By Misak Krkyasharian
Ian Porterfield, a Scottish soccer coach who inspired Armenia’s national team to its best-ever performances this year, has died of cancer at the age of 61.
Porterfield reportedly died in Britain late Tuesday six months after being diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He underwent urgent surgery in Yerevan last March and received other medical treatment in Armenian and British hospitals.
Despite his deteriorating health, Porterfield refused to resign as Armenia coach and chose to remain at its helm until his death. He is widely credited with the team’s markedly improved performance in the ongoing qualifying campaign for the 2008 European football championship.
Ignoring doctors’ advice, the Scot returned to Yerevan to lead Armenia to its dramatic August 26 draw with Portugal, one of the world’s strongest teams. Football commentators believe Armenia played its best game to date. The Armenians had defeated Poland and Kazakhstan in their two previous the Euro2008 qualifying games. It was the first two-game winning streak in the team’s 15-year history.
Armenian players and coaching staff learned news of Porterfield’s death in Malta where they prepared for a friendly match with the island state’s national squad scheduled for Wednesday evening. The Armenian Football Federation (AFF) said that the game will go ahead and that the players will wear black armbands to express their sympathy and respect for their deceased coach.
“Our team has lost a talented coach who set serious goals and did a great job,” the AFF chairman, Ruben Hayrapetian, told RFE/RL from Malta.
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian also paid tribute to Porterfield’s work in Armenia and extended the Armenian government’s condolences to his family. “During his short work, he managed to breathe a new life into Armenia’s national team and become a consolidating and inspiring center that brought the team spirit and winning psychology to the fore,” Sarkisian said in a statement.
Porterfield’s wife Glenda recalled his last days in charge of the Armenian team in comments to British media. “Just over two weeks ago, we flew to Armenia for the Portugal game and I'll always remember what happened at the open training session at the stadium on the day before the game,” she said, according to BBC. "The stadium was packed to see all the Portuguese stars like Ronaldo, Deco and the rest, but when Ian walked out, they all stood up and shouted his name. It was very moving."
Porterfield will be remembered by many in his country as a former player of the English football club Sunderland, which he helped to win England’s FA Cup in 1973 before embarking on his coaching career.
“It is a very, very sad day for the football club and of course our immediate thoughts are with Ian's wife Glenda and his family during what is a tremendously difficult time,” Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn told the club's website. “The word legend can be very much overused in the modern era of football, but Ian is what I would call a true legend of the game.”