Jenkins: They tell me I’m part of the furniture at Pompey

Boadroom steward John Jenkins, 97, saw his first Blues game on October 6, 1928, when Pompey defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-2
Boadroom steward John Jenkins, 97, saw his first Blues game on October 6, 1928, when Pompey defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-2
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The doubt flickered across John Jenkins’ face, yet the robust response absolved such hesitation.

‘I’ve been thinking about whether it is time to retire,’ he pondered.

‘I’m 98 in November, but wouldn’t be doing anything else.

‘All the time you can do it, keep going, get your legs moving.

‘They tell me I am part of the Fratton Park furniture and I feel it a bit on my old knees at times, I don’t do my skateboarding any more!

‘But I’m okay, I can’t grumble for someone coming up to 98.

‘Besides, I don’t have any hobbies to do instead.’

Jenkins cuts a reassuringly familiar presence as Pompey’s boardroom steward, an ageless obelisk standing on permanent Fratton Park duty.

Since tempted by his four uncles as a nine-year-old to watch the Blues face Sheffield Wednesday in October 1928, he has taken residence at the club which captured his heart.

From taking George Best’s bets and driving Alan Ball’s car to carrying one-legged chairman Jim Gregory to his director’s box seat, Jenkins has been an indispensable figure.

Yet he remains a supporter, present at Pompey’s maiden FA Cup final triumph over Wolves in 1939 and subsequently witnessing two Division One titles, six promotions and eight relegations.

In addition, there was further FA Cup success in 2008, which the Normandy veteran surveyed as guest of sponsors E.ON – a fixture which resulted in a 1-0 victory over Cardiff.

Yet despite edging ever closer to the prospect of a birthday card from the Queen to provide companionship for his MBE, Jenkins does not intend calling it a day on his club.

He said: ‘I never knew my father, I lost him when I was young, but had four uncles who were Pompey fanatics, Fratton Park was their life.

‘They would take me to games and I remember the excitement of walking down Frogmore Road and seeing the Pearly King with his tray of cough sweets shouting: “cough no more, one penny, cough no more, one penny”.

‘The Pompey pub on the other side of the road was in use back then and packed, everyone would stand outside holding a pint of beer in their hand.

‘Inside the ground, the first of May was always White Hat Day, which meant the sailors changed over from their dark to white hats. Scanning across the terraces, all you could see were these hats.

‘In those days the prices didn’t change very much and still etched into concrete above one of the old entrances is “First team 5p plus a penny tax, second team 4p plus a penny tax”.

‘After Jim Gregory came in as chairman in 1988, he instructed it to be painted over. But the markings are still there.

‘That’s Fratton Park, I still get that same thrill even now, looking forward to every match.

‘For the past 63 years I have lived in the same flat on Eastern Road and it suits me perfectly. It’s near Fratton Park and I can see the floodlights, what more do I want?

‘My late wife said to me one time: “why don’t you take your bed up Fratton Park?”

‘“I’d try”, was my response. “But it wouldn’t fit through the turnstiles!”

Jenkins’ wife, Peggy, passed away three years ago and it was the radio she bought him which delivered news of Pompey’s latest promotion.

Paul Cook’s side last week clinched a return to League One with three matches to spare following a 3-1 win at Notts County.

Following three relegations in four seasons during the current decade, the Blues’ accomplishments represent a rare high point for long-suffering followers.

Yet Jenkins remembers the period 1949-51, when Bob Jackson’s team were the champions of England.

He added: ‘My wife wasn’t an enthusiast like me, but knew the mood I’d be in if we’d lost that day at Fratton Park.

‘She would leave the oven door open with six pennies on top and would tell my daughter: “daddy will come home and want to put his head in the oven – and the money for the gas meter is on top!”.

‘My first Pompey game was Sheffield Wednesday on October 6, 1928, and our centre-forward, Dave Watson, scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 win.

‘After the war, it was a pleasure to go to Fratton Park, you knew you would get a feast of football and we twice won the title.

‘When you think of the team we had, there were four outstanding players – Jimmy Dickinson, Peter Harris, Duggie Reid and Jack Froggatt.

‘Duggie was a big favourite of mine. He once lined up a free-kick against Everton keeper Ted Sagar, took a short run and the next minute Sagar was standing there with the ball in the back of the net. What a goal that was, he never saw it!

‘Then there was Jimmy Scoular, who had thighs like tree trunks and in one match against Manchester City took a free-kick out on the right from around the halfway line.

‘The ball came over and their keeper, Frank Swift, tried to catch it one handed, only for a gust of wind to blow it into the net. Everyone laughed!

‘Mind you, Lindy Delapenha once punched the ball into the net against Norwich. I saw it from the South Stand, but the referee and other officials didn’t!

‘I always liked Freddie Worrall, who would go on the right wing, with Cliff Parker on the other. Parker would say to Fred: “when you cross a ball over make sure the lace is pointing away from me as I don’t want to head it on that part”.

‘Years later there was a lot of mismanagement, the likes of Freddie Cox wasn’t very good, but the good times always come back.’

Outside of football, Jenkins was last summer named Portsmouth Volunteer of the Year in recognition of 10 years service at the D-Day Museum.

In July 2015, he abseiled down the Spinnaker Tower to raise money for Rowans Hospice, while ahead of the 2012 London Olympics carried the Olympic torch around Fratton Park.

No slowing down yet from the trolley bus driver who ended up working in the dockyard as it allowed Saturday’s off.

Jenkins said: ‘I’ve never lost the passion. I’ve spoken to people who say “I don’t go down any more” but it’s no different to anything else in life with its ups and downs.

‘If you are truly enthusiastic and a real fan then you will look through the downs and support them still because you know that at some stage it will get a little bit better.

‘Pompey have been a great part of my life. I was married to my wife for 74 years and really she was life, she was completely my life. She was lovely and I miss her terribly, even now, three years on.

‘But I still have Pompey.’