Belfast Telegraph

New Oval next step for reborn Glentoran

By Jim Gracey

Glentoran's new stadium dream is back on the radar after the club's dramatic Lazarus-like escape from extinction.

With the fabled ‘mystery benefactor', having cleared the crippling tax debt that threatened to put them out of business, the emphasis of the new-look Oval board will now switch to building for the future.

That will happen quite literally with the shelved Blanchflower stadium project likely to come back onto the drawing board.

The planned rival national stadium, just a mile down the Sydenham by-pass from the Oval, opposite the George Best airport, stalled amid foot-dragging by the Irish FA over where they wanted to go and uncertainty over Government funding.

But First Minister Peter Robinson, who helped secure the £400,000 donation that saved the Glens, has now given a strong hint that a move away from the Oval throwback to another era could now be high on the agenda.

He said: “I helped facilitate the club in securing the funds to help clear their pressing tax debts, both as a lifelong supporter and having been approached by them as a public representative in East Belfast.

“But I would not for a minute presume to tell the club where to go from here.

“However, the new board includes some extremely astute business brains and any new stadium development is entirely a matter for them.

“But you only have to look around at the present facilities to see they have had their day. A substantial upgrade, or a new stadium, is clearly required.”

The latter is more likely with a ready-made alternative at the planning stage.

The original Blanchflower stadium plan, backed by a private business consortium, was for a 25,000 seater £66million football and rugby stadium, an alternative to the failed Maze project and rival to Windsor Park as Northern Ireland football's international home.

With Glentoran as anchor tenants, it was expected to create 100 permanent jobs as well as providing a boost for the hard hit Northern Ireland construction industry and local east Belfast economy.

That initial ambition is more likely to be scaled down now to an 8,000 capacity with the lion's share of recently announced £28million Government funding for football ground improvements going to a redeveloped Windsor.

Blanchflower would also stage international Under-21 and other age-group games, possibly a national training centre and synthetic pitches for round the clock community use.

First Minister Robinson's DUP party colleague and Sport Minister, Nelson McCausland, has also made clear some of that funding will be dispersed to other stadium projects with Crusaders proposed move further down the Belfast loughshore and now Glentoran likely to benefit... with the knock-on jobs and investment boosts in both areas.

At the time of the unveiling of Blanchflowers plans, in March 2009, Project Manager Gilbert Graham put an 18-month timescale on completing the construction work.

He also said back then: “It will create jobs, it will encourage investment and give this country

sporting facilities to be proud of as the London 2012 Olympics approach.

“It will encompass everything that is good about the new Northern Ireland going forward. Our plans are on the table. What we require now is a firm commitment.”

That could now be forthcoming as the reconstituted Glens regroup and consider their options.

Belfast Telegraph


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