League of Ireland
The League of Ireland is the national association football league of the Republic of Ireland. Founded in 1921, as a league of eight clubs, it has expanded over time into a two-tiered league of 22 clubs. It is currently split into the League of Ireland Premier Division and the League of Ireland First Division. The league was governed by its members, the clubs, from its foundation to 2006, when it entered into a five year merger with the Football Association of Ireland. In 2010, its members voted to renew the merger once the current agreement expires. The league has suffered severe financial problems in recent years due to mismanagement and overspending by its clubs. In 2007, it became the first major league in Europe to introduce a salary cup .
The league includes one club from Northern Ireland,DerryCity. Derry City formerly played in the Irish Football League, but voluntarily left the Northern Irish league following the 1972–73 season as a result of safety and security concerns. Derry City joined the League of Ireland at the second level in1985, after a special dispensation from the Irish Football Association (IFA) and UEFA. They won promotion in 1987, and remained in the top division of the League of Ireland until 2009, when they were expelled for operating an illegal system of contracts. They were subsequently liquidated, with a successor club placed in the First Division in 2010.
The League of Ireland is currently ranked 31st of the 53 national leagues under UEFA jurisdiction. The league’s most successful club is Shamrock, with 16 League of Ireland titles won. They are one of three clubs in Ireland, with Bohemians and Shelbourne, to sport a golden star above their badge in recognition of winning ten titles. Bohemians are the only club with unbroken membership of the league since its inception. The League of Ireland is classed as a summer league as its seasons begin in March and finish in November. The league is currently sponsored by Airtricity and therefore officially known as the Airtricity League
The League of Ireland was established as the Free State League in 1921 and consisted of eight teams from Dublin. St James’s Gate were the inaugural winners of the league and the FAI cup. The league expanded numerically and geographically during its first decade of existence but was dominated by Dublin’s three main clubs, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Shelbourne. Dundalk became the first club from outside of the capital to win the league, in1932-33. The 1930s saw another championship victory for a provincial side, with Sligo Rovers claiming their first league title in 1936-37, while Shamrock Rovers won a further three during the decade. The League of Ireland was dominated by Cork United during the 1940s. The club won five league titles between 1941 and 1946, including three in succession, but resigned from the league in 1948. The following decade was marked by the emergence of St Patrick’s Athletic and the reemergence of Shamrock Rovers. The former succeeded in winning the title at the first attempt, in 1951-52, and claimed a further two in the middle of the decade. The Coad’s Colt’s earned Shamrock Rovers the league title for the first time in fifteen years, in1953-54, and won two more during the latter half of the decade.
Drumcondra and Dundalk claimed two League of Ireland titles each during the 1960s but Waterford secured their status as the team of the decade with four league titles, including three in succession between 1967 and 1970. Six clubs won the League of Ireland title during the 1970s with Waterford, Bohemians and Dundalk winning two titles each. Athlone Town won their two league titles at the start of the 1980s but the decade was marked by the four successive league titles won by Shamrock Rovers’ Four in a row side. That team broke up following the sale of Glenmalure Park in 1987 and Dundalk and Derry City stepped in to claim the remaining titles of the decade with Derry winning the Treble in 1989, four years after entering the League of Ireland. The 1990s saw the re-emergence of St Patrick’s Athletic, as the club secured 4 league championships during the decade, following years of obscurity. The turn of the millennium was marked by the first of five titles in seven years for Shelbourne, a first title in 23 years for Bohemians and the league’s switch to a Summer Soccer (March–November) schedule. Cork City denied Shels’ a third league title in a row when they claimed their 2nd championship in 2005, defeating fellow challengers Derry City in a last game decider at Turners Cross. The 2nd half of the decade saw the beginning of the 5 year merger with the FAI and the financial collapse of a number of league winning clubs, due to overspending and mismanagement. Shelbourne were demoted to the First Division after their title win in 2006, while Drogheda went into examinership in 2008, having won the League of Ireland the previous year. Cork City also entered into examinership in the same year, while its holding company was wound up in 2010. Derry City were thrown out of the League of Ireland at the end of the 2009 season for producing false documents regarding player contracts and thus breaking the League’s participation agreement. Bohemians entered a period of severe financial trouble in 2010 after a decade of accumulating massive debts in the payment of full-time players and staff
The format of the league changed regularly during the first three decades of its existence. The number of teams competing in it varied from eight to twelve, although a double round robin system remained throughout. The 1950s marked the beginning of a period of consistency, as the league persisted with a 12 team format from1951-52 to 1961-62. Qualification positions for European competions were introduced during the period. The 12 teamed/2 rounded format was used for most of the 1960s, until 1969-70, when the league was expanded to 14 clubs. This format remained until 1977-78, when an additional 2 clubs were elected to the league. The format returned in 1982-83, following 5 years of the 16 team league, but the 1980s were marked by the introduction of a second tier to the league. The League of Ireland First Division was founded in 1985, containing 10 of the 22 clubs competing in the league. A system of promotion and relegation was introduced for the first time in the league, replacing the previous method of election.
A third round of fixtures was added to both divisions for the 1987-88 season, replacing the double round robin system. The points system of the league was changed in 1993-94, with 3 points awarded for a win. The previous method of 2 points for a win had existed since the league’s inception, excluding two seasons of experimental points systems in the early 1980s. The format remained until2002-03, when the season was deliberately shortened to ease the transition to “Summer Soccer“. The Premier Division was cut to 10 teams while the First Division played only 2 rounds of fixtures. The first season of summer soccer saw the introduction of a fourth round of fixtures to the 10 team Premier Division, while the 12 teams in the First Division played each other on 3 occasions. This is the system currently in place, though these formats and numbers were reversed for 4 seasons, from2005 to2008. The system is unpopular amongst the majority of managers, players and club officials within the league, according to a League of Ireland review conducted in 2009.
Promotion and relegation
Currently, the team that finishes bottom of the Premier Division is automatically relegated to the First Division. Likewise, the team that finishes top of the First Division is automatically promoted to the Premier Division.
The teams placed 8th and 9th in the Premier Division face off, with the loser playing the winner of a similar encounter between the teams placed 2nd and 3rd in the First Division, in a two legged play-off. The winner of this match takes their place in the Premier Division the next year. The last placed team in the First Division can potentially play a promotion/relegation play-off against an A Championship side, depending on the final placings in that league.