The Consolations of a Football Fan

Kevin Braniff scores twice in Portadown's 5-1 win over Lisburn Distillery
Kevin Braniff scored twice in Portadown's 5-1 win over Lisburn Distillery

Indecision, Instability, 2 Great Strikers: Another Day at Portadown 14/08/11

It was a day of indecision at Shamrock Park from Lisburn Distillery’s defending to the uncertainty that reigns over Portadown FC. Even the weather couldn’t make its mind up as it went from beaming sunshine to Amazon basin at the turn of a head.

Tommy Wright put on a brave face and jovial attitude after the match but he must be concerned. His side were comfortably still in the game with 20 minutes to go but a series of calamitous incidents in the visitor’s penalty area made the afternoon easy for Portadown and the 5-1 win flattered the hosts. Yes, Wright’s side are traditionally slow starters and last season’s 6-1 opening day hammering by Glentoran at Ballyskeagh was followed by their best season in 18 with League Cup success. Time will tell if defensive stability can be restored.

Stability is an interesting theme when we consider the plunderers of the day at Shamrock Park. On the field, Portadown exuded everything you would expect from a strong and collected side as they romped to victory. The bonus for the Ports was the finishing clinic put on by Kevin Braniff and Matthew Tipton. They were razor sharp all afternoon and both strikers bagged a brace. Ross Redman along with new signing Jamie Tomelty provided a constant threat down the left-hand side and the introduction of Wes Boyle, replacing the injured Brian Gartland, provided even more attacking width and balance down the right.

Off-the-field is a different matter altogether. My broadcast colleague and I watched with interest as club official after club official walked up and down past us. At one stage pre-game I thought there would be more ‘blazers’ there than supporters. However, the supporters did arrive in their droves and will have enjoyed the new, pristine stand at Shamrock Park. We were handed the statement from the Portadown Concerned Fans ‘Umbrella’ as it calls itself. It’s very hard to know what is going on but atleast two pertinent questions can be asked: Firstly, if Yalcin Cubuk, the Portadown-based businessman, has offered £750,000 to the club repayable over 10 years, what’s the problem? This is money that could match the Title-challenging ambitions of the club which were voiced by Kevin Braniff after the match. Secondly, is there a family tie between Portadown boss Ronnie McFall and Cubuk and is this having any effect on the matter whatsoever?

Cubuk looked in good spirits pre-game as he walked the stadium with friends and colleagues. At one point he was standing within the dashed lines of the manager’s technical area chatting to another ‘suit.’ This is the same area in which McFall has orchestrated a large part of his 25 year management regime based on solidity, strength and success; not a situation that depicts Portadown right now. The ‘Umbrella’ has scheduled another meeting for Tuesday 23rd August at a venue to be confirmed.


The Old-New Debate 07/08/11
Rarely is the relationship between old and new so prevalent than at the start of a new football season with the signing of new players and the retiring of old ones, for instance. However, I've never witnessed this theme in such microcosmic form than during Glentoran’s’ 2-1 season opening win over Crusaders at Seaview on Saturday.

Glens’ boss Scott Young blooded some of his new protégés along with prudent additions to the squad such as Stephen Carson and match-winner Darren Boyce. Carson, playing on either flank, deserves special mention and was a constant threat throughout. For Crues’ boss Stephen Baxter, a new season brings with it a new and improved facility. Seaview was close to capacity and looked as marvellous as it did when Premier League heavyweights Fulham visited in the Europa League last month. But up until new-boy Boyce’s 91st minute winner for Glentoran, there was a very old, very familiar feel to proceedings. The two earlier goals on 50 and 79 minutes, locking the score at 1-1, were scored by two club stalwarts, both whom are captains, both central defenders and both finding the net with the head from a corner. I refer, ofcourse, to Glentoran’s Colin Nixon and Crusaders’ Colin Coates, respectively.

However, something was very new about this Glentoran performance. Yes, they almost allowed 2 points to slip away with the same old sloppy defending that plagued them last season. But this Glens team looked steelier, more resilient and perhaps a little more ‘2009.’ Had it been April or May rather than August, it’s the sort of result a Premiership winning manager would reflect on and think “that was the day…” After the match, Glens boss Scott Young alluded to as much and, in his opinion, had this match occurred last season, his East Belfast side wouldn’t have even drawn it, they’d have lost it.

The Scotsman made his feelings toward the Seaview surface very clear as well. 3G/ 4G pitches perhaps represent the future of Irish Premiership football and a new solution to the effects of our country's inclement weather. However, this isn't a mitigating factor for the former midfielder who compared the artificial pitch’s quality to another stalwart, this time of the Disney universe.

Perhaps the old-new relationship finds even more balance in the shape of Paul Leeman and his Irish Premiership debut for Crusaders against his former employers. He took to the field with old friends but forged new rivalries and, perhaps, displayed new animosities. Leeman tussled all afternoon with Andy Waterworth and successfully contained the Glens’ striker in what was a clean but fiercely competitive battle. At the full-time whistle there was mostly good-will between Leeman and his former colleagues but with the notable exception of Young as the defender appeared to reject his offer of a hand shake. No new contract offer at the Glens for Leeman has seemingly created new frictions with his old boss.