Belfast Telegraph

Ronnie McFall Portadown resignation: I owe all of my success to wife Anne

By Steven Beacom

Ronnie McFall has opened his heart about the huge part his wife Anne has played in his football career.

The legendary McFall quit as Portadown manager on Saturday following a shock Irish Cup quarter-final defeat to Lurgan Celtic after a staggering 29 and a half years at the helm, during which he won more than 20 trophies.

Before that he had been a successful boss with Glentoran and was a respected player with the Ports, Ards and the Glens.

All the while the love of his life has been by his side, supporting her man through good times and bad.

Anne McFall is not a woman who enjoys publicity, but in a revealing interview with the Belfast Telegraph, big Ronnie spoke about what she has done for him, insisting he would not have achieved anything without her support.

"Anne has backed me 100 per cent," said 69-year-old McFall. "She has always been there for me throughout my whole career, playing, managing, whatever.

"Without her support I know I wouldn't have had the success I've had.

"I'm grateful for everything Anne did because when you are manager of an Irish League club, people may think it is part-time, but it is 24/7 and you need support to be successful and thankfully Anne was always there to provide it."

McFall added that his wife didn't just help him, insisting she also did sterling work for the Shamrock Park outfit.

"Anne was great for Portadown. She never wanted publicity but she was good for the club and raised funds for the club at different times and helped out with lots of other things," said McFall.

Over the years the running joke has been that Mrs McFall and not Mr McFall picked the team.

Ronnie's answer to that particular query: "That's rubbish. I picked the team."

Even his fiercest critic, and there have been quite a few of them at Shamrock Park this season, would acknowledge for most of his time at Portadown he did an exceptional job with his selections and tactics.

Appointed in December 1986, he led his hometown club to their first ever title in 1990 and won three more for good measure as well as a host of knockout competitions.

In staying at the club for almost three decades he became Europe's longest serving manager, a mantle which passed to Arsenal's Arsene Wenger on Saturday.

During his long spell in charge of the mid-Ulster outfit, McFall had offers to manage other Irish League sides, in the League of Ireland and in Scotland but he stated that the only other time he thought about quitting was in 2008 when Portadown's application to play in the top flight of Irish League football was late and they were relegated to the second tier.

McFall claims he is not bitter about his departure having told the club he was resigning just moments after the loss to Lurgan Celtic.

"I am a Portadown man and not only did I play football for them, but I played rugby and cricket for Portadown in my younger days and I'm proud that I could bring the club and town success," he said.

"Now my time is up, I had more good times than bad times, and it's time to move on and that's what I'm going to do. I'm not bitter in any shape or form."

Quoting a line from the movie Shawshank Redemption, he added: "You get busy living or you get busy dying and I'm going to get busy living."

In the weeks to come he intends to relax and take a break with his other half and while he would like to be involved in football in some way, potentially with some media work, don't expect to see him joining his old pal and new Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey in a dug-out again.

His days as a manager are over.

That won't stop him keeping a close eye on the Irish League though. After all his years in the game, he is the perfect man to ask for a verdict on the modern day local game.

He said: "I don't think the quality in the Irish League is as good as it used to be. I don't believe the League has the same characters or the same quality of players.

"I started off as a 16-year-old with the Portadown first team and I have to say back then the quality was high. There were players of the ability of Wilbur Cush, Tommy Dickson, Tommy Jackson, Peter Rafferty, Peter Dornan and Rab McCreery. I don't believe that quality is about now."

Asked how he would improve it, McFall gives a simple answer.

"I would like to see kids get out more and practice their football," he said.

"They sit on their iPads and computers but they need to get out with a ball and play. That's the only way they will improve.

"It is a different world now but if you want to make it that's what they need to do. You don't make it sitting in the house."

He added: "Also there is government money coming to Irish League clubs but instead of putting that money into plastic pitches they should be giving clubs finance to put in good grass pitches. If you look at the very highest level there are no synthetic pitches. The international pitch at Windsor Park is not synthetic, is it?"

Those comments will not go unnoticed at Crusaders and Cliftonville, who have synthetic surfaces and between them have won the Irish League title for the last three years.

"I think it is a big advantage," stated McFall.

"Cliftonville have a synthetic pitch and won the title two years in a row and Crusaders have a synthetic pitch and won it last season and I expect them to win it again this time. I think it is a big plus.

"Crusaders and Cliftonville obviously have good players too but it is definitely an advantage."

McFall leaving Portadown was always going to be a big deal, but what he did as Glentoran manager should not be forgotten, leading them to league and cup success, including a title winning campaign in 1980-81 when The Oval outfit were undefeated.

He reflected: "When I came into The Oval they were bottom of the league and it wasn't a good place, yet after three years we won the league, undefeated, which was only the second time that had happened in the Irish League. Belfast Celtic did it prior to that.

"Then we won the Irish Cup for the first time in 10 years. I was always grateful to the people at Glentoran for giving me a chance.

"With the rivalry between Portadown and Glentoran in recent years, some people have said I hate Glentoran but that is absolute rubbish. I'll always appreciate Glentoran for giving me an opportunity to go into management.

"Then when I went to Portadown I wanted to give the fans and all those at the club their first major trophy. We won the league in 1990 for the first time in the club's history and the second year we won the double.

"Those were exciting times, we had European nights and great players.

"If you had said back then I would have lasted 29 and a half years at Portadown I wouldn't have believed you."

McFall's dream team

Ronnie McFall's dream Portadown XI (from all the players he managed in 29 and a half years):

Goalkeeper: Mickey Keenan (Ronnie's view: 'Brilliant goalkeeper, very reliable').

Right-back: Philip Major ('An outstanding defender').

Left-back: Ian Curliss ('Such a gifted footballer... could play anywhere on the left side').

Centre-backs: Brian Strain (right) and Alfie Stewart ('Brilliant combination and individually they were superb players. Also they would have died for me and the club. Gregg Davison comes into that category too. He's unlucky not to be left-back in this team').

Right midfield: Joey Cunningham ('Lightning quick and capable of scoring lots of goals').

Central midfield: Paul Doolin ('He was the only player I signed twice. Quality footballer who scored lots of key goals').

Central midfield: Michael Collins or Roy McCreadie ('It is impossible to choose between these two. Tough players and also very good on the ball').

Left midfield: Peter Kennedy or Martin Russell ('Again I can't choose. Two top class players').

Centre forward: Stevie Cowan ('Quite simply the best finisher I have ever seen in Irish League football. Unstoppable').

Centre forward: Sandy Fraser ('Gets in ahead of Vinny Arkins because he was the perfect partner for Cowan. Fraser was also a great goalscorer and the number of goals he created was extraordinary').

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