Belfast Telegraph

Portadown manager Ronnie McFall can land one more knockout blow

By Graham Luney

What were you up to in 1986? I was into my second year at the Boys' Model Secondary School in Belfast.

Twenty-seven years ago, Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history but a new Irish League heavyweight was about to come on the scene.

Tyson's star burned brightly but faded.

Ronnie McFall is still landing the blows.

'Big Ronnie' was appointed Portadown manager in December, 1986 – a month after Sir Alex Ferguson joined Manchester United.

And now that Fergie has left the Premier League stage, McFall is the longest serving manager in European football.

Imagine a manager staying nearly 27 years at the helm in the modern game.

Could you see Brendan Rodgers staying at Anfield that long, or Jose Mourinho at Chelsea?

McFall has many cherished memories – Portadown's first league title in 1990 will always be his favourite.

But he didn't stop there. There was further title glory in 1991, 1996 and 2002.

He's got his hands on 23 trophies and in 2007 he was awarded an MBE for services to football.

McFall must have been barking orders from the touchline in more than 1,300 matches.

In fact Ronnie's managerial story began before 1986! He was Glentoran manager from 1979 to 1984 guiding the club to the league title in 1981 and Irish Cup in 1983.

What keeps anyone going that long? Why would you keep leaving yourself vulnerable to the emotional torture?

There has inevitably been a few dark days along the way, the latest one coming in last season's Irish Cup semi-final defeat to Glentoran.

But football must be like a drug to men like Ronnie. It's a way of life.

There's still a hunger and enthusiasm to succeed despite all the times he's been put on the canvas.

He turned Portadown into a heavyweight Premiership club and he's still plotting more glory days.

The former Dundee United defender has given his players a good few verbal volleys over the years and if there had been a swear box in the Shamrock Park dressing room since 1986 the Ports could have afforded to buy Gareth Bale!

He's given no hint of any retirement thoughts but he's perhaps like Fergie and keeping us all guessing.

Last season was a major disappointment for the Ports. They failed to make the top six in the league and missed out on a place in the Irish Cup final.

But now the club that were rooted to the bottom of the table when McFall assumed control are showing signs that they are about to hit the big time again before the boss walks off into the sunset.

The big man has just lifted his 20th Manager of the Month gong – 20 seasons after his first.

It would be fantastic to see Ronnie, who has given so much to Portadown Football Club and to football in Northern Ireland, get his hands on one more big prize before he calls it a day.

Currently second in the table and boasting players of the calibre of Gary Twigg and Kevin Braniff, write off his team at your peril.

Ballinmallard United, who were thrashed 11-0 at Shamrock Park on Saturday, know all about the beauty of McFall's latest masterpiece.

And consider this ... big Ronnie's achievements are even more remarkable when it's acknowledged that his wife Anne has been picking the team for 26 years!

Belfast Telegraph

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