Although Portsmouth Football Club, with its matelot mascot, has always been associated with the Navy, its origins surprisingly have more to do with the Army.
On 5 April 1898, Portsmouth formed a professional club. This was a direct result of the success of the local Royal Artillery football team.
Six men, including the erstwhile chairman, John Brickwood (the then head of the local brewery) formed The Portsmouth Football and Athletic Company which had capital of £8,000.
Their prospectus, dated14 May 1898, revealed that they proposed to spend £4,950 on around 4½ acres at Goldsmith Avenue to be used primarily for football and 'for such outdoor games and exercises' that were approved by the directors. These were to include 'principal' cycle, athletics and cricket matches. It was noted that the ground was within easy reach of Fratton Station with its trains and trams and that it 'was intended to drain and turf the land and erect the necessary buildings' for a further £2,000, which would leave working capital of about £1,000.
It was hoped that football in Portsmouth would become as popular as in Northern towns (the benchmark even then) where attendances were between 20,000 and 30,000. The existing team at Southampton was mentioned as well as an embryonic club at Brighton and it was hoped that 'a healthy rivalry would spring up that would 'increase the popularity and income of the company' (my italics).
A general meeting of shareholders was then held on 2 September 1898. The pitch was shortly to be turfed and fenced and it was hoped that football could be played there after Christmas. However, the ground was covered with a crop of potatoes which the directors were 'anxious to sell'.
On 19 December 1898, the Hampshire Telegraph ran an advertisement inviting tenders for the building of two stands: the first, 100 feet long with seven rows of seats on the south side and the second, terracing which stretched for 240 feet on the opposite, north side.
Now all that was needed was a team. By May 1899, the manager, Frank Brettell, had signed the following players: Reilly (Royal Artillery RA ) goal aka custodian; Turner (RA), Wilkie (Liverpool) and Turner (Everton Combination) backs; Cleghorn (Liverpool, Stringfellow (Everton Combination), Blythe (Preston NE) and Halliday (Ryde) halfbacks; Marshall (Liverpool), Cunliffe (New Brighton), A Brown (Preston NE), J Brown (Sunderland), Smith (Wolves), Barnes (Bolton), Clarke (Everton) and Hewitt (Luton), forwards. (A few locals and a 'pool of scousers, then)
At the start of the new 1899-1900 season, Portsmouth Football Club was ready for its first competitive game in the Southern League, Division One. It was a battle of the Dockyard towns - away to Chatham, on 2 September 1899 in front of a crowd of 4,000 -attendances then seem to be estimates to the nearest thousand.
Over to our reporter at the game: 'A capital start! In their first serious engagement, Portsmouth gained a good victory by a goal to nil.
Portsmouth is to be congratulated upon the successful result of their entry into the world of professional football. In the face of their having to play away from home in their inaugural engagement, most of the supporters would have been satisfied with a draw, but when the news of their victory reached Portsmouth everyone was delighted.
The victory of one goal to nothing does nothing to convey a true idea of the superiority of the Portsmouth team. Chatham sustained their reputation for rough play but their football was scraggy and in consequence the play throughout was by no means scientific. The forwards on either side worked hard, but the combination was none too good and during the earlier part of the game too much quickness in dealing with the ball was not displayed. In the end, however, there was no doubt of the superiority of the Portsmouth front rank as regards stamina, speed and cleverness. In fact there is more than one man in the front rank who is an artist in his work and when they have played a little more together they will be a "clinking set".
With regard to the defensive powers of both the half-backs and backs of the Portsmouth team, nothing but praise can be bestowed upon them. They dealt with the ugly rushes of the home team coolly and cleverly and showed no end of resources in effecting their clearances. Reilly too proved he has lost none of his old cleverness and agility and he dealt with several awkward shots in fine style. To sum up, Chatham were fairly beaten and when they visit Portsmouth on 27th inst it will be surprising if there is not a bigger margin in the score in Portsmouth's favour when the whistle blows for time' (Pompey duly won 4-0 watched by a crowd of 3,000)
The icing on the cake was piped the following Wednesday. Portsmouth entertained Southampton in the first match at their new ground in a friendly and won 2-0 - thus laying down a marker for decades to come.
Written by PFClass
Source: Hampshire Telegraph 1898-1899