|The History of Cliftonville Football Club|
|Windsor was 'home' against Linfield|
|Ahead of the 1994 tie with Southampton|
|1996 Coca Cola Floodlit Cup winners|
|The County Antrim Shield followed in 1997|
|Harry McCourt brings the title ever closer...|
|News filters through that we're Champions|
|Mickey Donnelly raises the Gibson Cup|
|"Come all without, come all within, you'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn..."|
|Cup Final heartaches had become all too commonplace as far as Cliftonville were concerned and that Gold Cup success of 1980 remained the Club's last success as we reached the mid 1990s.
Frankie Parkes had come so close to delivering glory on more than one occasion but suffered misfortune after misfortune in the Cup competitions - including a 1993 Budweiser Cup Semi Final with Ards when, with the game ticking into injury-time, the Reds led 2-0 only to concede three goals in double-quick time to provide yet more painful memories.
Parkes' resignation opened the door for reluctant Assistant Marty Quinn to take charge and, following a productive spell in the Caretaker's role, Quinn was officially appointed Manager in October 1994 and oversaw the Club's elevation to the inaugural Irish Premier League - not to mention bringing the trophy famine to a dramatic conclusion, albeit only in the McEwan's Soccer Sixes competition.
The altogether more illustrious stage of the 1996 Floodlit Cup Final was to prove a defining moment for Quinn and his team when, after falling behind to Glentoran midway through the first-half, a determined Cliftonville hit back with three goals to send the Red Army into raptures and record the Club's first senior honour in 16 years.
Things were to get better that summer when Quinn led his men into Europe via the InterToto Cup and a group which contained Standard de Liege, VfB Stuttgart, Hapoel Haifa and Aalborg Boldspiklub.
Standard kicked things off with a 3-0 win at Solitude before Cliftonville claimed their first ever Euro goal - and point - when they travelled to Israel the following weekend, Shaun Strang bagging the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Haifa.
German giants VfB Stuttgart were next to visit North Belfast and, though the 4-1 scoreline might suggest otherwise, were given a real run for their money by a well organised and determined Reds.
Unfortunately, our participation in the tournament was to end on a low with a 4-0 loss in Denmark to Aalborg but, back on the domestic scene, the supporters weren't left to wait much longer for the next glory night (less than 12 months, in fact) and the 1997 County Antrim Shield win came in the most bizarre of circumstances - a penalty shoot-out.
Over the years, Cliftonville had developed a reputation as a side utterly incapable of triumphing when it came to spot-kicks. Season after season and competition after competition, the Reds' dreams of Cup success reached an abrupt conclusion when penalty kicks came into the equation.
Indeed, it was not unknown for supporters to make for the exits once Extra Time's final whistle sounded. Knowing that defeat was bordering on the inevitable, many fans simply could not bear to watch another heartbreaking loss - and the same applied for the County Antrim Shield Quarter Final showdown with Glentoran, except this time the unthinkable happened and the Reds' shoot-out hoodoo was finally broken. But would it hold out for the Final?
After 120 goalless minutes of play with First Division leaders Ballymena United, the tie went to the dreaded penalty competition and after Paul Stokes, Stephen Small, Ian Hill, Barry O'Connor and Tim McCann had netted to put Cliftonville 5-4 ahead, up stepped ex-Red Peter Murray to face new Red Paul Reece - a goalkeeper making his debut in place of the injured Paul Rice.
The former Grimsby stopper wrote his name into the history books with a smart stop low down to his right and the Shield was Cliftonville's for the first time since 1979 - and Reece also played a key role as the team staved off the threat of relegation from the Premier League.
The Reds went into the penultimate fixture of the campaign knowing that only a win would do against fellow strugglers Ards at Castlereagh Park and, in true Roy of the Rovers style, they achieved it with a last-gasp strike to seal a 1-0 success.
Unable to watch their heroes condemned to a place in the First Division, the majority of Cliftonville supporters were already back on their buses when Tim McCann lashed home a 94th minute winner - and the sight of the Red Army (who had heard the news via a combination of Radio Ulster and the roar from inside the ground) charging back through the gates to join in with celebrations which for so long looked like might be comiserations is one which will go down in Club folklore.
Just like the 79 team, the class of 97 also had the chance to add the Irish Cup to the haul and qualified for the Final with a 3-1 defeat of Loughgall at Windsor Park.
Favourites Glenavon stood in the way but, convinced their team could deliver, the Red Army turned out in their thousands on an afternoon which would ultimately end in disappointment as Marty Quinn's men fell to a shattering 1-0 defeat.
That loss was so hard to take for all associated with the Club but Quinn's resolve was as strong as ever and he vowed to bounce back and deliver a better season next time around. Even he could not have imagined how great the change in fortunes would be.
A mere 364 days after that relegation showdown with Ards, Cliftonville knew that three points against Glentoran (the very opposition defeated when the Reds last claimed the title in 1910) would deliver the Premier League Championship - but, as ever, the day didn't turn out to be quite so straightforward as that.
Harry McCourt's outstretched leg put the Reds 1-0 ahead, but the Glens hit back in the second period to snatch a draw. That meant a nervy hour sat glued to transistor radios as the Red Army, the players and bossman Quinn awaited news of Linfield's clash with Coleraine.
The Blues had to win to take the title race down to the last day and, as they bombarded the Coleraine goal with shot after shot, fingernails were in short supply at Solitude.
The players opted to avoid the agony of listening to radio commentary of that match and, as they sat in the changing room, were kept up to speed with events at The Showgrounds by the noisy and dramatic reactions of the capacity crowd outside.
As was captured by UTV's television cameras, the players were interrupted mid-conversation by an almighty roar from the stands and suddenly the dream became reality - Cliftonville were Champions.
That, of course, meant another trip to Europe and the Club's first ever entry into the Champions' League.
Slovakian outfit FC Kosice visited Solitude on a sodden night and came away with a comprehensive 5-1 victory before completing formalities with an 8-0 success back home.
And back home was where the Club were delighted to welcome Linfield when, following a 27 year absence, the Blues were permitted a return to Solitude on Saturday, November 21, 1998. The attendance was restricted to 1,500 spectators and the game kicked off at 11am but passed off peacefully with the Reds claiming a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw.
Cliftonville's defence of the title was less than impressive, however, and indeed the team were left scrapping for their top-flight lives when they finished in the Relegation Play Off Spot.
First Division Ards were once again the opposition but the Reds' quality shone through in the end with a 5-2 aggregate success.
The 1998/99 campaign was not all doom and gloom, however, and Quinn once again led his side to the Irish Cup Final with a memorable last-four replay triumph over Linfield at Windsor Park and, suddenly, a season which had provided lowlight after lowlight looked set to end in glory once again.
But fate had one card left to play.
In that Semi Final win over the Blues, Quinn had handed a debut to a young striker by the name of Simon Gribben and that was a decision the Manager would rue when it later transpired that Gribben's appearance for Kilmore Rec earlier in the competition meant he had been ineligible for the Irish Cup and the trophy was handed to fellow finalists Portadown without the game being played.
Quinn resigned in October of that year and moved to Coleraine, while former Chimney Corner boss Laurence Stitt took over at the Club and, like his predecessor, secured the Club's Premier League status with a Relegation Play Off success against Ards.
Next Chapter >>>
|Premier League Champions 1997/98|
|Linfield return to Solitude in 1998|
|The team await the result of Linfield's game|