Over the next few weeks I will delve into the world of the Danske Bank Premiership and pull out some of the major talking points that have been hitting the headlines. The first one I will touch on is the current plight of Portadown Football Club.
I read an interesting article over the last week, and find it hard to come to terms with how a club the size and stature of Portadown are struggling to generate money and make the club a business.
Portadown, for me, were one of the hardest clubs to travel to. Not just to get a result out of but also as a fan. An intimidating venue with some of the most passionate fans around the Irish League. I am talking around the back end of the ’80s and into the ’90s. For me growing up along the Shore Road and going to Seaview regularly, it was the might of Linfield and Glentoran. That was all I knew! Most of the kids in the area would rather travel to the South or the East of the city to follow the big clubs. But then this club, Portadown came out to break up the dominance. They were not from the city, but they were going to make themselves known over the next decade or two.
The Ronnie McFall era:
The great Ronnie McFall took control of the Ports in 1986 (the same year Glentoran stole the talent in Pat McCoy from Crusaders) and stayed with the club until 2016. Ronnie was the man that got this club moving forward. He did it not just by great coaching and managing, but by some wonderful help from local businessmen around the area. The players Ronnie was able to bring into the team were just on a par with nothing I had ever seen before.
Over the space of his tenure, the Ports won the league four times (1989, 1991, 1996 and 2002). They won the all-important Irish Cup three times. Ronnie unearthed some great players in his time. Joey Cunningham, for me one of the most technically gifted players just behind Glenn Little to grace the league. Along with Greg Davidson, Martin Russell, and the Scottish strike duo Stevie Cowan and Sandy Fraser, who just destroyed the leagues’ defences.
After a dip in form and tempo, Ronnie again was able to go away and bring in more talent. Vinny Arkins and Gary Haylock to mention a few. These are all players I remember well from standing in the shed at Seaview waiting to hear if they were on the team sheet. Some wonderful talent which Ronnie could go out and easily bring to the club.
This is where things started to take a turn for the worst for the club. In 2008 the club were relegated from the top league, due to their league application being delivered 29 minutes late. Looking back on it a simple phone call by either someone at the league or whoever had the application could have solved this. I don’t know the whole story, but it seems a little harsh to me. We have had two clubs within the league who got reprieves for bad management of money, one of which should have been out of business, and the other has just received major investment. Seems as though being late with an application is a significantly worse offence! Hard on the Ports, as they had been a senior club since 1924. The season that followed saw them gain automatic promotion to the big league.
Fines and Bans:
2016-17 season the Ports were fined £10,000 (which on appeal was reduced to £5000), along with picking up a one-year ban on signing players on professional contracts. This was due to the club not declaring extra payments made to Gary Twigg. The extra money he received for a so-called weekend coaching role at the club. The club also endured a 12-point deduction for an administrative error made concerning Peter McMahon. Things were not going well and as for the Twigg incident, it has been rumoured to have been happening in a few other clubs. Ports just got caught!
The Ports currently sit top of the Bluefin Sport Championship. 16 games played, with 36 points. But the article I mentioned at the beginning picked up on running costs and the lack of money coming through the turnstiles at Shamrock Park. It was reported to cost around £6000 a week to run the club. While one game played only generated £1400. A big, big, deficit. When you only play fortnightly at home it is hard to see how the club is operating. Season ticket returns will help with the yearly costs, rent, rates and keeping the people that can close you down off your back. I find this staggering for this club. The once full Shamrock Park, week-in, week-out has disappeared.
Portadown will always have a great fan base but the town needs a strong team going forward. Get the fans back in their numbers and start to run the club as a profitable business. Suppose it is easier said than done, but I for one would love to see a competitive Portadown back and fighting amongst the top flight again.