Football was brought to Northern Ireland in 1879. A number of months later, the Catholic Cliftonville FC was founded and a year later the IFA (the Irish Football Association) was formed. It was not till 1886 that Cliftonville’s rival team, Linfield made their first appearance on the pitch. Incidentally, the founding of Linfield FC by workers of the Spinning Mill coincided with the year that one of the bloodiest riots in Belfast took place after the first Home Rule Bill was passed. Later, in 1912, Winston Churchill was almost lynched by a Protestant crowd outside the Celtic Park football ground after he addressed an almost exclusively nationalist group expressing his support for Home Rule.
From 1920 to 1922 the worst sectarian rioting took place in Belfast in Irish history. Four hundred and sixty-five people lost their lives and over a thousand were injured. The rioting was spurred on by speeches made during Orange Parade marches and letters written in the Orange Press inciting Protestants to kill Catholics when and wherever possible, and football pitches provided a good battlefield for this. The message to the workers was, A Protestant Ulster for a Protestant people.
Without doubt, this period burnt deep memories into the fabrics of the Northern Irish people as we shall see in part three of this article.