Perhaps you followed the fortunes of the Green and White Army at France during the summer of 2016 but if you’re not yet a keen follower of the Northern Irish domestic scene then you could be forgiven for not knowing the clubs even enter the European competitions.
For 2016-17 the NIFL Premiership Winner will qualify for the Champions League Qualifying Phase and the Runner up qualifies for the Europa League Qualifying Phase along with the winners of the Irish Cup (the association’s main domestic cup). The final Europa League Qualifying Phase spot goes to the winner of a Playoff competition at the end of the season.
Nowadays, due to the expansion of both competitions, Irish League clubs are more likely to be seen facing teams from the likes of Faroe Islands and Slovenia in their Qualifying match up rather than some of Europe’s elite clubs. It’s a far cry from the days that teams like Benfica, Liverpool and Juventus graced these shores for competitive fixtures.
No fewer than sixteen Northern Irish based clubs have qualified for European Competition through the domestic competitions. An interesting addition to note is that Derry City qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1964/65 and European Cup 1965/66 prior to their withdrawal from the Northern Ireland league system in 1972.
In my first full article of this mini-series we’ll start right at the very beginning. Until then I’ll pose one question to you: Who were the first British team to win a European trophy? Tottenham Hotspur? Think again…