And so Portadown Football Club are into another Irish Cup Final, where they play old rivals Glentoran on Saturday May 2 – another day out for the community, with high hopes that the Ports can succeed where they have failed twice in the past against the east Belfast men.
The two teams have met twice at the final showdown stage for the ‘pot’ – in 1990 when the Glens won 3-0 and in 1999 when the Belfast side scored the only goal. Ironically, Ports fans weren’t all that put out by the 1990 reversal. In the previous week, they had landed their first-ever Irish League title. And that more that satisfied the faithful followers who had dined on a diet of dismal failure since entering senior football in 1924. It was their first senior trophy.
Their dreams of the first Irish Cup were fulfilled the following year with a wonderful league-cup double, when they landed the Gibson Cup with seven games to spare and they swept aside old rivals Glenavon in the Cup Final, to place both trophies side-by-side in the Shamrock Park cabinet.
The major trophy haul under the guidance of local man and manager Ronnie McFall (almost 30 years in charge, the longest-serving manager in European football) has expanded to four leagues and three cups in the meantime. And here’s hoping it will be four-all twixt league and cup when the teams meet at Windsor Park on May 2. It’s a fact of life that when successes build up, so expectations increase. And although the Ports are favourites against one of Belfast’s erstwhile ‘Big Two’, anything can happen it cup football.
“It’s only a game”, the cynics often parrot, but a successful team in any sport creates a sense of community, unfortunately lacking in most towns and villages these days. Certainly, Portadown’s community spirit has diminished somewhat in recent years – what with it being a segregated town and with the demographic changes in other ways.
The mind goes back to that first league success in the 1989-90 season when hundreds of fans couldn’t tear themselves away from Shamrock for hours when the Ports beat Linfield 2-0 to secure the title. And the 12,000 fans from both towns who viewed the Ports-Glenavon Cup Final the following years did themselves, their teams and their towns proud with their impeccable behaviour.
And tribute must be paid to the hundreds of fans who made their way to the Oval in east Belfast (Glentoran’s ground) on Saturday past to see the Ports beat Ballymena 3-1 in the ‘country’ semi-final. The Glens beat Crusaders 1-0 at Mourneview Park – a soccer surprise – to line up the May 2 confrontation.
Between now and May 2, the Ports have six league matches to complete, with no chance of taking the title – thanks in part to a rather chequered disciplinary record with key players often out suspended. But let’s hope they keep their cool between now and the final and that the fans, the players and the community are treated to a great day out.
Finally, the IFA’s decision to sell the tickets on-line via Tickermaster is difficult to fathom, Only they can explain that one, and the fans should fight it tooth and nail.