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Portsmouth – Champions of England 1948-49
With D Day (or ‘Dr Al Fahim Day’) looming this week (or maybe next week), I can’t help but dream of what Portsmouth Football Club will look like in five years’ time.
If I let this dream take the form of hope rather than expectation, then I can see a long-term project allowing the club to be run in the right way for the first time in over half a century, the team climbing the league gradually and challenging for major honours, and continuously improve attendance and facilities. In reality, the future may be somewhere between this and the current situation, but dreams are what make football what it is, even in the modern world.
How lucky we would be to see a team competing against the two-time Championship team from 1948-50. It is appropriate to look back at this period and try to get a taste of what it was like, starting with the 1948/49 campaign. Most of this information comes 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 the club’s record attendance of 51,385. During this post-war period, attendances at football matches had risen dramatically, and this was demonstrated in January 1948 when 81,962 turned up at Maine Road to watch Manchester United v Arsenal, Old Tafford at closed for renovation after wartime bomb damage. But attendance also varied, with Pompey’s home league gates generally covering the 20, 30, and 40 thousand brackets in a single season. It was necessary to get to Fratton Park by 1pm at the time if you wanted to get a good view of the game, but people were queuing shortly after breakfast on this particular day, and at 2pm the gates were closed.
Cyril Lucas from Gosport was working as a builder at the time and attended the game, which Pompey won 2-1, Ike Clarke scoring the winner. ‘After that it was pandemonium.’, he remembers. The crowd all wanted to see Ike and I remember he couldn’t come out to see anyone because he was eating a sandwich! Eventually, because there were so many people milling about outside he had to leave the ground near a back entrance. When Pompey won you were delighted 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 to today, except for 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 got the fans fired up. Pompey reached the semi-final, and was played against Leicester City in the second division, avoiding ‘big boys’ Wolves and Manchester United, who were competing in the other semi-final. It was going to be a formality. Pompey were certainly on course for the double. They lost 3-1 at Highbury though, proving that cup upsets are nothing new. The loss meant that supporter Peter Downton had to eat a piece of humble pie. A friend of mine in London was an Arsenal fan and came down for the Jubilee game (the year before). To our delight, he was stunned by the result: he spent most of the game with his mouth wide open. Unfortunately he managed to get a ticket to the semi-final and so he got his revenge. My friend’s smile returned and I was forced to drown my sorrows at Winebar in the Strand Yates’, he recalled.
One of the best wins of the season was against Wolves on a sunny Easter Saturday at Fratton Park. Pompey won 5-0 and, coming so soon after their 5-0 win at Newcastle (five headers!) ten days earlier, they were now Champions-elect. The title was sealed a week later at Bolton, and the promotion party was at Fratton Park against Huddersfield the following week. Apart from this, the game was notable because due to a head injury, Jimmy Dickinson missed his first ever game. It may seem strange that the attendance after the record against Derby in the cup was only 37,042, along with other Cup attendances in the high 40 thousand, but the average attendance at Fratton Park that season was 37,058 . Perhaps it is not so unrealistic to suggest that the incoming new regime could restore the club to its former glory?
The players who claimed Championship medals that season were Ernie Butler, Phil Rookes, Albert Ferrier, Jimmy Dickinson, Reg Flewin, Jimmy Scoular, Peter Harris, Bert Barlow, Duggie Reid, Len Phillips, and Jack Froggatt. Ike Clarke was also given special dispensation by the Football League to receive a medal, despite missing the qualifying mark of 25 games, by one game. Despite the differences between then and now (the global nature of the game, player wages, tactics and equipment), we’re still playing the same game after all. It would be nice to think that Portsmouth could again build a Championship winning team, but I would settle for the club to be placed on solid footing for now. If a rich foreign owner is currently the only way to achieve this, I am all for it.
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