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Friday Night Big Two Clash restricted to 6,000.

Bigger Oval crowds now only a memory...

Glentoran v The New Saints - UEFA Europa Conference League - First Qualifying Round - First Leg - The Oval
The Oval’s days of comfortably accommodating crowds of even 10,000 are long gone.
Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images

Big Two fans will need to be quick off the mark, Sunday morning when tickets go on sale...

There will be no more than 6,054 allowed into the Oval next Friday for the stadium’s biggest game in years, the top of the table derby clash with Linfield.

That’s the number on the club’s General Safety Certificate issued by Belfast City Council under the terms of The Safety of Sports Grounds (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.

With a perfect opportunity to showcase the upsurge in the local game with a packed stadium through LIVE BBC coverage, it comes as a blow, although not an unexpected one.

Long gone are the days it seems, when 10,000 or 12,000 would comfortably (I STRESS ‘COMFORTABLY’) watch an Irish Cup final at the Oval. As recently as 2015, there were 8,072 there on the rainy May afternoon when Glentoran defeated Portadown, and I wonder how many were let in for the (almost) league decider now simply etched in popular local culture as Morgan Day in 2005?

Regulation, it seems, is not always good. Who knew?

Back in the seventies there was the European Cup visit of Juventus of course with crowd estimates anywhere between 20-25,000.

Since those days, sadly, the only major change to the Oval has been the installation of seats in the Railway Stand on the unreserved side as it used to be known, a not wholly well thought out move in reaction to UEFA banning standing at matches in their European club competitions.

And now, while it’s clear the old east Belfast stadium has seen better days and now outlives its usefulness, slapping an attendance limit at little more than 6,000 is clearly an over-reaction to... well, I’m not really sure what.

So although The Oval could surely still safely cater to 10,000, the restriction is placed at just over half that. Of course Friday night will still be a big occasion, but with more leeway it could be more atmospheric and similar to the old days, when 10,000+ crowds for this fixture was commonplace.

While the club itself feels the numbers are ‘reasonable’ based on the age and condition of the stadium, you read between the lines and suspect they too consider the restriction a frustrating one.

Various factors are considered, not only the overall condition of the stadium. Factors also include safety management and access and egress available in the event of an emergency.

Crowds such as the one witnessed on Morgan Day (2005) will never again be repeated at Glentoran’s Oval.

The capacity for the Sydenham terrace for instance is set around 2,000. It’s that low due to the age of the crush barriers and the concern, valid or not, of what might happen if undue pressure is applied against them.

This 2,000 number for the Sydenham end of the stadium despite what anyone thinks about the barriers, again surely represents over-restriction.

But unless Glentoran themselves re-configure, and let’s face it all they really could do is rip out seats for the restoration of covered terracing under the Railway Stand, the 6,000 limit will remain.

The club expects to sell all 6,054 tickets for next week’s Big Two clash...

Footnote: Tickets are available on general sale to both sets of supporters online from the website on a first-come, first-served basis, from 9am on Sunday morning (6 February).