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The Irish Football Association (IFA) is the organising body for football in Northern Irelandmarker, and was historically the governing body for the whole of the island of Irelandmarker. It should not be confused with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), which is the organising body in the Republic of Irelandmarker.


Foundation of the IFA

The IFA was formed in 1880 by football clubs in the Belfastmarker area, and in its infancy operated as the organising body for the sport across all of Ireland. A meeting was called by Cliftonville FC of other football clubs that followed the rules set out by the Scottish Football Association (SFA). At that meeting, on 18 November of that year, they formed the IFA, making it the fourth oldest national football association in the world (after those of Englandmarker, Scotlandmarker, and Walesmarker). The IFA's first decision was to form an annual challenge cup competition similar to the FA Cup and Scottish Cup competitions, called the Irish Cup. Two years later, Ireland played its first international against England, losing 13-0 (which remains a record for both teams; a record win for England, and a record loss for [Northern] Ireland).

North/South Split and the foundation of the FAI

Shortly before the partition of Ireland, in 1921, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was established as a rival association to regulate the game in what was to become the Irish Free State (now Irelandmarker). The origin of the split lay in a bitter dispute over the venue for the replay of an Irish Cup match in 1921 involving Glentoran of Belfastmarker and Shelbourne of Dublinmarker. When the first cup match was drawn in Belfast, the IFA fixed the replay to be held again in Belfast. Shelbourne, with the support of the Leinster Football Association (LFA), objected, wishing to have the replay in Dublin. Such was the anger over the issue that the LFA broke away from the IFA and formed its own national association. Those behind the FAI believed that football should be regulated by a federation based in the Irish Free State's capital, Dublinmarker; they also accused the IFA of neglecting the development of the game in the South. The IFA's supporters argued that the federation should be based where the game was founded and mainly played - namely Ulster, and its principal city Belfastmarker.

Both federations claimed to represent the whole of the island, each competing internationally under the name "Ireland" and selecting players from both the rival national leagues, which also split at this time. Interventions by FIFAmarker effectively favoured the FAI, by giving them de jure organising rights over the 26 counties of the Republic. From the 1950s onwards the IFA no longer claimed it was the federation for the whole of Ireland. In 1960 the association moved to its present location on Windsor Avenue in south Belfast, in a building once occupied by Thomas Andrews. The IFA continued to regulate the game in Northern Ireland, and all results obtained by the Irish national side and records in the Irish Football League and the cup competition stand as Northern Irish records. Therefore, in essence, the IFA as Northern Ireland's organising body is a direct continuation of the IFA as the organising body across all of Ireland.

Along with the other Home Nations' associations (the English FA, the Scottish Football Association, and the Football Association of Wales), the IFA sits on the International Football Association Board, which is responsible for the laws of the game. The IFA continues to have responsibility for the running of the Northern Irish national team.

The association also in an attempt to improve community relations organise buses to All Ireland finals and Celtic games. However these are not overly popular and there is talk that they shall be discontinued as they are not financially sustainable.

The Northern Ireland Women's Football Association (NIWFA) is the IFA's women's football arm. It runs a Women's Cup, Women's League and the Northern Ireland women's national football team.


  • 1880-1889 Lord Spencer Chichester
  • 1889-1909 Marquis of Londonderry
  • 1909-1912 Alexander H. Thompson
  • 1912-1914 Hugh Hegan
  • 1914-1945 Sir James McIlmunn Wilton
  • 1945-1948 Austin Donnelly
  • 1948-1957 Frederick J. Cochrane
  • 1957-1958 Joseph MacBride
  • 1958-1994 Harry Cavan
  • 1995 Sammy Walker
  • 1995-2007 Jim Boyce
  • 2007- Raymond Kennedy

Source: M. Brodie (ed.) (n.d.) The Northern Ireland Soccer Yearbook 2008/2009. Belfast:Ulster Tatler Publications


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