In 1914 Glentoran Football Club won the Irish Cup for the first time defeating Linfield in the Final. As a result they received an invite from the Austro-Hungarian FA to travel to the region along with the winners of the Scottish Cup (Celtic) and the FA Cup (Burnley)
The Austro-Hungarian FA hosted a tournament involving some of the strongest teams in Europe at the time including Hertha Berlin, DFC Prag (Prague) Pressburg (Bratislava) along with a Hungarian Select XI. The tournament required the teams to play games in Austria, Hungary, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Glentoran sailed on the Larne – Stranraer ferry at 6.30pm on Monday 18th May 1914. By Wednesday afternoon the team were on the train from Dresden to Prague. The Glens were running seven hours behind schedule; however the crossing of the English Channel was reported as having been “delightful and sunny”.
Glentoran met Deutsche Fussball Prag on Thursday afternoon 21st May 1914 in Prague, the game played in a searing 82 degrees heat.
Prag were a hugely successful German side who had relocated in Czechoslovakia due to anti-Semitic incidents within Germany. A large crowd watched Glentoran take a second minute lead. By half-time the game was tied at 3-3.
Despite many Glentoran attacks though DF Prag snatched a late winner.
On Saturday morning 21st May 1914 Glentoran left Prague by rail for Berlin.
The game against the colossal German side Hertha Berlin would be the biggest the East Belfast club had ever undertaken. In the afternoon the temperature had risen to 90 degrees in the shade, dropping to 70 prior to the 6.30pm kick-off at the notorious Plumpe Stadium.
6,000 German supporters watched Glentoran submit what was described in the press at the time as “The best display of football ever seen in Berlin”
A Sammy Napier third minute strike was doubled before half-time with Glentoran eventually running out as 4-1 winners over the German giants.
Glentoran travelled onward to the Austrian capital Vienna staying at the magnificent Hotel Continental in order to play two games against a Vienna Select XI (Compiled from the top players in the country at the time)
The first match ended in a 1-1 draw watched by a crowd of around 6,000 locals.
For the second game a cup was commissioned by the hosts. A cup was also to be presented to the winners of the game between Celtic and Burnley, a contest which was heralded as the highlight of the competition. The Celtic – Burnley game, ended in a 1-1 draw. Before the advent of penalties it was decreed that the Scots and English replay the game on their return to Britain.
A few months later the World was at war and all thoughts of a replay were forgotten. The Austrians would never send the lighthouse shaped trophy to the winners and so Glentoran remained the only side capable of winning a “Vienna Cup”
The Glens set about the task of lifting the cup with a scant disregard for the calibre of the opposition. The final score (5-0 to Glentoran) would see this beautiful trophy return to East Belfast where it has remained in the Oval Trophy Cabinet.
Glentoran completed the tour with a three hour boat trip up the River Danube for a game against Pressburg (Bratislava) The fixture was attended by Prince Albrecht and attended a grand reception for the East Belfast team afterwards.
It is generally conceded that as this tournament was organised officially by the Austro-Hungarian Football Association, that the winning of The Vienna Cup by Glentoran remains the first trophy won by a British side in European Football.
The jubilant Glentoran squad returned safe and sound to Mersey Street on Thursday 4th June 1914.
On the 28th July just eight weeks later the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia and events in the region recently visited by the young men of East Belfast is considered as the commencement of the First World War (The Great War)
For players and supporters of all the teams that took part in the competition the world would never be the same again.