Linfield
24 1913–14 Linfield (12) Glentoran Belfast Celtic
25 1914–15 Belfast Celtic (2) Glentoran Linfield
1915–19 League suspended due to the First World War
26 1919–20 Belfast Celtic (3) Distillery Glentoran
27 1920–21 Glentoran (6) Glenavon Linfield
28 1921–22 Linfield (13) Glentoran Distillery
29 1922–23 Linfield (14) Queen's Island Glentoran
30 1923–24 Queen's Island (1) Distillery Linfield
31 1924–25 Glentoran (7) Queen's Island Belfast Celtic
32 1925–26 Belfast Celtic (4) Glentoran Larne
33 1926–27 Belfast Celtic (5) Queen's Island Distillery Joe Bambrick (Glentoran) 28
34 1927–28 Belfast Celtic (6) Linfield Newry Town
35 1928–29 Belfast Celtic (7) Linfield Glentoran Joe Bambrick (Linfield) 43
36 1929–30 Linfield (15) Glentoran Coleraine Joe Bambrick (Linfield) 50
37 1930–31 Glentoran (8) Linfield Belfast Celtic Fred Roberts (Glentoran) 55
38 1931–32 Linfield (16) Derry City Belfast Celtic
39 1932–33 Belfast Celtic (8) Distillery Linfield Joe Bambrick (Linfield) 40
40 1933–34 Linfield (17) Belfast Celtic Glentoran
41 1934–35 Linfield (18) Derry City Belfast Celtic
42 1935–36 Belfast Celtic (9) Derry City Linfield
43 1936–37 Belfast Celtic (10) Derry City Linfield
44 1937–38 Belfast Celtic (11) Derry City Portadown
45 1938–39 Belfast Celtic (12) Ballymena United Derry City
46 1939–40 Belfast Celtic (13) Portadown Glentoran
1940–47 League suspended due to the Second World War
47 1947–48 Belfast Celtic (14) Linfield Ballymena United Jimmy Jones (Belfast Celtic) 28
48 1948–49 Linfield (19) Belfast Celtic Glentoran Billy Simpson (Linfield) 19
49 1949–50 Linfield (20) Glentoran Distillery Sammy Hughes (Glentoran) 23
50 1950–51 Glentoran (9) Linfield Glenavon Sammy Hughes (Glentoran)

Walter Allen (Portadown)

23
51 1951–52 Glenavon (1) Distillery Coleraine Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 27
52 1952–53 Glentoran (10) Linfield Ballymena United Sammy Hughes (Glentoran) 28
53 1953–54 Linfield (21) Glentoran Glenavon Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 32
54 1954–55 Linfield (22) Glenavon Cliftonville Fay Coyle (Coleraine) 20
55 1955–56 Linfield (23) Glenavon Bangor Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 26
56 1956–57 Glenavon (2) Linfield Glentoran Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 33
57 1957–58 Ards (1) Glenavon Ballymena United Jackie Milburn (Linfield) 29
58 1958–59 Linfield (24) Glenavon Glentoran Jackie Milburn (Linfield) 26
59 1959–60 Glenavon (3) Glentoran Distillery Jimmy Jones (Glenavon) 29
60 1960–61 Linfield (25) Portadown Ards Trevor Thompson (Glentoran) 22
61 1961–62 Linfield (26) Portadown Ballymena United Mick Lynch (Ards) 20
62 1962–63 Distillery (6)[n 2] Linfield Portadown Joe Meldrum (Distillery) 27
63 1963–64 Glentoran (11) Coleraine Derry City Trevor Thompson (Linfield) 21
64 1964–65 Derry City (1) Coleraine Crusaders Kenny Halliday (Coleraine)

Dennis Guy (Glenavon)

19
65 1965–66 Linfield (27) Derry City Glentoran Sammy Pavis (Linfield) 28
66 1966–67 Glentoran (12) Linfield Derry City Sammy Pavis (Linfield) 25
67 1967–68 Glentoran (13) Linfield Coleraine Sammy Pavis (Linfield) 30
68 1968–69 Linfield (28) Derry City Coleraine Danny Hale (Derry City) 21
69 1969–70 Glentoran (14) Coleraine Ards Des Dickson (Coleraine) 21
70 1970–71 Linfield (29) Glentoran Distillery Bryan Hamilton (Linfield) 18
71 1971–72 Glentoran (15) Portadown Ards Peter Watson (Distillery)

Des Dickson (Coleraine)

15
72 1972–73 Crusaders (1) Ards Portadown Des Dickson (Coleraine) 23
73 1973–74 Coleraine (1) Portadown Crusaders Des Dickson (Coleraine) 24
74 1974–75 Linfield (30) Coleraine Glentoran Martin Malone (Portadown) 15
75 1975–76 Crusaders (2) Glentoran Coleraine Des Dickson (Coleraine) 23
76 1976–77 Glentoran (16) Glenavon Linfield Ronnie McAteer (Crusaders) 20
77 1977–78 Linfield (31) Glentoran Glenavon Warren Feeney (Glentoran) 17
78 1978–79 Linfield (32) Glenavon Ards Tommy Armstrong (Ards) 21
79 1979–80 Linfield (33) Ballymena United Glentoran Jimmy Martin (Glentoran) 17
80 1980–81 Glentoran (17) Linfield Ballymena United Des Dickson (Coleraine)

Paul Malone (Ballymena United)

18
81 1981–82 Linfield (34) Glentoran Coleraine Gary Blackledge (Glentoran) 18
82 1982–83 Linfield (35) Glentoran Coleraine Jim Campbell (Ards) 15
83 1983–84 Linfield (36) Glentoran Cliftonville Martin McGaughey (Linfield)

Trevor Anderson (Linfield)

15
84 1984–85 Linfield (37) Coleraine Glentoran Martin McGaughey (Linfield) 34
85 1985–86 Linfield (38) Coleraine Ards Trevor Anderson (Linfield) 14
86 1986–87 Linfield (39) Coleraine Ards Ray McCoy (Coleraine)

Gary Macartney (Glentoran)

14
87 1987–88 Glentoran (18) Linfield Coleraine Martin McGaughey (Linfield) 18
88 1988–89 Linfield (40) Glentoran Coleraine Stephen Baxter (Linfield) 17
89 1989–90 Portadown (1) Glenavon Glentoran Martin McGaughey (Linfield) 19
90 1990–91 Portadown (2) Bangor Glentoran Stephen McBride (Glenavon) 22
91 1991–92 Glentoran (19) Portadown Linfield Harry McCourt (Omagh Town)

Stephen McBride (Glenavon)

18
92 1992–93 Linfield (41) Crusaders Bangor Steve Cowan (Portadown) 23
93 1993–94 Linfield (42) Portadown Glenavon Darren Erskine (Ards)

Stephen McBride (Glenavon)

22
94 1994–95 Crusaders (3) Glenavon Portadown Glenn Ferguson (Glenavon) 27
Irish Football League Premier & First Division (1995–2003)
# 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
95 1995–96 Portadown (3) Crusaders Glentoran Garry Haylock (Portadown) 19 Coleraine (1) Ballymena United Omagh Town
96 1996–97 Crusaders (4) Coleraine Glentoran Garry Haylock (Portadown) 16 Ballymena United (1) Omagh Town Bangor
97 1997–98 Cliftonville (3)[n 2] Linfield Portadown Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 22 Newry Town (1) Bangor Distillery
98 1998–99 Glentoran (20) Linfield Crusaders Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 19 Distillery (1) Ards Bangor
99 1999–00 Linfield (43) Coleraine Glenavon Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 29 Omagh Town (1) Ards Limavady United
100 2000–01 Linfield (44) Glenavon Glentoran Davy Larmour (Linfield) 17 Ards (1) Lisburn Distillery Armagh City
101 2001–02 Portadown (4) Glentoran Linfield Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 30 Lisburn Distillery (2) Institute Dungannon Swifts
102 2002–03 Glentoran (21) Portadown Coleraine Vinny Arkins (Portadown) 29 Dungannon Swifts (1) Ballymena United Limavady United
Irish Premier League (2003–2008)
# Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals
103 2003–04 Linfield (45) Portadown Lisburn Distillery Glenn Ferguson (Linfield) 25
104 2004–05 Glentoran (22) Linfield Portadown Chris Morgan (Glentoran) 19
105 2005–06 Linfield (46) Glentoran Portadown Peter Thompson (Linfield) 25
106 2006–07 Linfield (47) Glentoran Cliftonville Gary Hamilton (Glentoran) 27
107 2007–08 Linfield (48) Glentoran Cliftonville Peter Thompson (Linfield) 29
IFA Premiership (2008–2013)
# Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals
108 2008–09 Glentoran (23) Linfield Crusaders Curtis Allen (Lisburn Distillery) 19
109 2009–10 Linfield (49) Cliftonville Glentoran Rory Patterson (Coleraine) 30
110 2010–11 Linfield (50) Crusaders Glentoran Peter Thompson (Linfield) 23
111 2011–12 Linfield (51) Portadown Cliftonville Gary McCutcheon (Ballymena United) 27
112 2012–13 Cliftonville (4)[n 2] Crusaders Linfield Liam Boyce (Cliftonville) 29
NIFL Premiership (2013–2016)
# Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals
113 2013–14 Cliftonville (5)[n 2] Linfield Crusaders Joe Gormley (Cliftonville) 27
114 2014–15 Crusaders (5) Linfield Glenavon Joe Gormley (Cliftonville) 31
115 2015–16 Crusaders (6) Linfield Glenavon Paul Heatley (Crusaders)
Andrew Waterworth (Linfield)
22
NIFL Premiership & Championship (2016–)
# Season Senior champions
(number of senior titles)
Runners-up Third Leading goalscorer Goals Season Second-level senior champions
(number of second-level senior titles)
Runners-up Third
116 2016–17 Linfield (52) Crusaders Coleraine Andrew Mitchell (Dungannon Swifts) 25 2016–17 Warrenpoint Town (1) Institute Ballyclare Comrades
117 2017–18 Crusaders (7) Coleraine Glenavon Joe Gormley (Cliftonville) 22 2017–18 Institute (1) Newry City AFC Harland & Wolff Welders
118 2018–19 Linfield (53) Ballymena United Glenavon Joe Gormley (Cliftonville) 20 2018–19 Larne (1) Carrick Rangers Portadown
119 2019–20 Linfield (54)[n 3] Coleraine Crusaders Joe Gormley (Cliftonville) 18 2019–20 Portadown (1)[n 3] Ballinamallard United Loughgall
120 2020–21 Linfield (55) Coleraine Glentoran Shayne Lavery (Linfield) 23 2020–21 Season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland

Summary of champions

Performance by club

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 55 23 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, 1999–00, 2000–01, 2003–04, 2005–06, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2016–17, 2018–19, 2019–20, 2020–21
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 1899–00, 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
Crusaders 7 5 1972–73, 1975–76, 1994–95, 1996–97, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2017–18
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
Portadown 4 10 1989–90, 1990–91, 1995–96, 2001–02
Glenavon 3 10 1951–52, 1956–57, 1959–60
Coleraine 1 12 1973–74
Derry City 1 7 1964–65
Queen's Island 1 3 1923–24
Ards 1 1 1957–58

Records

The first Irish League champions were Linfield, and the first runners-up were Ulster. Of the 120 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 1921–22, Linfield famously achieved the feat of winning seven trophies; the Irish League, Irish Cup; City Cup, Gold Cup; County Antrim Shield; Belfast Charities Cup and Alhambra Cup. In 1961–62, the club achieved a similar feat, winning six trophies; the Irish League; Irish Cup; City Cup, Gold Cup; Ulster Cup and County Antrim Shield. They also lifted the North-South Cup as a seventh trophy, however that was actually the conclusion of the 1960–61 competition, as fixture congestion meant that the cup could not be completed before the end of the previous season.

The record for consecutive league 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 (55).

Tiebreakers

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. Using the modern award of 3 points for a win, Distillery would have been crowned champions by one point. However, if goal difference had been used instead, Cliftonville would have won the title with a goal difference of +9 compared to Distillery's +7. 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 follows:

Season Winners Score Runners-up
1895–96Distillery2–1Cliftonville
1898–99Distillery2–0Linfield
1904–05Glentoran3–1Belfast Celtic
1905–06Cliftonville0–0Distillery
ReplayCliftonville3–3Distillery
1910–11Linfield3–2Glentoran
1937–38Belfast Celtic2–2Derry City
ReplayBelfast Celtic3–1Derry City
1949–50Linfield2–0Glentoran
1960–61Linfield2–0Portadown
1961–62Linfield3–1Portadown
Unbeaten seasons

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 finish an entire league season unbeaten, 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. Across the 2005–06 and 2006–07 seasons, Linfield lost just two out of 60 league games in two seasons - one in each season. Coleraine also came close in the 2017–18 season, losing just once in 38 league games.

Season Club Matches played Wins Draws
1892–93Linfield1082
1894–95Linfield642
1903–04Linfield14122
1921–22Linfield1073
1926–27Belfast Celtic22157
1928–29Belfast Celtic26224
1980–81Glentoran22157

Senior club membership history

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: 130 years and 119 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.[9]

In 2016, the NIFL Championship was given senior status.

Membership summary

Listed below are all the senior League members from 1890 up to and including the 2020–21 season in the following competitions:

  • Irish Football League (1890–1995)
  • Irish Football League Premier and First Divisions (1995–2003)
  • Irish Premier League (2003–2008)
  • IFA Premiership (2008–2013)
  • NIFL Premiership (2013–2016)
  • NIFL Premiership & Championship (2016–present)
Club Location No. seasons in league Membership years
CliftonvilleBelfast1201890–
GlentoranBelfast1201890–
LinfieldBelfast1201890–
Lisburn Distillery[n 4]Ballyskeagh[n 5]1121890–2013
GlenavonLurgan981911–2004, 2005–
PortadownPortadown891924–2008, 2009–
ColeraineColeraine871927–
ArdsNewtownards[n 6]821923–2006, 2013–2014, 2016–
Ballymena United[n 7]Ballymena801934–
CrusadersBelfast711949–2005, 2006–
BangorBangor701927–2003, 2008–2009
LarneLarne581923–1940, 1972–2008, 2016–
Newry City[n 8]Newry451923–1940, 1983–2011
Belfast Celtic[n 9]Belfast381896–1920, 1924–1949
Derry CityDerry361929–1972
Carrick RangersCarrickfergus271983–2003, 2011–2012, 2015–
Dungannon SwiftsDungannon241997–
Ballyclare ComradesBallyclare181990–2003, 2016–
InstituteDrumahoe161999–2006, 2007–2010, 2014–2015, 2016–
Omagh TownOmagh151990–2005
BohemiansDublin131902–1911, 1912–1920
Derry CelticDerry131900–1913
Limavady UnitedLimavady131997–2008, 2017–2019
ShelbourneDublin121904–1920
Ballinamallard UnitedBallinamallard92012–
Armagh CityArmagh81999–2003, 2005–2008, 2016–2017
LoughgallLoughgall82004–2007, 2016–
Queen's IslandBelfast81921–1929
Warrenpoint TownWarrenpoint82013–
Ballymena[n 7]Ballymena61928–1934
UlsterBelfast61890–1894, 1901–1903
BarnCarrickfergus51923–1928
DergviewCastlederg52016–
Donegal CelticBelfast52006–2008, 2010–2013
Harland & Wolff WeldersBelfast52016–
KnockbredaBelfast52016–
Newry City AFCNewry42017–
PSNIBelfast42016–2020
DundelaBelfast32018–
North Staffordshire RegimentArmy team31896–1899
Annagh UnitedPortadown22016–2017, 2020–
LigonielBelfast21891–1892, 1893–1894
Lurgan CelticLurgan22016–2018
OldparkBelfast21890–1892
Queen's UniversityBelfast22019–
ClarenceBelfast11890–1891
Derry OlympicDerry11892–1893
King's Own Scottish BorderersArmy team11903–1904
Lancashire FusiliersArmy team11891–1892
MilfordMilford11890–1891
MilltownBelfast11891–1892
Royal ScotsArmy team11899–1900
St Columb's CourtDerry11901–1902
TritonvilleDublin11912–1913
YMCABelfast11891–1892

Bold – a current member
Italics – a club no longer in existence, or no longer competing in Northern Irish football

Relegation and promotion history

1995–2003 (Two senior divisions)

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
1995–96BangorColeraine
1996–97-Ballymena United
Omagh Town
1997–98ArdsNewry Town
1998–99Omagh TownDistillery
1999–2000Lisburn DistilleryOmagh Town
2000–01Ballymena UnitedArds
2001–02-Lisburn Distillery
Institute
2003–2016 (One senior division)

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 from then until 2014-15 there was relegation and promotion between a single senior Irish League division and the top intermediate league below (now NIFL Championship).

Season Relegated Promoted
2002–03Armagh City
Ballyclare Comrades
Bangor
Carrick Rangers
-
2003–04GlenavonLoughgall
2004–05Crusaders
Omagh Town
Armagh City
Glenavon
2005–06Ards
Institute
Crusaders
Donegal Celtic
2006–07LoughgallInstitute
2007–08Armagh City
Donegal Celtic
Larne
Limavady United
Portadown
Bangor
2008–09BangorPortadown
2009–10InstituteDonegal Celtic
2010–11Newry CityCarrick Rangers
2011–12Carrick RangersBallinamallard United
2012–13Donegal Celtic
Lisburn Distillery
Ards
Warrenpoint Town
2013–14ArdsInstitute
2014–15InstituteCarrick Rangers
2015–16Warrenpoint TownArds
2016–present (Two senior divisions)

At the end of the 2015–16 season, the Championship acquired senior status and the league reverted to two senior divisions, with promotion and relegation between those divisions, and between the second senior tier (the Championship) and the top intermediate division below (now NIFL Premier Intermediate League).

Season Relegated to Championship Promoted to Premiership Season Relegated to Premier Intermediate League Promoted to Championship
2016–17 Portadown Warrenpoint Town 2016–17 Annagh United
Armagh City
Limavady United
Newry City AFC
2017–18 Ballinamallard United
Carrick Rangers
Institute
Newry City AFC
2017–18 Lurgan Celtic Dundela
2018–19 Ards
Newry City AFC
Carrick Rangers
Larne
2018–19 Limavady United Queen's University
2019–20 Institute Portadown 2019–20 PSNI Annagh United

Intermediate


List of champions

Irish Intermediate League (1915–1954)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
1915–16Glentoran II (1)[n 10]
1916–17Belfast Celtic II (1)[n 10]
1917–18Belfast Celtic II (2)[n 10]
1918–19Glentoran II (2)[n 10]
1919–20Glentoran II (3)[n 10]
1920–21Brantwood (1)
1921–22Dundela (1)
1922–23Crusaders (1)
1923–24Dunmurry (1)
1924–25Brantwood (2)
1925–26Crusaders (2)
1926–27Crusaders (3)
1927–28Willowfield (1)
1928–29Crusaders (4)
1929–30Glentoran II (4)[n 10]
1930–31Crusaders (5)
1931–32Belfast Celtic II (3)[n 10]
1932–33Crusaders (6)
1933–34Belfast Celtic II (4)[n 10]
1934–35Belfast Celtic II (5)[n 10]
1935–36Belfast Celtic II (6)[n 10]
1936–37Belfast Celtic II (7)[n 10]
1937–38Crusaders (7)
1938–39Crusaders (8)
1939–40Linfield Swifts (1)[n 10]
1940–41Bangor Reserves (1)[n 10]
1941–42Aircraft United (1)
1942–43Bangor Reserves (2)[n 10]
1943–44Bangor Reserves (3)[n 10]
1944–45Dundela (2)
1945–46Linfield Swifts (2)[n 10]
1946–47Dundela (3)
1947–48Brantwood (3)
1948–49Crusaders† (9)
1949–50Dundela (4)
1950–51Dundela (5)
1951–52Brantwood (4)
1952–53Larne (1)
1953–54Brantwood (5)

† Elected to senior football

Irish League B Division (1951–1977)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
1951–52Linfield Swifts (3)[n 10]
1952–53Linfield Swifts (4)[n 10]
1953–54Cliftonville Olympic (1)[n 10]
1954–55Larne (2)
1955–56Banbridge Town (1)
1956–57Larne (3)
1957–58Ards II (1)[n 10]
1958–59Glentoran II (5)[n 10]
1959–60Newry Town (1)[n 8]
1960–61Ballyclare Comrades (1)
1961–62Carrick Rangers (1)
1962–63Ballyclare Comrades (2)
1963–64Larne (4)
1964–65Larne (5)
1965–66Larne (6)
1966–67Larne (7)
1967–68Dundela (6)
1968–69Larne (8)
1969–70Larne (9)
1970–71Larne (10)
1971–72Larne† (11)
1972–73Carrick Rangers (2)
1973–74Ballyclare Comrades (3)
1974–75Carrick Rangers (3)[n 11]
1975–76Linfield Swifts (5)[n 10] [n 11]
1976–77Carrick Rangers (4) / Dundela (7)[n 12]
Irish League B Division Section 1 (1977–1999)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
1977–78Ballyclare Comrades (4)
1978–79Carrick Rangers (5)[n 2]
1979–80Ballyclare Comrades (5)
1980–81Newry Town (2)[n 8]
1981–82Dundela (8)[n 2]
1982–83Carrick Rangers† (6)[n 2]
1983–84Limavady United (1)
1984–85Chimney Corner (1)
1985–86Dundela (9)[n 2]
1986–87RUC (1)[n 13]
1987–88Dundela (10)[n 2]
1988–89Ballyclare Comrades (6)
1989–90Dundela (11)[n 2]
1990–91Dundela (12)[n 2]
1991–92Dundela (13)[n 2]
1992–93Limavady United (2)
1993–94Dundela (14)[n 2]
1994–95Loughgall (1)
1995–96Loughgall (2)
1996–97Loughgall (3)
1997–98Loughgall (4)
1998–99Chimney Corner (2)
Irish League Second Division (1999–2003)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
1999–00Dundela (15)[n 2]
2000–01Dundela (16)[n 2]
2001–02Moyola Park (1)
2002–03Ballinamallard United (1)
Irish League First & Second Division (2003–04)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2003–04Loughgall‡ (5)Coagh United (1)
IFA Intermediate League First & Second Division (2004–2008)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2004–05Armagh City‡ (1)Tobermore United (1)
2005–06Crusaders‡ (10)Portstewart (1)
2006–07Institute‡ (1)Ballyclare Comrades (1)
2007–08Loughgall (6)Dergview (1)
IFA Championship & Interim Intermediate League (2008–09)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2008–09Portadown‡ (1)Harland & Wolff Welders (1)
IFA Championship 1 & 2 (2009–2013)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2009–10Loughgall (7)Harland & Wolff Welders (2)
2010–11Carrick Rangers‡ (7)[n 2]Warrenpoint Town (1)
2011–12Ballinamallard United‡ (2)Coagh United (2)
2012–13Ards‡ (2)Knockbreda (1)
NIFL Championship 1 & 2 (2013–2016)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
Second-level intermediate champions
(number of second-level intermediate titles)
2013–14Institute‡ (2)Armagh City (1)
2014–15Carrick Rangers‡ (8)[n 2]Lurgan Celtic (1)
2015–16Ards‡ (3)Limavady United (1)

Elected to senior football
Promoted to senior football

NIFL Premier Intermediate League (2016–)
Season Intermediate champions
(number of intermediate titles)
2016–17Limavady United‡ (3)
2017–18Dundela‡ (17)[n 2]
2018–19Queen's University‡ (1)
2019–20Annagh United‡ (1)[n 3]
2020–21Season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland

Promoted to senior football

Summary of champions

Club Wins Winning seasons
Dundela17[n 2]1921–22, 1944–45, 1946–47, 1949–50, 1950–51, 1967–68, 1976–77,[n 12] 1981–82, 1985–86, 1987–88, 1989–90, 1990–91, 1991–92, 1993–94, 1999–00, 2000–01, 2017–18
Larne111952–53, 1954–55, 1956–57, 1963–64, 1964–65, 1965–66, 1966–67, 1986–69, 1969–70, 1970–71, 1971–72
Crusaders101922–23, 1925–26, 1926–27, 1928–29, 1930–31, 1932–33, 1937–38, 1938–39, 1948–49, 2005–06
Carrick Rangers8[n 2]1961–62, 1972–73, 1974–75, 1976–77,[n 12] 1978–79, 1982–83, 2010–11, 2014–15
Belfast Celtic II[n 10]71916–17, 1917–18, 1931–32, 1933–34, 1934–35, 1935–36, 1936–37
Loughgall71994–95, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1997–98, 2003–04, 2007–08, 2009–10
Ballyclare Comrades61960–61, 1962–63, 1973–74, 1977–78, 1979–80, 1988–89
Brantwood51920–21, 1924–25, 1947–48, 1951–52, 1953–54
Glentoran II[n 10]51915–16, 1918–19, 1919–20, 1929–30, 1958–59
Linfield Swifts[n 10]51939–40, 1945–46, 1951–52, 1952–53, 1975–76
Bangor Reserves[n 10]31940–41, 1942–43, 1943–44
Ards3[n 14]1957–58, 2012–13, 2015–16
Limavady United31983–84, 1992–93, 2016–17
Newry Town[n 8]21959–60, 1980–81
Chimney Corner21984–85, 1998–99
Ballinamallard United22002–03, 2011–12
Institute22006–07, 2013–14
Dunmurry11923-24
Willowfield11927–28
Aircraft United11941–42
Cliftonville Olympic[n 10]11953–54
Banbridge Town11955–56
RUC[n 13]11986–87
Moyola Park12001–02
Armagh City12004–05
Portadown12008–09
Queen's University12018–19
Annagh United12019–20[n 3]

Knock-out competitions

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
1982–83RUC[n 13]
1983–84Ballyclare Comrades
1984–85RUC[n 13]
1985–86RUC[n 13]
1986–87Chimney Corner
1987–88Dundela
1988–89Ballyclare Comrades
1989–90Omagh Town
1990–91Dundela
1991–92Dundela
1992–93Limavady United
1993–94Dungannon Swifts
1994–95Dundela
1995–96Limavady United
1996–97Institute
1997–98Harland & Wolff Welders
1998–99Ballymoney United
1999–00Moyola Park
2000–01Harland & Wolff Welders
2001–02Harland & Wolff Welders
2002–03No competition
2003–04No competition
IFA Intermediate League Cup
2004–05Bangor
2005–06Crusaders
2006–07Institute
2007–08Loughgall
2008–09No competition
Championship 2 League Cup
2009–10Harland & Wolff Welders
Summary of winners
Club Wins Winning seasons
Dundela41987–88, 1990–91, 1991–92, 1994–95
Harland & Wolff Welders41997–98, 2000–01, 2001–02, 2009–10
RUC[n 13]31982–83, 1984–85, 1985–86
Ballyclare Comrades21983–84, 1988–89
Institute21996–97, 2006–07
Limavady United21992–93, 1995–96
Ballymoney United11998–99
Bangor12004–05
Chimney Corner11986–87
Crusaders12005–06
Dungannon Swifts11993–94
Loughgall12007–08
Moyola Park11999–00
Omagh Town11989–90

Notes


  1. 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. Including one shared title
  3. Champions declared on average points per game after the season was curtailed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Changed name from Distillery to Lisburn Distillery in 1999.
  5. Moved from Belfast to Ballyskeagh in 1980.
  6. Sold home ground in Newtownards in 2002, and has subsequently played in Carrickfergus, Belfast and Bangor.
  7. 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.
  8. Changed name from Newry Town to Newry City in 2004, and was dissolved in 2012 following financial problems.
  9. Changed name from Celtic to Belfast Celtic in 1901. Club was dissolved in 1949.
  10. Reserve team of senior club
  11. After play-off between winners of North and South sections
  12. Shared between winners of North and South sections
  13. Now PSNI
  14. Includes one title by Ards II (reserve team)

References


  1. "The Irish League Show now on BBC iPlayer". Northern Ireland Football League. nifootballleague.com. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  2. Newsletter
  3. ITV
  4. BBC
  5. "Regulations and club information: Season 2015/16" (PDF). Northern Ireland Football League. nifootballleague.com. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  6. "About the NIFL". Northern Ireland Football League. nifootballleague.com. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  7. "Premier Intermediate League (PIL)". Irish Football Association. irishfa.com. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  8. "IFA Championship". Irish Football Association. irishfa.com. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  9. "We're Not Brazil... We're Northern Ireland: The Irish Football Association Strategic Plan 2013/2018" (PDF). Irish Football Association. irishfa.com. p. 16. Retrieved 16 September 2015.