Before the formation of Cork City Football Club in 1984, two clubs regularly vied for dominance in The People’s Republic of Cork - the famous Cork Hibs and Cork Celtic. Despite the archaic Rule 27 of the Gaelic Athletic Association, banning any members who participated in or supported “foreign games,” Irish club football’s heyday was arguably the late 60’s to mid 70’s period when players like George Best graced Flower Lodge on the outskirts of Cork city and flocks of GAA people thronged the stands under peaked caps and scarves, pretending not to notice each other (Rule 27 was struck from the GAA rulebook in 1971).
Best’s brief spell with Cork Celtic was portentous for the League of Ireland - he commanded a fee of £1,000 per match and was not obliged to play away games. So it was that both Cork clubs inevitably folded due to unsustainable spending and naive financial decisions; Hibs in 1977 and Celtic in ‘79, both citing financial difficulties for their demise.
Cork United filled the gap between 1979 and 1982, before also going bankrupt. This led to the birth of Cork City Football Club, founded by members of a number of existing or recently folded clubs. Former Cork Celtic player and manager (and legendary Chelsea inside forward) Bobby Tambling became the club’s first coach, although he lasted only 13 games before being replaced by Tony Allen.
The initial Cork City crest leaned heavily on the original Hibs design, featuring the Cork coat of arms of the two towers that once guarded the entrance to the port of Cork and a ship. The club also adopted the green and white colours used by both Cork Celtic and Cork Hibs, with a red trim in a nod to the county colours. In its early years, the club struggled, and narrowly avoided relegation in its first two seasons. 1986 saw the club make the move to Turner’s Cross, still the home ground to this day with a current capacity of 7,365. Incidentally, this year sees the first return of the Irish national team to Cork since 1985 as they face Belarus at “The Cross” in a Euro 2016 warm-up game. The Boys in Green can expect a warm and raucous welcome from the famous Shed End support and also the notorious Corner Boys section.
The move brought a degree of professionalism to the club's operations, and with former Ireland striker Eamon O’Keefe at the helm, they secured a cup double in 1987 by winning both the Munster Senior Cup and the League of Ireland Cup. Notable mention must be given at this point to the Cork City jersey of the 89-90 season featuring the same design as the famous Germany kit of the same era, purely as an excuse to once again marvel at the iconic Adidas motif.
The early 90’s brought more European adventure and high league positions. German giants Bayern Munich were held to a 1-1 draw in Cork, in a match played at the higher-capacity Musgrave Park, before Cork City succumbed to a 2-0 defeat in Bavaria. Around this time, the club updated their crest design, to a green-and-white affair with ribbon detailing and the coat of arms placed before a football. The crest also included the motto Statio Bene Fide Carinis, the Cork motto meaning “a safe harbour for ships.” Ironically, the club were at this point taking no prisoners when it came to teams visiting Turner’s Cross.
The maiden league victory came in 1993, a feat made all the more impressive due to the nature of the season’s climax. Three clubs - Cork City, Shelbourne and Bohemians - finished the regular season on equal points, with a league rule declaring the title could not be won on goal difference. Following consultation with the clubs, the League of Ireland arranged a three-team play-off featuring home and away games against each team. This could not separate the three teams either, again all finishing the mini-league on an equal footing. The second play-off involved each team playing each other once at a neutral venue, with Cork winning both their games to ensure their name was on the trophy.
However, financial difficulties (unfortunately a running theme for most League of Ireland clubs), this time associated with an attempted move to new grounds in Bishopstown, brought about a tumultuous few years but still adding to their cup haul with further Munster Senior League success and the 1998 FAI Cup.
The transition to the professional era began in the late 90’s, and with it a change in style for the crest and kit too. The club adopted the red of Cork’s successful Gaelic football and hurling teams in an effort to tie their identity more closely to the people of Cork, but the die-hards were generally unimpressed by the change. In 2002 the more favourable green home kit returned. The revert to green left UEFA officials similarly unimpressed as Cork City played NEC Nijmegen in the now-defunct Intertoto Cup. City were forced to hastily arrange for an all-white kit en route to the Netherlands as both home and away jerseys clashed with those of the Dutch club.
Eventually reverting back to green kits, Cork City won their second league title in 2005 under Damien Richardson, with the league and cups being played in a summer season (March-October). The following year saw the use of a green and gold crest to commemorate the league victory. Again though, more trouble was around the corner.
2008 saw the beginning of a financial crisis across Ireland, and League of Ireland clubs were not exempt from the difficulties brought about. The Celtic Tiger had led to the professionalism of League of Ireland football, with Cork City among the clubs granting full-time contracts to playing staff. The club found itself in examinership following the investment difficulties of venture capitalist firm Arkaga. Cost-cutting measures were implemented and the club were docked points by the league.
Arkaga had initiated a rebranding process for the club upon their initial takeover, modifying the club crest once again. The starker image featured red and black heavily, with no use of the club’s traditional green. A red banner in the shape of a “C” completed the design.
The fallout from the club’s financial problems dragged into 2010, leading to the club’s failure to obtain a licence for the league. Cork City Investment FC Limited faced a winding up order, leading to fans taking matters into their own hands and creating Cork City FORAS Co-op. FORAS is the Friends of the Rebel Army Supporters group, the fan-led trust that now runs the club - foras roughly translates also to institution or organisation in Irish. The club played in the League of Ireland 1st Division in 2010 as Cork City FORAS Co-op, although were still referred to as Cork City or simply “City” by media and fans alike. The original club name was restored later in 2010 as the supporters trust purchased the naming rights from the investment group liquidator.
A new crest was needed in the meantime, as legal wranglings and rights difficulties dragged into the start of the 2010 season. The new design featured the official club name at the time, as well as the new year of foundation. Designed by Declan Carey, the design was simplified to allow for multiple uses, although the bold colours and clean lines give the crest a starkly modern quality. The crest was voted on by supporters at an EGM in early 2010.
The club earned promotion in 2011, winning the 1st Division title at the second time of asking. By now, the original club name had been re-established and incorporated into the club insignia.
The new fan-based ownership structure has brought Cork City back to the heights of the early 90’s and mid-00’s, with record goalscorer John Caulfield in the dugout, having led the club to second place behind the unstoppable Dundalk in the past two seasons. The solid foundations and responsible running of the club has brought the feel-good factor back to Turner's Cross, attracting the highest average attendances in the League in recent times. Success in the league has been out of reach for the last two seasons, but surely further success is only around the corner.
Many thanks to Declan Carey and Cork City FC for the use of club crest images. The 89-90 jersey design is provided courtesy of the incredible Museum of Jerseys. The 2003 kit image used against NEC Nijmegen appears courtesy of Mick Ring, from his outstanding collection of Cork City FC kits which can be found here.