Division One 1948-49

Football's popularity soars as Pompey are only the second southern team to become Champions, Mike Ticher writes

The long-term significance
Never has football been more popular than in the third full season after the war. Or, to put it another way, never have people’s lives been so bereft of entertainment and escape that they gorged themselves even on the Third Division South. Clothes rationing ended in 1949, but half-time tea and sugar were still restricted until the 1950s, as were petrol and soap. Almost 18 million glamour-starved people watched First Division football (compared with nearly 13 million for the Premiership last season). But the most remarkable figures were in the third divisions, where the presence of Raich Carter and Tommy Lawton pushed average crowds above 30,000 at Hull and Notts County, respectively. Seven current League clubs drew their record crowd that season.

No club had replaced Arsenal as the dominant force, though a third consecutive season as runners-up suggested Matt Busby’s first Man Utd side weren’t far off. Wolves, too, were waiting in the wings, but Portsmouth, under the now totally forgotten manager Bob Jackson, surprised everyone. Jackson led a Pompey side including Jimmy Dickinson, Jack Froggatt and Peter Harris to a second title the following year. He was denied a shot at the double in 1949 only by a shock 3-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat to a Don Revie-inspired Leicester.

Story of the season
Pompey were unbeaten in their first 13 games and never looked likely to be headed after recovering from a sticky patch to thrash Arsenal 4-1 on November 27. That day the club celebrated their 50th anniversary in the presence of their president and mustard-keen fan, Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. At Fratton Park they were unstoppable and the title was wrapped up by early April – four defeats after it was all over flattered the chasing pack. At the other end, Huddersfield were bottom with two games to go, but saved themselves by beating Wolves 4-0 and Man City 1-0. That left Preston to take the drop, despite a spirited late run, with Sheffield United, whose relegation began a frantic decade of division-swapping by both Sheffield clubs.

For the record books

It was the first league title for any southern team other than Arsenal and, though Portsmouth’s star faded quickly, they ushered in a decade and a half when the geographical spread of championship winners was more even than before or since. Twenty-five goals were enough for Bolton’s Willie Moir to become the top scorer, the second-lowest total between 1905 and 1974. Free-spending Derby broke the transfer record for the second time in two years, paying £24,000 for Johnny Morris from Man Utd.

Same place today
Thirteen of the First Division sides are now in the Premiership, although three (Portsmouth, Bolton and Sheffield United) have been as far down as Division Four.

Moved furthest away
Blackpool left the top division for the last time in the early 1970s and are still paddling around in League One waiting for the tide to come back in again. The same goes for Huddersfield, only without the seaside metaphor.

Went on to greater things
Old Trafford ~ This was Man Utd’s last season sharing at Maine Road before they moved back to their home, restored after wartime bomb damage.
Bill Shankly ~ Lost his place at Preston to Tommy Docherty and became Carlisle manager in March 1949.
John Charles ~ Signed by the gloriously eccentric Major Frank Buckley for Leeds in December 1948. The Welshman played the last three games of their mediocre Second Division season as a 17-year-old.
Black footballers ~ The arrival of the Empire Windrush in June 1948 marked the start of large-scale immigration from the West Indies.

Disappearing from view
Frank Swift ~ The great Man City keeper, who died in the Munich air crash, played his last England match (a 4-1 win over Norway) and retired in 1950.
Extra time in original FA Cup ties ~ Brought in to cut the number of replays, it lasted just long enough to benefit Yeovil, whose winner in the famous 2-1 fourth-round win over Sunderland came in the extra half-hour.
Stanley Matthews ~ OK, slowly. Dropped by England and seemingly on his way out at the age of 33.
Torino ~ Lost their all-conquering side in the Superga air crash on May 4, 1949. They have won only one league title since.

From WSC 238 December 2006. What was happening this month