Legendary Glentoran FC will celebrate its 140th birthday with an anniversary match and the opening of a club that will support the local community.
The Northern Ireland Premier League leaders will compete against Carrick Rangers FC on October 7, exactly 140 years since the club was founded.
And to celebrate this special birthday club owner Ali Shams Pour will announce the launch of the ‘The 140 Club’, a body set up to assist those in need within the local community during this time of financial hardship and cost-of-living crisis.
The 140 Club aims to raise and contribute £50,000 which will allow hundreds of families across Belfast to gain access to food packages, adequate clothing and gifts for children in the run-up to Christmas.
The 140 Club will serve as a social partnership between Glentoran FC local community groups and charitable organisations to assist those in need across the city.
Businessman Ali said: “I work in the energy sector and have first-hand knowledge of how rising energy costs directly impact inflation and ultimately the cost of living. I am worried that many families in our Belfast community will suffer in the coming months which is why I am proud to launch the 140 Club.
“Since my involvement with the club three years ago, we have raised a substantial amount of money to help such families, but this year we need to raise a lot more in order to make an impact.
That’s why I’m announcing a target of £50,000 and in order to be able to manage and deploy this amount of money, we need to have a structure in place, and that would be the role of the 140 Club.”
Ali added: “Whilst I can’t guarantee our results on the pitch, I can guarantee that we will help as many families as possible during these hard times.”
Club General Manager, Desi Curry, said: “Glentoran FC has been the heartbeat of Community interaction for 140 years now.
Through the good times and the bad, the Club and their supporters have come as one, to combat and overcome the challenges that everyday life brings to its community of ‘East Belfast’ The resilience shown by all has been remarkable.
“The founding of the 140 Club, is another extension of this unique relationship and is fitting that it will be launched by our owner, who has demonstrated in the past, that he is willing to back the Club both financially and even more importantly, through positive actions.
We all at Glentoran are determined to remain optimistic in times of austerity, and look forward to a brighter future, both on and off the field! ‘le jeu avant tout’.”
Karla McDermott, Head of Glentoran FC Social Partnerships, said: “Glentoran Social Partnership has been working extremely hard over the past 3 years to support the local community through the Covid-19 Pandemic. We are now facing another crisis with the spiralling cost of living that is predicted to cripple families across Northern Ireland.
“Our owner Ali Pour has provided the opportunity for us to band together with our neighbours in East Belfast, The Larder & Connswater Community Centre to provide safe, warm spaces for the community to enjoy throughout the winter and beyond.
“We will be announcing initiatives in the near future, as part of the 140 Club, as we continually strive to engage with our community and support those most in need.”
Glentoran FC was founded in 1882 by Belfast industrialist Victor Coates who believed that sport encouraged healthy camaraderie and was good for the soul.
He brought together an eclectic mix of young players primarily from the east of the city, fashioning them into an indomitable side led by its captain, the fiery Irish Italian, Modesto Silo.
In less than four years, the leafy park pitch on which the team played could no longer accommodate the thousands of Belfast folk who held a burning desire to see the Glens play.
Just over a decade later and after several temporary residencies, all east of the River Lagan, Glentoran leased six acres of land, soon to become known as the Oval, in the shadows of the Belfast shipyard owned by Harland and Wolff.
As thousands of families moved in from the Ulster countryside to find work in the yards, the numbers following Glentoran Football Club continued to grow beyond belief.
Whilst thousands toiled to construct the world’s biggest ship RMS Titanic during the week, at weekends, they gravitated the short distance onto the Oval terraces every other Saturday.
The men who built the giant ships also played for their local team. In 1914, Glentoran travelled to Austria to lift the first football trophy won by a professional British side on continental Europe, the Vienna Cup. Which many believe was the first ever European cup and won many years before the formation of UEFA in 1955.
The proximity of the Oval to the Belfast shipyard would cost Glentoran greatly, when, with war raging across the world in 1941, the ground and everything in it was bombed beyond recognition during the Belfast Blitz. The stadium was mistakenly believed to be part of the industrial war effort. The club lost its very playing kit.
It took the blood, sweat, tears and money of thousands of supporters nine long years to rebuild the Oval, brick by brick.
The rebirth proved the catalyst for this east Belfast institution. Decades of glory followed especially against elite European opposition.
A young George Best, a third-generation Glentoran supporter watched from the stands as his local side developed into a club capable of wounding elite European opposition.
Glentoran FC has proved worthy opponents for sides such as Benfica, Rangers, Juventus, and Paris St Germain. European nights in some instances attracted crowds of over 40,000 spectators.
The decline in heavy industry in the city combined with a three-decade period of civil unrest precipitated a wane in the club’s fortunes during the 1970s and early 80s, but still the heart continued to beat albeit intermittently.
Success in the years to follow have often been sporadic and not without the drama of financial peril.
In 2019 a takeover of the club, one of the few remaining Belfast icons, heralded a brand new dawn for Glentoran, bringing professional football and investment. After 140 years that same heart beats stronger than ever.