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Can defiant Portadown bounce back from latest turmoil?

By Stuart McKinley

Portadown chiefs are fully confident that the club has a sustainable future - but they will have to convince the Northern Ireland Football League of their financial security.

And the board will also have to satisfy disgruntled fans who are fed up seeing their club stumble from one crisis to another in recent months.

Shamrock Park officials will meet with supporters this weekend to discuss what they have described as 'the current issues affecting the club.'

Fans would rather they were watching their team face Coleraine in the opening game of the Danske Bank Premiership season, but that match is off.

More: Fresh investigations pose big questions over Ports future

NIFL want a meeting too after a £5,000 cheque, to pay off a disciplinary fine, bounced, leading to a suspension and the subsequent cancellation of the trip to face the Bannsiders.

League officials are concerned that if Portadown don't have the wherewithal to pay a £5,000 fine then the club might have trouble in meeting their financial obligations for the remainder of the season and they want assurances from the Mid-Ulster outfit that they aren't facing meltdown.

The club, however, has no such concerns. The fine has now been paid and the suspension lifted on appeal - although that wasn't enough for NIFL to let the game go ahead.

A NIFL statement said: "Following notification from the Irish FA today that the suspension on Portadown Football Club has been lifted, after receiving an appeal, the NIFL Premiership Management Committee met and felt that it was in the best interests of the league to postpone the Danske Bank Premiership fixture between Coleraine and Portadown on Saturday, 6 August 2016, subject to the outcome of Portadown FC's appeal hearing."

The unofficial reason being that should the Ports win or draw the game and the suspension be upheld then the result would be null and void and not playing it at all saves potential embarrassment.

The appeal is due to be heard within the next two weeks.

While individual members of the Portadown board are understood to be angered by the latest controversial episode, which has left them with faces as red as the team's shirts, others are fully confident that not only is the club on a stable financial footing, but that the future will be bright once they put the numerous setbacks of recent months behind them.

A source told the Belfast Telegraph that Portadown's finances are every bit as healthy as any club in the league - although the fact that a £5,000 cheque was refused by a bank would suggest otherwise.

The list of setbacks at the club goes back months too.

First their manager of almost 30 years walked out in the wake of a shock Irish Cup quarter-final defeat to a Championship team.

Ronnie McFall's resignation back in March, however, was just the start of the difficulties.

Five months later the club is still in disarray and there is no sign of that abating any time soon.

Certainly not in the eyes of NIFL, who also want to speak to two players regarding their registration status after Stephen Hughes and Niall Henderson signed amateur contracts when joining the Ports this summer having previously been professionals.

That in itself, however, isn't against any rules.

When the most eagerly awaited Premiership season for years kicks off tomorrow afternoon, with Northern Ireland internationals Roy Carroll, Sammy Clingan, Josh Carson and Paddy McCourt ready to make their Irish League bows, not to mention former Rangers favourite Nacho Novo turning out for Glentoran for the first time, Portadown's players will be going through a hastily-arranged training session.

Portadown fans are becoming used to embarrassing situations though - and most have had enough of it.

One of the club's supporters groups pledged to withdraw its backing and to cease fundraising efforts until they are satisfied that the board are doing things right.

The £5,000 fine, as well as a season-long ban on signing professional players, was imposed in April after the IFA's Disciplinary Committee found the club guilty of making undisclosed payments to Tim Mouncey and Gary Twigg.

The fine was halved on appeal when it was deemed the Mouncey case couldn't be proven, but the club's claim that their former striker Twigg was paid during the summer in a role as a 'club ambassador' didn't wash with the appeals committee.

In May it was decided that Portadown had a case to answer regarding the registration of winger Peter McMahon.

They were then hit with a 12-point penalty when an administration error meant that McMahon was being paid while registered as an amateur.

That case was to have been appealed last night, but it was put back after the suspension was imposed.

All this happened at the same time as club chairman Roy McMahon's company, MET Steel - also the club's main sponsor - went into administration, with Portadown Football Club listed among those who owed money to the firm.

A Receivers report revealed an amount of £239,000 owed to the firm place in administration earlier this year but lists the book value of the debt at only £23,720.

Experts say the difference between the two amounts suggest the Receivers consider that the debt due by Portadown FC to be a bad debt and expect only to recover about 10 per cent.

Speculation that McMahon and club treasurer Trevor Marshall, who is also a director of MET Steel - now MET Mesh - had resigned, or were about to, appear to be wide of the mark.

With just three other directors currently in situ and one of them having little or no input, that would really plunge the club into a state of serious disorganisation - if they aren't already disorganised.

There is confidence that if the Ports can ride out this storm then the team on the pitch can lift the gloom that has settled around Shamrock Park.

Belfast Telegraph


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