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Newly colourised footage brings 1897 Belfast football match back to life


Footage from a football match in east Belfast that dates back to 1897 has now been colourised.

Footage from a football match in east Belfast that dates back to 1897 has now been colourised.

Footage from a football match in east Belfast that dates back to 1897 has now been colourised.

Archive footage of a football match in east Belfast dating back to 1897 has been brought to life with a stunning new colourised version appearing online.

The footage of Glentoran v Cliftonville was taken in Mersey Street and is thought to be the oldest available in the world of any football match.

It was captured by Frenchman Alexandre Promio for the Lumiere Brothers company at the time and later screened at the Belfast Empire to amazed crowds.

The enhanced footage has now been posted on the Storia Colorata YouTube page, which specialises in historical colourised videos.

As well as the colouring, the footage is speed corrected to look more natural and with added sound.

The result seems like it could have been shot yesterday until you notice the players’ long shorts and moustaches.

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Sam Robinson is the author of a book on the history of Glentoran’s homeground, The Oval.

His book features a black and white still from the original video but he said he was amazed by the vivid new version.

"It’s absolutely brilliant, it’s so close to being right. Obviously the colouring on the shirts from the time is wrong,” he said.

"Looking at the footage I suspect the camera was on the pitch so the players were going through the motions for it to be recorded.

"It’s such a window on days gone by, so far back that you can’t even comprehend it. The way they’ve done it with the sound effects makes it almost tangible.

"I suppose any time you look at old footage, even from World War One, it’s always speeded up. So to see it in real time and enhanced is breathtaking actually.”

Commenting on the distinctive style of the football kits, he said: “Oh that was the norm, definitely of its time.

"When you look at the modern game and how light and airy everything is, it’s hard to imagine being able to move in them at all."

Making things even harder was that the grounds around the Oval at the time was marshlands, meaning the pitch would have flooded regularly.

"Reports from back in the day would have told you that supporters would often have to help drain the pitch.

"Playing in those big boots and long shorts wouldn’t have been easy.”

In 1897, Mr Robinson added that east Belfast was beginning to expand with the development of the shipyards.

"The amount of people coming in from the country to seek work meant that streets were popping up everywhere,” he said.

"It was all very much working class and six, seven or eight people to a house. It was very heavily populated working class area, but a vibrant area nonetheless.

"Certainly a lot of unskilled work and large families, infant mortality was rife. From my own research it would appear that everyone in the house was expected to bring in an income.

"If the men were working in the shipyard, the women were in the rope works and linen mills. Even the children were expected to go out and sell sticks on the street.

"It was a very interesting place to be. All the heavy industry seemed to be based along the Lagan in the east.”

He said men suddenly finding themselves with some disposable income with football becoming their leisure time.

"What appeared to happen is that Glentoran had around five different pitches in a 25 year period. It seemed to be the case that every time they moved they had to move somewhere larger to accommodate them.

"No doubt the rise of the club was inextricably linked to the growth of the shipyards. Glentoran was the local team they all followed.”

Mr Robinson said a newspaper advert from 1897 seemed to suggest that shortly after the game was filmed it was shown in the Belfast Empire.

"So the Lumiere Triograph was pretty much a camera and a projector all in one,” he said.

"That meant that Alexandre Promio could project it at the Belfast Empire. Even though the clip was really small, the audience were said to have stood up and cheered because it was a real match. They had never seen a real match.”

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