In 1970 Glentoran were involved in a cross-border European Cup clash against Waterford United. A 3-1 home loss in the first leg meant the 1-0 loss in the 2nd leg was inconsequential. Linfield took on Manchester City in the Cup Winners Cup cruelly losing out on away goals despite recording the 2-1 victory at home. Coleraine were again in Fairs Cup competition, progressing 4-3 against Kilmarnock before losing out to Sparta Rotterdam in both legs in the Second Round.
1971 saw the return of Linfield to the European Cup as they lost 5-2 on aggregate to Standard Liege despite a hearty 3-2 loss in the second leg in Belfast. Distillery (at this point still based in Belfast) made their European debut in the Cup Winners Cup against Spanish behemoths Barcelona, the Catalan side recorded a comfortable 7-1 aggregate victory. Glentoran took on Eintracht Braunschweig of West Germany in the newly branded UEFA Cup (previously the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup) restricting the German side to just the one goal in Belfast before losing 6-1 away in the second leg in a 7-1 aggregate loss.
In 1972 there was no Northern Irish representation in Europe. This was sadly due to the security situation in Northern Ireland at the time as the violence of the troubles reached its peak. Football is often seen as a mirror of society and it was due to these security issues and the problems they cause that Derry City resigned from the Northern Ireland league system – they would later go on to take up membership of the League of Ireland.
In 1973 Northern Irish clubs returned to Europe. Crusaders took on Dinamo Bucuresti in the European Cup, the first leg ended with a 1-0 victory for the Romanians in Belfast before they recorded a devastating 11-0 victory in the second leg. Glentoran made it to the Quarter Finals of the Cup Winners Cup by beating Romanian side Chimia Ramnicu Valcea 4-2 and Norwegians SK Brann 4-2 before losing 7-0 on aggregate to Borussia Monchengladbach. Ards took part in the UEFA Cup but despite winning the first leg 3-2 at home against Standard Liege they went out to an 8-4 aggregate score line.
1974 gave Coleraine their first opportunity in the European Cup but there were no match for Holland’s Feyenoord who ran out 11-1 aggregate winners. Ards competed in the Cup Winners Cup against another Dutch side, PSV Eindhoven. PSV blew the Co. Down side away with a 14-1 aggregate score. Portadown’s first venture into Europe in over a decade came as they beat Icelandic side Knattspyrnufélagið Valur 2-1 in the first round of the UEFA Cup before losing 6-1 to Yugoslavian outfit Partizan Belgrade.
In 1975 PSV Eindhoven returned to Northern Ireland to take on Linfield in the European Cup. The Dutch side won 2-1 in Belfast before recording a comprehensive 8-0 victory in Eindhoven. Coleraine took on Eintracht Frankfurt in the Cup Winners Cup but were easily beaten 11-3 over the two legs. Glentoran took on AFC Ajax in the UEFA Cup but were powerless to resist another high scoring defeat as the famous Dutch side were rampant in their 14-1 aggregate win.
1976 presented another Battle of Britain as Liverpool took on Crusaders, the Merseyside club ran out 7-0 winners on their way to their first European Cup title. Carrick Rangers made their first European appearance in the Cup Winners Cup, they push aside Luxembourg’s Aris 4-3 before being stopped in the Second Round 9-3 by Southampton. Glentoran took on FC Basel of Switzerland in the UEFA Cup, the Glens managed to sneak a 3-2 home victory but could not stop Basel running out 3-0 victors in Switzerland.
In 1977 Glentoran beat Icelandic side Valur 2-1 to set up a famous European Cup night at the Oval against Juventus. The Glens were perhaps unlucky to lose in a closely fought match in Belfast that resulted in 1-0 win for the Turin side who were able to consolidate their position with a 5-0 victory in Italy. Coleraine took on East German Lokomotive Leipzig in the Cup Winners Cup but went out 6-3 on aggregate despite a hard earned 2-2 draw away in the second leg. PSV returned for the third time in four seasons, this time to take on Glenavon in the UEFA Cup. PSV won 11-2 on aggregate on their way to their first UEFA Cup title.
In 1978 Linfield were back in the European Cup but lost out thanks to a single goal in a 1-0 aggregate win for Norway’s Lillestrom. Ballymena United made their first European show in the Cup Winners Cup against Belgian club KSK Beveren, the Belgian side recorded consecutive 3-0 victories to ensure a 6-0 aggregate win. Glentoran took on Icelandic side IBV (Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja) but fell afoul of the away goal ruling after a 1-1 draw in Belfast was followed by a scoreless draw in Iceland.
To round off the decade 1979 saw Linfield take on southern rivals Dundalk in the Preliminary Round of the European Cup. The first leg ended 1-1 in Dundalk but it was a match to be remembered for the fighting between the fans which led to UEFA demanding that the return leg be played outside of the British Isles. Thus, the two Irish sides ended up playing the second leg Haarlem, Netherlands. Dundalk excelled at the neutral venue in a 2-0 victory and progressed in the competition at Linfield’s expense. Cliftonville made their European debut in the Cup Winners Cup, losing 8-0 on aggregate to French club Nantes. Glenavon were in UEFA Cup action against Standard Liege but narrow 1-0 losses meant a 2-0 aggregate loss for the Lurgan Blues.
Turmoil, tension and terror dominated the 1970s but there were glimmers of hope. 11 different teams competed in Europe for Northern Ireland during these seasons and on more than one occasion these small fish held their own against the big boys of European competition…