Ask any football lunatic about the most beautiful stadium in Europe, a good chance you get The Oval as an answer. This magnificent piece of football culture was build in 1892, but had to be rebuild almost entirely after the German bombing in 1941. The characteristic Grand Stand is from 1953 and barely changed since then. A fantastisch authentic decor for an absolute Boxing Day classic, Belclasico!
Belclasico, or El Belfastico, or simply The Big Two is the derby between the most succesful clubs of Northern Ireland: Glentoran vs. Linfield. Besides that, both clubs have the largest fanbase of the country. A stunning 455 times is the derby played, only the official matches are counted. The first meeting between the archrivals was on the 1st of October 1887. A friendly match which Linfield won 3-1. The Blues definitely have the upper hand when it comes to derby results. They won 221 times, where The Glens could celebrate just 128 victories. Their last victory was in April 2014.
It is a tradition Belclasico is played on Boxing Day. Each year they switch stadiums. The tradition dates back to 1990, but is most likely much older. Between 2009 and 2011 the derby was not played on Boxing Day because of a frozen and flooded pitch.
I was already in the stadium 4 hours before the match. Just a couple of people were around which gave me a friendly welcome while I just walked in undisturbed. I took the players entrance, went to the left and up the wooden stairs. Nothing gives the impression that the archrivals will meet in a couple of hours. Suddenly I am in the office of mister Rae, secretary of Glentoran. Together with his daugther I get a very warm welcome. He is a supporter of The Glens for 57 years now. After a cup of coffee in his cozy office I get a wonderful tour. The boardroom looks like it just walked out the fifties. In the trophy cabinet the Vienna Cup of 1914. This was one of the first European Cups ever played. Because of World War One it was only played once. Through the “players lounge”, dressing rooms and players tunnel I get a great impression of Glentoran. In the dressing room of the home team you can find the perfect saying: “play for the badge on the front of the shirt and they’ll remember the name on the back”
In the meantime the phone of mister Rae keeps on ringing. Any tickets left for the derby? No, I am sorry he keeps on repeating. The 6.054 tickets are already sold days before the match. I get my visitor pass which gives me access to almost everything, except the away section. I take my time to photograph The Oval from every corner before the fans fill the terraces. For Glentoran the stadium is just a pain in the ass, despite its beauty. It blocks them from development into the future. It looks like it will not change in the next couple of years, as the gouvernment financially collapsed and private investers can not be found.
At three the derby kicks off. The football is really aweful, but the tension is just immense. The atmosphere on the terraces is just as authentic as the ground. No ultras, no drums, no fireworks whatsoever. No classic British support. Bastard, fuck and shit roll on to the pitch. The referee and his linesmen are often the target. The archrival is a wanker as usual and laughter after every bas pass. Linfield takes the lead after 26 mins which looked like offside. The Glens immediately loose faith. Here they go again. But suddenly right before halftime they equalize. With some disbelieve the home crowd celebrates the goal.
In the second half I move off the pitch as well and take my place on the hill of the terrace. I gives me a stunning view over The Oval and Belfast. The sun is slowly dissapearing behind the horizon giving putting the stadium in a wonderful setting. In the meantime the football stays aweful to watch. The speaker tells everyone that there will be 3 minutes added time. Suddenly a shot by Glentoran deflects off the defender into the goal. The Glens get a 2-1 lead in the 91st minute. The victory is celebrated, but changed with disbelieve as Linfield equalizes hardly one minute later. Offside, YES! Finally The Glens taste a derby victory again. What a sweet Christmas.
More match footage…