“Le Jeu Avant Tout” – Glentoran FC Motto (“Football comes first before everything else / the game above all”).
Firstly, I am a Glentoran FC supporter and have been to this stadium well over one hundred times in my life. I am a football groundhopping veteran now with around 700 matches and 200 stadiums under my belt. Down the years, I have witnessed many goals, wins, draws, defeats, penalty shoots outs, red cards, unusual events, floodlight failures, cup finals, riots and famous matches. Particularly European matches. Glentoran FC is a Northern Irish football club based in East Belfast. We play in green, red and black with a hint of white / a white away kit.
We play at a stadium called The Oval Grounds which is a historic and famous venue in the football world. Our club nickname is the Glens or the Cock ‘n’ Hens. Our stadium sits proudly in Sydenham, East Belfast. We have the Sydenham End (behind the nets) to the east which has the George Best Belfast City airport behind it as well as Sydenham train station and two other local teams – Dundela FC and Harland and Wolf Welders. To the north we have an enclosed seated stand in front of the main Bangor to Belfast road, the famous Belfast harbour where the Titanic was built. To the west is the city end, for away fans and offers a decent view to Belfast city’s skyline where the yellow and grey City Hospital often pierces the sky in front of the gaping hills. The entrance to the Oval is from Mersey Street side, via Parkgate Drive, though a former fanzine was entitled “Nightmare on Dee Street”, a homage to the nearby Dee Street often a fans walk to the stadium.
Despite having visited the stadium and been inside the changing rooms and trophy cabinet as a child, my return in December 2019 meant something new for me. I was embarking on the Glentoran FC Groundhopping Tour. This was a first for me, and two of my Polish friends Rafał and Kamil joined me on the tour.
This unique tour comes highly recommended not just by myself and all at Glentoran Football Club, but by lunatic groundhoppers and football geeks the world over. The fact remains that due to health and safety, public funding and the need to redevelop – The Oval as it stands today (in 2020) may not last much longer in its current form. You should aim to do the stadium tour now while you can. With no lifts and no clear emergency exit, the main stand at The Oval is comprised of an odd 1950s concoction of brick, wood, metal and plastic in no clear order. There are more twists, turns and nooks and crannies than The Crystal Maze, a Poirot thriller and the Monaco Grand Prix all put together. This is a pure cracker of a stand historically and it needs to be seen. You know the drill – get your flight into Belfast City’s George Best Airport booked. While you are in Belfast, you can also…
- Visit the home of the penalty kick (Milford, County Armagh)
- Sleep overnight in George Best’s childhood home (Burren Way, East Belfast)
- Tour Belfast Shipyard and Docks where the Titanic was built
- Marvel at the wall murals on both sides of the political divide
- Go on the rip in a city that loves to go on the rip (Crown Bar, Belfast)
Enough of that promotion of Belfast as a world-beater, onto the tour of Glentoran Football Club’s “The Oval Grounds”.
About Glentoran Football Club
“Winning at Glentoran is not expectation, it’s demand” – Roy Coyle.
Glentoran Football Club were formed in 1882 in East Belfast in an area where there was a shipyard (Harland and Wolf), a cigarette factory (Gallaghers) and a whiskey distillery. In 2032 we will celebrate 150 years as a football club. The club even survived World War II when we almost folded and again in the last decade, we fought to stay alive in the wake of financial problems. The club remains to this day, sitting here in January 2020 fourth in the Northern Irish top division (three points off the top) and into the last 16 of the Irish Cup.
We have been winning trophies for more than a century, with the Vienna Cup in 1914 being the first ever European trophy up to the more recent Irish Cup triumph in 2015. In that time we have developed a rivalry with fellow Belfast sides Linfield and Crusaders, with teams like Cliftonville and Portadown also providing rivalry down the years. On one occasion we won 6 trophies in a season and on another occasion we beat Linfield 7 times in a season! Often known as the 7 up. In European competition, as you will read, we have excelled. Reaching the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners Cup in the 1970s, losing to a Borussia Moenchengladbach side which contained FIVE World Cup winners. No mean feat for a wee club from the East…
My links to Glentoran Football Club
This is simple. My Dad was born on Glentoran Street. Not in a hospital but in a terraced house off the Ravenhill Road on Glentoran Street itself. The street has since been bulldozed and now exists as Shamrock Place. But we are a Glentoran family through and through. My Dad had been to hundreds of Glentoran matches and even played at the Oval in a George Wilson Cup Final long before I was even born.
On my trips back to Northern Ireland my Dad takes great pride in going back to the Oval with me for a match – we also do some away matches, most recently to Warrenpoint Town, Dungannon Swifts and Coleraine.
My first Glentoran match was in 1990, a 2-0 home win v. Crusaders. My first Glentoran away match was also in 1990, a 2-1 defeat to Bangor. Ever since I have been a Glentoran fan and have attended over 120 home matches and over 50 away matches (I included semis and finals in that). As a child, I read the book “The Story of Glentoran”, a present from my late Great Grandfather John Mawhinney. My family mostly hailed from East Belfast and were Glentoran supporters. In those days we didn’t take many photos, but I have a few childhood Glentoran memories…
Glentoran’s proud European record
“Out comes the goalkeeper [Rinat Dasaev]. Not too sure this time. And it’s a goal! Terry Moore taking the credit for that!” – NI commentator, 1988.
As a kid, I often felt very proud that so many foreign teams could come to the Oval and fail to get a win. We are talking about European teams with legendary status. Glentoran have a proud and fruitful European home record. We have hosted 7 European Cup winners at the Oval (Marseille, Benfica, Steaua Bucharest, Ajax, Juventus, Manchester United – twice, Liverpool). 5 of those teams we played in a competitive match and we drew 1-1 with Benfica, Steaua Bucharest and Liverpool. We only lost 1-0 to Juventus with Warren Feeney missing a late penalty. I might repeat some of this stuff later on…
During the stadium tour, this proud European record is reinforced into our minds through anecdotes, props and the famous Glentoran wooden board featuring all the teams we have played in Europe. Down the years I have been to around 10 European matches at the Oval, yet oddly NONE of the away matches. I will put that right next time we make it into Europe. When we enter the away team dressing room, replica shirts or player’s shirts from those glory European nights are hanging up as a surreal reminder of the greats who have stepped foot in this very dressing room. Spine shivered, I grabbed some photos.
“Even Standard Liege and Spartak Moscow came in the 1980s. But they couldn’t beat Glentoran in their Belfast home” – Stephen Le Fevre.
All of these teams have come to the Oval for a match and failed to win:
- Panathinaikos (Greece) 2-2
- Royal Antwerp (Belgium) 3-3
- Rangers (Scotland) 1-1
- Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 1-1 – with Hagi
- FK Renova (Northern Macedonia) 2-1 (also won on pelanties)
- Benfica (Portugal) 1-1 – with Eusebio
- Anderlecht (Belgium) 2-2
- Arsenal (England) 1-0
- Brann Bergen (Norway) 3-1
- Chimia Râmnicu Vâlcea (Romania) 2-0
- FC Basel (Cheatzerland) 3-2
- FC Valur (Iceland) 2-0
- CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria) 2-0 – after extra time was 2-1 and we went out
- CSKA Moscow (Soviet Union) 1-1
- Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja (Iceland)
- Tottenham Hostpur (England) 3-3 – 100 year centenary friendly
- Liverpool (England) 1-1 – 100 year centenary friendly
- St. Johnstone (Scotland) 1-1 – friendly
- Progres Niedercorn (Luxembourg) 4-0
- Standard Liege (Belgium) 1-1
- Fram (Iceland)
- Lokomotive Liepzig (East Germany) 1-1
- Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 1-1
- Rovaniemen Palloseura (Finland) 1-1
- HJK Helsinki (Finland) 0-0
- Alianssi (Finland) 2-2
- Liepājas Metalurgs (Latvia) 1-1
- KR Reykjavík (Iceland) 2-2
We have an equally good record against teams from the Republic of Ireland at home in both friendlies and competitive matches. We finished runner up in the Setanta Cup in 2008 (losing 2-1 to Cork City away) and won the All Ireland predeccesors in 1944 (beating Belfast Celtic 5-4 agg.) and in 1974 (beating Cork Hibernians 6-2 agg.). These are some of the Republic of Ireland teams failed to win at the Oval.
- Longford Town 2-1
- St. Patrick’s Athletic 1-0 (twice)
- Bray Wanderers 3-0
- Shamrock Rovers 0-0
- Derry City FC (Northern Irish team who play in the Republic of Ireland) – numerous wins and draws.
On my travels, I often wear my Glentoran shirt to games and stadiums I visit, including presenting one to former Afghanistan under 19 international Mohammed Reza when I visited the country in 2016.
Random Glentoran European facts
- (European Cup/Champions League) We drew 1-1 on aggregate with Benfica in 1967, same year (and just after) they took Manchester United to extra time in the final.
- (UEFA Cup) We beat Arsenal 1-0 at home in 1970. They went on to win the trophy.
- (UEFA Cup) We lost 1-0 at home to Juventus in 1977, same year as they won the trophy.
- (European Cup/Champions League) We lost 5-0 at home to Marseille in 1992. They went on to win the trophy.
- (European Cup/Champions League) Team physio Bobby McGregor died on the pitch in Sofia in 1981. We drew the match 2-2 on aggregate over 180 minutes before conceding an extra time goal at the Oval and bowing out.
- (European Cup Winners Cup) We reached the quarter finals in 1974, one of only two occasions when an Irish League club has reached the final 8 teams in Europe – Linfield was the other in the 1967 European Cup/Champions League.
- Despite a fantastic home record in Europe, Glentoran have won only ONE European away match. This was a 2-1 win in Alianssi in 2004.
- Glentoran have managed a draw at these European clubs in away matches – Benfica (0-0), Midtjylland (1-1), KR Reykjavik (0-0), Chimia Râmnicu Vâlcea (2-2), Brann (1-1), Progres Niedercorn (1-1), Rovaniemen Palloseura (0-0), Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyja (0-0).
- Glentoran have played Polish opposition only once, and I was at the home match that day – a 2-0 defeat to Wisła Kraków.
Glentoran firsts and lasts
This blog post could be long and it’s not a book so I don’t have time or energy, but here are some interesting firsts and lasts about Glentoran. Let’s get statistical here:
- Glentoran won the first ever multi-country European trophy – The Vienna Cup in 1914.
- Glentoran were the first team to be eliminated from Europe on the away goals rule – 1967.
- Brian Russell of Glentoran scored the last ever competitive goal of the last millennium – v. Linfield on 31.12.1999.
- Glentoran has been recognised as the team where the first EVER football match video was made – a match at the Oval against Cliftonville.
- Glentoran were the first team ever to stop Benfica scoring in Europe at their stadium – a 0-0 draw in Portugal in 1967.
Why book the legendary Oval Grounds Stadium tour?
Because this is the Holy Grail of world football stadiums! The Oval is a pure fire classic stadium. The main stand has hardly changed since it was built in the 1950s! Groundhoppers around the world love it and even the BBC have cited it as the second best stadium in the world to tour, after La Bombonera, home of Boca Juniors. I visited La Bombonera in Buenos Aires in 2010.
Where to sleep when doing the Glentoran FC The Oval tour
Where to drink when visiting Glentoran FC
Overview of the tour of the Oval Grounds, Glentoran FC
The tour starts sharply at 12 noon on a matchday, when the kick off time is usually 15.00 / 3 p.m. You meet at the gates to the stadium and meet the guide and pay for the tour. The payment of £25 (in crisp Northern Irish cash – no card payments) includes a pin badge, a beer in the stadium, a guided tour, entrance to the match and you are likely to be able to meet some of the players, boardroom staff and training staff.
Once you have paid, our guide Sam Robinson takes us back out of the stadium to explain the significance of the area itself. The East Belfast heartland is a special place. Sam grew up just a few doors down. He’s an Ovalite. He’s a Glentoran nut. He has green, red and black blood. And like myself, he hates the Bloos / Blues (Linfield FC).
We head back in and an introduction to the ground and history ensues before we duck down and into the splendour that is not the away team changing room. Fitting 20 sweaty lads into this tiny room? You must be joking. But this is football at its greatest, at its most beautiful. At its most harsh. At its most pure. The away team dressing room would humble Champions League winners and World Cup semi finalists…
“Eusebio’s quaking in his boots, boys!!!” – Glentoran player manager John Colrain.
The stories begin in earnest now with a step down memory lane. We are stood in a room which has been visited by 10% of the total number of players who have WON the World Cup. And countless beaten finalists, and semi finalists. And countless Northern Ireland internationals, and even ex Glentoran players, or European Cup winners. Remember – Glens have played 7 Champions League winners. There have only been 22 winners of that tournament. In the 1960s, Arsenal were beaten 1-0 here before going on to win the UEFA Cup. We also humbled the mighty Eusebio and Benfica in 1967. Those results are legendary. Even the mighty Juventus in 1977 scraped the 1-0 win, with a late Glentoran penalty miss costing us a draw with the Italians. More recently, in the 1990s Steaua Bucharest scraped a 1-1 draw and Sparta Prague snatched a 2-1 win. Two screamers in the 2010s saw us knock out FK Renova from Northern Macedonia in another entralling night down the Oval.
The changing room is basic. It’s worse than a BB changing room. I love it. Imagine the shock of an away team coming in here. Turn the heating off lads, 4 at a time into the showers…but it is what’s hanging up in this tiny room that impresses the most – shirts of the teams that have played here – some match worn, others replicas. A story from Ajax Amsterdam arrives via Sam and it was one I didn’t know about…
After that it’s the physio room and the Glentoran home changing room – much better than the away one. Sadly the physio room is also a memorial room to Physio Bobby McGregor who died on the pitch in Sofia in the 1980s.
Next a surprise for my two Polish friends Kamil and Rafał – one of four Polish references on this tour in fact! We bump into Glentoran goalkeeper Marijan Antolović!! As Legia Warszawa fans, both my friends saw Marijan play for Legia years ago!! The Croatian former youth international drops by for a chat.
Then we are out on the pitch checking out the famous turf. We get a chat to both the kit man and the groundsman for a further insight into matchday. Star midfielder Hrvoje Plum drops by for a chat too, though I forgot to get a photo with either him or Antolovic!
We then hear about the famous 1960s tour of the USA when Glentoran after a long season represented Belfast under the name Detroit Cougars! A 50 year anniversary match was arranged in Detroit in 2017 to commemorate that event.
Next we are up in the bar and trophy cabinet, perhaps the most insightful part of the tour. There are many trophies here including the famous Vienna Cup and even a keepsake from Kraków – a framed picture of St. Mary’s Church which I recognised immediately from my backpacking days. I was also in the trophy room in the 1990s but it is so great to be back here.
The tour continues with more anecdotes and stories from Sam on the history of the main stand before we veer round to the away section past the smell of wafting Glenburgers. The away turnstiles are not always used and today’s match is a non-ticket affair – pay at the gate.
There is a buzz around the Oval today though – just two days earlier we humbled arch rivals Linfield 3-0 in the famous Boxing Day derby. Today it’s the turn of Ballymena United, who will eventually lose 2-0 despite very dodgy and biased refereeing.
Back to the tour though and we head back onto the pitch and I hit a mock air pelanty at the Sydenham End against Rafal…
Up on the hill where good views and extreme history relating to the war give us further insight into just how important and historic The Oval really is. There’s the famous bunker which has war history and extravagant views over Belfast city skyline.
The tour isn’t finished yet! We pop into the 1922 room where one of the oldest football supporters clubs in the world still operates. The Glentoran 1922 Supporters Club. Here there are match programmes from down the years, framed pictures and shirts from down the years. This includes a picture of George Best who was rejected by the Glens as a teenager but played one game for his childhood team in 1982 in the Centenary match v. Manchester United. Then, it’s time for the bar for a pint and get ready for the big match!!
World Cup winners to have played at the Oval Grounds, Glentoran FC
Our tour guide knows his stuff and is a Glentoran Geek. He knows more about Glentoran than Glentoran. While we are stood in the away team dressing room, Sam Robinson mentions that he counted 15-16 World Cup winners who have changed here or played the Oval. While this might be difficult to check, I came up with a list of players who might have played in those European games and friendlies down the years. Please feel free to message me or comment below to correct this list. We now believe around 30 World Cup winners have been to the Oval, if not played here, making up around 10% of the entire World Cup winners since 1930. All the facts on this post may not be 100% accurate, will update and alter as I find out more.
1930 – Uruguay
1934 – Italy
1938 – Italy
1942 – Germany / Sweden / (no official World Cup)
1946 – Argentina / Brazil (No official World Cup)
1950 – Uruguay
1954 – West Germany
1958 – Brazil
1962 – Brazil
1966 – England
George Eastham for Ards
1970 – Brazil
1974 – West Germany
Berti Vogts for Borussia Moenchengladbach
Herbert Wimmer for Borussia Moenchengladbach
Jupp Heynckes for Borussia Moenchengladbach
Rainer Bonhof for Borussia Moenchengladbach
Wolfgang Kleff for Borussia Moenchengladbach
1978 – Argentina
Ricardo Villa for Tottenham Hotspur
Osvaldo Ardiles for Tottenham Hotspur
1982 – Italy
Dino Zoff for Juventus
Claudio Gentille for Juventus
Gaetano Scirea for Juventus
Antonio Cabrini for Juventus
Franco Causio for Juventus
Marco Tardelli for Juventus – scored in World Cup final
Paolo Rossi for Juventus – scored in World Cup final
1986 – Argentina
1990 – West Germany
Rudi Voller for Marseille
* Lothar Matthaus, Karl Heinz Riedle, Thomas Hassler all trained at the Oval (possibly more)
1994 – Brazil
1998 – France
Fabian Barthez for Marseille
Basile Boli for Marseille
Didier Deschamps for Marseille – has won the World Cup as player and manager
Marcel Desailly for Marseille
2002 – Brazil
2006 – Italy
2010 – Spain
2014 – Germany
Thomas M,u,e,l,l,e,r for Germany under 21s
Mats Hummels for Germany under 21s
Toni Kroos for Germany under 21s
André Schürrle for Germany under 21s
2018 – France
Other notable players to have played at the Oval Grounds, Glentoran FC
Not just my heroes in Green, Red and Black like Billy Caskey, Ron Manley, Alan Paterson, Gary McCartney, Elliott Morris, Barney Bowers, Glen Little, Raymond Morrison, J,o,h,n,n,y Jameson etc. Lots of players down the years have graced the pitch, the bench, the changing rooms and even used the stadium for merely training. While West Germans Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Andreas Brehme never played here, they trained here once. These players played on the hallowed turf at the Oval.
George Best for Glentoran (Northern Ireland)
Glenn Little for Glentoran (England)
J,o,h,n,ny Jameson for Glentoran (Northern Ireland)
Fred Roberts for Glentoran (Northern Ireland)
Gerry Armstrong for Bangor (Northern Ireland)
David Healy for Northern Ireland under 21s (Northern Ireland)
Eusebio for Benfica (Portugal)
Luiz Fernandez for Paris St. Germain (France)
Dominique Rocheteau for Paris St. Germain (France)
Norman Whiteside for Manchester United (Northern Ireland)
Peter Beardsley for Everton (England)
Gheorghe Hagi for Steaua Bucharest (Romania)
Mariusz Lacatus for Steaua Bucharest (Romania)
Abedi Pele for Marseille (Ghana)
Dragan Stojkovic for Marseille (Serbia / Yugoslavia)
Joe Blair for Crusaders Reserves (Northern Ireland) (yes, my Dad!)
Allen Boksic for Marseille (Croatia / Yugoslavia)
David Trezeguet for France under 21s (France)
William Gallas for France under 21s (France)
Frederic Kanoute for France under 21s (France / Mali)
Rio Ferdinand for Manchester United (England)
Pavel Nedved for Sparta Prague (Czechia)
That list is just a few names – many other superstars of world football have played at the Oval.
Secrets of the tour of the Oval Grounds, Glentoran FC
I really don’t want to give away too many secrets about this tour as I want everyone to do the tour for themselves!!! Plus, £25 goes to my club Glentoran FC and this includes entry to the match that day which I consider a bargain and a great way to spend your Saturday.
“My baby’s got a secret” – Madonna Ciccone.
However, here are some hints about the secrets we were told on the tour – bear in mind each tour can also be spontaneous and will not be identical so you may learn things I didn’t learn and bump into players I didn’t meet.
- Learn about the German Blitz on Belfast and how the Oval was bombed by Nazis
- Find out the story about why the away team dressing room is so legendary
- Why have Glentoran not updated their European records notice board since 2003?
- Why is the VIP and Director’s box part of the stand at the end and not in the middle?
- What’s the craic on the hill?
- How did “The Troubles” play its part in Glentoran FC’s history?
- Find out why myself and everyone at Glentoran FC love Glen Little – a true hero
- What is the Vienna Cup?
- Why do we play in green, red and black?
- Why the cockerel on the club crest?
- What does Glentoran actually mean in Irish Gaelic?
Here are the details of booking a tour of The Oval Grounds, Glentoran Football Club:
The package includes:
– Admission to the Grandstand for the match.
– Access all areas matchday tour with Glentoran historians.
– One complimentary pint of lager or stout in the Glentoran Premium Lounge.
– One souvenir collectable Glentoran pin badge.
– Photo of the group posted on glentoran.com
Price £25 per person.
New midweek tours are also available, on request.
To book email [email protected]
My thanks to Sam Robinson and all at Glentoran Football Club for the tour and matchday hospitality, which is second to none.
This blog post at almost 5000 words is lengthier than I envisaged and one of my longest blog posts in years. Alas, it merited it. I loved the tour, I love the Glens and I recommend it for all football fans visiting Belfast city, Northern Ireland’s above-weight puncher. Here are some other useful links related to Glentoran Football Club:
Glentoran FC official website
Glentoran FC Facebook page
Glentoran FC Twitter feed
Glentoran FC on Wikipedia
Glentoran FC on Flickr
Glentoran FC YouTube channel
Vienna Cup on Wikipedia
Vienna Cup feature
Here are some excellent blogs and videos on groundhoppers visits to The Oval Grounds, Glentoran Football Club, East Belfast, Northern Ireland:
The Groundhopper – Best Stadium in UK – The Oval
BBC Story on Glentoran’s Holy Grail – The Oval
The Accidental Groundhopper at The Oval
The Oval on Pitch’d TV Belgian blog
Glentoran wins best ground in 2018 on The Onion Bag
Wouter Scholemma’s book The Way The Ball Rolls featured The Oval in the front
“Come on Ye Glens!” – Glentoran FC supporters.
Here are some videos from my groundhopping tour of Glentoran Football Club:
Here are some other videos on the Oval: and Glentoran FC
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