Skip to main content

John 'Mac' McAlery

Preceded by
Succeeded by
New role

The "Father of Irish football", John 'Mac' McAlery's commitment to the game was instrumental in the foundation of the Irish FA...
Name: John McCredy McAlery
Born: 1849, Rathfriland
Died: 3 December 1925, Belfast
Position: Back
Representative Honours: Ireland: 2 Full Caps (1882); Belfast & District Representative.
Club Honours: (with Cliftonville) Irish Cup Winner 1882/83, Runner-Up 1880/81, 1881/82.
Club Career:
The beginnings of ‘modern’ football in Ireland are a matter of some debate. While an ancient, more rowdy, form of the game is known to have been played for centuries on Irish soil, factors such as the Potato Famine, religious and social disdain, and heavy-handed policing had effectively killed off all involvement by the 1850s. For the next thirty years the only known instances of football being played in Ireland were by Scottish sailors, awaiting the loading or unloading of cargo, in-and-around the north coast.

It wasn’t until the 24 October 1878 that a proper organised game of football was first played in Ireland, Scottish sides Caledonians and Queen’s Park playing a demonstration game at the Ulster Cricket Club in Belfast – Queen’s Park won 3-2. One of the key instigators of this match was John ‘Mac’ McAlery. The story goes that McAlery, manager of the Irish Tweed House gentleman’s outfitters in Belfast, became interested in the game while travelling Scotland. He took advantage of an existing keenness within the Scottish game to spread ‘the word’ and invited the Caledonians captain, J.A. Allen, to bring a match to Belfast. McAlery himself had previously been recognised as an excellent cricketer and was treasurer of Cliftonville Cricket Club.

From that landmark match grew the game in Ireland. On 20 September 1879, in an advertisement in the Newsletter, McAlery invited “Gentlemen desirous of becoming members” to an open practice for Cliftonville Association Football Club (Scottish Association Rules). The first match played by an Irish association football club was between Cliftonville and Quidnunces, a team of rugby players, on 29 September 1879. The rugby players won 2-1!

Of course, there being only one football team in Ireland provided certain difficulties, i.e. who to play against? McAlery soon provided a solution, helping to found Knock FC. The formation of Knock followed a familiar pattern, made up of members of an existing lacrosse club as Cliftonville had been from an existing cricket club. McAlery made a pilgrimage across Ulster to encourage others to try his ‘new’ game. On 18 November 1880, at the behest of Cliftonville FC, a meeting was held at the Queen’s Hotel in Belfast. Also in attendance were representatives from Avoniel FC, Distillery FC, Knock FC, Oldpark FC (all Belfast), Moyola Park FC (Castledawson) and Alexander FC (Limavady). The meeting saw the formation of the Irish Football Association, creating a constitution and formalising the game rules along the lines of the Scottish Association. Major Spencer Chichester was appointed as President and McAlery as Secretary. In an appendix to the minutes of that first historic meeting McAlery wrote: “If the spirit which pervaded from those present be acted upon the result will be a strong Association for promoting the game which we have espoused.”

The founding meeting of the Irish FA also made provision for a cup competition, the Irish FA Cup. The inaugural Irish Cup draw was held on 10 January 1881, with McAlery’s Cliftonville set to play Oldpark in the first round. A 2-0 victory set-up a semi-final match with Knock, which was won 2-1 in a replay. In the first Irish Cup Final, held on 9 April 1881, Cliftonville faced Moyola Park at the Cliftonville Ground, losing 1-0. The following year they again reached the Final, and again lost 1-0, this time to Queen’s Island at the Ulster Ground, Ballynafiegh. Finally in 1883, at the third attempt, McAlery got his hands on an Irish Cup winner’s medal - Ulster defeated 5-0 at the Bloomfield Ground, Knock.

The Irish FA organised its first representative match, a Belfast & District side losing 9-1 to Aysrshire, on 30 January 1882. On 18 February 1882 Ireland played their first ever international match, and John McAlery was captain in a 13-0 defeat at Bloomfield. It was a disheartening experience for a man who had put so much into the game. A week later he led Ireland in their first away match, Wales handing out another footballing lesson with a 7-1 win in Wrexham. Although those were his only ‘caps’ McAlery remained actively involved in international football, regularly acting as umpire at Home Nations matches until 1887.

McAlery retained the position of Irish FA Secretary until 1888 when he was succeeded by his assistant, Jack Reid. McAlery continued to take an active interest in the game and, while hammerings were not uncommon for Ireland, he could take special pride in their successes and in the continued growth and development of the local game that he had played such a big part in founding.

Ireland Cap Details:

18-02-1882 England. H L 0-13 FR
25-02-1882 Wales... A L 1- 7 FR

Summary: 2/0. Won 0, Drew 0, Lost 2.
Additions and corrections by George Glass.