Up until well fabled mishaps, Portadown for many years would have been considered by Irish League fans to carry the heaviest provincial thump in challenging Belfast’s trophy hegemony. That would have of course have coincided with the outstanding managerial service of one Ronnie McFall. Of all the clubs locally, the Ports’ viewing by others would probably have recent history obscuring previous and other achievements. As part of the ‘Mid – Ulster Big Two’ they have never been looked upon as favourably as Glenavon by fans of other clubs. Some of that would be self- inflicted and some of it would be down to success on the pitch which of course never endears you.
Prior to Ronnie McFall the other big persona of the club was probably Scottish Manager Gibby McKenzie who probably was the nearest the Irish League ever had to a Bill Shankly in personality and outlook. He ran the team from 1958 – 1977 and was an influence on countless players. But in 1986 a football dynasty was to begin as son of the town Ronnie McFall started on a twenty – nine year run of managing the town’s football team.
A team that beat Linfield on a late Saturday in April 1990 will never be forgotten as they claimed their first League Championship. More indelible red memories were to follow next season as they won the double famously beating rivals Glenavon. The names from that team may yet become street names in the town. Titles also arrived in 1996 and 2002 and crowd scenes are well remembered against the Tayto sponsored stand. The ground before its present incarnation had similarities to Ballymena’s old stand with the chicken run type covered terrace and had an awkward aesthetic element to it. The ground presently still is a bit skewed and not every Irish League fan enjoys the visit there. The ground is meant to have some sort of gypsy curse on it and it may present itself in different ways to all who play or enter.
More recently onlookers have looked at Portadown with off the pitch bewilderment at administrative and financial problems. The application glitch in 2008 almost had the manager leaving. The manager did leave in 2016, walking out never to return after a defeat to Lurgan Celtic and many feel he was badly treated by the fans. All this should be underlined by the fact that most would prefer to have the club in the top tier as they have a decent support and Portadown is considered a proper football town.
The club’s last decent hurrah would have been the Irish Cup win in 2005 dispatching Larne 5-0. Not many cup finals finish 5-0. Prior to that they were ‘given’ the Cup in 1999 following the Simon Gribben affair. Even then and whilst it was not their issue I am sure they would have preferred to have won the Cup properly.
What the club do have in abundance is some serious player longevity and club association in a few memorable cases. Down the years the club has had some of the League’s most fearsome and consistent strikers. For some reason, they all are anything but local with Gary Hamilton only really coming under that heading. Scotland features strongly with Billy Paton, Sandy Fraser and Stevie Cowan leading that charge with the Republic matching via Vinny Arkins, Garry Haylock and Gary Twigg at the fore. Other memorable names are almost the stature of the Arsenal back four in Gregg Davidson, Phillip Major, Brian Strain and Alfie Stewart who together would have over half a century’s service racked up. All dwarfed of course by goalkeeper Mickey Keenan who was a fixture in front of the posts for the guts of twenty odd years.
Portadown are considered in some ways as the league’s provincial Glentoran as it is never dull. They had a bit of a tense rivalry with that club for a while mainly due to many Ports players having been at the Oval but those days are quite a bit in the rearview mirror for fans of both clubs at the minute.