Eternal rivals of Linfield, east Belfast’s Glentoran are best known for being the club that George Best never played for – except for their centenary match in 1982 – and for memorable European nights against glamorous opposition.
Also the club that 1958 Northern Ireland World Ciup legends Danny Blanchflower, Billy Bingham, Jimmy McIlroy and Peter Doherty played for and managed, The Glens are the second most titled club in the domestic game.
Glentoran broke Linfield’s early domination of the Irish League in the 1890s, soon establishing a fierce rivalry. In 1903, they moved to The Oval, still their ground today. Also powerful either side of World War I, Glentoran was where later Manchester City legend Peter Doherty made his name in the early 1930s.
After the war, Glentoran had Blanchflower, Bingham and McIlroy on their books – but all had left by the time the club won further titles in 1951 and 1953. Top scorer was Sammy Hughes, Glens centre-forward for ten years.
Though turning down the chance of hiring a young George Best, Glentoran captured the imagination of many neutrals by holding Eusébio’s Benfica to two draws in the European Cup of 1967-68 – the same trophy Best’s Manchester United would win by beating Benfica in the final. Nearly 25,000 packed into The Oval to see The Glens lead Benfica 1-0 until the 86th minute. Even more remarkably, Glentoran then held Benfica 0-0 in Lisbon, earning the unwanted distinction of being the first club to go out on the away goals rule.
In later European nights, Glentoran would hold a star-studded Juventus to a narrow 1-0 victory, and take CSKA Sofia to the wire in extra-time – the same CSKA side that would beat holders Liverpool in the next round.
In the league, derby games with Linfield became more fractious, often spilling over into violence, legendary former Linfield manager Roy Coyle leading Glentoran to three league titles and four Irish Cups in his nine years in charge to 2006. Around the same time, Glentoran followers formed Northern Ireland’s first supporters’ trust, blocking rumoured moves to sell The Oval and move out.
The Glens won their last title in 2009, under former international centre-back Alan McDonald, ex-Glentoran midfielder Scott Young replacing him to win the League Cup in 2010.
Under Eddie Patterson, Glentoran won the Irish Cup in 2013, two goals from Andy Waterworth helping them overcome Cliftonville, lift the same trophy again in 2015. Inconsistent form in the league saw Patterson depart and Alan Kernaghan take over in November 2015.
Under occasional threat of closure in recent years, The Oval is set on prime land close to George Best Belfast City airport and the Titanic Quarter.
It is also by the Belfast-Bangor railway line, built by Belfast mayor Sir Daniel Dixon, who arranged for the club he supported to gain a plot of land here in 1892.
Until then, The Glens had played at Ormeau Park and Ballymacarrett, until moving across to The Oval for its inaugural fixture in 1903.
With the cranes of the Harland & Wolff shipyards a constant backdrop, as the Titanic was built nearby, Glentoran changed locations around what was then open land around The Oval.
Comprising two stands, Glentoran’s ground was where the likes of Peter Doherty and Joe Bambrick played in the inter-war years, though its strategic location by the docks saw it all but destroyed during the Blitz.
Rebuilt in the early 1950s, The Oval maintains its namesake shape and two touchline stands today. Quaint and revered, it survived attempts to move the club elsewhere. In May 2016, the decision was made to demolish and rebuild the ground with funding from the same scheme that helped modernise Windsor Park.
Currently, a capacity of 26,000 has been reduced by four-fifths because of safety considerations. The main stand, accessible from Mersey Street, contains the club shop and offices, and a seated paddock in front. The Railway Stand opposite offers covered seating, with one section for away fans. Visiting supporters access the ground via a covered walkway by the train tracks, which also leads to the open west terrace – home fans, arriving via Parkgate Drive off Mersey Street, gather behind the east goal open terrace. Other sections of open terrace remain closed off.
Almost walkable from George Best Belfast City airport, The Oval lies between Titanic Quarter and Sydenham stations on the Belfast-Bangor line but neither option is particularly pedestrian-friendly.
Bus Nos.4A and 4B leave Donegall Square West every 10-30min, taking 10min to reach Connswater (Newtownards Road), passing Central Station/East Bridge Street. You’ll see a McDonald’s ahead – alight there. Walk up Connswater Street, which turns into Severn Street, then take the fourth right into Yukon Street. Straight ahead is Mersey Street, with The Oval behind it. Allow 7min from McDonald’s.
Tickets (£10, £7 under-18s, £1 under-11s) are sold at the turnstiles by the main stand, accessed from Mersey Street/Parkgate Drive. Away fans have their own turnstiles by the Railway Stand, accessed from Dee Street.
There are other outlets around the area, details on the club website.
The Glentoran Superstore (Thur 4.30pm-8pm, Sat 10am-12.30pm, home-match Sat 10am-5pm) behind the main stand on Parkgate Drive offers branded whiskey glasses, long- and short-sleeved replica shirts, and beanie hats.
There are no pubs in the immediate vicinity of The Oval. The nearest bar is the Con Club, at 353 Newtownards Road, just before McDonald’s.