Still Standing – The Glentoran Oval

Just behind the Sydenham End at the Oval sitting on a lonely grassy bank there is a military pillbox.

Miraculously, this pillbox at the Oval survived the German bombing raid of 1941 and is now a key visitor attraction for those who visit the club. A living visible reminder of one of the darkest periods in the club’s history.

A trip to the Oval is definitely on the list of many football enthusiasts from around the world. But these days talk is of when Glentoran will be leaving the Oval rather than returning home – something they sought to do in the 1940’s.

That dream of ‘returning home’ came as a result of the German Luftwaffe bombing raids of 1941.

Due to its proximity to the Harland and Wolff Belfast shipyards, the Oval suffered severe bomb damage during the Belfast Blitz in 1941. The German Aerial bombing destroyed both grandstands, causing the loss of multiple club assets and also left a large crater in the playing surface.

But like many grounds the story of the Oval goes further back than WWII.

In 1903 Glentoran moved here from another ‘Oval’, a pitch that was located on a nearby street.

The Oval was officially opened on the 29th August 1903 in a game between Glentoran and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.

Irish League titles were won regularly but in 1941 those fierce bombing raids were launched by German Heinkel and Dornier bombers targeting the nearby Belfast Harland & Wolff shipyard.

It was 1949 before Glentoran got back to playing at The Oval. A game against rivals Linfield was the homecoming.

Many great names have come to the Glentoran Oval for UEFA competition including Ajax, Basel, Juventus, Rangers, Spartak Moscow and Marseille.

But the most recent UEFA fixture showed that character is not enough.

The UEFA Europa Conference second leg versus the Maltese from Gżira United saw the uncovered terracing empty and watching spectators allowed access only the seated areas of the ground.

A pale shadow of the packed terracing the watched matches against Juventus and Benfica.

So then comes the call for the long awaited redevelopment of the club’s Oval stadium. Development that will take the club into the 21st century – rather than looking like something from dreary Lancashire in the 1970’s.

But redevelopment is only pictures still; a conceptual vision for the future.

Glentoran plan to demolish the existing spectator stand and replace it with two new all seater stands totaling 4,000.

The plan is also to reconfigure the existing standing terracing at both goal-ends to create space for another 2000 supporters.

The Oval pitch is planned to become an artificial surface with the field turned 90 degrees.

Glentoran supporters have suffered more than enough false dawns in relation to their home ground being redeveloped. Moving stadium to elsewhere in the east of the city has never been the favored option but the owners (and both home and visiting fans) complain about being cramped in by the surrounding infrastructure.

The biggest factor will be who pays for a new Glentoran Stadium.

A fair chunk of public money will have to come from the Belfast Stormont Parliament.

With politics an endless game of division and discussion between the DUP and Sein Fein there is no guarantee that any serious finance (apparently previously promised) would go to Glentoran a club located in a Unionist area of East Belfast.

The Oval can’t be seen via just its grandstand but it is true this tall narrow stand dominates the ground.

The view from the seating particularly the rear seating area is spectacular, not just of the football proceedings but the dockyards and Harland and Wolfe shipyard cranes which are readily recognizable.

Both the home terrace and away ends also offer an unrestricted, if a little exposed view of the whole ground.

Although The Oval is regarded as ‘oval’ in shape the curve behind the goals is more elliptical rather than a true half circle, and there is no athletics track.

Grass is overgrown, moss has gathered and the fencing is a little rusty.

On the opposite side of the pitch from the Main Stand there is a covered terrace which backs onto the railway line. This stand has been converted to provide seating for 2,000 spectators.

All of this makes The Oval something of a novelty especially in this era of identikit stadia design.

That said if Glentoran have any ambition whatsoever of competing in the likes of a UEFA Europa Conference League Group stages the home ground needs multiple upgrades. Certainly if holding matches at Windsor Park, the home of rivals Linfield, is to be avoided.