On the evening on April 5, 1898, a local brewery owner by the name of John Brickwood and four other business men bought five acres of land next to Goldsmith Avenue, Fratton, to provide facilities for a newly proposed football club – Portsmouth FC. Brickwood was named the club’s first Chairman while much of the team was made of players from the old local Royal Artillery side, an outfit which had been disbanded having been found guilty of breaching amateur rules. Portsmouth were known as the Gunners from the outset, and they rapidly earned a strong local support having finished runners-up in their first season in the Southern League and winning the Championship just two years later. Following this early triumph was a period of strong finishes, albeit without silverware before a change in strip ushered in a change in fortune – for the worse. When Pompey swapped out their salmon pink kit in 1909, the club began something of a downward spiral.
First, the club were relegated, and although an immediate return to the South’s top flight came about the following season, Pompey’s finances were suffering and the club was mired in debt. Portsmouth suffered ten years of financial difficulty before they finally emerged as a stronger, revitalized team after the interlude for World War I. Pompey’s future seemed a much brighter prospect now and after winning the Southern League for the second time in it’s history, the club was granted entry into the Football League’s Third Division. It took just three years to secure promotion with the talented Willie ‘Farmer’s Boy’ Haynes establishing a reputation as one of the division‘s most deadly strikers, netting 28 times in 31 outings in one season.
Pompey’s stay in England’s second tier was short-lived as they secured yet another promotion in 1927, thanks to a dramatic final day win. The Fratton Park club needed to find a goal in the game’s dying embers when 4-1 up against Preston North End in order to pip Manchester City to second place, and fittingly it was their talisman Haines who netted in devastating fashion to send the Fratton faithful into raptures. The club’s fortunes in the First Division were somewhat different however, as their early years in the top flight were dominated by relegation battles and a series of hammerings, including the club record 10-0 defeat to Leicester. The once prolific Haines had left his scoring boots back in the second tier, while Pompey’s only bright spot in a difficult few years was an inaugural FA Cup Final appearance. It ended with defeat to Bolton Wanderers but it was nonetheless a momentous day in the club’s history marking the start of an excellent spell for the South Coast side.
With centre back Jimmy Allen the overriding inspiration, Pompey established themselves as a top-flight outfit and even reached the heady heights of fourth place in 1931. Pompey once more found themselves at Wembley to contest the FA Cup Final but again suffered defeat, this time to Manchester City. The game finished 2-1, with an injury to Allen seemingly the turning point of the game. It also signalled the end to Allen’s Portsmouth career as he was captured by Aston Villa for a then British record of £10,775, but Pompey fared well enough without him and continued to finish in the top half of Division One. In 1939, Pompey’s hour of glory finally arrived as the cup-specialists found themselves at Wembley once more to take on the might of Wolverhampton Wanderers in their third FA Cup Final. The widely fancied Wolves side who had just days earlier missed out on the league title, were expected to have too much for their humble opponents, but it turned out to be third time lucky for the Blues as they trounced the favourites 4-1. They owed their victory to late goals from Jock Anderson and Cliff Parker (2) with Bert Barlow the other scorer in a famous win for the side from Fratton.
Pompey’s march of progress was to be interrupted by the onset of the Second World War. The subsequent suspension of the FA Cup for the following six years left Portsmouth with the unconvincing record of having held the trophy for the longest period. The 1946/47 season marked the return of competitive football once more and the South Coast side were now considered a major force in the English game. As the club celebrated its Jubilee year in 1948/49, it also celebrated the almighty success of lifting the First Division title although Pompey missed out on the league and cup double as they suffered a heartbreaking semi-final defeat at the hands of Second Division Leicester.
However, the South Coast side didn’t rest on their laurels and scooped a second successive Division One title thanks to a last day win against Aston Villa, by which they secured the title on goal difference over Wolves. The ensuing years saw Pompey set camp in the league’s top five but another title eluded them and the fifties very much flattered to deceive, eventually culminating in relegation under the dreadful tenure of Manager Freddie Cox. The championship winning team was now a distant memory and Pompey sunk like a lead weight. The irrepressible duo of Jimmy Dickinson and Ron Saunders almost single-handedly kept Pompey afloat but when Saunders was sold to Watford in 1964, it signalled the start of a difficult era for the South Coast side. Pompey’s one bright spot, ‘Gentleman’ Jimmy Dickinson was also on the brink of retirement and after a record 845 appearances and at the ripe old age of 40 – ‘Gentleman Jim’ hung up his boots as Pompey’s most loyal, consistent and lovable player. Fittingly his final match saw his beloved Blues fend off relegation to the third tier after a late goal from Alex Wilson at Northampton saved Pompey by the skin of their teeth and saw Dickinson carried off the pitch on fans’ shoulders.
Difficult times on the South Coast followed as Pompey suffered double relegation woe, finding themselves in the fourth tier of English football and on the verge of bankruptcy by 1978. But they came out fighting, winning promotion to the Third Division in 1980 before promotion to the Second Division in 1983 and yet again in 1987 under Alan Ball’s stewardship. Pompey’s top-flight stay didn’t last long however, as they were relegated in their first season among the elite and financial problems reared their head once more.
The nineties sparked a mini-revival for Pompey as they reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the first time in recent memory and narrowly missed out on promotion to the FA Premier League having scored just one less goal than West Ham United. Ex-military man Guy Whittingham was Portsmouth’s hitman, registering an astonishing 99 goals in his four-year spell at the club. A change in the water was around the corner as Jim Smith took the reins and instantly put his trust in Pompey’s youth prospects. The likes of Darren Anderton, Andy Awford and Daryl Powell were all handed their chance by the Bald Eagle as they launched an assault for promotion to the Premier League. They were continually rebuffed however and after selling all their top stars, the club fell into a bit of a lull.
Terry Venables’ purchase of the club for a paltry £1 signalled the start of more difficulties for Pompey as the club’s finances hit an all-time low and when the club was plunged into administration in 1999, it was left to Serbian tycoon Milan Mandaric to save it in its centenary year. The new millennium started with a bang as Pompey stayed in Division 1 thanks to a last day escape, which was to signal a bright new era for the club. The appointment of Harry Redknapp with Jim Smith returning as assistant was a popular choice and with Mandaric’s backing, the duo led the club to the Promised Land as they secured promotion to the Premier League in 2003, winning the league in the proc