In a follow up to yesterday’s account of Portsmouth’s first Championship triumph, here is the story of the retaining of the title the following season. Once again, much is taken from Colin Farmery’s account of those glory years.
There were few changes to the Championship winning team, Portsmouth’s books actually revealing a credit balance on transfers of £16,400! The Champions started the season well enough with a 3-1 win at Newcastle United, but were up and down after that. There was a defeat at home to Stanley Matthews’ Blackpool, interspersed with a 5-1 win at Middlesbrough and a 7-0 thrashing of Everton at Fratton Park. On 1st October league leaders Wolves visited Fratton Park, and for the first and only time. more than 50,000 spectators crammed into the ground for a league game. A 1-1 draw left Pompey in seventh, but only three points behind Wolves. The title race was to remain tight for the rest of the season.
Large scale merchandising was still a thing of the future in those days and in the 15th October Football Mail, Pompey Championship ties were advertised at Landports Drapery (which later became Allders). Portsmouth didn’t have a club shop until the late 1960s and the only items visible in club colours amongst the crowd tended to be scarves and rosettes. But one supporter of the time, Cyril Lucas, recalls that the absence of large scale commercialism aded to the sense of occasion on match day. ‘When I stood on the north terrace opposite the tunnel, I couldn’t wait until the players came up the tunnel. I was just so full of pride when I saw those royal blue shirts and that star and crescent badge. That shirt was only worn by the eleven players – no-one else wore it, unlike the replica shirts you see these days – and you wouldn’t see it again until the next match. It was Pompey’s pride and glory and a huge cheer went up when the players ran out.’
Even the players had to supplement their wages! Eleven of them commissioned photographers to take individual and team photos, which were then sold privately to supporters and through newspapers.
Pompey continued to be up and down, and a feature of the season was that the team was far more unsettled than in the previous campaign. More players were used, and more than one found themselves making their solitary Pompey appearance as they covered for injuries.
Portsmouth were drawn against Third Division (South) Norwich City in the FA Cup third round and underperformed in the Fratton Park tie, drawing 1-1. In another example of how similar football fans are both then and now, consider this letter to the Football mail in the aftermath of the game. ‘I think this was a disgusting show for a first division team. Almost 20 years at the Park and I have never seen anything like it…If Pompey want to make a show in the Cup or league they have to go out and buy a couple of forwards in my opinion. I reckon Pompey are the meanest club of all divisions for paying out, and may I finish up, If Pompey do not win on Thursday (the replay), my old woman will be having more of my company on Saturday afternoons in the future.’ As I said, nothing changes!
Going into March, four points separated the top seven with Pompey in fourth behind Manchester United, Liverpool, and Sunderland. Portsmouth continued to stutter, losing 2-1 at Derby with Jimmy Scoular sent off. This was a huge incident in the days when it was extremely difficult to even receive a booking, and the issue hung over Pompey for weeks before the relevant FA committee was due to meet to discuss punishment. But, it seemed to be the title that nobody wanted to win as other teams also dropped points.
Going into the crucial game against leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford on 15th April, four points separated the top six, with Pompey lying third, a point behind the leaders. Reid and Froggatt scored in the last six minutes for a priceless 2-0 win. Second placed Sunderland lost at home to Manchester City. Pompey were now in pole position with three games to go, and could become the first club to retain the Championship since Arsenal’s hat-trick of titles was completed in 1935.
Pompey won their next game against Liverpool, and results that day showed that one win from two was now required to retain the Championship. The next game was at Highbury, never a happy hunting ground. Pompey had never won there at the time, and slumped to a 2-0 defeat. But the maths still held and a win in the final match at home to Aston Villa would be enough, barring an improbable 20 goal haul by Wolves in their last match.
This was the era of goal average (goals scored divided by goals conceded), and Pompey’s was vastly superior. From the moment they scored after 20 seconds of the game at Fratton Park, the result was never in doubt and they ran out 5-1 winners. The Championship was retained. The next team to achieve the feat was Manchester United’s Busby Babes in 1957. Portsmouth had proved themselves the best team in the country.
Despite this, the press failed to recognise the achievement. Alex James of the Daily Express, a distinguished former Arsenal striker, reserved his choice of team of the year for Second Division Champions Tottenham Hotspur. ‘Don’t think I’m knocking Pompey,’ he said, ‘it takes a wonderful side to win the league championship two years running.’ He evidently considered it more wonderful to win the Second Division once than to win the First twice!
That reminds me, I must catch up on the latest installment of ‘Pompeygate’.
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