As the name of the club suggests Distillery Football Club can trace its origins directly back to a distillery, the distillery in question was Dunville and Co based near the Grosvenor Road in Belfast. At the time of its formation in 1869 Dunville’s was the largest distillery in Ireland and employed over 300 men and had an annual output one and a half million gallons of its products sent across the world. Dunville’s was eventually liquidated in the 1930’s but almost 80 years late 2013 The Echlinville Distillery, based in Northern Ireland on the Ards Peninsula, revived the Dunville’s brand. Three years after this Dunville’s and Distillery Football Club were reunited again when The Echlinville Distillery became the Whites new ‘back of shirt’ sponsors.
From the mid 1870’s onwards attempts were made to introduce Association football to Ireland, but at this time rugby and cricket were still very much the most popular sports in the country, however the breakthrough was eventually made and in 1878 the first football match in Ireland took place between Queens Park and Caledonians and a year later Cliftonville Football Club were founded.
While all this was going on a gentleman called Robert Baxter moved to Belfast and lived on Grosvenor Street (this later became known as the Grosvenor Road) and soon became friends with some of the Dunville’s employees. Baxter was a fan of cricket and very soon, with the help of his new friends, decided to start up a cricket club in the summer of 1879, the club took the name V.R. Distillery Cricket Club.
By the autumn of 1880 football had become an established sport in Ireland and the members of the cricket club decided to form a football club to keep fit over the winter, so Distillery Football Club was officially established in November 1880. James Barr, the Managing Director of Dunville’s, provided a ground at the back of the Royal Irish Distillery as well as changing facilities for the players.
On the 18th November 1880, the Irish Football Association (IFA) was formed and by their second meeting Distillery had joined with their first representatives on the body being Tom Saunders and Billy Forde, Saunders was also the clubs first manager. Two days later Distillery held their first training session with 30 players in attendance, the majority of whom had never played football before and knew little about the game.
On the 11th December 1880, Distillery played their first ever match against Dundela (no connection to the current club of the same name). The Distillery team from that first match was: W. Smyth, Billy Crone, Tom Saunders, S, McClatchey, Hugh McNearney, John Condy, W. Rankin, A Johnston, William Forde, Sam Johnston and John McClatchey. The match finished 1-0 to Distillery but sadly the scorer of that first ever goal has been lost in the mists of time, nevertheless, a legend was born.