Historical Belfast

Glentoran FC and the Vienna Cup, with Sam Robinson

March 01, 2021 Jason Burke Episode 12
Historical Belfast
Glentoran FC and the Vienna Cup, with Sam Robinson
Show Notes

One Saturday Before the Great War, thirteen players from Glentoran Football Club, industrial workers to a man, each of them living in the cramped housing of Ballymacarrett, became the unlikely heroes of a tale which is scarcely believable.

Those not familiar with the story are to be forgiven for thinking that Sam Robinson, a writer and Glentoran fanatic, has let his imagination run wild during these gruelling months of lock-down, however the reality is quite the opposite. Sam has spent many months trawling through online archives including those of foreign countries, tracking down individuals, and writing an historical account of the underdogs from East Belfast on the European stage. The comedy element of the pub crawls and players going AWOL helps us relate to the players as people that we recognise – they weren’t the professional footballers of today, but normal people like you I – and excited to see the world.

The winning of the cup in Vienna was the high water mark of the story – in many ways, the events surrounding it almost made the cup irrelevant, such were high stakes. The glory of Vienna was followed by a dark twist – heading into the mouth of the First World War the Glentoran party were forced to “run like hell” to escape being caught up in the opening exchanges of the conflict. 

When the war eventually did begin, some of the Glentoran players served in the British Army. Indeed, some of the players who they had faced on the tour served also, but on the opposing side – Hertha Berlin, for example lost 36 men in total during the Great War.

And as if that wasn’t enough, when the Second World War began in 1939, some of the characters in this story became victims of the Holocaust, while one man was executed for an attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler. You literally couldn’t make it up…

The Second World War touched Glentoran too of course, the club was virtually destroyed during the Belfast Blitz, including the Oval grounds, the kits, the records, and the trophies all lost except one which sat on the chairman’s mantle piece – the Vienna Cup.

Welcome to Episode 12 of the Historical Belfast Podcast, this episode being dedicated to Sam Robinson’s new book on the Glentoran side that toured Europe in 1914 and brought home a cup won in Vienna. Copies of the book can be obtained by contacting Sam via the ‘One Saturday Before The War’ Facebook page – also, if you’ve any further information to add to the story, particularly on the players, Sam would be delighted to hear from you.

If you’re new to this podcast, please check out the previous 11 episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast content, and most importantly, share the episodes on your social media, it really helps people to find it.

After reading the book myself, Sam joined me on Zoom for a chat and I began by asking him how his relationship began with Glentoran Football Club...

(Bless 'em All piano version by Calikokat Piano: (4) Bless ‘Em All – Piano - YouTube)

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