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Portsmouth – Champions of England 1948-49
With D-Day (or “Dr Al Fahim’s Day”) coming up this week (or maybe next week), I can’t help but daydream about what Portsmouth Football Club will 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 will allow the club to be properly managed for the first time in half a century, the team will gradually climb to the top league and to earn big rewards and constantly improve attendance and facilities. In reality, the future may lie somewhere between this and the current situation, but dreams make football even in the modern world.
How fortunate we would have been to witness the two-time championship winning team of 1948-50. It is worth looking back at this era and starting with the 1948/49 campaign to understand what it was like. Much of this information is taken from Colin Farmer’s excellent book Champions of England.
Portsmouth’s FA Cup fifth round match against Derby County at Fratton Park in February 1949 attracted a club record attendance of 51,385. In this post-war period, attendances at football matches increased, and this was illustrated in January 1948, when 81,962 people turned up at Maine Road to watch Manchester United and Arsenal, Old Tafford was closed for repairs after wartime bomb damage. But the audience has also changed, the gates of Pompey’s home league generally covered 20, 30 and 40 thousand brackets per season. You had to get to Fratton Park by 1pm if you wanted a good spot to play, but people were queuing up quickly after breakfast on this day and the gates closed at 2pm.
Cyril Lucas of 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 it was a pandemic,” he recalls. “The whole crowd wanted to see Ike, and I remember he couldn’t go 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 ground through the back entrance. When Pompey won, you were happy, and we would go back to the ferry and play in our minds again. But if Pompey lost, I would be depressed until Wednesday.’
Other than the 50,000 total and the league title at the end of the season, not much different from today! But in those days it was the FA Cup that really got the fans riled up. Pompey advanced to the semi-finals, playing second division side Leicester City, avoiding the “big boys” of Wolves and Manchester United, who competed in the other semi-finals. This turned into a formality. Pompey was certainly on a double track. However, they lost 3-1 at Highbury, proving that cup upsets are nothing new. Defeat meant the Peter Downton supporter had to eat some humble pie. “My friend in London was an Arsenal supporter and he came to the celebratory game (last year). He was delighted with the result: he spent most of the game with his mouth open. Unfortunately, he only managed to reach the semi-finals. got a pass and thus got his revenge.My friend’s smile returned and I had to drown my sorrows at Yeats at Winebar on the Strand, he recalled.
One of the best wins of the season was the Easter Saturday thrashing in the sun by Wolves at Fratton Park. Pompey won 5-0 and soon after their 5-0 win at Newcastle (five goals!) ten days earlier, were now champions-elect. The title was sealed at Bolton a week later and the promotion party was at Fratton Park against Huddersfield the following week. Also, the game was interesting as Jimmy Dickinson missed his first game due to a head injury. It may seem strange that the attendance after the record performance against Derby in the cup was just 37,042, with another cup attendance of 40,000, but the average attendance at Fratton Park that season was 37,058. Perhaps it’s not too unrealistic to suggest that a new regime could soon return the club to its former glory?
Players who won Championship medals that season were Ernie Butler, Phil Rooks, Albert Ferrier, Jimmy Dickinson, Reg Fluin, Jimmy Schooler, Peter Harris, Bert Barlow, Dougie Reid, Len Phillips and Jack Froggatt. Ike Clarke also received special mention from the Football League for receiving a medal despite missing 25 games from one game. Despite the differences between then and now (the global nature of the game, player wages, tactics and equipment), we still play the same game. It would be nice to think that Portsmouth can build another Championship winning team, but I agree that the club is now on a solid footing. If a wealthy foreign owner is currently the only way to achieve this, I’m all for it.
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