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Portsmouth – Champions of England 1948-49
With D-Day (or ‘Dr Al Fahim Day’) looming this week (or maybe next), I can’t help but dream of what Portsmouth Football Club might look like in five years’ time.
If I allow this daydream to take the form of hope rather than expectation, then I can see a long-term project that will see the club run properly for the first time in over half a century, a team gradually climbing the league and challenging for major honors and continuous improvement of attendance and facilities. In reality, the future may lie somewhere between this and the current state of affairs, but dreams are what make football what it is, even in the modern world.
How lucky we are to witness a team competing with the two-time championship winner in 1948-50. It seems appropriate to look back at this era and try to get a sense of what it was like, starting with the 1948/49 campaign. Most of this information is taken from Colin Farmery’s excellent book, ‘Champions of England’.
Portsmouth’s FA Cup fifth round match against Derby County at Fratton Park in February 1949 saw a club record attendance of 51,385. During this post-war period, attendances at football matches increased, exemplified in January 1948 when 81,962 turned up at Maine Road to watch Manchester United v Arsenal, Old Tafford being closed for refurbishment following time bomb damage. But attendance also varied, Pompey’s domestic league gates generally covered 20, 30 and 40 thousand ranks in a single season. At the time it was necessary to get to Fratton Park by 1pm if you wanted to get a good spot to watch the game, but people were queuing shortly after breakfast that day and by 2pm the gates were closed.
Cyril Lucas, from Gosport, was working as a builder at the time and went to the match, which Pompey won 2-1, with Ike Clarke scoring the winning goal. ‘Afterwards it was pandemonium,’ he recalls. “The crowd all wanted to see Ike and I remember he couldn’t get out to see anyone because he was eating a sandwich!” In the end, because there were so many people outside, he had to leave the country through the back entrance. When Pompey won, you were elated and we would walk back to the ferry, replaying the game in our minds. However, if Pompey lost, I was depressed until Wednesday.’
It doesn’t sound much different than it does today, apart from the 50,000 plus crowd and the league title at the end of the season! But in those days it was the FA Cup that really fired up the fans. Pompey reached the semi-finals and were drawn against second-tier Leicester City, avoiding ‘big boys’ Wolves and Manchester United, who contested the other semi-final. That will be a formality. Pompey must have been on his way to a double. However, they lost 3-1 at Highbury, proving that cup upsets are nothing new. Defeat meant that fan Peter Downton had to eat a bit of humble pie. “My friend in London was an Arsenal fan and he came to the jubilee match (the year before). To our delight, he was devastated by the result: he spent most of the match with his mouth wide open. Unfortunately, he managed to get a ticket to the semi-finals, and thus revenge. My friend’s smile returned and I was forced to drown my sorrows in Yates’ Winebar in the Strand, he recalls.
One of the best wins of the season was a sun-baked Easter Saturday thrashing of Wolves at Fratton Park. Pompey won 5-0 and, shortly after a 5-0 win over Newcastle (five headed goals!) ten days earlier, were now crowned champions. The title was sealed a week later at Bolton and the promotion party at Fratton Park was against Huddersfield the following week. Apart from this, the game was also significant because Jimmy Dickinson missed his first match due to a head injury. It may seem strange that the attendance was only 37,042 after a record figure against a cup derby, with other Cup attendances in the high 40s, but the average attendance at Fratton Park that season was 37,058. Perhaps it is not so unrealistic to suggest that a new regime could restore the club to its former glory?
Players who won championship medals that season included Ernie Butler, Phil Roux, Albert Ferrier, Jimmy Dickinson, Reg Flavin, Jimmy Schooler, Peter Harris, Bert Barlow, Dougie Reed, Len Phillips and Jack Froggatt. Ike Clarke was also granted special permission by the Football League to receive a medal, despite missing the 25-game qualifying mark by one match. Despite the differences between then and now (the global nature of the game, player salaries, tactics and equipment), we still play the same game. It would be nice to think that Portsmouth could build a Championship winning side again, but I’d be content with the club being set on a solid footing for now. If a rich foreign owner is currently the only way to achieve that, I’m all for it.
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