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The Northern Ireland national football team represents Northern Irelandmarker in international football. Before 1921, all of Irelandmarker was represented by a single side, the Ireland national football team, organised by the Irish Football Association (IFA). In 1921, the jurisdiction of the IFA was reduced to Northern Ireland, following the secession of clubs in the soon-to-be Irish Free State, although its team purported to remain the national team for all of Ireland until 1950, and to use the name Ireland until the 1970s. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) organises the separate Republic of Ireland national football team.


On 18 February 1882, two years after the founding of the Irish FA, Ireland made their international debut against England, losing 13-0 in a friendly played at Bloomfield Park in Belfast. This remains the record win for England and the record defeat for the Northern Ireland team. On 25 February 1882 Ireland played their second international against Wales at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham and an equaliser from Johnston became Ireland’s first ever goal.

In 1884 Ireland competed in the inaugural British Home Championship and lost all three games. Ireland did not win their first game until 19 February 1887, a 4-1 win over Wales in Belfast. Between their debut and this game, they had a run of 14 defeats and 1 draw, the longest run without a win in the 1800s. Despite the end of this run, heavy defeats continued. On 3 March 1888 they lost 11-0 to Wales and three weeks later on 24 March they lost 10-2 to Scotland. Further heavy defeats came on 15 March 1890 when they lost 9-1 to England, on 18 February 1899 when they lost 13-2 to England and on 2 February 1901 when they lost 11-0 to Scotland.

In 1899 the Irish FA also changed its rules governing the selection of non-resident players. Before then the Ireland team selected its players exclusively from the Irish League, in particular the three Belfast-based clubs Linfield, Cliftonville and Distillery. On 4 March 1899 for the game against Wales, McAteer included four Irish players based in England. The change in policy produced dividends as Ireland won 1-0. Three weeks later, on 25 March one of these four players, Archie Goodall, aged 34 years and 279 days, became the oldest player to score in international football during the 19th century when he scored Ireland’s goal in a 9-1 defeat to Scotland.

In 1920 Ireland was partitioned into Northern Irelandmarker and Southern Ireland. In 1922, Southern Ireland gained independence as the Irish Free State, later to become a republic under the name of Irelandmarker. Amid these political upheavals, a rival football association, the Football Association of Ireland, emerged in Dublin in 1921 and organised a separate league and international team. In 1923, at a time when the home nations had withdrawn from FIFAmarker, the FAI was recognised by FIFA as the governing body of the Irish Free State on the condition that it changed its name to the Football Association of the Irish Free State. The Irish FA continued to organise its national team on an all-Ireland basis.

Between 1928 and 1946 the IFA were not affiliated to FIFAmarker and the two Ireland teams co-existed, never competing in the same competition. However, on 8 March 1950, in a 0-0 draw with Wales at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, the IFA fielded a team that included four players who were born in the Irish Free State. As well as being part of the qualifier for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. All four players had previously played for the FAI in their qualifiers and as a result had played for two different associations in the same FIFA World Cup tournament.

After complaints from the FAI, FIFA intervened and restricted players' eligibility based on the political border. In 1953 FIFA ruled neither team could be referred to as Ireland, decreeing that the FAI team be officially designated as the Republic of Ireland, while the IFA team was to become Northern Ireland.

Current player eligibility rules

After the Good Friday Agreement, players holding either a British or Irish passport, but otherwise eligible for Northern Ireland, could play for the national team For a brief period in 2006, a FIFA ruling stated NI players must carry British passports due to difficulties for match commissioners, but it was quickly modified to state that players must merely prove their eligibility to the IFA In 2008, the rules were changed so that merely holding a passport did not automatically qualify players as eligible; players eligible for Northern Ireland who wished to declare for the Republic of Ireland, or vice versa, must have been resident in the target country for two years, or have family ties. Due to the 2008 rule changes, goalkeeper Maik Taylor is said to be unique among Northern Ireland national team players in never having had a background in the country.

Past performances

British Home Championship

Until the 1950s, the major competition for Northern Ireland/Ireland was the British Home Championship. The team had won the competition eight times, taking the title outright on three occasions, they were the last winners of the now defunct competition held in 1984, and hence still are the British champions, and the trophy remains the property of the Irish FA. This is much celebrated by their fans.

World Cup

Northern Ireland's best World Cup performance was in their first appearance in the competition, the 1958 World Cup, where they reached the quarter-finals after beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the play-off. They were knocked out by France, losing 4-0. In the 1958 competition Northern Ireland became the smallest country to have qualified for the World Cup, a record that stood until Trinidad & Tobago qualified for the 2006 World Cup. Northern Ireland remains, however, the smallest country to have qualified for more than one World Cup, and the smallest country to have reached the World Cup quarter-finals.

Northern Ireland also qualified for the 1982 World Cup.Gerry Armstrong was a Northern Irish football player, who played during the 1970s and 1980s. He is best remembered for scoring the goal in the 1982 World Cup that enabled Northern Ireland to beat the tournament's hosts, Spain, in a shock 1-0 win again reaching the quarter-finals after topping the first stage group, Norman Whiteside became the youngest ever player in the World Cup finals, a record that still stands. In the 1986 World Cup, they reached the first round. Billy Bingham, a member of the 1958 squad, was manager for both of these tournaments. They have not qualified for any other World Cups.

European Championship

The side have yet to participate in their first European Championship finals. This is in despite of the fact that Northern Ireland beat the former West Germany 1-0 home and away in qualifiers for Euro 84. More recently, David Healy broke the record for goals scored in one Euro campaign, previously held by Davor Suker of Croatia, by scoring 13 times in Northern Ireland's brave, but ultimately doomed, attempt to qualify for Euro 2008. Healy scored thrice against Spain, twice against Sweden, 5 times against Liechtenstein, once against Denmark, once against Latvia, and also scored against Iceland. He also became the first player ever to score 2 hat tricks for Northern Ireland. He had previously been one of only three players to score a hat-trick for Northern Ireland - the others being George Best and Colin Clarke.

Recent history

The Our Wee Country mural in east Belfast commemorating Northern Ireland beating England at home in 2005.
Lawrie Sanchez was appointed in January 2004 after a run of ten games without a goal under the previous manager Sammy McIlroy, which was a world record for any international team. That run ended after his first game in charge, a 1-4 defeat to Norway in a friendly in February 2004. The run of sixteen games without a win ended after his second game, a 1-0 victory in a friendly over Estonia, with a largely experimental side, in March 2004.

On 7 September 2005 Northern Ireland beat England 1-0 in a 2006 World Cup Qualifier at Windsor Parkmarker. David Healy scored the winner in the 73rd minute. Almost a year later, on 6 September 2006, Northern Ireland defeated Spain 3-2 in a qualifier for Euro 2008, with Healy scoring a hat-trick. In the following match, Healy became the only Northern Irish player to score two hat-tricks after scoring all of Northern Ireland's goals in their 3-1 win over Liechensteinmarker. Healy also scored a brace in the 2-1 victory over Sweden in the same qualification group. Healy scored thirteen out of Northern Ireland's fifteen Euro 2008 qualification goals in seven matches, and was the leading goalscorer in the competition. In June 2007 Nigel Worthington was named manager in the place of Lawrie Sanchez who tookover at Fulham. Initially Worthington tookover until the end of the euro 2008 qualifiers but was later given a contract until 2010.

Summary of all Northern Ireland's competitive results

All competitive matches
P W D L F A Gd
466 116 100 250 503 952 -451

All matches including friendlies
P W D L F A Gd
558 139 126 293 592 1114 -522

Data correct as of Northern Ireland v Serbia, 14 November 2009

The team have also won the Home Championship 8 times, including 5 shared.

Fixtures and results

2010 FIFA World Cup qualification

Northern Ireland were drawn from the third pot during the UEFA group draw. They began their campaign to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup on September 6, 2008 playing away against Slovakia, (lost 2–1). Four days later they hosted the Czech Republic and held them to a scoreless draw. Northern Ireland then lost their third qualification match 2–0 at Slovenia, leaving the Northern Ireland side with only one point and one goal scored through three matches. However, they bounced back for back-to-back victories over UEFA minnows San Marino by scores of 4–0 and 3–0, lifting them to second equal in the group with seven points and a goal difference of +4 with half of their group matches remaining. In the following round of matches Northern Ireland maintained their winning streak by defeating Poland 3-2 at Windsor Park, however the match was marred by the riots before kick-off. Northern Ireland then defeated Slovenia 1-0 in their next qualification match to ensure they remained 2nd in their qualifying group. In September 2009 the team travelled to Poland, where pre-match planning by the footballing federations of both teams and the police ensured that a repeat of the riots in Belfast did not happen this time around. The game ended 1-1 after Northern Ireland took the lead through Kyle Lafferty, but Poland levelled in the 78th minute through Lewandowski.

2009 international matches

Northern Ireland matches scheduled for 2009:
Date Venue Opponent Score Competition Goalscorers (Career goal)
11 February 2009 Stadio Olimpicomarker, Serravalle 0–3 W WCQ G3 Gareth McAuley (1)

Grant McCann (3)

Chris Brunt (1)
28 March 2009 Windsor Parkmarker, Belfastmarker 3–2 W WCQ G3 Warren Feeney (4)

Jonny Evans (1)

Michał Żewłakow (own goal)
1 April 2009 Windsor Parkmarker, Belfastmarker 1–0 W WCQ G3 Warren Feeney (5)

6 June 2009 Arena Garibaldi - Stadio Romeo Anconetanimarker, Pisamarker 3–0 L Friendly
12 August 2009 Windsor Parkmarker, Belfastmarker 1–1 D Friendly Grant McCann (4)
5 September 2009 Silesian Stadiummarker, Chorzowmarker 1-1 D WCQ G3 Kyle Lafferty (7)
9 September 2009 Windsor Parkmarker, Belfastmarker 0–2 L WCQ G3
14 October 2009 Synot Tip Arénamarker, Praguemarker 0–0 D WCQ G3
14 November 2009 Windsor Parkmarker, Belfastmarker 0-1 L Friendly

Controversy and sectarianism

Some of Northern Ireland's fans have been perceived as sectarian by opposing elements in Northern Irish society. Neil Lennon, who had been subject to boos and jeers from some supporters while playing for Northern Ireland in Windsor Park, was given a death-threat, due to his association with Celtic F.C..

Steps have been taken to eradicate the sectarian element within the support, and these have proved to be very successful. Lennon has been quick to heap praise on the Northern Ireland fans, and in particular "Football For All" Outstanding Achievement Award Winner Stewart MacAfee, for the work they have carried out to create a more inclusive atmosphere at international games.


Windsor Park - a view from the Kop Stand, showing the two-tiered North Stand and the low Railway stand behind the opposite goal
Northern Ireland play their home matches at Windsor Parkmarker, Belfastmarker, home of Linfield F.C., which they have use of on a one hundred and eight year lease, giving the owners 15% of revenue, including gate receipts and TV rights..

There was a proposal to build a multisports stadium for Northern Ireland at the disused Maze prisonmarker outside Lisburnmarker for the use of Rugby, Gaelic games and football. This plan was given an "in principle" go-ahead by the Irish Football Association. However, it was opposed by fans, over 85% of whom in a match day poll conducted by the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs ("AONISC") preferred to stay at a smaller new or redeveloped ground in the city of Belfast. The AONISC organised a protest against the move to the Maze at the game against Estonia in March 2006.

The issue assumed ever greater urgency by 2007, following a series of inspections which questioned the suitability of Windsor Park to host international football. Following a reduction of capacity due to the closure of the Railway Stand, the IFA made it known that they wished to terminate their contract for the use of the stadium. A report on health and safety in October 2007 indicated that the South Stand might have to be closed for internationals, which would further reduce the stadium's capacity to 9,000.In April 2008, Belfast City Council announced that they had commissioned Drivers Jonas to conduct a feasibility study into the building of a Sports Stadium in Belfast which could accommodate international football, which was followed at the beginning of May 2008 by speculation that the Maze Stadium project was going to be radically revised by Peter Robinson, the Finance and Personnel Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, so that any construction might be used for purposes other than football, rugby union and Gaelic games.Given the time that is needed to build a new stadium, in the absence of significant work improving Windsor Park, Northern Ireland may be forced to play their home games at a venue outside Northern Ireland for a period. Everton FC's Goodison Parkmarker in Liverpool has been touted as a possible alternative.

In March 2009, proposals were announced for the construction of a new 25,000 seat stadium in the Sydenham area of East Belfast as an alternative to the Maze proposal. This would form part of a major development, with links to both George Best Belfast City Airportmarker and the Bangor railway line. The development would also include a hotel, and retail/leisure areas. The stadium itself would be used for both football and rugby union, with Glentoran and Ulster Rugby intended as tenants. However, Ulster GAA, who were a partner in the Maze proposal, have stated that in the event of a new stadium being built in East Belfast, which is a major unionist area, their preference would then be to remain at Casement Parkmarker in nationalist West Belfast.

The IFA were initially non-committal about any of the proposals for improving their facilities, be it rebuilding Windsor Park, or supporting either the Maze or Sydenham proposals. However, in September 2009, they issued an announcement in favour of the redevelopment of Windsor Park. Although there were no specifics to this, Linfield had previously released a study with two proposals, of which the major one would be a £20m rebuilding of the stadium, raising capacity to 20,000.

Popular culture

Since the defeat of England in 2005 there has been an increase of "national" pride in the team, with demand for tickets outstripping supply. Tongue-in-cheek songs such as "We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland" (sung rather ironically to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic), 'It's Just Like Watching Brazil' and 'Stand up for the Ulstermen' are popular at home matches.In 2006, Northern Ireland's supporters were awarded the Brussels International Supporters Award, for their charity work, general good humour and behaviour and efforts to stamp out sectarianism. Representatives of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs received the award from UEFA and EU representatives prior to the Northern Ireland versus Spain game at Windsor Park in September 2006. The team have various supporters' clubs and the Our Wee Country fans' website.

Current players

The following players were called up for the match against Serbia on 14 November 2009.

Recent call ups

The following players have been called up to the Northern Ireland squad since the appointment of Nigel Worthington as manager.

Coaching staff

History in major tournaments

World Cup

European Championship


Player records

Northern Ireland players with 50 or more caps

As of 9 September 2009, the players with the most caps for Northern Ireland are:
Alan McDonald who played in the 1986 world cup finals
# Name Career Caps Goals
1 Pat Jennings 1964 - 1986 119 0
2 Mal Donaghy 1980 - 1994 91 0
3 Sammy McIlroy 1972 - 1987 88 5
4 Keith Gillespie 1995 - 2008 86 2
5 Maik Taylor 1999 - present 80 0
6 David Healy 2000 - present 77 35
7 Jimmy Nicholl 1976-1986 73 1
8= Michael Hughes 1992 - 2004 71 5
8= Aaron Hughes 1998 - present 71 0
10 David McCreery 1976 - 1990 67 0
11 Nigel Worthington 1984 - 1997 66 0
12 Martin O'Neill 1972 - 1985 64 8
13 Gerry Armstrong 1977 - 1986 63 12
14= Iain Dowie 1990 - 2000 59 12
14= Terry Neill 1961 - 1973 59 2
16= Billy Bingham 1951 - 1964 56 10
16= Danny Blanchflower 1950 - 1963 56 2
18= Jimmy McIlroy 1952 - 1966 55 10
18= Damien Johnson 1999 - Present 55 0
20= Allan Hunter 1970 - 1980 53 1
20= John McClelland 1980 - 1990 53 1
22= Jim Magilton 1991 - 2002 52 5
22= Alan McDonald 1986 - 1996 52 3
24= Sammy Nelson 1970 - 1982 51 1
24= Chris Nicholl 1975 - 1984 51 3
24= Gerry Taggart 1990 - 2002 51 7
27= Bryan Hamilton 1969 - 1980 50 4
27= James Quinn 1996 - 2007 50 4

Top Ireland / Northern Ireland goalscorers

# Player Career Goals (Caps) Goals per game
1 David Healy 2000 - present 35 (77) 0.45
2 Billy Gillespie 1913 - 1932 13 (25) 0.52
2= Colin Clarke 1986 - 1993 13 (38) 0.34
4 Joe Bambrick 1928 - 1940 12 (11) 1.09
4= Gerry Armstrong 1977 - 1986 12 (63) 0.19
4= Jimmy Quinn 1985 - 1996 12 (46) 0.26
4= Iain Dowie 1990 - 2000 12 (59) 0.20
8 Billy Bingham 1951 - 1964 10 (56) 0.18
8= Jimmy McIlroy 1952 - 1966 10 (55) 0.18
8= Peter McParland 1954 - 1962 10 (34) 0.29
8= Johnny Crossan 1960 - 1968 10 (24) 0.42

Media coverage

Sky Sports currently have the rights to show Northern Ireland's home international fixtures after many years of the games being exclusively live on BBC Northern Ireland. The decision to sell to Sky was met with disapproval. , however BBC Northern Ireland have bought the rights to some away games and highlights of all home matches. Setanta Sports bought rights to all but one of Northern Ireland away games. However the future of these rights are up in the air as Setanta has gone bust in the UK. Coincidently, the match that wasn't bought by Setanta was shown on BBC NI on Match of the Day from Northern Ireland.

See also


  1. Irish Football Association (2009). Official Souvenir Programme: Northern Ireland vs Serbia. Belfast:Irish Football Association
  2. BBC:Northern Ireland 0-1 Serbia
  3. BBC SPORT | Football | Irish | IFA wants out of Windsor contract
  4. Report slams Windsor Park safety BBC News
  5. IFA wants out of Windsor contract BBC News
  6. South Stand future under threat BBC News
  7. Plans for £128m Belfast stadium unveiled - The Independent, 25/03/09
  8. IFA 'backs Windsor as NI stadium' - BBC News, 07/09/09
  9. Linfield FC has £20m stadium plan - BBC News, 12/06/09
  11. Beeb in World cup TV woe - International - Football - Sport - Belfast Telegraph

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