McFall reaches 1,000 with Portadown

"It's a nice milestone," said Ronnie McFall after overseeing his 1,000th league game in Northern Ireland, though the 68-year-old's focus "has always been on the future".

Portadown manager Ronnie McFall has overseen 1,000 top-flight games in Northern Ireland
Portadown manager Ronnie McFall has overseen 1,000 top-flight games in Northern Ireland ©IFA

Long-serving Northern Irish Premiership boss Ronnie McFall added a special milestone to his management CV at the weekend, with the 68-year-old marking his 1,000th league game as a manager.

Head coach at Portadown FC since 21 December 1986, McFall is the longest-serving manager in Europe following Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in May, with 863 of those games having come during his time in charge at Portadown. He kicked off his management career with 137 games at Glentoran FC, where he managed from 1979 to 1984.

"It's amazing and hard to believe," said McFall, who was appointed Ports boss just six weeks after Ferguson was named Manchester United FC manager in 1986. "I don't really keep track of statistics and it was only recently I realised I was closing in on 1,000 league games. It's a nice milestone to reach."

In total, McFall has been in an Irish League dugout for 1,658 games in all competitions, 1,377 of those coming during his successful 27-year stint at Portadown FC. David Jeffrey, who has been in charge at Linfield FC for 17 years, branded McFall the 'Godfather' of football management in Northern Ireland.

"He has my utmost respect," said Jeffrey. "Ronnie's longevity bears testimony to a manager of great ability, stickability and desire. He is the Godfather of club football in Northern Ireland." Tommy Breslin, who led Cliftonville FC to the league championship in May, said: "Ronnie's contribution to local football is the envy of all other managers. It is an outstanding record."

Portadown were rooted to the foot of the table when McFall assumed control 27 years ago, but the former Dundee United FC defender revived the club's fortunes. He steered the Shamrock Park outfit to a first 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.

"When I first came to Portadown, people said there was a gypsy's curse on the club," recalled McFall. "People said we were destined never to win a major trophy. They said I was mad, but within four years we'd won the league and turned things around. It was very special delivering a first title to my home-town club in 1990. The scenes were unbelievable. It was a dream come true for so many people at Portadown. Grown men were crying. I'll never forget it."

During his five-year spell in charge at Glentoran, McFall won the league championship in 1981 and Northern Irish Cup in 1983 before parting company with the Belfast club the following year.

On the future, McFall, whose current contract at Shamrock Park expires next summer, said: "I have a lot of great memories, but my focus has always been on the future. The onus is on trying to deliver more success and silverware to Portadown."