OPINION: Ports’ greatest lesson must be need for strength in numbers

Shamrock Park.
Shamrock Park.

Portadown Football Club’s season has been dominated by disciplinary and financial issues, with a meeting of supporters planned for next week and the Board of Directors in a current state of restructuring.

Patrick Van Dort, a Johnston Press senior sports reporter, offers his view on the Shamrock Park situation and how the club now move forward:

“The final whistle at Shamrock Park last Saturday sparked wild celebrations on and off the pitch - with Portadown players and fans united at reaching the landmark zero points tally in the battle to beat the drop.

“A 12-point reduction imposed by the Irish Football Association and ban on signing players on professional terms left it as a summer of woe.

“The opening months of the Dankse Bank Premiership have presented a string of subsequent blows to morale for the fans and the football team as off-the-field issues surrounding player contracts and payments served to further demoralise and disrupt.

“Pat McGibbon’s resignation as first-team manager in the middle of October added to the sense of a club in disarray, along with the exile of two senior players - Mark McAllister and Sean Mackle - due to internal disciplinary issues.

“With hit after hit impacting on relations between all aspects of the club, Portadown’s season has been the ultimate damning symbol encapsulating and exposing the fractions threatened over a number of years.

“The Robert Garrett suspension row marks the latest situation to drag down the proud name of Portadown, within a sequence of fines for various transgressions.

“However harsh lessons have been for Portadown, the only positive will be if they serve as a path to future progress.

“The spirit on show at the final whistle last weekend may have been demolished within minutes of those celebrations by questions over Garrett’s eligibility. But key will be to regroup and rejuvenate from within.

“Greater supporter involvement is central to rebuilding faith in the club officials but now is not the time for emotion to take over logic.

“Calls for resignations have been loud from a growing number of the Portadown fanbase, with many more equally disaffected and demoralised as a silent minority.

“The chasm between the fanbase and officials is understandable, created by mistakes that have cost the club in terms of cash, credibility, trust, faith and respect.

“Those charged with the responsibility for steering the club forward have failed in black-and-white terms but a greater support network must also be implemented to ensure any future structure does not suffer the same problem of individual frailties dominating a flawed system.

“Long-term service to the club by many in the firing line for current mistakes has saved Portadown from numerous problems in the past.

“Portadown’s financial circumstances and status as a provincial club in a town with limited resources mean sweeping changes at present can only create additional uncertainty.

“Internal changes from the Board of Directors down across the club structure have started to gather momentum and offer indications towards progress.

“The prime focus this season must remain on unity to help drive forward the team on the pitch - with quiet evolution away from the field of play in preparation for a fresh approach to future campaigns.

“Mistakes have been made - and repercussions significant - but often errors arrive from pure intentions.

“The one issue of clarity from this season is the crucial need for growing numbers to accept responsibility and step forward to share the workload.

“The changing face of the Irish League and how clubs operate dictates Portadown’s next powerbase must operate from a group effort and not an imbalance or reliance on individuals for financial or administrative responsibility.

“Time may lead to fresh faces in central positions but only additions aligned with fresh thinking and a fresh perspective will result in lasting change.

“A club divided must find a way to stand together.”