Belfast - The Oval

Dee Street : BT4 1EW Belfast - The Oval : Map credit PRONI Northern Ireland maps Belfast - The Oval : Image credit NIfootball
Glentoran Grounds, or the Oval as it was known, was set up on land owned by Daniel Dixon, Lord Mayor of Belfast, for Glentoran FC who moved there in 1892. The Glentoran Recreation Company was set up in 1902 to develop the 5 acre ground and in 1903, the pitch was rotated through ninety degrees. At this point, a banked cinder track was constructed around the pitch and bicycle races were held there. Two stands were built, capable of holding several thousands of spectators.

Before the official opening of the bicycle track, there was a Phoenix CC club race on June 2nd 1903 over 15 miles for the Mitchell cup, with nine riders.

The first open bicycle race meeting at the Oval was the Glentoran 1st Annual Sports on June 13th 1903. There were three handicap bicycle races over 1, 2 and 5 miles and the motor paced 10 miles championship of Ireland. Entrance to the ground cost 6d and 2s for the stand, these prices were typical at this time.

The Bloomfield sports were held on June 26th 1903 and the meeting included the quarter mile championship of Ulster, a one mile club handicap and a five miles club handicap for the Mallon cup. Tom Mallon was a local bicycle shop at 83 & 85 Ann Street.

There were several other bicycle race meetings in 1903, including the Ivy CC motor paced 20 miles handicap race, the Landscape CC and YMCA CC meetings. The Masonic sports were held on July 11th 1903, but had a poor attendance. The meeting included the 10 miles motor paced championship of Ulster, which was won by A Patterson of the Ramblers. In the heats, G Robertson recorded 21m 17.8s to establish a new record Irish but he retired in the final.

The Irish Cycling Association (Ulster Centre) meeting on 11th June 1904 marked a move for the ICA having previously held their sports at Ballynafeigh. The half mile scratch race for the championship of Ireland was won by E Martin of Dublin in a sprint finish from TJ McCandless of Derry. For the first time in Ireland, a ‘surprise' race was held, in which no particular distance was stated and a blindfolded official fired the gun signifying the end of the race. The race did not go well as "the majority of the riders contented themselves with hanging about the finishing straight waiting for the pistol."

The ten miles motor paced championship of Ulster was the best race of the meeting and Irish records were broken in the heats. The eventual winner was R Collins of Bloomfield, who jumped away at the start and lead the field by over a lap, setting a new 5 miles record. Then, unexpectedly, Harry Mussen, Irish RC came from a lap down to get within a length of Collins at the bell, but on the last lap, Mussen lost his pacer, leaving Collins to win and set a new 10 miles record of 20m 28.2s.

The 50 miles motor paced handicap race on May 26th 1905 for the Graham Challenge cup was won by Harry Mussen who broke all Irish records from 25 miles upwards. In these early years of motorcycles getting more powerful, paced records were beaten very regularly.

The next few years saw a lot of bicycle racing at Glentoran with meetings organised by the ICA, YMCA CC, Eastern CC, the City of Belfast Athletic Club and Bloomfield (Belfast).

Athletic World of August 19th 1908 described what it called the "Empire championships at Belfast", which were held at Glentoran. The event drew in 10,000 spectators to watch "the best men of the UK". All the British riders from the 1908 Olympic Games at White City, London were present. In the quarter mile, Dan Flynn beat Charles Kingsbury by a foot. The ‘Blue Ribband' three miles race was won by Kingsbury who beat E Payne by three lengths, Victor Johnson was knocked out in the heats and Meredith suffered a puncture. The ten miles also went to Flynn from Ben Jones and Kingsbury.

After this, cycle racing at Glentoran continued on a reducing scale, with motorcycle paced racing being popular. The ICA meeting on August 2nd 1913 included the half mile and five miles championships of Ulster. Cycle racing at the Oval lost its popularity and in 1925 it was reported that the track at Glentoran had closed.

The Glentoran Supporters Club starting holding annual sports meetings in 1929, which included bicycle races usually over one and two miles. These were popular events with good crowds, but the sports stopped in 1933 and the last bicycle race at the Oval was a two miles handicap, won by E Partridge of the Ivy CC.

The Oval, along with Windsor Park, host the final of the Irish football cup for many years. The Oval was damaged in the blitz in 1941 and unusable until 1949. In 1960, the directors of the company purchased the Oval from Dixon Estates. The Oval has survived as a football ground for 120 years and is still the home of Glentoran FC.

Belfast - The Oval : Image credit Hulton Archive Belfast - The Oval : Image credit Wiki Commons
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Photos : NIfootball, Hulton Archive, Wiki Commons
Maps    : PRONI Northern Ireland maps