| 10.4°C Belfast

East Belfast: They will always back the green, red and black of Glentoran


Glentoran’s Jordan Stewart celebrates scoring a goal at The Oval in Belfast

Glentoran’s Jordan Stewart celebrates scoring a goal at The Oval in Belfast

Adrian and Rachel Bloomer

Adrian and Rachel Bloomer

Stuart Elliott

Stuart Elliott

Ruth McCreery

Ruth McCreery

Glentoran’s Jordan Stewart celebrates scoring a goal at The Oval in Belfast

They are the historic turnstiles that loyal fans have passed through for generations - the gateway to a stadium that stands proudly in the heart of East Belfast and has for decades witnessed the full spectrum of emotions that comes with being a football fan.

The Oval has been home to Glentoran since 1892, and while the scenes on a Saturday often link it to great excitement and joy, it was also the scene of devastation when it was destroyed in 1941 by the Luftwaffe during the Belfast Blitz of 1941.

But the East Belfast community spirit brought it back and on August 20, 1949 Linfield were the visitors for the first match at the rebuilt Oval in the City Cup.

Since then Saturdays have been defined for many by Glentoran.

And for many it's an extension of their family steeped in deep-rooted tradition - united through defeat and triumph.

Even on a freezing cold day in the middle of January, fans spill into the ground wrapped up in the team colours of green, red and black to watch the Glens take on cross-city rivals Crusaders on the day of the Belfast Telegraph visit.

Among the fans at The Oval is 86-year-old Harry Clarke, who has been attending games since he was eight years old.

He said: "There is a couple of more supporters who have been around maybe a little longer than I am, but I'm one of the longest fans. I've had many ups and many downs but I still come.

"You are brought up to it and there is just no stopping you - hail, rain or snow you get going.

"It's very, very important to East Belfast. We have had some wonderful days with Glentoran and wonderful matches with Glentoran and we beat the best in the world at one time.

"Glentoran is totally essential. We are struggling very badly at the moment, it's no secret to anyone that we are very in need of money."

He added: "It's still a big part of my life."

Not only do they take fierce pride in their team - fans are tribally proud of their part of Belfast.

Philip Stevenson has been helping produce the match programme for more than 20 years.

The 48-year-old said: "Over the years we've lost (the previous expanse of) the shipyard, Gallaher's is away, but we know we still have Glentoran. Glentoran is East Belfast. It's the heartbeat.

"It's your identity. It's where you are from. I am from Belfast but I'm proud to be from East Belfast."

For others who give their time voluntarily, Glentoran has always had a big part in their life.

Ruth McCreery (46) has been working for 10 years at the club on a voluntary basis.

"Glentoran is an institution," she said. "A lot of people that come through those gates on a Saturday, the building is older than what they are and they don't want it to go anywhere."

East Belfast's aesthetics have changed over the years and while some think it's progressed for the better, there is a general feeling that more can be done.

Simon Kitchen (42), a commercial director within the club, says Glentoran is integral to the continued development of the area.

He said: "There have been no new developments in East Belfast for quite a number of years, the north, south and west Belfast have all had new 4G football pitches put in and there is absolutely nothing in East Belfast.

"There are definitely inroads being made there for a new site."

Over the years Glentoran has seen many legendary players grace The Oval.

Former Northern Ireland midfielder and Glentoran player Stuart Elliott describes the team as an East Belfast landmark.

The 36-year-old said: "I played for the club for five years and left to go to England. Glentoran is one of the landmarks here in East Belfast and it is everything to people, especially who live round the area, but even further afield."

It's not just people who live locally who flock to cheer for the Glens - Adrian Bloomer (43) lived in East Belfast before moving back to Newcastle, but travels to The Oval with his daughter. He said: "It's a family club, that's one of the reasons we come here.

"When I sit in that stand and you look over there at the shipyard, you see the history there, like the birth place of the Titanic and the amount of ships coming out of here.

"This at one time was one of the capitals of the world for shipbuilding. It's what it is all about, the nostalgia of this place - it's the epicentre of East Belfast."

Belfast Telegraph