Portadown captain Brian Strain on the day everything changed
Saturday, April 28, 1990 – a day that changed everything for Portadown Football Club.
It was an afternoon of high drama, high emotion and high temperatures as thousands packed inside Shamrock Park for hours before kick-off to cheer the Ports to a first major honour 66 years after becoming a senior club.
In the end, everything came down to two moments on that sun-soaked Saturday afternoon – goals scored with the clock on 62 and 76 minutes respectively.
The pain created by decades of disappointment and gut-wrenching defeats was consigned to the past thanks to goals from Stevie Cowan and Gregg Davidson at the end of 26 history-making league games.
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Generations of Portadown fans celebrated long into the night, many at times in tears, in the aftermath of that final whistle on the final day of the 1989/90 season.
Brian Strain – the man with his place in the Irish League record books as Portadown’s first Gibson Cup-winning captain – can still recall the pride felt by the players in delivering the long-awaited championship to the supporters.
“For hours before kick-off that final day you could hear the fans singing inside the ground and over the season we certainly fed off that backing,” said Strain. “I do not really remember too much about the actual game to be honest, other than a bit of panic when we scored the first goal and fans invaded the pitch.
“For a minute I was worried in case the referee, Alan Snoddy, would abandon the game or something but, thankfully, everything calmed down and we got the job done.
“I have such amazing memories from that season, plus my time overall at Portadown, from the sight of so many long-serving fans in tears to the sounds of the bagpipes playing during the celebrations.
“Back then we would often pop into the bar after games for a drink before heading back to Belfast so developed a real bond with the supporters.
“You had supporters’ clubs from Dungannon, Armagh, Markethill, Loughgall, Richhill, Craigavon and the town all going home and away so you very quickly got a real sense of how much it would mean to everyone to finally win the league.
“I consider it a real honour to have been a part of those times with Portadown and it was a privilege to be captain of that group of special players.”
Strain highlights the team spirit at the core of Portadown’s success in the early 1990s.
“We were so strong defensively and made it a real point to keep clean sheets,” said Strain. “But everyone worked so hard and we had strong characters who really bonded on and off the pitch.
“As captain I organised on the pitch and was quite vocal but also made a point of arranging social trips to help everyone gel.
“We were a tight group and one which started to grow in confidence as that season went on, with our unbeaten run running to January.
“Sandy Fraser’s injury-time winner against Ards in the penultimate game set everything up for the Linfield match and to win 2-0 and lift the title was an unbelievable end to such an amazing season.
“When I initially joined the club from Glentoran my goal was basically to try and gain some regular first-team football.
“Within the club we could sense something was building over those early seasons up to the point that we had the side ready to challenge.
“It was something special.”
Strain spent 14 years on the books at Shamrock Park but can still recall his first conversation with manager Ronnie McFall about following him from Glentoran to the Ports.
“I never actually played under Ronnie when he was Glentoran boss but joined Portadown in 1987 as part of his rebuilding job,” said Strain. “You could tell from the start that he meant business, in terms of the signings and how Ronnie was so driven and professional.
“Everything was so organised, from the work put in by the backroom guys to those small details.
“It was all about trying to gain an edge in any possible way.
“Ronnie didn’t suffer fools but, of course, it was the same within the dressing room and we were all winners, with that character our greatest strength on and off the pitch.
“We handled our own situations and Ronnie’s approach was clear, based on not conceding then getting it forward to the players who could cause damage.
“We put in a lot of hard work on the training pitch and made sure we kept our own fitness levels up because no-one wanted to lose a place in the team.
“During the tough times he would stick to his beliefs and we all rode the storm together, with everyone pushing each other forward.
“We hit the ground running that first season and you could see by the end how much it meant for Ronnie to win the league for his home town.
“He helped to give me a fabulous career, not only in the Irish League but Europe.
“It was a great time to be at the club, with a real bond formed between the players and fans, so much so that it felt like our home town too.”
From the Portadown Times archive
The statistics from Portadown’s 1989/90 Irish League title-winning campaign:
PORTADOWN (league only): P26, W16, D7, L3, F42, A17, Pts 55
RESULTS (home bold):
SEP: Linfield 1-1; Bangor 1-0. OCT: Glentoran 0-0; Distillery 2-0. NOV: Larne 2-2; Coleraine 0-0; Crusaders 3-1; Cliftvonille 3-1. DEC: Ballymena United 1-0; Carrick Rangers 1-1; Glenavon 3-0; Newry Town 0-0; Ards 4-1. JAN: Bangor 0-1; Glentoran 3-2; Distillery 2-0. FEB: Larne 0-2; Coleraine 0-0. MAR: Crusaders 2-1; Cliftonville 3-0; Ballymena United 3-2; Carrick Rangers 2-0. APR: Glenavon 0-2; Newry Town 3-0; Ards 1-0; Linfield 2-0.
LEAGUE APPEARANCES (subs in brackets): Mickey Keenan 26; Ian Curliss 26; Sandy Fraser 25; Philip Major 23; Alfie Stewart 23; Joey Cunningham 22; Davy Mills 22 (1); Kevin McKeever 19 (1); Gregg Davidson 11 (9); Roy McCreadie 19; Neil McCullough 15; Brian Strain 15; Marty Magee 14 (1); Stevie Cowan 8; Damien Robinson 4 (2); Gary McKinstry 3 (3); Trevor Williamson 0 (5); Ryan Watson 1 (3); William Callaghan 3; Vic Kasule 3 (1); John Magorrian 2; Kevin Kingsmore 0 (2); Dougie Bell 2.
LEAGUE SCORERS: Marty Magee 11; Sandy Fraser 7; Stevie Cowan 7; Kevin McKeever 5; Joey Cunningham 3; Roy McCreadie 2; Gary McKinstry 2; Brian Strain 2; Davy Mills 1; Gregg Davidson 1; Own goal 1.
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Portadown captain Brian Strain on the day everything changed Saturday, April 28, 1990 – a day that changed everything for Portadown Football Club. It was an afternoon of high drama, high
Born: August 27, 1964
More Player Info
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Match Logs (Summary)
Match Logs (Summary)
Standard Stats : International Cups
|Playing Time||Performance||Per 90 Minutes|
|1990-1991||25||Portadown FC||1. European Cup||Rd1||2||2||180||2.0||0||0||0||0.00||Matches|
|1991-1992||26||Portadown FC||1. European Cup||Rd1||2||2||180||2.0||0||0||0||0.00||Matches|
|1992-1993||27||Portadown FC||3. UEFA Cup||Rd1||2||2||180||2.0||0||0||0||0.00||Matches|
|3 Seasons||1 Club||2 Leagues||6||6||540||6.0||0||0||0||0.00|
|European Cup (2 Seasons)||4||4||360||4.0||0||0||0||0.00|
|UEFA Cup (1 Season)||2||2||180||2.0||0||0||0||0.00|
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Playing Time : International Cups
|Playing Time||Starts||Subs||Team Success|
|1990-1991||25||Portadown FC||1. European Cup||Rd1||2||180||90||2.0||2||2||0||0||Matches|
|1991-1992||26||Portadown FC||1. European Cup||Rd1||2||180||90||2.0||2||2||0||0||Matches|
|1992-1993||27||Portadown FC||3. UEFA Cup||Rd1||2||180||90||2.0||2||2||0||0||Matches|
|3 Seasons||1 Club||2 Leagues||6||540||90||6.0||6||6||0||0|
|European Cup (2 Seasons)||4||360||90||4.0||4||4||0||0|
|UEFA Cup (1 Season)||2||180||90||2.0||2||2||0||0|
Miscellaneous Stats : International Cups
|1990-1991||25||Portadown FC||1. European Cup||Rd1||2.0||0||0||Matches|
|1991-1992||26||Portadown FC||1. European Cup||Rd1||2.0||0||0||Matches|
|1992-1993||27||Portadown FC||3. UEFA Cup||Rd1||2.0||0||0||Matches|
|3 Seasons||1 Club||2 Leagues||6.0||0||0|
|European Cup (2 Seasons)||4.0||0||0|
|UEFA Cup (1 Season)||2.0||0||0|
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