North Belfast rivals of Cliftonville, Crusaders wrested the title back in 2015 before winning a first back-to-back Premiership in 2016. The fact that it was achieved at Cliftonville’s home of Solitude only made the triumph even sweeter. Another title was won in 2018, Crusaders stealing ahead of Coleraine.
Under their former striker Stephen Baxter since 2005, the Crues also won the Irish Cup in 2019. A subsequently welcome win in Europe, over B36 of the Faroes, lined up a plum tie against English opposition in the shape of Wolves.
Baxter was a forward for Crusaders when they twice won the league in the mid 1990s, under another long-term manager, Roy Walker. His shock resignation on the eve of the club’s centenary, in 1998, may have been linked to a shortage of funds for new players. Crusaders lack Linfield’s financial clout and took the Irish FA to court over its long-term support of a national stadium groundshared by The Blues. Though the FA has pledged to back the local game in other areas, the upshot has been a now bitter rivalry between the two clubs.
Though founded in 1898, Crusaders didn’t make the Irish League until 1949. Captained by the legendary Walter McFarland, a regular for nearly 15 years, Crusaders won the Irish Cup in 1967 and 1968, and the Irish League in 1973 and 1976. Among the leading goalscorers was Jackie Fullerton, later a popular broadcaster. McFarland was captain when Crusaders took on eventual winners Liverpool in the European Cup of 1976-77, keeping Kevin Keegan’s team down to a 2-0 win at Anfield.
After tense, heavily policed derby games during The Troubles, Crusaders’ fortunes changed when Roy Walker arrived as player-manager in 1989. As well as Stephen Baxter, central defender Glenn Dunlop and record goalscorer Glenn Hunter were also firm favourites at Seaview. The mid-1990s are considered the club’s golden age.
Walker’s departure and financial constraints then led to a fallow period before Baxter’s return as manager in 2005. The Crues soon gained promotion and a made a string of finals, winning two. Strong league finishes also allowed the club to return to Europe, Seaview was renovated and The Crues entered a groundshare partnership with Newington Youth in a commendable cross-community initiative.
The Europa League qualifying tie with Fulham in 2011 was another pay day, and Crusaders even managed to win two European ties, in 2014 and 2015, against Baltic opposition. A second-half strike by Jordan Owens earned Crusaders a vital away goal at Skënderbeu Korçë in a high-scoring qualifying tie in the Champions League 2015-16 but late goals in both legs helped put the Albanians through. In the domestic season, Owens went on to break the club’s goalscoring record in January 2016.
Meanwhile, plans for a new stadium near the docks by around 2020 have bee nput on ice.
Set on Shore Road, the coast road north out of Belfast, Seaview has seen a number of improvements in recent years, including a synthetic pitch, new changing rooms and new stands.
The original main stand and home Railway End dated back to the 1950s. Crusaders had moved into Seaview in 1921, after two decades of playing on various local park pitches.
Home fans also gather in the one-tier, now all-seated main stand, away fans allocated the Wavin Stand opposite, close to Shore Road. The Social Club is set in the St Vincent Street (South) Stand. The stands at both ends were redeveloped in 2011, in time for the Europa League fixture with Fulham. If plans go ahead for a move to Duncrue, these stands would come with them.
Seaview has its own stop on frequent Metrobus No.2A/2B, about 10mins from Upper Queen Street, 6min from the Tesco stop on Royal Avenue. You’ll see the stadium on the right-hand side, past the Cityside Retail & Leisure Park and a police station.
Admission is through the turnstiles. There’s a simple pricing policy of £10 seating, £6 under-18s, £9/£5 standing. Turnstiles for visiting fans are near the corner of St Vincent Street and Shore Road.
Branded wall clocks, club ties and European match mugs are available at the club shop are available in the club house on match days and online.
Most visitors are welcome in the convivial Crusaders Social Club in the main stand, with two bars and a large TV screen. There are few pubs near the ground – even the Grove Tavern has closed.