Portadown's darkest day as appeals are thrown out
Danske Bank Premiership
A serious inquest has begun at Portadown Football Club after the Irish Football Association threw out their appeal against a 12-point deduction.
In one of the darkest days in the club's history, the Ports were rattled by the double blow of having two appeals rejected by the Irish FA Appeals Board.
Shamrock Park officials were fighting a 12-point deduction dished out for making irregular payments to players, but the IFA judgement contained damning criticism of the club and rejected the appeal.
Coleraine have also been awarded a 3-0 win from the postponed Premiership fixture between the clubs on August 6 after the Ports had been suspended from all football activity for the non-payment of a £5,000 fine.
That financial penalty was imposed, along with a transfer embargo preventing the club from signing players on professional terms until June 2017, after irregularities were found in payments made to former striker Gary Twigg.
The 12-point deduction was imposed after they were found to have paid their ex-player Peter McMahon while he was registered as an amateur.
Fans conveyed their anger at the mess on social media, and former Portadown hero Richard Clarke summed up the despair when he commented on Twitter: "Portadown fans, players and management let down by shoddy administration of the club. Hopefully rules applied consistently in future tho."
Portadown published the report on the club's website yesterday, but chairman Roy McMahon and secretary Bill Emerson were unavailable for comment, while manager Pat McGibbon said a statement would be issued "in time".
Club officials will be fuming as they fought hard to challenge both penalties.
But the decision means Portadown remain rooted to the bottom of the Premiership on minus six points while Coleraine's three additional points lifts them from fifth to third spot in the table above Cliftonville and Ballymena United.
The Irish FA statement incorporated savage criticism of Portadown officials, and fans will now expect heads to roll in the boardroom.
In his judgement, appeals board chairman Joseph McCrisken accused Portadown of a "breathtaking breach of sporting integrity" and said their attempts to "deceive the Irish FA" by altering the contract documents of former player Peter McMahon "potentially constituted a criminal offence".
The statement added: "The evidence presented by Portadown to the appeal lacked any real credibility."
In late August, Portadown were also ordered to pay £7,000 in unpaid wages to McMahon by an employment tribunal, although the club said they would be appealing against this verdict.
"It is our view that, in the case of Peter McMahon, Portadown did not act with the transparency and integrity which was expected of them," said the appeals board chairman.
"Instead representatives from the club signed a player on a contract which was not dated, then at a later stage amended the contract by writing over some of the characters and scribbling out others so that the IFA would think that the player was not being paid for sixmonths when he in fact was.
"Not only does this potentially constitute a criminal offence but is a breathtaking breach of sporting integrity.
"The evidence presented by Portadown to the appeal lacked any real credibility.
"The club representatives said that they were unable to tell us who the mystery person was that had amended the contract and sought to deceive the IFA.
"Accordingly, we have no hesitation in finding, as the disciplinary committee did, that by sending the IFA a redacted contract which did not disclose that the player was being paid as a professional, that Portadown not only breached Rule 38(a) but also brought the game of football into disrepute in breach."
After Coleraine's opening game of the season was postponed, they can now be hopeful of securing financial compensation from the Northern Ireland Football League.
Saturday's scheduled fixture between Portadown and Coleraine will go ahead at Shamrock Park, with a 5.30pm kick-off.
With the 12-point deduction originally imposed on Portadown on June 14, the long running saga tested the patience of supporters, players and officials, not least those at the Ports who started the season on minus 12 points - a shattering blow to morale at Shamrock Park. Boss McGibbon was left with a daunting rebuilding job, and the club now has a mountain to climb in its mission to remain in the top flight.
While Ports officials have taken a lot of flak, the Irish FA's disciplinary process has also been heavily criticised, with the length of time needed to sort out the mess sparking anger, and the report was issued just four hours before Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Germany in Hannover.
Bannsiders boss Oran Kearney said: "It did take a lot of time to resolve and that was frustrating for many people, but I'm sure Irish FA representatives were frustrated as well.
"It was possibly one of the most complex issues they have dealt with and they obviously needed time to make sure it was the right decision, with no legal comeback, while keeping an eye on regulations to make sure everything is done correctly."
- Portadown's submission of Peter McMahon's contract was "amended so as to redact the part of the contract which disclosed that he would be paid", with a 1 overwritten to become a 6 in a bid to change the start date from January 1, 2015 to June 1, 2015.
- The Irish FA cannot confirm when McMahon signed his contract because "this date was entered at some point after he signed it, presumably by the same mystery person who amended the contract".
- Chairman Joseph McCrisken found that "The evidence presented by Portadown to the appeal lacked any real credibility".
- After adjourning the September 12 hearing because the Ports claimed to have documentation that would "easily" prove their case regarding the payment of fines, the Appeals Board revealed that, when the parties reconvened on October 3, "absolutely no material was presented to support the claims".