Sunday, February 24, 2008

Crusaders F.C. is a Northern Ireland football club playing in the Irish Premier League. The club, founded in 1898, hails from Belfast and plays its home matches at Seaview. Club colours are red and black. The current manager is Stephen Baxter, appointed in 2005, following the sacking of Alan Dornan, who was incidentally the first manager to be sacked in the club's history. Crusaders played junior league football until 1949/50, and during this time they became one of the top junior teams in the country. The dramatic withdrawal of Belfast Celtic from the senior ranks in 1949 resulted in Crusaders being elected in their place in time for the start of the 1949/50 season.

Crusaders Football and Athletic Club was formed in the year 1898. The first meeting of the Club is believed to have been held at 182 North Queen Street, Belfast, the home of Thomas Palmer who, along with James McEldowney, John Hume and Thomas Wade, was a member of the original Committee.
Many names were suggested for the Club including Rowan Star, Cultra United, Queen's Rovers, Mervue Wanderers and Lilliputians. Thomas Wade felt that a name of more international significance should be adopted and he suggested 'Crusaders', after the medieval Christian knights.
Initially the Club was only able to undertake friendly fixtures until they were admitted to some of the local junior Alliance Leagues. Players were compelled to pay a match fee of two old pence before they could take the field. It was strictly no pay - no play.
The very first competitive game of which there is any existing record was on the 10th December, 1898. It came in the North Belfast Alliance against opponents named Bedford and reports state that, "after a splendid game Crusaders won by 5 to 2."

Crusaders F.C. Pre-1900
Crusaders went on to compete in the Dunville Alliance, Ormeau Junior Alliance, Alexandra Alliance, Woodvale Alliance and Irish Football Alliance until their election to the Intermediate League in 1921. The Crues became one of the top junior clubs in the country but in spite of winning an impressive collection of junior trophies, including the Intermediate League Championship in 1925/26, all applications for entry to the senior Irish League were turned down. Such was the frustration that consideration was given to making application either to the Scottish Football League or to the League of Ireland.
The team played at a variety of venues before settling at Seaview in 1921. Earlier home venues included the Glen (which later became part of Alexandra Park), Cavehill Road, Simpson's Boiler Fields, Shore Road (opposite the Grove) and Rokeby Park. Seaview was officially opened on Saturday, September 3, 1921 by Mr William Grant, M.P., prior to kick-off in an Intermediate League fixture against Cliftonville Olympic.
World War II meant that there was no football played by the Crues between April 1941-September 1946.

Crusaders F.C. 1900-1949
Belfast Celtic's dramatic withdrawal from the senior ranks in 1949 resulted in Crusaders being elected in their place in time for the start of the 1949-50 season. Their first competitive game as a senior club was on August 20, 1949 and resulted in a 1-0 City Cup win at Portadown. However, the season was tough going for the 'Hatchetmen', as they were known, and they had to apply for re-election after finishing in 11th place out of 12 clubs.
However, as has always been the case, Crusaders never lacked determination. Under the player-managership of Jackie Vernon they recovered to win their first senior trophy in the 1953-54 season by defeating Linfield 2-1 in the final of the Ulster Cup.
The 1950s were not easy in spite of the presence in the side of some excellent individuals and the end of the 1957-58 season saw another application for re-election.
The 1960s brought some much-needed success. The Crues won the Ulster Cup once more and the County Antrim Shield twice but these successes were overshadowed by two unexpected victories in the Irish Cup finals of 1967 and 1968 against the might of Glentoran and Linfield respectively. The Crues had arrived! So, too, did European competition as a consequence.
There were other significant happenings in the same decade. In July 1966 the original social club, dressing rooms and administration areas were destroyed by fire. They were replaced some four years later by the present bigger and better facilities.
There was more unprecedented success in the 1970s, with the Irish League championship trophy twice finding a home at Seaview, in 1973 and 1976.

The second championship triumph resulted in the never-to-be-forgotten European Cup-tie with Liverpool which saw the brave Cruemen fall to the might of Keegan, Toshack, et al at Anfield by just 2-0. The home leg which followed was played before a crowd hanging from the rafters that would undoubtedly give the current health and safety legislators a heart attack.
Although performances in the 1980s were steady, they certainly were not spectacular and the club paid the penalty for not building on earlier successes. Manager Jackie Hutton had no money with which to buy players but he did the club a great service when he somehow completed the deal which brought Roy Walker to Seaview. Hutton was quick to recognise the leadership qualities in Walker and saw him as his potential successor.
At the same time, local businessman Harry Corry, pumped some desperately-needed sponsorship money into the club. As the revival began, southern businessman Tony O'Connell also became involved. It was a partnership that was to produce the most successful spell in the club's history.
Walker took over as player-manager in September 1989, two years after his arrival as a player. One of his first tasks was to apply for re-election as the Crues finished 13th out of 14 clubs.
Walker's sides - he dubbed them "the team with no boots" - went on to win nearly everything in sight whilst wealthier and bigger-supported clubs could only watch and wonder.
There were two further championship titles won (1995 and 1997) whilst Crusaders also finished runners-up in 1993 and 1996. Other trophies won were the County Antrim Shield (1992), Ulster Cup (1993) and Gold Cup (1996).
In turn, this meant more expeditions into Europe as the Crues took on teams from Switzerland, Denmark, Lithuania and Georgia within a five-year span.
In addition to the first team and the reserves, teams at under-16 and under-18 level were introduced as the club looked to nurture and develop local talent in the area.
Roy Walker resigned as manager in July 1998, just prior to the club's centenary dinner celebrations at Belfast City Hall.
Since then, lack of funds has seen the Seaview fortunes decline, with Dublin-based managers Aaron Callaghan and Martin Murray both resigning after one year apiece in charge.

Former player Gary McCartney took over the managerial reins in July 2000. The team retained Premier Division status after a nail-biting play-off success over Lisburn Distillery in May 2001 but McCartney resigned just over twelve months later because of the limited budget at his disposal.
Popular veteran defender Alan Dornan was appointed as his successor at the end of June 2002 and the side retained Premier League status that season under his guidance, although the squad was very inexperienced and often included six or seven teenagers. The emphasis on youth continued in 2003-04 as the Crues achieved a mid-table finish, their second highest finish in the post-2000 era. (Their best season was 2006-07 when they finished 6th overall.)
Dornan's next season in charge was not as successful. He was sacked just after mid-way through the season, as the Crues lay at the bottom of the table, despite having guided the team to the County Antrim Shield final (although ultimately they lost in the final to Linfield). Former striker and fans' favourite Stephen 'Stanley' Baxter was appointed as manager but, despite an improvement in results, he could not keep the club in the Premier League, with the Crues losing out to Glenavon in a relegation play-off. The relegation was the first time Crusaders had ever been relegated from any league, and meant an end to 56 consecutive seasons of senior football. Happily, though, they bounced back the following year under Baxter by winning the Irish First Division, the Intermediate League Cup, and Steel & Sons Cup.
Current club president is John Mairs, a regular supporter with wife Alice at all games, home and away. Club chairman and former player Jim Semple is President of the Irish Football League (the first Crusaders official to be elected to the post) and vice-president of the Irish Football Association.
Crusaders has always drawn its support from the working class people of north Belfast. From these members it elects its committee and its particular ethos. However, the club's serious financial plight has become very apparent during recent years and in 2002 consideration was given to changing the structure from one of a membership-based organisation to that of a public limited company. In May 2002, members voted at the AGM against such a change.
After their first season back in the top flight after promotion, the Hatchetmen finished in a very creditable 6th place.
(with thanks to


Irish Premier Division: 4

  • 1972/73, 1975/76, 1994/95, 1996/97
    Irish Cup: 2

    • 1966/67, 1967/68
      Irish First Division: 1

      • 2005/06
        League Cup: 1

        • 1996/97
          Gold Cup: 2

          • 1985/86, 1995/1996
            Ulster Cup: 3

            • 1953/54, 1963/64, 1993/94
              County Antrim Shield: 5

              • 1959/60, 1964/65, 1968/69, 1973/74, 1991/92'
                Carlsberg Cup: 1

                • 1973/74
                  Steel & Sons Cup: 8

                  • 1922/23, 1926/27, 1928/29, 1930/31, 1933/34, 1936/37, 1947/48, 2005/06
                    Stena Line Trophy Winners: 1

                    • 1996/97
                      Irish Intermediate League: 9

                      • 1922/23, 1925/26, 1926/27, 1928/29, 1930/31, 1932/33, 1937/38, 1938/39, 1948/49
                        Intermediate Cup: 3

                        • 1926/27, 1937/38, 1938/39
                          Intermediate League Cup: 1

                          • 2005/06
                            McElroy Cup Winners: 3

                            • 1929/30, 1931/32, 1947/48
                              Irish Football Alliance: 3

                              • 1915/16, 1916/17, 1917/18
                                Clement Lyttle Trophy: 3

                                • 1915/16, 1917/18, 1924/25
                                  Empire Cup: 1

                                  • 1905/06
                                    Polland Cup Winners: 1

                                    • 1903/04 Honours
                                      as of 1 June 2006

                                      Current Playing Squad

                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Eamon Doherty (Limavady United F.C.)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Gregg Shannon (Linfield F.C.)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Stephen Coulter (Loughgall F.C.)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Ryan Tumelty (Ards F.C.)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Darren Lockhart (Glentoran F.C.)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Barry Reid (released)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Neil Armstrong (released)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Anto Crawford (released)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Raymond Campbell (released)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland David Munster (released) Summer transfers

                                      President: John Mairs
                                      Chairman: Jim Semple
                                      Vice-Chairman: stephen bell
                                      Secretary: Harry Davison
                                      Treasurer: Robert White
                                      Commercial Manager: Norman Coleman
                                      Stadium Manager: Stephen Bell
                                      Club Chaplain: Reverend Ken White
                                      Board-room comestibles: Madge Hunter
                                      Catering: John Alexander
                                      Manager: Stephen Baxter
                                      Assistant Manager: Terry Moore
                                      First Team Coach: Charlie Murphy
                                      Goalkeeping Coach: Roy McDonald
                                      Reserve Manager: Philip Mitchell
                                      Physio: Tony
                                      Kit Manager: Leslie McKittrick
                                      Programme Editor: Alan Briers
                                      Shop Manager: David Hatton Notable former players

                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Jackie Vernon (1952 - 195x)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Jimmy Todd (? - 1972)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Billy Johnston (1972 - 1979)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Tommy Jackson (1979 - 1985?)
                                      Flag of Scotland Jackie Hutton (1985 - 1989?)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Roy Walker (1989 - 1998)
                                      Flag of Ireland Aaron Callaghan (1998 - 1999)
                                      Flag of Ireland Martin Murray (1999 - 2000)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Gary McCartney (2000 - 2002)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Alan Dornan (2002 - 2005)
                                      Flag of Northern Ireland Stephen Baxter (2005 - present) Local Connections

                                      Irish League Forums Supporters Group

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