Now Pompey’s finest-ever team is reunited

Lindy Delapenha
Lindy Delapenha
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The letter was delivered to Portsmouth Football Club, addressed to Noel Blake.

Instances of racial abuse had prompted the city to rally round the central defender and condemn such Fratton Park terrace behaviour.

Lindy Delapenha's letter to Neil Allen

Lindy Delapenha's letter to Neil Allen

Messages penned by well-wishers during that December 1984 period arrived with heartening regularity, each poured over with appreciation by Blake.

Except this particular note was written by Lindy Delapenha.

‘He recognised I was having a rough time with the Pompey crowd and contacted me, advising to keep my head down and keep working hard,’ said Blake in Played Up Pompey in 2015.

‘To this day, I have never met him, but it meant such a lot.’

In November 1948, Delapenha became the first black player to represent Pompey – and is claimed to be the Football League’s second black player.

He was adamant he never endured the hostility delivered from some Blues supporters which Blake would later experience.

In a career which later exploded with goals, his Fratton Park time was brief, albeit coinciding with unparalleled success for Pompey.

Nonetheless, upon learning of the difficulties Blake was experiencing, Delapenha reached out.

A classy gesture from one of the greatest names in Jamaican sport, who nine days ago passed away at the age of 89 following a stroke.

Perhaps unbeknown to many Blues followers, his death also represented the severing of the last link to the most glorious era in the club’s proud history.

During the inside-right’s south-coast presence, Bob Jackson’s side won back-to-back Division One titles in 1948-49 and 1949-50.

Delapenha’s contribution in that period spanned eight matches and included one goal, although sufficient appearances in the second championship-winning season earned a medal.

However, he stood alone as the final remaining member of those squads.

The celebrated names of Butler, Rookes, Ferrier, Scoular, Flewin, Dickinson, Harris, Reid, Froggatt, Phillips, Barlow, Clarke, Hindmarsh, Pickett and Spence are engraved in Pompey’s rich history.

They were friends and colleagues of Delapenha, whose April 1950 exit for Middlesbrough would produce 93 goals in 270 games, before returning to his native West Indies in 1964.

Following his sad January 26 departure, though, all are now lost from that golden Blues period.

Delapenha’s remarkable achievements during his lifetime, however, were not merely restricted to football.

In the process of writing Played Up Pompey, I tracked him down to the premises of Yes Golf, based in Kingston, Jamaica.

Until shortly before his death, Delapenha managed the shop on behalf of his good friend, Donald Chong, often answering the phone to customers.

He discovered golf at the age of 35 while living in England and the sport intoxicated him for the remainder of his days, at the age of 83 still embarking on rounds four times a week.

Such was his natural sporting talent, he subsequently claimed the Jamaica Open (amateur division), the Jamaica National Amateur Championships and, on seven occasions, the Jamaica Match Play Championships.

He had left school decorated with seven sporting colours and, while on Pompey’s books, represented United Services as a batsman, winning trials for Hampshire and Worcestershire.

A man blessed with immense charisma, Delapenha later spent 30 years as director of sports at the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

From our two telephone conversations, his manner was warm, while a talent for spinning anecdotes and a quick wit were striking.

Aged 87 at the time, the depth of his memory was remarkable, albeit recollections rather elaborated in parts.

No doubt the tales had grown in dramatic content over the years, yet each was unfurled with a rich chuckle irrespective of their familiarity.

His gateway to England was opened when stationed in Cairo with the Royal Fusiliers during National Service.

While representing the British Army against a German Prisoners of War side, a scout revealed himself as working for Chelsea and Pompey – the destination was the player’s to choose.

In April 1948, Delapenha arrived seeking a career with Pompey. Upon retirement 16 years later, he had also seen service with Middlesbrough, Mansfield, Hereford and Burton.

There was a Fratton Park goal, too, consisting of punching Harry Ferrier’s cross into the net against Norwich in January 1950.

Pompey drew that FA Cup third round match 1-1 in front of a crowd of 42,059, with Blues steward John Jenkins among them.

The referee who missed Delapenha’s handball was one-armed Alf Bond, who went on to officiate the 1956 FA Cup final between Manchester City and Birmingham City.

For Delapenha, Norwich represented a third successive start having replaced Duggie Reid at inside-right. Then injury struck moments later.

Reid replaced the sidelined Delapenha for the Carrow Road replay five days later, netting twice in a 2-0 win.

The Jamaican made one further appearance for the club.

In November 2015, Delapenha sent another letter, this time to The News’ Lakeside offices.

‘Dear Neil,’ he wrote, ‘I received the lookin’ good book and read it through. Outstanding is all I can say. Brought back many memories, thanks a lot.

‘Let me hear more about Pompey’s activities – and where they are after their misfortunes.

‘PS Let me know how many of the lads are still around.’

The truth was Delapenha was the last, the final member of those title-winning sides.

Now the finest team in the club’s history is reunited.