In 1980, it was Linfield again who would represent Northern Ireland in the European Cup, the Blues were drawn against Nantes of France but, lost 3-0 over the two legs. In the Cup Winners Cup, Crusaders would take on Welsh team Newport County. A comprehensive 4-0 loss away in the first leg confirmed the outcome of the tie as the second leg ended a drab scoreless draw. In the UEFA Cup Ballymena took on Vorwarts Frankfurt of East Germany. The Co. Antrim side put themselves in a great position with a 2-1 home win in the first leg but collapsed to a 3-0 defeat in the second.
Glentoran returned to the European Cup in 1981 and pushed aside Luxembourg side FC Progres Niederkorn in the first round before a narrow 3-2 loss to CSKA Sofia in the second. Ballymena were again in European action, this time in the Cup Winners Cup, but were powerless to resist a 6-0 thumping from Italian giants Roma. Linfield’s UEFA Cup campaign didn’t last any longer as they were beaten 8-0 by Belgian club K.S.K. Beveren.
1982 was the beginning of a period of dominance for Linfield in Northern Ireland and they took on Albanian side 17 Nentori (now KF Tirana) – it was agony for the Blues as they went out cruelly on away goals in a 2-2 draw despite their well-earned second leg victory. Coleraine were matched with Tottenham Hotspur in the Cup Winners Cup but, the Bannsiders were no match for a Garth Crooks-inspired Spurs who ran out 7-0 winners, with Crooks scoring three times across the two matches. Glentoran were in UEFA Cup action but a poor 4-1 aggregate loss to Banik Ostrava sent them out of the competition.
In 1983 Linfield took on the mighty Benfica in the European Cup. A simple 3-0 win for the Lisbon side in the first leg was followed by more of a challenge in the second leg as Benfica had to come from behind in Belfast to win 3-2, securing a 6-2 aggregate victory. Another attractive tie in the Cup Winners Cup as Glentoran took on Paris Saint-Germain, with the Glens actually taking the lead in both ties but, PSG came back on both occasions to win 4-2 on aggregate. Coleraine were the UEFA Cup participants but a 4-0 first leg loss to Sparta Rotterdam meant the second leg would always be a struggle, to their credit the Bannsiders made a go of it and came away with a 1-1 draw.
1984 was to see Linfield take on Irish opposition again in the European Cup, this time against Shamrock Rovers in Dublin. There was much worry after Linfield’s previous visit South against Dundalk had ended in running battles outside the stadium however the tie passed off without much remark in that regard. A scoreless draw in Belfast meant that the 1-1 draw in Dublin was enough to see Linfield progress on away goals, their goal came courtesy of future legendary manager David Jeffrey. Linfield were then matched with Panathinaikos and were unfortunate to go out 5-4 on aggregate. Ballymena took part in the Cup Winners Cup but were poor against Malta side Hamrun Spartans and lost 3-1 on aggregate. Glentoran took on Standard Liege in the UEFA Cup but couldn’t capitalise on their 1-1 draw on the first leg as the Belgian side ran out 3-1 aggregate winners.
In 1985 Linfield were drawn against Servette FC of Switzerland. A 2-2 draw in Belfast was followed by a 2-1 loss in Geneva, disappointingly Linfield actually took the lead in the away fixture before Servette battled back to claim the aggregate victory. Glentoran took on Icelandic opposition in Fram Reykjavik but lost 3-2 on aggregate despite their 1-0 home victory in the second leg. Coleraine were back in European action in the UEFA Cup, this time they took on East German Lokomotive Leipzig who sent the Bannsiders out with a 6-1 score line.
1986 was Linfield’s 5th consecutive year of European Cup football. A spirited performance was not enough as Norwegian side Rosenborg ran out 2-1 aggregate winners. Lokomotive Leipzig visited Northern Ireland for the second year in a row as they took on Glentoran in the Cup Winners Cup, the
margin was narrower but still resulted in a 3-1 victory for the East German outfit. Coleraine were matched with East German opposition again in the UEFA Cup as they took on Stahl Brandenburg, a closer match perhaps but still a 2-1 aggregate loss for the Bannsiders.
In 1987 Linfield took on Norwegian opposition again in the European Cup. Lillestrom, the same side they played 9 years previously, managed to take the 5-3 aggregate victory to progress in the competition. Glentoran’s Cup Winners Cup opponents were Finnish club RoPS, the Glens were unfortunate to lose out on away goals after a scoreless draw in Finland and a 1-1 score in Belfast. It was Coleraine again in the UEFA Cup, this time they were matched with Dundee United. The Scottish side recorded a 4-1 aggregate victory.
In 1988 Glentoran were back in the European Cup and given a tie against Soviet Union side Spartak Moscow. The Soviets were too strong for Glentoran in Moscow in a 2-0 victory, things were different in Belfast when Spartak required a last-minute goal to salvage a 1-1 draw. It was Glenavon in the Cup Winners Cup against Danish club AGF but the Danes were too good in a 7-2 victory. Linfield were now in UEFA Cup competition against Finland’s TPS Turku. It ended with yet another away goal result involving Linfield, the rule coming into play three times for them this decade. Sadly, Linfield were again on the wrong side of this rule as the 1-1 draw in Belfast was enough for TPS to progress in the Cup.
In 1989 Linfield were back on top and in the European Cup. They were drawn with Soviet Union club Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk who won the tie 3-1 on aggregate. Ballymena took on eventual Runner-Up Anderlecht in the Cup Winners Cup and were on the receiving end of a 10-0 scoreline – the sort of drubbing that had not been seen for a while. A notable goalscorer in the tie was Arnor Gudjohnson, father of future Chelsea and Barcelona man Eidur Gudjohnson. Glentoran brought the decade’s European participation to a close for Northern Ireland losing 5-1 on aggregate to Dundee United in the UEFA Cup.
Linfield were dominant in the league in the 80s with 8 league titles meanwhile Glentoran made the Irish Cup their own with 5 victories. The 80s was the beginning of the end of the big European ties for Irish League clubs due to the expansion and reformatting of European competitions. Join me next week for the final look at Northern Ireland clubs in Europe as we look at what happened next, how things changed and the emergence and death of the UEFA Intertoto Cup.