Club History

Portadown FC: A Brief History

In 1887 the Mid-Ulster Football Association was established and in Portadown a group of young men set about forming a football club with the aim of taking part in the Mid-Ulster Cup. Early meetings of the committee were held in a dimly lit room at the Young Men’s Institute in Edward Street where club secretary William Mullen read the minutes by candlelight.  Early games were played at Tavanagh and Ripley’s Field, Armagh Road and Old Shamrock Park, located approximately where Clounagh Junior High School is now sited.  Amongst the early names to turn out for The Ports were Val Wilson, a solicitor who later would become High Sheriff for County Armagh and Harry Bell, whose father owned a brickworks on the Armagh Road.

 

click to enlarge

It didn’t take them long to put some silverware in the trophy cabinet when they won the Irish Junior Cup, beating Larne 1-0 at Grosvenor Park, on Saturday 18th March 1899.  The same season saw a cup double for The Ports with the Mid-Ulster Cup being won for the first time. It was retained the following season and a further five occasions before the outbreak of The Great War. The junior game was very strong in the town at this time and Portadown had to compete for talent with teams such as Edenderry Arrows, Greenview from Edgarstown, Portadown Celtic from The Tunnel and Parkmount. In 1916 the new Irish Intermediate League was formed and Portadown were selected to be one of the inaugural member clubs. However but the start of the new season The Ports were forced to withdraw due to the high numbers of players and fans who had gone off to fight in The Great War.

With the return of the local men from the war, the clamour for senior football was growing. One man in particular was leading that bid for senior status, William A Mullen, the man responsible for coining the phrase “The Hub of the North” back in the late Victorian days when Portadown’s extensive rail network lead to all parts ofIreland. The many local junior clubs in the area put aside their rivalries to back the club in its desire to join the Irish League. This was a time of expansionism in Irish Football with the league keen to take the game beyond the boundary of Belfast. Indeed the only team from outside the city limits were our friends from Lurgan, Glenavon.In 1923 the Irish League was expanded from six to ten clubs with the introduction of Newry Town, Ards, Larne and Barn. Then finally after several years of preparation, Mr Mullen together with Tom Dawson and his committee met the League chiefs in June 1924 and were able top present a strong case for joining the league.  Their good work in winning friends and influencing people paid dividends and at long last Portadown became a member club of the Irish League together with the re-admittance of Belfast Celtic. The nucleus of the first teams to represent the club came from the local junior clubs who had supported the bid. Names such as Nisbet, Dinnan, Carraher,Boyd, Cochrane , Hunter.

And so it was in August 1924 Portadown played their first senior game. Our opponents that day were Glentoran. Our First opponents at ShamrockParkwere the Champions, Queens Island in a Gold Cup game which finished goalless.

What a fantastic first season it tuned out to be in the Irish League. We finished in fourth spot, two points behind Belfast Celtic with Queens Island taking the runners up position behind Champions Glentoran. Along the way The Ports had some memorable games including a 4-3 victory against Linfield at Shamrock Park and a 1-0 success against the mighty Belfast Celtic in the City Cup.

With an historic first season behind them the Ports settled well in the environs of senior football. Season 1925-26 saw a continuation of their consolidation including away victories at Champions Belfast Celtic and at Windsor Park against Linfield. That steady progress continued and with it came international recognition for the likes of Doherty, Blair and Johnston. Indeed Centre Forward Harry Johnston, a prolific goal scorer with the Ports, made his international debut against Wales in 1927, scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw at Cardiff, yet he was never selected again. It turned out to be quite a season for Johnston as he also had the distinction of scoring five times for Portadown as they trounced Glentoran 6-1 at The Oval. Three international appearances whilst with the Ports, before his transfer to Swansea, made Harry Blair our most capped player until the arrival of a certain Gary Hamilton.

Fans of the modern day Ports are no strangers to the sight of Scottish players gracing the field at Shamrock Park. This trend however is not a new phenomenon. The forward thinking board of directors back in those early league days set about building a team of local lads and “imports” from the land of the heather. One such player was right back George McGuire, who became a permanent fixture on the team sheet, going on to captain the team for many years.

Over the next few decades the stream of Scots across the Irish Sea to Portadown included Charlie Coull from Celtic and Hugh Bulloch a Scot signed from New Brighton. Bulloch was later to move to Newcastle United before returning again to become manager at Shamrock Park. Together with locals such as George Black, John O’Hare, Dick Gordon, Jack McNally and Englishman Paddy Monaghan, The Ports played to huge crowds at home and away.

After only nine seasons in senior football Portadown lifted their first senior trophy, defeating Glentoran 1-0 at Solitude in the Gold Cup Final. Thousands of Factory workers took a half-day off work and travelled to Belfast by train. Around 5000 Ports fans were packed into Solitude to witness an amazing triumph. With only three minutes left and the scores tied at 0-0, William Kelly Johnston scored the winning goal amid scenes of wild celebration for the Ports supporters.

The team that won that historic first senior trophy was Charles Lawson, Robert Gourley, Ben Clarke, Hugh Bulloch (captain), James Hart, William Ewing, Henry Johnston, Harry Sinnamond, Alex Smyth, WK Johnston and George Cochrane (uncle of the famous Davy Cochrane.

The scenes that greeted that winning goal were nothing compared to the hysteria as the team returned to town that night. They were met by thousands of people at the railway station and toured the town in an open top coach before stopping at St. Marks Church for speeches. Chairman William Mullen led the speeches before igniting a terrific bonfire. Little did those fans know that this was to be the start of a great love affair with the Gold Cup in years to come.

We left of in our last issue with the Ports picking up their first senior trophy, winning the Gold Cup in 1933. The steady progress that we had maintained since entering the league continued, and but for the intervention of the war in 1939 there is no doubt that Portadown would have had the Championship trophy in the cabinet 50 years before they eventually did.

In 1936-37 we finished in fourth place in the league, followed by third place in 1937-38, fourth in 1938-39, and runners up in both the 1939-40 and 1940-41 seasons. With the curtailment of activities and the introduction of the regional league, Portadown soon dropped out of senior football until the end of the war. Most reports at the time suggested that The Ports were on the verge of greatness, but as Basil Fawlty famously said “Don’t mention the war”. During this period of success the Ports were rattling in the goals by the hatful and a look at our results shows victory such as  6-0 and 8-0 against our great rivals from Lurgan (where are they now!!) 8-0 away to Cliftonville, 7-2 at Larne, 7-0 against Newry and three results which really stand out, a 5-2 win against the Blues at Windsor in 1937-38  and our record away victory 9-2 at the Oval the following season, with another terrific 5-0 victory against Linfield coming in 1939-40.

Much of the credit for the upturn in the Ports fortunes is down to Tommy “Sticky” Sloan, the former Irish International and a member of the Cardiff City team that become the first and so far the only team from outside England to win the FA Cup, in 1927. Sloan who arrived at Shamrock Park from Linfield served the club with distinction as a player, manager, coach and trainer for 30 years.

Whilst the Championship proved elusive the Gold Cup found it’s way back to Shamrock Park in the 1937-38 season. Davy Cochrane had been in inspirational form in the semi-final againstDerryCity, but two weeks before the final he was transferred to Leeds United for £2,000.Without Cochrane Belfast Celtic were odds-on favourites to lift the cup. As was the case in their first triumph four years previously thousands of Port fans made the journey toBelfastat crammed into Grosvenor Roadon a day of on stop rain. Goals from Gamble and Davy Cochrane’s uncle George brought the cup back to Portadown. That victory made in twenty games undefeated and at a time when the Ports were sitting top of the league.

The town turned out in style again to greet their heroes and they paraded the town in a horse drawn brake supplied by Mr John Montgomery. They made their way to Market Squareheaded by 1st Portadown and 3rd Portadown Old Boys brass bands.

That winning team was Black, McNally, McGurk, Cochrane, McMath, O’Kane, Kerr, Pearson, Gamble, Coull, Armstrong and Monaghan.

Had it not been for World War Two, Portadown would most likely have won the Irish League Championship half a century before they finally did.

Portadown have a long tradition of signing Scottish Players, dating back to their earliest days in senior football. In 1948, they appointed Scotsman Tommy Lipton as manager and he put together the famous Portadown “Scottish Team”. Ten of the first team in that side were Scottish.

The 1950’s were not very successful, with a solitary Gold Cup triumph in 1953. In 1957 another Scot, Gibby Mackenzie, took charge atShamrockPark, and performances improved drastically.

However, “The Title” still remained illusive, with Portadown finishing joint top in 1960-61 and 1961-62. On both occasions they lost a playoff against Linfield. Gibby Mackenzie left forSouth Africaand the clubs fortunes dived again. However in the late sixties he was persuaded to return to the club and he won the Gold Cup in 1971, Carlsberg Cup in 1973 adding the Texaco All-Ireland Cup in 1974. With victory in the 1979 Gold Cup there would be no more success for ten long seasons.

The turning point came in December 1986 with the appointment of Ronnie McFall as manager. McFall had played for Portadown on two previous occasions, sandwiched between spells at Dundee United and Ards. He left the club to play for and eventually manage Glentoran. Just over three years after taking the reigns, McFall guided Portadown to the long awaited Irish League Championship victory. The following season he went one better winning the double and adding the Ulster Cup and Budweiser Cup in an historic four trophy season. Numerous Cup Victories and two more League Titles have been added to Ronnie McFall’s impressive CV, making him the most successful manager in the history of Portadown FC.

 

2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Portadown’s FC first venture into European competition. In 1962 they met OFK Belgrade in the Cup Winners Cup, winning the second leg atWindsorPark3-2, after a 5-1 first leg defeat inYugoslavia. Since then they have been regular qualifiers but only on two occasions have they made it through the first round. The firsr occasion was in 1974 when they defeated Valur fromIceland, before going out to Partizan Belgrade. Current Manager Ronnie McFall scored in that first round victory against Valur and today proudly leads his team out once more as he approaches 19 years in charge atShamrockPark. In 2010/11 The Ports again achieved a measure of European glory when they defeated Skonto Riga in the first qualifying round of the Europa League. Richard Lecky’s three goals against Skonto Riga and Qarabagh made him the top scorer of all-time in European competition for Portadown. Richard has now surpassed his own record with another couple of goals during the 2012/12 European campaign.

Ports European Stats
P W D L F A
Home 18 3 5 10 17 39
Away 18 1 3 14 6 54
36 4 8 24 23 93

European Cup / Champions League
Season Round Opponents Country 1st Leg 2nd Leg Agg
1990/1991 1 FC Porto Portugal 0-5 1-8 1-13
1991/1992 1 Red Star Belgrade Yugoslavia 0-4 0-4 0-8
2002/2003 Pre FC Belshina Bobruisk Belarus 0-0 2-3 2-3

Fairs Cup / Uefa Cup
Season Round Opponents Country 1st Leg 2nd Leg Agg
1974/1975 1 Valur Reykjavik Iceland 0-0 2-1 2-1
1974/1975 2 Partizan Belgrade Yugoslavia 0-5 1-1 1-6
1992/1993 1 Standard Liege Belgium 0-5 0-0 0-5
1994/1995 Qual Slovan Bratislava Slovakia 0-2 0-3 0-5
1996/1997 Pre FK Vojvodina Yugoslavia 0-1 1-4 1-5
1999/2000 Qual CSKA Sofia Bulgaria 0-3 0-5 0-8
2003/2004 Qual Malmo FF Sweden 0-4 0-2 0-6
2004/2005 Pre FK Zalgiris Vilnius Lithuania 2-2 0-2 2-4
2005/2006 Pre FK Viking Stavanger Norway 1-2 0-1 1-3
2006/2007 Pre FBK Kaunas Lithuania 1-3 0-1 1-4

Europa League
Season Round Opponents Country 1st Leg 2nd Leg Agg
2010/11 Q1 Skonto Latvia 1-1 1-0 2-1
2010/11 Q2 Qarabagh Azerbaijan 1-2 1-1 2-3
2012/13 Q1 Shkendija Macedonia 0-0 2-1 2-1
2012/13 Q2 NK Slaven Koprivnica Croatia 0-6 2-4 2-10

Cup Winners Cup
Season Round Opponents Country 1st Leg 2nd Leg Agg
1962/1963 2 OFK Beograd Yugoslavia 1-5 2-3 3-8