Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Glentoran FC – Drogheda United (19-03-2007)

After having taken pictures of murals around Shankill Road most of the afternoon, with the now familiar mix of rain, snow and sun, I was ready for some football diversion. For some reason, I had misread the time and jumped into a taxi an hour early, arriving to The Oval even before it had opened. Fortunately, the steward recognized me as a groundhopper and allowed me to get in early and take shelter from the wind and rain in the small bar.

After feeding myself with the obligatory hamburger and sausage roll, I headed out to the Main Grandstand – Lower Deck (as it was an all-ticket game, MvW had bought me a ticket of 10 pounds in advance). Tonight’s game was part of the Setanta Sports Cup, a competition between teams from both the Irish Eircom League and the (Northern) Irish Premier League. And this game was indeed a meeting of one team from Ireland (Drogheda United) and one from Northern Ireland (Glentoran FC). This might also explain the rather excessive security presence: I counted at least five (armored) police cars within the ground.

The Oval is one of the historic grounds of Belfast and has been home to Glentoran FC since 1892 (in fact, the club itself is 10 years older!). Although it has at one time hosted 55.000 people, in a European Cup game against Glasgow Rangers, it can now only take 15.000. The ground counts two stands, one quite big one, the Main Grandstand (holding 2,720) and the Railway Stand (holding 2,070), both in feeble state. Yet, although The Oval is old and in a fairly bad state, and squeezed between a motorway and Belfast City Airport, the ground does have a special atmosphere.

On this Monday night an estimated 450 people had made their way to stadium, including some 50 away supporters from Drogheda (approximately ?? km from Belfast). Although it was a boxing day, as St. Patrick’s Day was on a Saturday this year, the freezing wind and stormy rain didn’t make a visit to The Oval the most obvious destination for this evening.

I can be quite short about the game itself: it was poor… very poor! Most of the time neither team seemed in control of the ball, as most passes were without much direction and needed a duel between two sprinting players to find a receiver. My experience wasn’t helped by the people around me, who (in typical British fashion) couldn’t construct a (pseudo-)sentence without using at least once the word ‘fuck’. Still, at least the game didn’t make me regret my rather poor view from the stand.

The first half can be summarized as follows: goals 0; good chances 0; good set plays 0; usage of the f-word 100+. Somehow, half time felt like a relief. I walked around the stadium a bit, to get the blood in my legs flowing again, and found that in between the obese older guys who would swear at every (fucking) instance, there were also some younger fans in the stand.

The second half was not much better, except for the fact that there was one goal scored. Unfortunately for the majority of the people in The Oval, it was the Irish side that scored. Moreover, Glentoran never looked like they were going to score the equalizer. In fact, 0-1 was a deserved final score, in the sense that if anyone deserved to score, it was Drogheda United.

With a couple of minutes still to play, I left The Oval. Too much swearing, bad football, and cold wind for one evening. Although it felt more like a serious football experience than the Crusaders game, I enjoyed the latter more. Still, maybe on another day, on another stand, a Glentoran game will be a pleasant experience. At the very least The Oval is a unique stadium, with great view of the docks and planes flying over it. But don’t expect much from the game itself (at least not until they have changed most players of this team)!

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