Dennis Edwards: The Big Interview

Dennis Edwards, far right, looks on as Pompey legend Jimmy Dickinson is presented with a trophy to mark his last home  game at Fratton Park on Easter Monday, 1965

Dennis Edwards, far right, looks on as Pompey legend Jimmy Dickinson is presented with a trophy to mark his last home game at Fratton Park on Easter Monday, 1965

Kal Naismith was gaffer for a day Phil Whyte's man of the match against Cambridge United. Photo by Joe Pepler

Pompey 2 Cambridge United 1: Gaffer for a day

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Filling the boots of Ron Saunders was never going to be easy.

The Fratton favourite, who remains Pompey’s third-highest Football League goalscorer (139) behind only Peter Harris (194) and Johnny Weddle (173), was a surprise departure three games into the 1964-65 season.

Having topped the goalscoring charts for a club record sixth-successive time the previous term, the news that second-division Blues had sold the prolific marksman for £15,000 to lower-league Watford came as a blow.

An opportunity knocked, though, for chosen replacement Dennis Edwards.

Signed from Charlton with the profits from Saunders’ sale, Edwards arrived in January 1965 with the immediate task to fire the goals to lead George Smith’s struggling side to safety.

He said: ‘When I came to Pompey, they had just got rid of Ron Saunders.

‘I had to take his place which was very difficult.

‘Everybody told me not to join Pompey, they were in a relegation battle when I arrived.

‘But it was the right time for me to leave Charlton – I wasn’t getting on too well with the manager (Frank Hill).’

Edwards, though, was unable to replicate the form he had shown for the London club, battling with a knee injury that had hampered him throughout his career.

The former England Amateur international scored just twice in his first 15 appearances, as the Blues faced the drop heading into the final game of the season.

He said: ‘I was having problems with both my fitness and form.

‘I’d had a couple of cartilage operations and a cruciate knee ligament injury which didn’t help.

‘Back in those days, though, as long as you could walk you could play!

‘There was nothing unusual in that – a lot of players were playing with injuries all of the time.

‘But we were struggling to get results and were an ageing team at that stage, with old stalwarts Jimmy Dickinson, Johnny Gordon and Alex Wilson all playing.’

The focus fell on the long-serving trio as the Blues ensured second-division survival in a dramatic and emotional season finalé at Northampton Town.

Needing a point against the Cobblers to stay up, Pompey trailed to Gordon’s 77th-minute own goal.

But with just four minutes left on the clock the visitors saved themselves through unlikely source Wilson – when the defender picked the perfect moment to score only his third goal in 14 seasons.

That precious strike also saw retiring club legend Dickinson chaired from the pitch in triumph, after an illustrious playing career spanning 20 years and 764 league appearances.

Edwards, who played through the pain barrier at the County Ground, said: ‘In the event, we got out of relegation on the last day of the season thanks to Alex.

‘It was a relief for Pompey supporters and management because at that stage we only had 16 players on the books.

‘George Smith was told by the directors that he had to cut down on his expenditure, so we had a squad of 16 players including two goalkeepers John Milkins and John Armstrong

‘We had more office staff than we had players!’

Smith famously disbanded both the reserve and youth teams before declaring ‘There was nothing but fish in the sea around Portsmouth.’

It was a management style that pulled no punches but was not without its criticisms.

Edwards said: ‘I don’t think George was the best manager in the world but he was a strong man.

‘He was the sergeant major type.

‘He sometimes criticised players heavily when an arm around the shoulder may have done more good – not just me personally but the squad in general.’

After narrowly avoiding the drop, Edwards and the Blues were eager to improve the following season.

And the 1965-66 campaign saw Edwards showcase more of his talent as the Blues battled to a mid-table finish.

His 10-goal haul also went some way to appeasing the Fratton faithful.

But for Edwards, who had set himself high standards, it still wasn’t enough.

He said: ‘The crowd was appreciated by everybody who played at Fratton Park from up and down the country.

‘All the clubs liked the atmosphere at Pompey and how devoted the supporters were to the players.

‘There was no seating when I played – it was standing only so they got more in the ground.

‘In the big games they would get near to 30,000 through the gates.

‘It was always nice to see 10,000 arms going up in the air when you’d scored at the Fratton End.

‘But for me, 10 goals wasn’t really enough – I was looking for 20.’

While progress may have been slow on the pitch, the friendships off it blossomed nicely.

Edwards said: ‘I got on well with the other players.

‘We had a good team spirit and would socialise with each other a lot – in those days ‘pub’ wasn’t a dirty word.

‘A beer in midweek was perfectly acceptable!’

The 1966-67 season was another disappointing one for misfiring Edwards, who netted just twice in 22 games.

It was another mid-table finish for Pompey but it was Albie McCann who was the reliable source of goals as Edwards fell foul of some suspect training methods of manager Smith.

Edwards said: ‘I wasn’t performing at my best.

‘I had continuing knee troubles and I felt I wasn’t managed right in terms of the training I had to do.

‘Everybody had to do the same training, regardless of what condition they were in.

‘If you turned up for work and you got dressed into your training kit, you had to go out and train exactly the same as everybody else.

‘People are built differently though. Some are small and short or tall, big and heavy.

‘Different people need different types of training.

‘We weren’t as sophisticated as clubs are now to give that specialised training.

‘We all had to do the same thing and even when you got injured they would just put you out on the wing, because we didn’t have any subs in those days.

‘If you’ve got 16 players in your squad then you had to play sometimes even if you only had one good leg.’

When Edwards was no longer able to command a place in the Blues’ starting line-up, his bid to be Saunders’ long-term replacement effectively ended one game into the 1967-68 campaign.

After departing on loan to Brentford, he eventually left for Aldershot – his final club – before, retiring at the end of the season, aged just 31.

Now aged 77, Edwards is able to look back philosophically on a three-year stay at the Blues which yielded 71 league games and 14 goals.

He said: ‘I enjoyed my time at Pompey, even though I didn’t do well.

‘I was very disappointed in that respect – I didn’t play my best football in front of the Fratton fans.

‘Players move around from one club to another and are good at one club and not at another.

‘It happens.’

Retired Edwards, who still lives in Denmead, is a former food-distribution company owner, having passed the Hilsea-based family business ‘Dennis Edwards Foodservice’ down to his son.

He is also a keen golfer – when health allows – despite having had a knee replacement operation.

DENNIS EDWARDS ON...

...FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When I finished football I had to get a proper job.

I had this wonderful idea to start a food distribution company.

I didn’t make a fortune out of playing football on my £20-a-week wage.

So I went to the bank manager, borrowed some money, told him my business plan, knocked on a few doors and got a few customers.

The company still exists to this day within Pompey, in Hilsea – Dennis Edwards Foodservice.

You might have seen the lorries buzzing around the city!

My eldest son now runs the family company, which has been going for more than 40 years now.

Visit us at: www.dennisedwards.com

...PAINFUL VIEWING

The last time I went to Fratton Park, I sat with a friend in the Fratton End to watch Pompey play Walsall a few years ago.

We scored down at the Milton End and everybody in the stand jumped up – but my foot got trapped in the seat in front of me and scraped all down my leg.

I watch with interest from afar now!

...ALBIE McCANN

Albie was a very good player – he stayed at Pompey for 12 years and each season he played, he scored goals.

His style was that he liked to score goals.

He was the top goalscorer in three of the four seasons I played for Pompey and wasn’t an out-and-out striker.

I was saddened to learn of his recent death.

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