Ronnie McFall marked his 25th anniversary as Portadown FC manager with a 2-0 win against Glentoran FC and received a ringing endorsement from Sir Alex Ferguson – a man who completed his own quarter century in charge of Manchester United FC just a month ago.
The 66-year-old is the second longest serving manager in European football behind Sir Alex and celebrated his 1,285th game in charge with victory on Saturday as second-half goals from Jamie Tomelty and Kevin Braniff made the difference away against Glentoran. His side now lie five points behind Northern Irish Premiership leaders Linfield FC in third.
McFall took charge of the Ports in December 1986, a month after Sir Alex entered the United dugout, and has since led the club to 23 trophies, including four league titles. In a special message, Sir Alex said: "I would like to congratulate you on reaching the same milestone I experienced a few weeks ago.
I know exactly what you are going through: all the emotions, frustrations, bad days, good days. You get them all in a 25-year spell.
"The amazing thing is, you have survived," continued his fellow manager. "You have shown fantastic determination and conviction to get through these years because it is not an easy profession. Good luck, continue and, while it's not easy, keep going."
Portadown were rooted to the bottom of the table when McFall assumed control 25 years ago. The former tough-tackling, Dundee United FC defender steered the Shamrock Park outfit to a first ever league championship in 1989/90 and delivered further titles in 1990/91, 1995/96 and 2001/02.
He also led the Ports to their maiden cup success in 1990/91 – completing a domestic double – and lifted the knockout trophy twice more in 1998/99 and 2004/05. A winner of the manager of the year accolade five times – once with previous club Glentoran and four times with Portadown – he was also awarded an MBE for services to football in 2007.
"It's been a remarkable journey," said McFall. "Can I believe I've been in charge 25 years? No. Absolutely not. When I took over, Portadown were a poor side, but they were my hometown club and I was a fan. People maybe thought I was mad because they had never won a major trophy, but within three-and-a-half years we'd won the league and turned things around.
"That first league title in 1990 is probably the highlight. It was the club's first ever league championship, so it was a very special day. We beat Linfield 2-0 to secure the title and it was a real occasion. The scenes were unbelievable and it was a dream come true for so many people at Portadown. Grown men were crying. I'll never forget it."
The evergreen McFall has vowed to continue managing for as long as his health allows. "
I've had my highs and lows, my good days and bad days in football, but as long as my health holds, I intend to keep going," he said. "The enthusiasm and hunger to continue managing is still there."
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