Lee Bonis: From Portadown fan to Portadown player

All photographs courtesy of Lee Bonis.

You are now a big part of the Portadown squad but your journey to the club has been a unique one. Can you talk me through it?

I started off at Portadown in the youth set up and I was there until under 17’s. At that stage I wasn’t playing as much as I’d have liked and knew that I had to play football to learn my trade so I went down my local side to play men’s football.

I played there for just over a year and we won the cup and then I left for another local side. I won the cup with them as well and I was asked by Portadown reserves manager Neil McCullough to come back to the club.

At that stage I didn’t feel ready to do that. I wanted first team football so I left it for another little while then he asked me again and I went in to training and impressed which led me back to the club.

You mentioned playing for local sides. Sum up your time at Seagoe FC because that put you on the map didn’t it?

It was a massive season for me at the club and I have a lot to thank them for. It isn’t an easy level of football either. It’s very physical but I scored a lot of goals and felt that they were coming to me naturally. I kept scoring goals week in week out which made me feel better and better as the weeks went on.

When you hit top form, clubs are going to be interested and I was desperate to improve my game to make sure I could get back to where I wanted to. I was able to beat the all time league goal record for Seagoe which put me in the shop window and luckily for me that led me back to Portadown who are my club. I’ve always supported the club since I was a kid.

How did you feel when you joined the club as a memeber of the first team. How did you adapt to life in the NIFL championship?

It felt amazing as to play for the club that I’ve supported all my life and always wanted to play was an honour.

Initially, I played in a few trial games which I was able to score in. My second trial game was against Coleraine and I managed to score the winner in that one.

Then I made my debut for the season and played well in that too. We got off to a flying start and I played well too which meant a lot to me as a fan and as a player for the club.

How big an impact has your manager Matthew Tipton had on you as a footballer?

He’s been excellent for me in my career so far as has David Miskelly. They’ve pushed me very hard and Matthew has been there and done it as a striker so he is the ideal manager to help me on the training field and explain how I can get to where I want to as a footballer.

You’ve discussed your passion for the club as a fan. With that in mind sum up your pride at achieving promotion last season?

I was absolutely over the moon. To be a part of it as a fan was unreal. We’d been down in the championship for too long and to get back to the premiership and to be a part of it was amazing. We had an unbelievable team spirit and to be part of a successful team like that is special.

Another interesting aspect of your career is the fact that you represented Northern Ireland at under 21 level before you played in the NIFL premiership. What was it like to receive international recognition for your performances?

Playing for your country is the biggest honour. To do that coming from my background was unbelievable. I was surprised at first and pinched myself that it was actually happening.

The experience was amazing. You get to play with so many good players and bedsheets you’re training everyday alongside quality players, you are learning from them and the staff at the national team as well. The set up was amazing.

The club was promoted to the premiership as we have discussed. Did you feel any extra nerves about playing at a higher level of football?

The team was playing well and the players that we have in the squad made me feel confident that we could play well at this level. We have players that have been and done it at this level before so my confidence never changed.

To score in my first game against Glenavon was the perfect start for me. As a Ports fan, to score against Glenavon is extra special. I scored against Linfield too which was amazing albeit we were ultimately unlucky in that game. Playing at this level is the highest standard you can play at in Northern Ireland and I’m relishing the opportunity to go on the pitch and prove myself.

Who would you say the big characters are within the Portadown dressing room?

That’s a great question. I’d have to say Paddy McNally because he’s always so positive. He has an incredible hunger and will to win.

Stephen Murray is another player who is a character given the success he’s had in his career. He is someone younger players understandably look up to.

Lastly, you’ve played at international level and are now playing in top flight of Northern Irish football. What are your aspirations at Portadown going forward?

Over the next few years we want to progress as a club. Staying up is obviously the main aim this season then like all football clubs we want to progress as far as we can. As a player that’s my aim too. I want to keep playing my game and progress as far as I can also.

Published by Callum McFadden

Football CFB founder. Freelance football writer & broadcaster of over 350 interviews with professional players and managers across all levels of football.

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