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National associations

Developing football in Northern Ireland

Football in Northern Ireland has had to deal with more than just sporting issues over the years.

Simone Magill celebrates a FIFA World Cup qualifying goal for Northern Ireland
Simone Magill celebrates a FIFA World Cup qualifying goal for Northern Ireland Getty Images


Following the UEFA Grow blueprint, the Irish Football Association (IFA) is overhauling the game in Northern Ireland, with a vision to be ‘a world-class and progressive organisation; inspiring every child to be part of the Northern Ireland football family and to wear their green shirt with pride’.

The IFA have set quantifiable targets for the next stages. By 2025, it wants to see 50,000 adults and 100,000 children in Northern Ireland participating in football. It has pledged to build an international-class training and development centre and deliver at least three Category 3 UEFA stadiums, and to generate revenues in excess of £100m over five years to reinvest in the game.

A new director of women’s football is to help to create a top-class women’s competition, and aim to recruit and retain women in coaching, match officiating and administration roles at all levels of the game. Social responsibility is a key element too, the IFA aiming to champion equality, diversity and inclusion, and power the national stadium using renewable energy.

The senior men’s team, meanwhile, have been set a bold target for future UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup campaigns: “Challenge every time, qualify every other time.”

“Football in Northern Ireland has the ability to cross all divides. It has the power to bring about great change. It can help educate, promote health and wellbeing, and give everyone a sense of belonging. Most importantly football can promote inclusivity like no other sport.”

Conrad Kirkwood, IFA president

UEFA support

UEFA has helped with plans to establish a new elite youth academy based at Ulster University’s Jordanstown Campus, around 12km from Belfast. Opened in 2019, this facility is taking in players in the final two years of full-time education and enabling them to mix academic work with top-class football training and education, with a view to preparing them for professional football.

UEFA-backed projects are also helping the IFA do good work in the community. A new strategy for disabled football is bringing the game to 35 special schools and supporting 58 clubs. Training is being given on safeguarding to prioritise player welfare, while a new education programme is encouraging senior players to stay in the game as coaches and administrators after hanging up their boots.

UEFA Foundation for Children in Northern Ireland

Set up in 2015, the UEFA foundation uses football as a vehicle to help improve children's lives by supporting hundreds of campaigns and projects across Europe and around the world.

Youth in Action

The project’s mission is to tackle racism in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and promote community cohesion and the integration of ethnic minority and migrant communities through sports and education.

The programme aims to promote inclusion and friendship and tackle racism and prejudice on the island of Ireland, by working with young people, ethnic minority representative groups and refugees and asylum seekers housed in local communities. Young people will be given the opportunity to share experiences, cultural values and interests. Education programmes will use football and football culture as a pathway to explore the themes of race and racism.


Association history

1880 By invitation of John McAlery of Cliftonville, representatives of Northern Irish clubs playing under Scottish Football Association rules meet at the Queen's Hotel in Belfast on 18 November and agree to form their own governing body. The Irish Football Association (IFA) is the fourth oldest football association in the world. It oversees football across the island of Ireland until the political division of 1921, when the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) begins to take charge of the game in what is now the Republic of Ireland. 1881 The first edition of the Irish Cup concludes with Moyola Park beating Cliftonville 1-0 in the final in Belfast on 9 April. 1922 Belfast-born goalkeeper Elisha Scott wins the first of back-to-back English titles with Liverpool. 1960 IFA president Harry H Cavan starts a tenure as European vice-president that lasts until 1990; he is instrumental in promoting the coaching and general development of football, particularly among emerging nations. 1963 Another famous son of Belfast, midfielder Danny Blanchflower, captains Tottenham Hotspur to glory in the European Cup Winners’ Cup; he had previously won a league title and two FA Cups with the London side. 1968 The mercurial George Best scores one of Manchester United’s three extra-time goals as the Red Devils overcome Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final; the Belfast-born player is regarded as one of the greatest dribblers in the history of football. 1972 Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings helps Spurs to beat fellow English side Wolverhampton Wanderers over two legs in the first UEFA Cup final. 2016 The IFA moves to new offices at Windsor Park, the stadium where Northern Ireland traditionally play their home fixtures. 2017 Northern Ireland hosts the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship in August. The IFA releases its new strategy, entitled Promoting, Fostering and Developing Football for All. 2020 The IFA celebrates 20 years of its Football For All strategy which originally aimed to tackle sectarianism within Northern Irish football. 2021 Northern Ireland hosts the UEFA Super Cup final between Chelsea and Villarreal. 2022 The IFA releases its new five year strategy, A Roadmap for Football Present day

National team history

1882 ‘Ireland’ make their international debut against England at the Knock cricket ground in east Belfast. Despite a 13-0 defeat, the gate receipts of £9 19s 7d provide some financial comfort. 1913 Billy Gillespie scores twice as the national team beat England for the first time, 2-1 in Belfast. A forward for English sides Leeds and Sheffield United, Gillespie is a member of the Irish side that wins their first ‘Home Nations’ championship the following year. 1958 Northern Ireland make it to their first FIFA World Cup finals in Sweden, losing out to France in the quarter-finals after navigating their way through the group stage. 1982 Northern Ireland reach their second World Cup finals; they finish above hosts Spain in the first group stage, but miss out on the semi-finals after finishing below France and Austria in the second group phase. Norman Whiteside becomes the youngest player to feature at a FIFA World Cup, aged 17 years and 42 days. 1986 Northern Ireland play at a third World Cup, but are unable to make it through a tough group in Mexico featuring both Spain and Brazil. 2013 David Healy plays his final Northern Ireland game having scored a record 36 goals for his country, including 13 in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying – a record for a single EURO qualifying campaign. 2016 Northern Ireland compete in their first ever EURO under Michael O’Neill, making it to the round of 16 as one of the best third-placed finishers in the group stage. Supporters' representatives are presented with the City of Paris medal by mayor Anne Hidalgo in recognition of how they ‘charmed and impressed by their kindness, their chants and their good humour’. 2016 Simone Magill scores the fastest goal in a women's international match and the fastest by any national Northern Irish team, hitting the back of the net in just 11 seconds against Georgia. 2020 Steven Davis becomes Northern Ireland's most capped player as he makes 120th appearance. 2021 Northern Ireland's senior women’s team defeat Ukraine to qualify for the 2022 UEFA Women's EURO 2022: their first major final tournament. Present day


Conrad Kirkwood

Nationality: Northern Irish
Date of birth: 22 November 1967
Association president since: 2021

Conrad Kirkwood
Conrad Kirkwood©IFA

General secretary

Patrick Nelson

Nationality: Irish
Date of birth: 5 July 1960
Association CEO since: 2009

Patrick Nelson
Patrick Nelson©UEFA.com

Irish Football Association website