Finn Harps Football Club (Irish: Cumann Peile Chláirsigh na Finne) are an Irish football club playing in the FAI Premier Division of the FAI League of Ireland. The club were founded in 1954 and elected to the league in 1969. They hail from Ballybofey, County Donegal and play their home matches at Finn Park. The club's colours are blue and white, and they go by the nickname the Harps. The main successes of the club include winning an FAI Cup in 1973–74 and the First Division title in 2004. Due to the regular frequency of the club's relegation from and promotion to the FAI Premier Division, they have been labelled a "yo-yo club".
Finn Harps share a local rivalry with Derry City with whom they contest the Northwest Derby. The club also work in close collaboration with Letterkenny Rovers, often signing young players who have blossomed at the amateur club.
Finn Harps won their first senior trophy, the Dublin City Cup, in 1971–72, after a Brendan Bradley goal defeated Cork Hibernians at Dalymount Park. Two years later, Dalymount Park was again the scene of the club's only FAI Cup win. Two goals from Brendan Bradley and one by Charlie Ferry saw off the challenge of St. Patrick's Athletic. Finn Harps qualified for European competitions on four occasions during the 1970s. The appeared in the UEFA Cup three times against Aberdeen, Derby County and Everton respectively after finishing as runners-up in the league, and once in the European Cup Winners Cup, where the played Turkish Cup winners, Bursaspor. The club were again runners-up in the League Cup finals of 1974 and 1975 to Waterford and Bohemians respectively. Through the 1970s, the club never once finished in the bottom half of the table and were widely respected for their attractive and attacking football style.
The 1980s saw a gradual decline of the club in terms of competing with the best in Ireland. An FAI Cup semi-final in 1981 and an FAI Shield final defeat by EMFA were the highlights of the decade for them and by 1985 the club had been relegated to the newly-formed First Division. A series of managerial changes were effected over the next few years in an attempt to raise the club, but it was not until the early 1990s that there were signs of improvement. Patsy McGowan took over as manager for the third time at the start of the 1992–93 season. The next three seasons saw the club finish in the play-off position twice, although they were beaten both times; once by Cobh Ramblers and once by Athlone Town. McGowan was let go by the club before his aim of promotion could be completed. Nevertheless, Finn Harps went on to win promotion at the end of the 1995–96 season to end their eleven-season spell in the First Division. During the Summer of 1996, a consortium of businessmen made an offer to take control of the club, but when their offer was rejected, it led to resignations of the manager and certain members of the club committee. Charlie McGeever was appointed manager and despite time being against him, he managed to assemble a squad for the opening of the 1996–97 season. By the season's conclusion, he had ensured that the club's Premier Division status was retained. Off the field, the remaining committee members set the club up as a co-operative society, selling shares to the ordinary supporters, to ensure that the club would be owned and run by the people who they felt would truly care about it. A long-term blueprint for the future was put in place.
In 1998–99, Finn Harps finished fourth in the Premier Division; one point behind Shelbourne in third position and just missed out on Europe. They made it to the FAI Cup final and after a number of replays against Bray Wanderers they lost, leaving themselves with nothing to show, bar the Irish News Cup, for what is considered to be one of their most impressive seasons. After a very poor start to the 1999–00 season and having managed to win one point from a possible 21, Charlie McGeever resigned. Gavin Dykes was installed as manager and managed to retain the club's Premier Division status, but they were forced to go public due to financial difficulties and debts amounting to £280,000. The following season, Dykes resigned after an abysmal run of results and fan-favourite Jonathan Speak took his place as new financial structures were put in place and a newly-appointed fund-raising committee was established along with numerous supporter clubs around the country. After a run of 14 games undefeated and a late-season fightback, Finn Harps were still relegated to the First Division on the last day of the season. This ended a 5-year run in the top-flight.
Speak's first full season in charge saw the club finish second in the First Division to Drogheda United and they were then beaten on penalties by Longford Town in the play-off for promotion. The subsequent season saw the club finish third and lose at the play-off semi-final stage to Galway United. Speak managed to hold most of the squad together despite interest from a number of Premier Division clubs in top-scorer Kevin McHugh. Installed as the bookmaker's favourites to lift the 2003 title and win promotion, they made a good start but fell to fourth position after going without a win for a month by mid-September. This poor run included a home-loss to northwest rivals Sligo Rovers and a home-draw against league-leaders Dublin City in a game billed as a must-win match. Despite having only lost two games all season, the nine draws cost Speak his job. Speak's assistant, Sean McGowan took temporary charge until a suitable placement was found and steadied the club with two wins from two. Noel King was then appointed as the new manager going into the final third of the season. The club were rejuvenated and stormed back to the top of the First Division table with a club record equalling six wins on the trot. With only four games remaining, Finn Harps led the table by a point but losses away to Bray Wanderers and Dublin City handed the title to Dublin City and left Finn Harps in the now-dreaded play-offs once again. They disposed of Bray Wanderers in the semi-finals but lost in the final to local rivals Derry City, who had finished ninth in that season's Premier Division.
Noel King lasted six games into the 2004 season and left the club by mutual consent with the amount of travelling the Dubliner had to endure being cited as one of the main reasons for his departure. Sean McGowan, his assistant, once again took charge for two games but within ten days a shock replacement was announced. The new manager was former Derry City player and manager, Felix Healy, who had won all domestic major honours with his home-town club. Fans viewed the move by the Finn Harps board of directors as bold to give someone with such a history with the club's fiercest rivals the manager's job. However, Healy, in the club's golden jubilee year, won the club's first First Division title and achieved the promotion to the Premier Division that had eluded so many managers before him. However, the following season saw the club struggle in the Premier Division and Healy was sacked in July. Anthony Gorman agreed to become player-manager until the end of the season. However, at season's end with Finn Harps relegated again, Gorman agreed to take the position on a full-time basis but left following the 2006 season as his attempts to lead the club to promotion failed. In 2007, after Paul Hegarty took charge of managing the team, the club put all of their players up for sale due to financial difficulties and struggled in the lower half of the First Division while still trying to eradicate the debts that nearly left the club bankrupt a number of seasons earlier. The 2007 season started sluggishly with a number of defeats and 'bore draws' notably against Monaghan United, but a lengthy unbeaten run left the club in second place in the league, only one point behind Cobh Ramblers. They emerged victorious from the first division play-offs with a 2-0 win over Dundalk. The play-off final, 1st leg against Waterford United at Finn Park ended with Harps taking a 3-0 advantage to the Waterford RSC in the return leg, which ended 3-3 and saw Harps promoted to the FAI Premier Division 6-3 on aggregate.
Harps began the conversion from a semi-professional, part-time club to a full-time setup over the off-season, with 16 full-time players on the books as of the opening day of the season.
Finn Harps have sported various crests throughout their history. All, largely circular in composition, have featured a harp and new designs have essentially been modernised updates of the previous crest. The harp has traditionally been a symbol of Ireland. Footballs have also been a common feature.
The modern stylised crests contain the club's name in a Gaelic-style font, similar to the Gandalf typeface.
For the club's golden jubilee year, 2004, they introduced a new golden crest which was very similar to their early crest. Bar this crest, blue, green and white have been common colours used.
There have been attempts to move the club to Letterkenny as it is Donegal's largest town and has a bigger population with space to build a large stadium. However, the club have, instead, planned to move to a new covered 6,800 all-seater stadium just across the River Finn in Stranorlar. The proposal will also feature an FAI Regional Development Centre. Club shareholders gave the club's board a mandate in 2005 to proceed with the stadium plans. Planning permission was obtained in mid 2005. Approval to proceed to tender was obtained from the Football Association of Ireland in early 2006 and local developers, Joseph McMenamin and Sons, won the tender process and had their tender approved a year later. Finn Harps received funding of €750,000 in 2007 in order to commence works at the new stadium. A completion date of 2009 has been targeted.
Unofficial fan website: