In July 1966 the original social club, dressing rooms and administration areas were destroyed by fire. They were replaced in 1970 by the present bigger and better facilities. Lisburn Distillery (known as Distillery prior to 1999) shared Seaview with Crusaders from 1971 until 1979, after their original Grosvenor Park home was destroyed in an arson attack.
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While Crusaders would not attract as big a support as the Belfast Big Two of Linfield and Glentoran, they attract a loyal support and had the fourth-biggest attendance in Northern Ireland for the 2014–15 season, with an average of 1,275.
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During 2008–09 season, they finished in the top three of the League for the first time in 10 years. The club also won their first Irish Cup final since 1968, thanks to a Mark Dickson goal, in a 1–0 victory over Cliftonville at Windsor Park on 9 May 2009. The same season, Crusaders began a partnership with fellow North Belfast club Newington in a cross-community initiative, which saw Newington play their home matches at Seaview. This became their permanent venue for home matches in 2011.
Walker's sides – he dubbed them "the team with no boots" – went on to win nearly everything in sight whilst wealthier and bigger-supported clubs could only watch and wonder. There were two further championship titles won (1995 and 1997) whilst Crusaders also finished runners-up in 1993 (losing the title on goal difference) and 1996. Other trophies won were the County Antrim Shield (1992), Ulster Cup (1993) and Gold Cup (1996).
Since 1972, Seaview has the been the venue for the Steel & Sons Cup Final, which is traditionally held on Christmas Day (unless the game falls on a Sunday). Only two finals have not been played at Seaview since then, the 1975 final and the 1984 final replay (both of which were played at Solitude).
In the 2015–16 season, Crusaders retained the league title for the first time in their history, after a 3–1 victory over Cliftonville at Solitude on 19 April 2016.
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Although performances on the pitch in the 1980s were steady, they certainly were not spectacular and the club paid the penalty for not building on earlier successes. Tommy Jackson took over in 1983, and led the Crues to their sole cup triumph during the decade, with the club winning the Gold Cup for the first time in the 1985–86 season.
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The Crues quickly became one of the top intermediate sides in the country, and won an impressive collection of trophies, including the Intermediate League championship six times in ten years from 1923–1933. In addition, the side were very successful in the top junior cup competition, the Steel & Sons Cup, winning the competition on seven occasions as a junior side (the first team would win the cup again in 2005, after relegation to intermediate football).
Crusaders played Cliftonville on 26 January 2013 in the Irish League Cup final at Windsor Park losing 0–4 – a joint-record defeat in the competition's final. The following season, the same two teams reached the final, playing out a drab 0–0 draw at Solitude, with Cliftonville retaining the trophy by winning 3–2 on penalties.
At the same time, local businessman Harry Corry, pumped some desperately needed sponsorship money into the club. As the revival began, southern businessman Tony O'Connell also became involved. It was a partnership that was to produce the most successful spell in the club's history.
In addition to the first team and the reserves, teams at under-16 and under-18 level were introduced for the first time as the club looked to nurture and develop local talent in the area.
The team played at a variety of venues before settling at Seaview in 1921, which is still their home to this day. Earlier home venues included the Glen (which later became part of Alexandra Park), Simpson's Boiler Fields on the Cavehill Road, the Shore Road (opposite the Grove Leisure Centre) and Rokeby Park. Seaview was officially opened on Saturday, 3 September 1921 by William Grant MP, prior to kick-off in a 3–1 Intermediate League fixture victory against Cliftonville Olympic.
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Despite these feats, all applications for entry to the senior Irish League were turned down. The frustration was such that consideration was given to making application either to the Scottish Football League or to the League of Ireland. The Second World War meant that there was no football played by the Crues between April 1941 and September 1945. Crusaders began competing once more in the Intermediate League after the war, beginning with the 1945–46 season.
Crusaders also ground-share with amateur side Newington. In 2010, after European funding was declined, funding was secured from a private investor for the club to move to a new stadium in the Duncrue area of Belfast, near the docks (about 3/4 miles from Seaview) within "5 or 6 years".
In the 1975–76 season the Crues won the league for the second time, largely aided by the goalscoring of Ronnie McAteer. Sandwiched in between these successes was a County Antrim Shield and Carlsberg Cup success in 1973–74.
Hutton was quick to recognise the leadership qualities in Walker and saw him as his potential successor. Walker took over as player-manager in September 1989, two years after his arrival as a player. One of his first tasks was to apply for re-election as the Crues finished 13th out of 14 clubs. Notable players to begin their association with the club during this era were the likes of Sid Burrows, Glenn Hunter and Kirk Hunter.
Roy Walker suddenly resigned as manager in May 1998, just prior to the club's centenary dinner celebrations at Belfast City Hall. He was the longest serving manager in the club's history until surpassed by Stephen Baxter in October 2013.
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The club's fierce rivals are Cliftonville. Matches between the two clubs are known as the North Belfast derby. Rivalries also exist with other Belfast sides such as Linfield and Glentoran.
Crusaders has traditionally drawn its support from the people of north Belfast, Newtownabbey, and the north and east of County Antrim. From these members it elects its committee and its particular ethos, with a strong emphasis on community relations. An example of this is their local connection with Seaview Primary School, who have a long-established connection with the club through fundraisers and charity events, as well as school fetes.
However, the club's serious financial plight became very apparent in the early 2000s and in 2002 consideration was given to changing the structure from one of a membership-based organisation to that of a public limited company. Members voted at the AGM against such a change in May 2002. In 2009, club members voted to become a company limited by guarantee.
As a result, Crusaders entered Europe for the first time in 12 years and faced Macedonian side FK Rabotnicki in the Europa League second qualifying round. The game was drawn 1–1 with David Rainey scoring on the 89th minute. On 23 July 2009 in their second leg encounter with FK Rabotnicki in Macedonia they lost the game 4–2 and exited the competition 5–3 on aggregate.
Brantwood (who play in Skegoneill Avenue about 500 yards away from Seaview) were historically the Crues main rival when both sides were junior teams. With Crusaders election to the Irish League in 1949, the intense rivalry gradually faded away. Crusaders also share city rivalries with other Belfast clubs Linfield and Glentoran.
Johnston had left the club in 1977, and after a two-year spell of management by ex-player Norman Pavis, Ian Russell took charge of the club in 1979. While there was great promise shown initially during Russell's spell, with the club reaching both the County Antrim Shield and Irish Cup final in 1980, they did not build on this and Russell left in 1983.
In the 2007–08 season, the Crues finished in 7th position in the League after a somewhat inconsistent start to the season. They appeared in two finals, losing both the County Antrim Shield 1–2 to Glentoran, and the Irish League Cup, 2–3 to Linfield.
Initially the club was only able to undertake friendly fixtures until it was admitted to one of the local junior leagues. Players were compelled to pay a match fee of two pence before they could take the field. It was strictly "no pay-no play". The very first competitive game of which there is any existing record was on 10 December 1898. It came in the North Belfast Alliance against opponents named Bedford at Alexandra Park and reports state that, "after a splendid game Crusaders won by 5 to 2."
Crusaders Football Club was formed in the year 1898, with the exact date unknown. The first meeting of the Club is believed to have been held at 182 North Queen Street, Belfast, the home of Thomas Palmer who, along with James McEldowney, John Hume and Thomas Wade, was a member of the original committee.
Overall, out of results that are known, Crusaders have won 115 games to Cliftonville's 78, while Cliftonville have won 30 senior trophies to Crusaders' 21. The sides have contested four cup finals together, with Cliftonville winning the 1979 County Antrim Shield final, the 2013 and 2014 League Cup finals, and Crusaders winning the 2009 Irish Cup final.
In 2009, Crusaders became the first team in the Irish League to install a 4G artificial pitch, endorsed by UEFA. The move has ensured that postponements due to bad weather have not affected Seaview as much as some other grounds. Other clubs have since followed suit, with Cliftonville installing a 3G artificial pitch the following year and Bangor in 2013.
They immediately bounced back the following year under Baxter by winning the IFA Intermediate League, the Intermediate League Cup, and Steel & Sons Cup. After their first season back in the top flight after promotion, the Hatchetmen finished in a creditable 6th place, after briefly topping the table at the beginning of the season.
Crusaders went on to compete in the Dunville Alliance, Ormeau Junior Alliance, Alexandra Alliance, Woodvale Alliance and Irish Football Alliance (the latter of which they won three years in a row from 1916–1918) until their election to the Irish Intermediate League in 1921.
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Popular veteran defender Alan Dornan was appointed as McCartney's successor at the end of June 2002 and the side retained Premier Division status that season under his guidance, although the squad was very inexperienced and often included six or seven teenagers. The emphasis on youth continued in 2003–04 as the Crues achieved a mid-table finish, an improvement compared to preceding seasons.