IT ALL started in 1898 in the offices of a solicitor, in High Street, Portsmouth.
There, a syndicate of sportsmen and businessmen passed a minute that land close to Goldsmith Avenue be used for the ‘proposed football club’.
From such humble beginnings great things are made. This great thing was Portsmouth Football Club. However, the issue of developing a new professional football club in Portsmouth did not met with complete approval. The influence of Councillor Alfred Amatt was vital in persuading the committee to create a new club out of the local Royal Artillery Club. The real catalyst for the creation of a professional club was the Royal Artillery team’s suspension for a breach of amateur rules. Furthermore, the RA’s involvement in the Southern League had made sports fans in Portsmouth hungry for first-class football. And the city did not want to be left behind, especially considering that Southampton St Mary’s had turned professional with great success!
The land in Goldsmith Avenue was purchased for the princely sum of £4,950, and stands were swiftly erected on the north and south sides. The original company was launched with a capital of £8,000 in £1 shares and their were five directors of the new club. The appointment of the first Pompey manager caused the most excitement. He was Frank Brettell, an experienced and respected manager who had helped develop clubs such as Everton, Liverpool, Bolton and Tottenham Hotspur. Brettell keenly set to the task of recruiting players to the new outfit. Many of the new players were from the north - Wilkie, Cleghorn, Marshall and Cuncliffe from Liverpool and Turner, Stringfellow and Clark from Everton. However, some local players from the disbanded RA were brought in by Brettell as well, including Matt Reilly, the popular Irish keeper, and Harry Turner, a respected full-back. An application was accepted for the new club to join the Southern League First Division without the usual probationary period. The team was all set - now all it had to do was win football matches.
The Pro Ranks
The club’s first match was against Chatham on September 2, 1899. It proved to be a successful debut for ‘The Shrimps’, as they secured victory 1-0 through a goal from winger Harold Clarke. In fact, playing wise that whole first season proved to be a very good one. Portsmouth won 20 out of 28 league games, and were runners up in the division to Tottenham. The Shrimps also had a good cup run, winning nine matches before eventually being knocked out by Blackburn. Despite the season’s gates being a little disappointing, Brettell was extremely upbeat about the progress that was made in that first season. He told supporters: ‘Nothing in the history of football can compare with the phenomenal rise and extraordinary performances of our club.’
Former captain Bob Blyth succeeded Frank Brettell when he moved to Plymouth in 1901. The new manager achieved instant success when the Southern League Championship was won for the first time. In fact, Pompey remained unbeaten for three seasons at home in the league, before losing to Northampton on October 18, 1902. Other highlights in that decade included the visit of Manchester United to Fratton Park in the English Cup. The game was a 2-2 draw with the replay won by Pompey 2-1. The home game for Pompey gave them their first four-figure gate of 24,329. It was not all roses for Pompey in those early years, however. The 1910/11 season was a disaster, with relegation to the Southern second division.
There were also financial difficulties, a seemingly perennial problem for Portsmouth. The club had accumulated huge debts, and a public appeal made £392. Through the ‘father of Portsmouth football club’ , Mr GL Oliver, a new club was formed, Portsmouth Football Club Limited. Competitive football was suspended during the war years and did not resume again for Pompey until the 1919/20 season when they won the Southern League for the second time. This was to be Pompey’s last year in the Southern League, however. The following season the club joined the national football league, which was much more glamourous and received national attention. Pompey joined the new third division for the start of the 1920/21 campaign.
Pompey’s debut on the national stage did not set the world alight. They finished twelfth in their debut season. In fact, promotion did not occur until the 1923/24 season, with Willie ‘Farmer’s boy’ Haines banging in 28 League goals in 31 matches. Division 1 football did not take long to arrive, either. The 1926/27 season saw promotion, partly resulting from the lethal partnership of Haines and Freddy Forward up front. A dream was realised as top flight football headed for Fratton Park.
In the Top Flight
Pompey’s first season in Division One under new manager Jack Tinn was a struggle with many players failing to make the step up to a higher standard. They finished in twentieth, although some of the new signings made a good impression, especially John Weddle, who netted nine goals in 14 matches. Although Portsmouth continued to falter in the league, they managed a brilliant cup run in the 1928/29 season, culminating in their first final appearance. They lost to Bolton in that final 2-0, rather unluckily by all accounts. Pompey started to make a serious impact in the league at the start of the 1930’s, with the strike partnership of Weddle and Jimmy Easson proving lethal. Pompey finished the season in fourth, and while never championship contenders, they continued to be consistently in the top ten throughout the 1930’s.
The real highlight during this period was the cup run in the 1933/4 season, with another final appearance achieved through a 4-1 semi-final win against Leicester at St Andrews. However, it was another disappointing final for the men in blue, with a 2-1 defeat against Man City the end result. The latter half of the 1930’s were nothing to write home about for Pompey with one notable exception... the FA Cup Final of 1939. Pompey were rank outsiders for the final after only narrowly escaping relegation. They were up against a highly-rated Wolves side who on paper were a stronger outfit than Pompey. However, as one supremely intelligent pundit once said, ‘football isn’t played on paper’ and Pompey triumphed 4-1. It was without doubt the proudest moment of Pompey’s history so far.