The 26th December in the UK is ‘Boxing Day’… it’s the day after Christmas and in days gone by, a day when the Rich would give their servants a boxed gift. Today, in Northern Ireland, outside of finishing off the Turkey, it is famous for one thing… it’s Football Derby Day!
This season saw the Mid Ulster Boxing Day Derby take place at Mourneview Park, Lurgan – the home of Glenavon FC. It’s widely considered to be the best domestic football stadium in Northern Ireland, with it’s approximate 3,000 all seated capacity. It is modest, neat and tidy, providing some great views of the game, in comfort. And Portadown FC supporters have hugely enjoyed those views… we usually win when we play at Mourneview!
Going into today’s game, Portadown FC were sitting joint second in the table with Glenavon FC sitting in the bottom four, however, with a new manager on board, and the ‘Ports’ dropping points to lowly Carrick Rangers FC during the week, it had banana skin written all over it for Portadown FC. It had the added ingredient that the new Glenavon FC manager was Gary Hamilton – former striker for Portadown FC & current ‘person non grata’ with Portadown FC. So an extra needle to the derby.
The game started out well for the ‘Ports’ with a couple of early half chances and one great save from the ‘Glens’ keeper, but as the half wore on, it became more even & scrappy. Portadown’s star man of the season, Matthew Tipton, went off half way through as well with a rib injury, so it was a bit disjointed for the sell out crowd (expected to be somewhere in the region of 2,600 crowd (some seating was left unoccupied & unsold for segregation between supporters)).
The second half started out as the first had ended, with no one really taking the game by the scruff of the neck, however as the half progressed, it was the team from Lurgan who began to dominate & frankly create the best chances, though without making Portadown’s keeper do too much work.
Then the ‘Ports’ struck… making a break down the right wing the ‘Ports’ crossed from the corner… it was one of the worst crosses you will ever, ever see… yet it dropped (possibly with snow on it) around 10 yards out, and on the dive, Kevin Braniff volleyed in, off the post. Que pandemonium in the away end, amongst the 1,000 Portadown FC Supporters in the crowd.
Glenavon FC pressed after, but in truth created little… and with around 10 minutes to go, the ‘Ports’ broke away again… this time, whilst Braniff was working his way down the right wing, Shane McCabe was hacked down in the penalty area… the referee played advantage, watched as Braniff’s shot saved & then awarded a penalty for lack of advantage. It was good refereeing to be fair. Neil McCafferty stepped up & sealed the deal for Portadown FC to keep our title aspirations intact… in fact, with Glentoran FC beating Linfield FC in Belfast, results mean that Portadown FC stand 2 points behind Linfield FC with the season half way through.
Unfortunately, at the end of the game there was some crowd trouble between supporters. From my position (in the middle of the ‘away’ stand) it was difficult to see what happened exactly, however a number of Glenavon FC “supporters” (I use the term very, very loosely) made their way through the segregation area & into the ‘away’ stand. Stewards and eventually police made their way to the dividing line and it seemed to clear up pretty quickly. I saw some bottles go each way and no doubt there was a bit of trouble however it seemed pretty limited. Later reports suggest that there were some punches thrown and one or two hospitalisations – hopefully these are not serious & those responsible will face the appropriate charges & punishments.
However, focusing on the sport it’s great to see the ‘Ports’ keeping up their title challenge. With a small squad it’s going to be difficult, but that we’ve kept pace so far is encouraging. The start of January is busy, but as a whole, the month of January doesn’t look too busy for the ‘Ports’… so some rest & recuperation could see us keep our title challenge going!
C’mon ‘the wee Ports’!