Distillery FC A brief history
Distillery is Ireland's oldest professional football club. Its story
begins with Robert Baxter. Baxter moved from Banbridge to Belfast's Grosvenor
Street in 1878. A keen cricketer, he became friendly with some of the employees
of the nearby Royal Irish Distillery and, in the summer of 1879, they formed
the V.R. Distillery Cricket Club under his captaincy.
By the end of 1880, the members of the cricket club decided to form a football club in order to stay active during the winter months: Distillery Football Club was born and held its first practice session on 20 November 1880. The directors of Dunville's, especially James Barr, took great interest in the club from the start. They agreed to fill in a waste pond at the back of the distillery to make a ground for the team. The ground, Daisy Hill, was elevated several feet above sea level. Because it was filled in, it was soon known in the community under several nicknames such as 'Cinder Park' and 'Coke Yard'.
On 11 December, Distillery F.C. played its first match there against Dundela, winning 1-0. During the 1882-3 season the team moved from Daisy Hill to a larger ground at Broadway. James Barr paid for the move of the club (including a new pavilion and changing facilities) from Broadway to Grosvenor Park, close to Daisy Hill. In 1923 Distillery FC moved to York Park as Dunvilles decided to sell the Grosvenor Park ground. However in 1929 the firm agreed to re-lease the ground back to Distillery FC in a generous gesture as the club's premises in York Park had been blown down in a gale and a deputation had asked for help. Further testament to the close link between the distillery and the club, another of Dunville's directors, Robert Grimshaw Dunville, donated a cup to the Irish Football Association in 1894 to be competed for by the major teams. Originally called the Dunville's Cup, this cup was later renamed the City Cup. Ironically, it wasn't until 1905 that Distillery FC would win its 'own' City Cup.
From winning their first piece of silverware, the Irish Cup, by beating Wellington Park 5-0 in April 1884, Distillery Football Club grew into a major football force in Ireland in the late 19th and the early part of the 20th century. Their first overseas foray was to Scotland in December 1884 and ended in a 0-4 defeat to Harp of Dundee. Five years later, they achieved a 2-1 win over the English club Newton Heath which, is now known as Manchester United.
The club's finest hour in European competitions was undoubtedly the 3-3 draw at home in 1963 against the Portuguese club Benfica, certainly in those days among the strongest European club teams. Former England International Tom Finney came out of retirement to play for Distillery FC - it was the only time that he played in the European Cup in his illustrious career.
Distillery FC suffered during the Troubles. In 1971, a firebomb attack caused Grosvenor Park to burn down and the club was forced to vacate the grounds it had called home for most of its existence. Not only did the fire eliminate the grounds, it also destroyed most of the club's records. After sharing grounds with a number of clubs for almost a decade, Distillery FC found a new home ground at Ballyskeagh Road, Lambeg in 1980. To symbolise the club's rising from the flames, a new badge was designed featuring a phoenix on a football. This badge replaced the original simple white 'DFC' shield.
In 1995, Distillery FC was relegated to the newly-formed First Division. In 1999 they won the First Division Championship and with it promotion back to the Premier League. Later that year, the club's name was officially changed to Lisburn Distillery and the 'rising phoenix' badge replaced with one incorporating Lisburn's coat of arms. Lisburn Distillery continues to compete in the Irish Premier League.