Soapbox: Pompey memories

Ahead of tomorrow’s game, Peter Allen’s warm and witty article on Sunderland and Portsmouth produced a little lively banter at the Pompey Online website where, last season, we found our star Who Are They? contributor Equinox (described by me as a Pompey fan living within Drogba diving distance of the Stadium of Light). It also got our own Pete Sixsmith thinking, and he has come up with a few more jewels linking the two clubs……

Lovely piece by Peter Allen on Portsmouth and it brought back a few memories of the links between Sunderland and Portsmouth on a general and personal level.

First of all, both Roker and Fratton had stands designed by Archibald Leitch, with their distinctive criss cross pattern. One of my first memories of Roker is of the main stand, its front unsullied by adverts for Northern Gas (“WorGas”) and Byers Dunn Turvey Garages, selling Austin, Morris and Triumph cars to an unsuspecting public.

The Sunderland Echo and the Portsmouth Evening News were owned by the same group, the imaginatively titled Portsmouth and Sunderland Newspapers, and of course, we suffered our first ( and unfortunately not last) relegation at Pompey in 1958.

Not that I experienced that. I was still in the habit of trudging up Cardigan Road with my dad and his dad, to see Leeds RLFC take on the might of Bramley and Bradford Northern.

Many Sunderland men were stationed in Portsmouth during the war and followed both sides afterwards. Pompey won the League Championship in 1949 and a guy I used to work with, a season ticket holder at Roker throughout the 1960s and 70s, claimed to have seen every home game that year. He also claimed to be visiting every port in the world at the same time, so perhaps he was stretching the truth a little.

Growing up in Shildon, I took an interest in Pompey through the man who ran the local corner shop. The suitably named Norman Corner, Grocer and General Dealer, had a nephew called Bryan Snowdon who played for Portsmouth. In his shop, amidst the bacon slicer, bottles of Jones’s Lemonade and tins of loose biscuits, were cuttings from newspapers of Bryan in team photographs, playing for Pompey and an extra special portrait of him from Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly. Once a year Bryan would visit his Uncle Norman, the word would get out and snotty nosed urchins would appear outside the shop clutching autograph books and pens, ready to claim the great mans signature. He seemed a very modest guy, but was obviously as rich as Croesus as he had a Ford Zephyr parked outside the shop.

I remember going up to the shop for a loaf of bread and a tuppeny Lucky Bag and Mr Corner asking me if I would like to accompany him to the Sunderland v Portsmouth game on the following Wednesday. I ran home, only stopping for breath twice. Parents said yes (anything to get rid of me for an evening) and I ran back, only stopping for breath four times, to tell him I could go.

We went with Colin and Pauline Trotter, who lived in Pearl Street. Colin was a postman (another case of name fitting job) and Pauline had a hairdressing salon in the great metropolis of Bishop Auckland. They owned a Ford Classic, a miserable attempt by Ford UK to replicate an American sports sedan, but which to me, brought up on Ford Populars and Triumph Heralds, was an unbelievably exotic machine.

This was my first time in the Main Stand at Roker. No corporate hospitality suites, then, just a better class of snack bar and a warmer pie. But to sit in the main stand and watch Stan Anderson lead out Charlie Hurley, Jimmy McNab and George Herd was a marvellous moment. The floodlights (the low, red ones) seemed to make the night as bright and as sharp as if it were on fire and the players seemed quicker and faster than they did on a Saturday afternoon. I still love football under floodlights, and I know that this is because of these early experiences.

We won 3-0 with Harry Hooper hitting a hat trick. He was a real crowd favourite – small and nippy, with a tremendous right foot and the ability to plant a cross on a centre forward’s head – skills that are worth a fortune now!

Bryan didn’t have a bad game, but Pompey were struggling and I think they ended up being relegated at the end of the season. He moved on to Millwall and was part of that Lions team that broke the record for undefeated home games. He played at Darlington and Hartlepool, but the charms of Feethams and the Victoria Ground were not for me; I was a dedicated Rokerite by then.

So, Pompey have a little place in my heart, squeezed between Queen of the South (loved the name) and Stenhousemuir (loved the Highland Toffee). Like us, they have loyal fans and are a club with a heart. I just hope, for their sake, that Tony Adams is a better manger than Terry Butcher.

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