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Airtricity League of Ireland

The League of Ireland is the foremost Irish domestic football league. The League was born in 1921 out of the Irish War of Independence. Up to that point football in Ireland was controlled and administered by the Irish Football Association (IFA) in Belfast. Shelbourne from Dublin and Glenavon from Lurgan in Northern Ireland had played out a 0-0 draw in the semi-final of the Irish Cup. The replay was scheduled to be played on St Patrick's day in Dublin however due to the war Glenavon refused to travel south. The IFA ruled that the replay should be played in Belfast.

Shelbourne protested at the loss of home advantage and refused to play the game in Belfast which, the Dublin club claimed, was just as dangerous as Dublin and was in fact under a military curfew. Shelbourne, the only professional club in Dublin, withdrew from the competition and was effectively out in the footballing wilderness. The scene was now set for the establishment of a breakaway league, from the IFA, in the south of Ireland.

The Split

Following a truce in the War of Independence in June 1921 the Irish Free State, and the six counties Northern Ireland state, were established. Most other sports had been controlled and administered from Dublin but because the history of Irish football was firmly rooted in Belfast, soccer was administered from the North.

At a meeting in Molesworth Hall in Dublin, on 1st June 1921 some of the major figures in football in the 26 counties met to discuss the possibility of forming a separate football association to administer football in the south of Ireland. The implications of such a move were very significant as the IFA was recognised internationally as the representative body of football in Ireland. Footballers from southern Ireland might be denied an international

football outlet. Nevertheless the decision was made to go it alone and the Irish Free State Football Association was formed. On Saturday 17th September 1921 the Irish Free State League of Ireland kicked off with three football fixtures: Bohemians V YMCA; Shelbourne V Frankfort; and St James's Gate V Dublin United. The other teams in the fledgling League of Ireland were Jacobs and Olympia. It is believed that Frank Haine of Bohemians scored the first ever goal in the new league. By the end of 1921 the League program had been completed and St James's Gate were the first League of Ireland champions.

First League of Ireland Table

TEAM
P
W
D
L
F
A
Pts
St James's Gate
14
11
1
2
31
8
23
Bohemians
14
10
1
3
35
13
21
Shelbourne
14
8
2
4
31
21
18
Olympia
14
5
4
5
20
21
14
Jacobs
14
4
4
6
23
27
12
Frankfort
14
3
5
6
22
32
11
Dublin United
14
5
0
9
25
39
10
YMCA
14
0
3
11
17
43
3

History of the League of Ireland

For more than a decade the League of Ireland was dominated by the big three Dublin clubs, Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers, and Shelbourne. It wasn't until 1933, when Dundalk FC triumphed, that a team outside the capital won the league. In the 1930's and 1940's Sligo Rovers and Cork United also claimed the League of Ireland title. Because Ireland remained neutral during World War II the League of Ireland was not suspended as it was elsewhere. During the war years Cork United dominated the league by winning the title five seasons out of six during the 1940's. Waterford had its' glory period when the Munster outfit won the League of Ireland title six seasons out of eight in the 1960's and 1970's. The next team to dominate for a sustained period was Shamrock Rovers. Following the failed John Giles / Rovers project Jim McLaughlin took charge of the Glenmalure Park outfit and captured four League of Ireland titles in a row from 1984 to 1987. Shelbourne is the last team to achieve similar levels of dominance when the club won the league title on five occasions in a seven year period from 1999 to 2006.

In 1985 the League of Ireland was split into two divisions, the Premier League and the First Division, consisting of 22 teams in total

Summer Soccer for the League of Ireland

Over the years the League and its' clubs have tried a number of innovations and restructurings to try to reinvigorate the country's premier soccer competition and to attract greater attendances. In 2003 summer soccer was introduced to the League of Ireland. This involves playing league games from March to November. It was hoped that playing soccer in better climatic conditions would attract new fans who would not have the distraction of English Premier League football. It was also hoped that it would help give the League of Ireland clubs a competitive advantage in European competitions. The latter objective has been achieved to the extent that the League's UEFA ranking, as determined on the basis of the sum of the UEFA country coefficients, has risen from 40 (in 2005) to 29 (at the time of writing in 2010). Unfortunately the crowds have not turned up at League of Ireland matches in the numbers that had been hoped for when summer soccer was introduced.

Merger of the League of Ireland and the FAI

The 2005 Genesis Report urged that the previously recommended merger between the FAI and the League of Ireland should go ahead on the basis that the role of the FAI "... is to manage the game for the benefit of football in the country. The League is a key component to that and it should be managed ... for the greater good of the game in Ireland." The League clubs agreed to the merger and at the League of Ireland AGM on 8th December 2006 the League was dissolved.

Over the years a number of League clubs have run aground because of the mismanagement of the the financial aspect of the club. The FAI has introduced a more rigorous licensing regime (clubs must be licensed to play in the League) that incorporates financial regulations including the Salary Cost Protocol. Since 2008 wage controls have been in place to regulate a clubs' spending on players' wages and costs to a maximum of 65% of relevant income. Despite this two clubs, Derry City and Cork City were demoted from the Premier League to the First Division for the 2010 season because of financial irregularities and mismanagement.

Source:
Freestaters: The Republic of Ireland Soccer Team 1921-1939; Donal Cullen (2007); Desert Island Books Limited


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