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Pompey's Founding Fathers

Mick Comben, from the Pompey History Society, profiles the men who created Portsmouth Football Club

10 April 2023

Portsmouth FC are today celebrating their 125th anniversary by remembering the people who, all those years ago, set the club up – welcome to our ‘Founders’ Day’.

In the boardroom this afternoon, we are pleased to welcome descendants of George Lewin Oliver, one of the original directors, and Bob Blyth, who played in the first league game in September 1899 and who would go on to become chairman in the 1920s and 1930s.

Everyone, over the age of 40 at least, will have heard of the Brickwoods brewery and many will have had a drink or two in one of their hostelries, including perhaps in the Pompey Hotel and Public House right outside the Frogmore Road entrance.

John Brickwood, at that time living in Southsea – and later Sir John, receiving his knighthood from King Edward VII in 1904 – was the club’s first chairman. Never one to miss a business opportunity, he soon built the pub. He was the figurehead in those early days, known everywhere in the area and this would have helped greatly from the time that the new team got together at number 12 High Street, Old Portsmouth. In those days, of course, it wasn’t ‘old’, it was just ‘Portsmouth’ and the High Street was the main street of what was then a town, only becoming a city in 1926.

However, the man really behind getting the club going was Lewin Oliver, a local schoolmaster and school owner, who drummed up support and later provided funds when the cashflow situation demanded it. When the first limited company went bust in 1912, he became the second chairman after Brickwood resigned and led the project to create a new club on a much sounder footing. George was in the chair for eight years, resigning in 1920, ironically over an argument about money, but stayed on the board to help the club get into Division One of the Football League in the 1920s. His great-granddaughter Jane Byrne and great-grandson Richard Oliver are our guests today.

Alfred Bone was a prominent local architect who designed many of the Brickwood pubs, including the Nell Gwynne in Jessie Road. Sir John also roped in another widely known businessman, his long-time friend and local pub, hotel and wine importing business rival John Wyatt Peters, who ran George Peters and Co, a business started by his father George in the mid-1800s. Another useful addition to the first board of directors was the man with the building and materials contacts, William Wigginton, described by history books as a ‘government contractor’, who had had an exemplary career in the Royal Engineers.

Meanwhile, the final director, solicitor John Pink, lent his first-floor meeting room for the gathering on April 5 in 1898 and later became the Mayor of Portsmouth. Those offices are still there, now a private house named Felton House, after John Felton, who stabbed George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, to death in the Greyhound, next door to number 12, in 1628. What was Pink’s reception room is still on the ground floor, with the original meeting place now a sitting room. A blue plaque on the wall outside commemorates the founding of the club.

In addition to the widely cited six, there were other less well-sung heroes. Most likely at the meeting, or close to it, were three clerks (today they would be called a personal assistant) – Percy Whitmey from Brickwoods, George Preston from the solicitors and Alfred Jelks, who is described as a managing clerk. Arguably, they did all the real work. Others who helped get the club going, but weren’t at that first meeting, included local councillor Bernard Murtough and two men who ran the Royal Artillery (Portsmouth) team – the successful amateur team which whetted the appetite in Portsmouth for top-class football – Sergeant (Master Tailor) Richard Bonney and Sergeant-Major Freddy Windrum (who retired years later as a Lieutenant Colonel).

In addition, there were those who were quickly brought on board and helped to rapidly put together the team, like manager Frank Brettell, poached from Spurs, and player Blyth from Preston North End, who was the ‘wise old head’ in that first team, helping encourage others to join. Bob went on to be captain, manager and ultimately chairman. His great-grandson Andrew Hind and great-great-grandson Callum are with us today.

This afternoon we salute the men who made Pompey.

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