Amazing story of Glentoran’s 1914 Vienna Cup victory retold in new TV documentary

It’s up there with the greatest ever sporting achievements by a team from the Province, but at the same time Glentoran’s Vienna Cup win in 1914 is a story that isn’t known far and wide.

By Graeme Cousins
Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 4:45 pm

Club historian Sam Robinson, who features in a new documentary about the achievement to be broadcast on BBC One NI this Monday night at 10.40pm, told how the team had to flee Europe straight after lifting the cup due to the outbreak of World War One.

He said the tale of the underdog going all the way in Europe’s top competition barely registered in the newspapers of the day back in Belfast, but the Vienna Cup still has pride of place at the Oval.

Sam said: “The reason why the story wasn’t told in any great depth was the outbreak of the war, there wasn’t a lot to be celebrated in the weeks and months that followed.

The 1914 Glentoran team

“They were 150 miles from Sarajevo a week before Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.

“In 2014 I managed to speak to one of the sons of one of the players, George Ferrett. In his words, they had to ‘run like hell for the Belgium post’.”

Due to the lack of coverage in the local press, Sam’s research for a book on the Vienna Cup win (One Saturday Before The War) took him to mainland Europe: “Once I started to explore the coverage in the countries the Glens had visited I realised how big a deal it was.

“They were lauded as the best club team in the world. The logic behind that was Ireland had won the Home Nations in 1913/14. Across Europe officials believed Irish football was the best style of football in the world and subsequently the best club team would be a team who had won the league back to back and that year had won the Irish Cup.

Sam Robinson pictured at the pillbox at the Oval football ground which has been refurbished. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

“They set the Glens on a par with Burnley and Celtic. They believed this bunch of shipyard workers were on the same level as these teams.”

Sam is joined for the documentary by BBC journalist Holly Hamilton.

He said: “She was the perfect fit, she’s a fanatic when it comes to sport.”

Together Holly and Sam explore how nothing, from an infamous pub crawl to a missing goalkeeper, would stand in their way of lifting what was arguably the first European Cup.

Holly Hamilton presents Belfast's Victory In Vienna: A Footballing Odyssey on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday, May 2 at 10.40pm

Sam said: “I’m kind of biased because I follow the club but I just think on every single level that it’s one of the most unbelievable stories.

“There’s heroics, there’s war, romance, tragedy, you’ve got the building and the sinking of the Titanic, young men going off to war. The big thing about it is they were the underdogs, coming up against teams like Hertha Berlin.

“As far as FIFA are concerned it’s the oldest European trophy still in existence that was lifted by a British team on foreign soil.