The pride of East Belfast: Glentoran Football Club and the (re)production of Ulster Unionist identities in Northern Ireland

Judith Bleakney, Paul Darby

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It has become a truism that football provides a revealing window into how various forms of identity are (re)produced. There is a not insubstantial body of academic work which illustrates that football in Northern Ireland has long served as a vehicle for individuals to come together, develop a sense of belonging, share in common bonds of loyalty and articulate both semantic and syntactical forms of identity. This certainly holds true for the country’s Ulster unionist population. Indeed, in many ways, the game has been inextricably bound up with the development of unionist politics and identities. As such, football and football clubs in Northern Ireland represent a particularly useful, yet currently under-utilised, lens through which to analyse the development and nature of the identities of the majority population and how these have manifested themselves in civil society at various points in time. Better understanding how these identities are generated and articulated is important in the context of a society emerging from almost four decades of internecine, ethno-sectarian conflict and particularly at a time when sections of the unionist community have grown disaffected at what they consider to be deliberate attempts to dilute and diminish their identity and cultural traditions. This article contributes to and expands on what is barely a fledgling scholarship on sport and Ulster unionism by examining the ways in which unionist and loyalist identities have developed through and coalesced around Glentoran Football Club, one of Northern Ireland’s leading domestic teams.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)975-996
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Review for the Sociology of Sport
Issue number8
Early online date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Dec 2018


  • Football
  • Glentoran
  • Identities
  • Northern Ireland
  • Unionism/loyalism


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