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Portsmouth – Champions of England 1948-49
With D Day (or ‘Dr Al Fahim’s Day’) approaching this week (or maybe next week), I can’t help but dream about what Portsmouth Football Club might look like in five years’ time.
If I allow this dream to take the form of hope rather than expectation, then I can see a long-term project that allows the club to be run properly for the first time in more than half a century, the team gradually moving up the league and challenging for great honors and continuous improvement of attendances and facilities. In reality, the future may lie somewhere between this and the current state, but it is dreams that make football what it is, even in the modern world.
How lucky we would have been to witness a team that rivaled the double championship winning season of 1948-50. It seems appropriate to look back on this era and try to get a taste 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 tie 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 had increased, and this was exemplified in January 1948 when 81,962 turned out at Maine Road to watch Manchester United v Arsenal, Old Tafford being closed for renovations following time bomb damage. the war. But attendances also fluctuated, Pompei’s home league gates generally covering 20, 30 and 40 thousand brackets in a single season. It was necessary at that time to arrive at Fratton Park by 1pm if you were to have a good vantage point for the game, but people were queuing just 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 went to the game, which Pompey won 2-1, Ike Clarke scoring the winner. “Then there was the epidemic,” he recalls. “The whole crowd 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 around outside, he had to leave the grounds through a back entrance. When Pompey won, you were jubilant and we would go back to the ferry replaying the game in our minds. However, if Pompeii lost I was depressed by Wednesday.’
Doesn’t sound too different to 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 division Leicester City, avoiding the ‘big boys’ of Wolves and Manchester United, who contested the other semi-final. It would be a formality. Pompeii was surely on the way to double. They lost 3-1 at Highbury though, proving that cup upsets are nothing new. Defeat meant supporter Peter Downton had to eat some humble pie. “A friend of mine in London was an Arsenal supporter and he came down for the Jubilee game (a year ago). To our delight, he was devastated by the result: he spent most of the match with his mouth open. Unfortunately, he managed to punch a ticket to the semi-finals and so did his revenge. My friend’s smile returned and I was forced to drown my sorrows in Yates’ Winebar on the Strand,’ he recalls.
One of the best wins of the season was Wolves’ Easter Saturday sun drubbing at Fratton Park. Pompey won 5-0 and, coming so soon after their 5-0 win at Newcastle (five headers!) ten days earlier, were now crowned champions. The title was sealed a week later at Bolton, and the promotion celebration at Fratton Park was against Huddersfield the following week. In addition, the game was notable for the fact that due to a head injury, Jimmy Dickinson missed his first game ever. It may seem strange that the attendance was only 37,042 after the record figure against Derby in the cup, accompanied by other Cup attendances in the 40,000s, but Fratton Park’s average attendance that season was 37,058. Perhaps it is not so unrealistic to suggest that the imminent new regime could return the club to its former glories?
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 also received special dispensation from the Football League to pick up a medal despite missing the 25-game qualifying mark 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 at the end of the day. It would be nice to think Portsmouth can build a Championship winning team again, but I’d be content with putting the club on solid footing for now. If a wealthy foreign owner is currently the only way to achieve this, I’m all for it.
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