Belfast Telegraph

Gail Walker: Losing Glentoran would be another own goal for Belfast

For a region that likes to show the world its psychic wounds at the drop of a hat, it has always been curious how we actually hate — beyond the obvious Orange and Green knockaboutery — the past. Maybe hate is too strong a word. Let's settle on studied indifference.



Over the past few days we’ve had another two little examples of our cultural amnesia. First, Glentoran FC is being faced with a winding up order by the taxman. Second, the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society publishes its ‘dirty dozen’ list of important local buildings in a state of disrepair.

And the response from ‘we, the people’? Not a lot, to be frank.

Now, as I am constantly reminded when I stray on to footballing matters, I freely confess to not knowing anything about ‘the game’.

But I have heard of Glentoran and the Oval. A historic club at the heart of our city. The premier club of the east. The Glensmen and the Islandmen.

A club currently with a goal-scorer vying for the title of best goal scored in the year in the FIFA rankings.

The history of the Glens and the city are closely intertwined. And I don't mean the dreary litany of cups won and matches lost.

Of course, it's not unique. But it might — just might — go bust and our city fathers do ... nothing? The Northern Ireland Executive sits on its pudgy hands.

But let's not just blame the politicians. They’re largely representative of their voters’ indifference — and ignorance. And judging by online and newspaper comment the predominant emotion is “let them tidy up their own mess”.

Which is fair enough in a narrow-minded way. Glentoran — and the many local clubs facing death by taxes — may have created their own problems (paying pro and semi-pro wages to players watched by a few hundred spectators seems to many to be the height of folly).

But the fact is it is a club in a medium-sized city having to compete against economies of scale and in a culture and society riven for decades by communal violence.

But there's more to creating a city than balancing the books, and other cities have a better grasp of this than Belfast seems to have.

We're not talking about a cafe or a mobile phone shop closing down.

There is tradition, history — the architecture of the heart and the mind that makes us what we are. And, for better or for worse, Glentoran (and football generally) is part of that.

If a club like Glentoran is on the brink of extinction, it shouldn't be just a worry to the board, club supporters or football followers.

It will mean the beginning of the end for football in Northern Ireland. No club will be immune, whatever colour their shirt. It should be of concern to each and every one of us in Belfast.

But it isn't.

As neither, indeed, are the buildings that surround us. The UAHS list shows how many buildings which should fill us with pride are turning into eyesores.

The neo-classical Upper Crescent exhibits serious signs of wear and tear. Garfield Street, off Royal Avenue, once must have been rather beautiful but now looks like something from a cheap zombie flick. Crumlin Road Courthouse — despite big talk of redevelopment and tourism — looks on its last legs.

The heart and soul of Belfast has been blown out by the bombers and so “redeveloped” by the developers that you feel you're in the middle of nowhere in particular.

The Grand Central Hotel has been replaced by CastleCourt, which already looks rather weary after a few years.

Smithfield is a hollow joke of former glories. North Street Arcade and its muses have been subsumed into Cathedral Quarter.

North Street ... well, let's not even go there no seriously, let's not go there, unless you're a fan of windswept spaces and boarded up shops.

Cornmarket, once the imaginative heart of Belfast, is now little better than a waiting room for Victoria Square.

With so much gone forever, do we not have an ever-more pressing duty to preserve the legacy of older generations? I mean the actual bricks, the craftsmanship of our forefathers — their dreams, hopes and aspirations — not just call some area scheduled for demolition a “quarter”.

But no. All that's someone else's problem — the Government's, the council's, the private sector's. Nothing to do with us, mate.

We're too busy sipping lattes, watching Manchester United in HD in pubs and wondering which shopping centre has the best Christmas parking.

And that does not a city make.

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