Figures indicate that with tourist places up 2500% in the last five years and unprecedented levels of investment, Belfast is booming. While the “peace” walls, political murals and segregated areas still exist, this is now a peaceful welcoming and fun place to visit.
For football enthusiasts the Irish League grounds have seen little investment as yet and as such are redolent of a bygone era on the mainland.
Glentoran’s ground at The Oval is a fine example, swathes of curving terrace at either end of the ground and two distinctly picturesque stands on either side. The perimeter of the stadium has some fine artwork and murals, the area of East Belfast is clearly depicted as are images of musical icons Van Morrison and Gary Moore. You enter the ground to the rear of the main stand which is bedecked with two large images of Glens heroes of yore, Fred Roberts and Sammy Hughes. A club clearly respectful of its history.
£10 entry and a further £3 for a very readable programme and the beauty of this immaculate ground is immediately obvious. The main stand is twin tiered, the lower having “The Oval” picked out in white seats. The upper section again allows local artistic talent to show its skill with several murals around the staircases and rear walls. The exposed carcass of the roof would indicate at much older superstructure than the more recent but yet sympathetic re-cladding of the roof and exterior. The stand opposite looks like a large covered terrace which has had seats bolted to the steps. Coloured seats pick out “Glentoran”.
The City End terrace is where the away fans are housed, a vast open terrace cut in half by a dividing fence. The unique back drop of the redundant Harland and Wolff cranes of Samson and Goliath and several warehouses again evoke a bygone time. The opposite end has a vast grass bank with another substantial uncovered terrace set into it. Here Glensmen from the provinces display their colours with flags representing Larne, Ballymacarrett, Westbourne, Newtonards and Carryduff. Tifo stickers from Govan Glens and the Legion 1882 group are also evident.
The game itself has a dour first half with Richard Clarke’s optimistic effort somehow beating the visiting keeper and going in off the post. The visitors make a double change at half time with Andrew Mitchell lucky to not be almost immediately red carded for a blatant elbow right in front of the main stand. Popular he is not. The other Glenavon substitute, Marc Brown, makes a more positive impact levelling the scores after 69 minutes. The parity lasted barely three minutes when Mark Clarke netted a deserved winner for the home side.
The attendance is not given, I find out later it is 933, although at least another 300 were watching the Glens match and Manchester United v Stoke City from the supporters bar underneath the upper tier of the main stand.
20/10/2012 – Danske Bank Premiership
Glentoran (1)2 (R.Clarke 29, M.Clarke 72) Glenavon (0)1 (Brown 69)
Glentoran: 18. Aaron Hogg; 3.Marcus Kane; 4. Richard Clarke; 7. Sean Ward (c); 8. David Howland; 10. Stuart Elliott; 11. Stephen Carson; 12. Mark Clarke; 17. Jimmy Callacher; 20. Jim O’Hanlon; 23. John McGuigan.
Subs: 16. Stephen McAlorum (for 23, 72 mins); 19. Martin Murray (for 11, 77 mins); 21. Carl McComb (for 10, 87 mins); 26. Stephen Gordon; 27. Kevin Bradley.
1. Andrew Coleman; 3. Kyle Neil; 4. Eddie McCallion (c); 6. Mark Haughey; 7. Andrew Kilmartin; 8. Ciaran Doherty; 11. Kris Lindsay; 12. Matty Burrows; 17. Andrew McGrory; 18. Mark Turkington; 80. Gary Hamilton.
Subs: 14. Marc Brown (for 18, 46 mins); 19. Andrew Mitchell (for 12, 46 mins); 21. Robbie White (for 3, 90 mins); 15. Sean McCashin; 28. Jason Rogers.
Yellow cards: Doherty and Mitchell (both Glenavon)