The Surprising History of a Football Stadium in East Belfast.

Confession…I am not a football fan. I was not overly excited about a trip to The Oval, home of Glentoran Football Club. As the heritage officer for EastSide Partnership I thought I should go and see what historical offerings are on our doorstep in east Belfast. I do have the benefit of a family who bleed green, red and black so it was with this sense of doing my job and a good dollop of familial duty we met Sam Robinson the club historian and tour guide for a visit to the iconic sports ground on a rainy February morning.










It didn’t take long before I was completely enthralled by the experience. Sam is a natural storyteller and has an immense amount of knowledge about the club and the stadium. He explained how the club’s history has woven in and out the lives of the people of east Belfast for over 100 years. This is what really captured my imagination. I had been expecting a lot of sports statistics about goals, caps and leagues and there were plenty of those to satisfy the die-hard fans. However, we also had stories about the team having a daring escape from war-torn Austria in 1914, the role of the stadium in gun-running around the time of the Partition of Ireland and how The Oval rose from literal ashes after being destroyed during the Belfast Blitz of 1941.

I don’t want to give too much away about the content, though something tells me that Sam has another anthology of stories to share as well as the ones that we enjoyed. Nonetheless, The Oval is an amazing place to capture a sense of what Belfast experienced during World War 2. In 1940 the ground was central to the government’s war effort as it opened its gates for local men to participate in exercise after work. This was to ensure that the men would be ‘fighting fit’ in case of invasion. After being bombed in 1941 the ground flooded and Sam told us how local children had enjoyed it as a boating lake using tin baths as their trusty vessels. We were also lucky to see the restored war-time pillbox. Surprisingly, this spot is the highest in inner east Belfast and it had uninterrupted views of the shipyards, airfields and aircraft factories. The pillbox had previously fallen into ruin was restored only last year thanks to Glentoran Community Trust.










There is so much local heritage tied up in this football stadium. It is a critical time for The Oval as Glentoran have a new owner and fans and investors recognise the need for a new stadium to meet the needs of today’s club. Sam is not the only person to recognise that this history is worth preserving in some way as the club moves forward. Will a new stadium house a museum to tell these stories to a new generation of fans? If so, will it be able to maintain some of the beloved faded grandeur and authenticity that have made it a draw for people from all over the world?

I would encourage anyone with an interest in local history, military history, or yes, even football to visit The Oval. To find out more about how to book a tour visit

Our tour guide Sam Robinson has also written a book about the life and times of The Oval 'There's A Green Sward Called The Oval' which is available to purchase for £10 from EastSide Visitor Centre.

By Lisa Rea Currie

Heritage Officer

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