Written by Trevor Clydesdale
The traditional festive derby games are eagerly anticipated by Irish League fans each year, and after a gap of five years the Mid-Ulster derby is back. A sell-out crowd will make their way to Shamrock Park full of festive cheer.
Prior to World War II a Portadown v Glenavon Christmas encounter was not a regular feature of the Fixture schedule. When the Ports returned to Irish League action again in 1947 a Christmas Day derby was on the cards. Mourneview Park was the venue, but our hosts were not full of the Christmas spirit as they ran up a 5-1 scoreline.
Everybody loves a Yuletide Reds v Blues fixture and what could be better. Well how about two Christmas derby games. That is what transpired in 1948 when Shamrock Park was the venue for the Christmas Day game and on Monday 27th December, Ports fans made the journey to Lurgan for the return fixture. A huge crowd turned out at Shamrock Park with the queue said to be over half a mile long. Portadown Pipe Band provided the festive musical renditions as the Ports fans celebrated a 3-1 victory. The return game ended all square at 2-2.
During the 1950’s Christmas Day was the traditional date for the festive derby, kicking off in 1950 with a 7-2 success for the Ports at Mourneview Park. Walter Allen bagged five goals to leave Glenavon feeling the blues. In their three Christmas fixtures Portadown scored 17 goals.
As all Ports fans are quick to remind our friends of the blue persuasion, the Mourneview Park men have not won the league since the black and white days of the 1950’s. That successful period for Glenavon saw them win seven of the next eight meetings following that 1950 Ports win.
Neither side took the share of the spoils on Christmas Day 1956 at Mourneview Park. Despite strong protests from both sides, the referee insisted in playing the game in the face of a winter blizzard. After just 13 minutes the game was abandoned, much to the great annoyance of the spectators that paid to watch less than a quarter of an hour action.
The Ports solitary Christmas victory during the 1950’s came in 1958, when a 3-2 win in Lurgan saw Portadown overtake Glenavon in top spot in the league table.
Glenavon rounded of the decade with a 4-0 win at Shamrock Park and it would be four years until the fixture was next on the Christmas schedule. Once more the Ports celebrated a festive success in Lurgan with a 3-1 win in 1963. The rest of the 60’s saw just four more Christmas derbies with two wins a piece.
The 1970’s saw Portadown maintain their dominance in the Christmas derby meetings. Between 1970 and 1976 The Ports secured three wins and three draws from the seven Christmas Day games. A 0-0 draw in 1973 saw the headline, “Proud Ports Strive Ahead” as they set atop of the table, a position they repeated in 1974 following a 4-2 derby win. The only reverse during this period came in 1975 when the Lurgan blues grabbed their first win since October. The last ever Christmas Day fixture list in the Irish League took place in 1976 and the Mid-Ulster derby ended in a 0-0 stalemate. A 5-1 win in 1978 was to be the last festive derby against Glenavon until the Boxing Day on 27th December 1993 which the Ports won 3-1.
Following a 1-0 win for the Lurgan Blues in 1996, it would be seventeen years before the Lurgan men could again celebrate success in the Boxing Day derby. The 1998 game at Mourneview Park was abandoned on the hour mark when a raging storm saw debris blowing parts of the stands around the ground.
Between 1997 and 2012 Portadown won nine and drew two of the eleven Boxing Day Derbies. Glenavon failed to score in nine of those games. The last Boxing Day encounter took place in 2016 and ended with Glenavon securing a dramatic 2-2 draw in injury time having been 2-0 down after 49 mins. Glenavon however played David Elbert in this game when he was not eligible to play with the result that Portadown were awarded a 3-0 win.
Seventy four years after that first post war Mid-Ulster derby the sides are ready for action again, as the next chapter in the festive spectacle will unfold.