Portadown manager Matthew Tipton says Irish League clubs can play a role in helping the community get through the coronavirus crisis.
Tipton has contacted several supporters, including lifelong Ports fan Dean Irwin who has battled mental health issues, to reassure them they remain firmly in the thoughts of everyone at the club.
Former Portadown favourite Alfie Stewart has also been in touch with elderly supporters who could be feeling lonely and isolated at this anxious time.
Big Ports fan Dean, who was diagnosed with severe depression over a decade ago, stated on Twitter: "Never underestimate power of a simple phone call. What a club, what a family. Thank you. Ports & proud."
Tipton said the Championship leaders were determined to keep the Ports family united during the coronavirus lockdown.
"We are keeping in touch with people and I noticed Dean has been grateful but I've contacted around a dozen people and I never did it for any recognition," he said.
"We just need to get through this crisis and have as many fans still with us when the game returns."
While football has been suspended and the battle rages against Covid-19, a greater spotlight is being shone on mental health during this worrying time and clubs have recognised the need to reach out to their loyal supporters.
In his Twitter post, Dean added: “Portadown Football Club means the world to me, my hometown club, my family. I love it and massively miss it. Today I received a call from Ports manager Matthew Tipton to check in on me, knowing I battle with my mental health and get so much from the football, he was so encouraging and supportive.
“Meant world to me, huge respect to Tippy. Love this football club of mine and those who’ve been there for me, fellow fans, players, manager, board members etc.”
Tipton explained: “Mark Beattie and Dave Wiggins, from the supporters’ clubs, have passed on contact numbers and they do a lot of hard work behind the scenes including the YouTube channel. I think the social media team is producing good content and clubs will be keeping in touch with their own fan bases.
“We aren’t saying we are better than anyone else. If every club is doing it then brilliant. No one is doing it for a pat on the back.
“As much as we miss football, the health and wellbeing of everyone is more important.
“For some of the older fans, going to football is their day out of the week and I was chatting to a guy who was due to get out of hospital and he was looking forward to seeing Portadown win the league. Obviously now he hasn’t got that but at least he’s out of hospital and not missing anything as the football is suspended. It’s important he rests and recovers for when we can hopefully do that for him.”
The 39-year-old former Warrenpoint Town boss feels it’s important every supporter understands they are part of a special community and family.
“There’s little loyalty left in football but the fans are guaranteed to be there for the club and we want to make sure the supporters who follow us aren’t simply someone who comes along and pays an admission fee,” added the former Linfield striker.
“They are part of the club and since I returned to the club I knew everyone needed to be a value to us. We are trying to make it more of a community and we can talk about it but it’s important we actually do it and demonstrate it by our actions. I want our supporters to know they are valued.”
Ports legend Stewart says it’s a privilege to be able to stay in contact with older fans who could be struggling with social isolation and loneliness.
“I got a phone call from the Ports media guys who are doing terrific work around the club,” said Stewart, who was part of the Ports’ magnificent league and Cup-winning side in 1991.
“Myself and a few other players were asked would we be willing to contact people and I think it’s a marvellous initiative. I was more than happy to do that and I knew quite a few of the people so it was nice to catch up.
“It’s certainly a period in our lives we have never experienced before.
“You would have to go back to war times to get a flavour of this. I thought it was a great gesture because there are a lot of isolated people. I’ve had some tremendous conversations with the fans and it’s been brilliant.
“As well as talking about old times around Shamrock Park it’s nice to know how they are feeling and who is looking after them.
“It’s the not knowing what is around the corner and not knowing when football will return that is worrying people.”
• The Irish Football Association have furloughed an unspecified number of staff members until further notice because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We hope to be able to facilitate a return to work for these staff members as soon as possible,” said chief executive Patrick Nelson in a statement issued yesterday. The government’s job retention scheme covers 80% of an employee’s wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
The Association have also offered the use of Windsor Park to the Northern Ireland Executive as a Covid-19 testing centre or for any other purpose which might assist the fight against Covid-19.
As yet, the offer has not been taken up.