East Belfast was buzzing on Tuesday night as the news that Glentoran had lured Rangers legend Nacho Novo to the Oval began to sink in.
The 37-year-old Spaniard, who scored 73 goals for the Glasgow club in 255 appearances between 2004 and 2010, had been rumoured to be on his way – but no one could quite believe it until he was pictured in the famous red, green and black putting pen to paper.
Then, just to make sure, Novo made his way from the press conference to mingle with the die-hard fans watching a pre-season friendly in an east end public park.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson was watching Tuesday night’s game – against Division 1B side Sirocco Works – with the Glens latest signing standing on the touchline.
Speaking from Dixon Park playing fields, the DUP MP said many of the fans he’d spoken to thought the reports were a wind-up, until Novo appeared to the delight of the rain-soaked crowd.
“There is a lot of support and a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.
“It’s good for the Irish League and it’s good for the Glens to get the signing. You can see from the reaction here tonight, and the buzz on social media already, that the fans are going to get right behind him.”
Novo’s arrival in east Belfast follows his visit to the city for the Twelfth of July celebrations two weeks ago – when he posed for pictures with flute bands and dozens of Rangers’ fans in east Belfast and at the demonstration field in the south of the city.
Sam Robinson of the Glentoran Community Trust said the signing came “totally out of left field”.
He said: “We are all delighted. As far as interesting signing by Glentoran goes, this must be up there with John Colerain (the former Celtic and Ipswich player), Alec Young (former Hearts and Everton striker) and Keith Gillespie.
“He is a proven player with a fantastic track record, so he’s bound to spark a bit of life into the Irish League.”
He said everyone was thrilled to have Novo turning up at Dixon Park for the friendly game, and said the Spaniard was an instant hit with the fans.
“He is here this evening and he has already created an instant feelgood factor around the club.
“A number of [supporters’] clubs and individuals have all come together in a concerted effort to make this happen which is quite significant.
“We have a relatively young squad at the club and he will certainly make an impression on them,” Sam added.
Novo joins three former Northern Ireland internationals lining out for Irish League sides this season.
During the summer months, Roy Carroll and Sammy Clingan signed for Linfield, while former Celtic winger Paddy McCourt joined Glenavon.
Novo could make his competitive debut in the league opener at home to Dungannon Swifts on August 6.
Scottish newspaper the Daily Record has reported that Novo’s alternative to the Glens was an offer from Scottish Lowland League side East Kilbride.
However, it speculates that once £900 per week was on the table at Glentoran he was never going to turn out against teams like Whitehill Welfare and Gala Fairydean Rovers.
Glens fans on Twitter couldn’t hide their delight at the signing.
One said: “Now that Nacho Novo is part of our @Glentoran squad I seriously can’t wait for this season to start.”
Another said: “That’s what happens when you celebrate the 12th in East Belfast, you don’t wanna leave.”