David Wylie tells us about Glentoran

What was your best moment as a Glentoran fan?
Nothing can beat the euphoria of Sean Arm­strong’s goal against Linfield in the 2000 Irish Cup semi. Sean, nephew of Northern Ireland le­gend Gerry, scored the 96th-minute winner in front of the Windsor Park Kop after Linfield had equalised a couple of min­utes earlier. The Glens went on to win the cup, but memories of the victory over Portadown will always be overshadowed by those of thousands of bluemen rushing back to their seats just in time to see Armstrong head in Hamill’s cross.

Has the standard of football changed in the Irish League since you’ve been watching?
My first game was in 1988. The general consensus is the standard has remained static, while that of other small UEFA countries such as Norway, Israel, Cyprus and lat­terly the Republic of Ireland has improved. Despite attempts at league restructuring , the reality is that while it remains part-time it will be difficult for it to progress significantly – but change is hard when similar sized clubs across the Irish Sea are considering a downgrade to semi-professionalism. However, the financial crisis in English and Scottish football has recently led to a steady stream of talented players returning home, such as internationals Michael O’Neill, Pat McGibbon, George O’Boyle and Gerard McMahon.

Does the local media fairly reflect the degree of interest in the League?
TV coverage has been poor – the Glens’ recent Champions League participation was overshadowed on the local news by a feature on physically unattractive GAA players. Local papers are better. In fact, they probably give greater coverage in proportion to the amount of regular match attendees, as they recognise the large dormant support. There is general annoyance, however, at the lack of coverage on a UK scale – the national media seem­ingly believing that football exists only in Eng­land and Scotland. On an attendance basis, Irish League games often merit more column inches than most League games in Scotland, so even a mention in the classifieds would be nice.

If there was one thing you could improve about the Irish League what would it be?
The larger clubs must have the ambition to regul-arly compete on a bigger platform, whether at all-Ireland, “Celtic League” or European level.

Milestones & Millstones
1882 Glentoran formed, taking the distinctive colours of green, red and black from a touring Dublin cricket team.
1894 Champions in a ten-game title race. The first of Glentoran’s 21 Irish League championships.
1914 Win the Vienna Cup, perhaps the first British triumph in a European trophy.
1920Violence at the Irish Cup semi-final replay against Belfast Celtic ends in shots being fired into the Glens support. Miraculously, no one is killed.
1941 German bombers miss the Harland & Wolff shipyard but hit The Oval. The fan-driven Back to The Oval campaign sees Glentoran return to a rebuilt stadium eight years later.
1962 Real Zaragoza become the first side to visit east Belfast in European competition. The 72 European ties since have involved opposition such as Rangers, Arsenal, Ajax and Juventus.
1967 Play a summer as the Detroit Cougars in a forerunner to the North American Soccer League. Draw 1-1 with Eusebio’s Benfica in the European Cup in front of 40,000, then draw 0-0 to lose on away goals.
1974 The club reaches the quarter-finals of the European Cup-Winners Cup.
1988 Fourth Irish Cup success in a row, one of 19 wins as of 2003.
1997 Roy Coyle (above), former Glens player and Linfield boss, takes over. Has built on his record of being the Irish League’s most successful manager.
2003 Win three out of four domestic trophies, but a Champions League first qualifying round defeat in Helsinki means 22 years without progression.

Fondly remembered
Glen Little ~ In the mid-1990s, the Burnley winger was the league’s young player of the year, scoring a cup final winner, and tortured defences across the country. His real legacy, though, could be a sell-on clause in his transfer, and that of others sold since.

Best forgotten
David Jeffrey ~ The ever-expanding, Billy Boy-singing, Linfield manager. Jeffrey is the personification of all things Linfield – overweight and full of his own self-importance – but without him, Glentoran supporters would be lost.

From WSC 199 September 2003. What was happening this month

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