One of the reasons the Pompey Supporters’ Trust is so keen to commemorate Jimmy Dickinson with a statue at Fratton Park is that younger supporters may understandably know relatively little about him. His final game for Pompey, a 1-1 draw at Northampton Town in April 1965, was now 57 years ago.
The unveiling of a statue, which will coincide with the club’s 125th anniversary, represents a fantastic opportunity for new generations of Pompey fans to get to know “Gentleman Jim” - perhaps the greatest player ever to pull on the famous blue shirt.
We spoke to fans, players and staff who lived through the club’s most successful era, to hear first-hand about what made Jimmy Dickinson quite such a legendary figure at Fratton Park.
I remember Jimmy as a very elegant, upright player who always had time on the ball - the latter always being a guarantee of a very good footballer.
I’ve been a Pompey supporter since 1949. My first season attending Fratton Park was the first title winning campaign with a team led by Jimmy. I was taken by my father and we stood with my grandparents, aunts and uncles - 8 of us in total! I remember having to be in the ground by 1.30 for a 3 o’clock kick off, standing on the north terrace waiting for the crowd packers telling us to move closer.
When Jimmy retired from playing in 1965, my father was asked to provide an article called 'Thank you from the terraces’ to appear in a special souvenir book:
Fred Parker (writing in 1965):
“Jim Dickinson seldom made headline news in either the national or local press. Yet it was in his absolute consistency of performance, his tremendously high standard of play that I remember him. Anything less than his own superlative play was unthinkable. We expected it from him and we weren’t disappointed. By his own sheer consistency of high achievement did Jimmy endear himself to us. There were no ‘purple patches’, he was good all the time. He was an outstanding player and a gentleman on and off the field."
When I was just 11, a group of us kids used to travel from Emsworth to Fratton by train and then walk to the ground. I remember so well those two Division 1 championship years when I stood on the north terrace on a stool that my dad had made for me. I distinctly remember Jimmy and his style of play. He was always very upright, so good in defence, and with such accurate forward passing. He was a complete gentleman on the field.
John Jenkins (speaking prior to death):
Everyone’s favourite was Jimmy - he could do no wrong for anybody. 'Elastic legs' I used to call him, because it seemed to me he could stretch to a ball and I would think ‘how did he get his legs out there?’ He’d catch it on his chest and kill it immediately. He was a wonderful player who could read the game so well.
I saw my first Pompey match in the autumn of 1948 when I was 8 years old. Living in Milton, and subsequently Farlington, I was a regular attendee at Fratton Park for about 10 years and saw Jimmy many times over the years. Jimmy Dickinson remains one of the very greatest players I have seen in the blue shirt - and there have been some pretty remarkable ones over the years! I am delighted that there is to be a statue in his honour and have made a donation! 74 years later, and living near Bristol, I remain a dedicated fan and see Pompey whenever I can.
Pat Neil (speaking in 1991):
Jimmy Dickinson was such an affable, easy going sort of bloke - it was left to others to do all the shouting. At no time in all the games I played alongside him do I remember him bollocking me - in fact he was rather benign. In the dressing room, he wasn’t the centre of attraction ever. And I suppose that’s what his influence was. He led by example. He arrived at the right time. Good tackler. Always stayed on his feet. Good in the air. Always played the safe ball. He had so many qualities, and when you put all those together you had a great player.
My favourite player was Jimmy Dickinson, who was never shown a yellow card. A clean player, but a good player.
I never saw Jimmy Dickinson foul anybody.
My over-riding memory of Jim is that he seemed completely unflappable, and certainly lived up to the 'Gentleman Jim' image. This was particularly noticeable at a 'Q and A' event, held at the Co-op Social Club in Fratton Road, probably around 1964. Jim was asked a question about an opposing player, who had recently caused injuries at Fratton Park and who was renowned at the time as the dirtiest in the league. Jim's response was diplomacy personified: 'He's a hard but fair player'.
My father was the Postmaster at Droxford Post Office, and Jimmy Dickenson sometimes called in for newspapers. I was taken to Fratton Park in 1949/50, and remember Jimmy Dickenson as part of a formidable "half back" (now midfielder) line of defence with Jimmy Scoular and Jack Froggatt, that opposing sides found difficult to penetrate. Jimmy seemed to be able to maintain control of his area and situations with skill and without taking an aggressive approach. He always appeared very calm, which is an indication of his character.
Jimmy was one of the Pompey greats. His best asset was his ability to read the game, and he’d invariably anticipate where an opponent’s pass was destined and intercept it. That was one reason he was never booked, because he didn’t need to go to ground he’d just get to the ball first.
He was a boyhood favourite of mine. I have his autograph in my Charles Buchan yearbook!
I was brought up in Greatham, a small village between Liphook and Petersfield. I was dropped off at nursery every morning in Petersfield, either sitting on the back of my mum's bike or on the local bus if the weather was bad. On the outskirts of Greatham, there was a bus stop adjacent to the turning for Alton. The bus, a red double-decker and open ended at the rear, was always full.
Occasionally a young man would get on the bus with a small brown suitcase and bag, perhaps taking his boots home to clean them. I was too young to understand the banter that was going on between this gentleman and the other passangers, but sure enough it was the captain of Pompey, the Champions of England, catching the bus and talking to all the other people on board.
Fast forward another six years and I would travel to Fratton Park on my own, to see Pompey and Jimmy Dickinson play for the first time.
Jimmy Stephan (speaking in 1999)
Jimmy was the first Pompey player to have a car - the club made a special exception for him! At that time it was part of the Portsmouth F.C employment conditions that the players were not allowed to drive a car, as it was assumed to be dangerous and could cause long-term injuries. Prior to that, Jimmy had to travel daily for training and home matches by train to Fratton station.
When I worked on the railway near Fratton Park, I would sometimes see Jimmy Dickinson going hell for leather as he was late catching a train from Alton where he lived to Fratton Station, then rushing along Goldsmith Avenue to the ground!
My father’s attendance at Pompey matches waned in the mid-1950s due to other commitments and he reverted to just following Pompey in the ‘Green-un’, the Evening News’s 'Football Mail’. It was delivered to the Alverstoke village newsagent at about 6.30pm on Saturday evenings and it was my job to collect it. I used to listen with great interest to the ad-hoc football discussions of the villagers waiting for the van to arrive with the copies! Over time I started to read about Pompey’s matches in the ‘Green-un’.
Pompey were struggling in the 1956/57 Season and looked destined to be relegated. My father said to me that If I wanted to see First Division football I should go to Fratton Park before they went down! A few school friends and I decided to go to our first match, which was against Cardiff City on Good Friday – an unforgettable new experience, with the bonus of Pompey winning 1-0. They then went on to beat Wolves and Cardiff, and so survived for another year. I saw their remaining matches at Fratton Park that season and so my long association with Pompey had begun.
Through all those early years, Jimmy Dickinson was a fixture in the team. He was always the captain playing at left-half (No 6), but with Eddie Lever’s departure and the controversial Freddie Cox’s management regime he was moved to centre-half and even left back at times. Eventually the captaincy reverted to Cyril Rutter, but Jimmy Dickinson just played on and on. He seemed to be able to adapt to the team’s changing fortunes and played with his wonderful steady skills and authority as Pompey’s fortunes lowered and they slipped down the divisions. He never seemed flustered!
He was often called ‘Gentleman Jim’ and richly deserved that title. He was always impeccably behaved and turned out on the pitch and quietly in control of his team - I don’t recall ever seeing a foul given against him. A truly wonderful player, a wonderful captain and wonderful ambassador for the game. He was a true example to us youngsters at the time as to how the game should be played and how footballers should present themselves on the field in front of their paying public.
I never thought that I would one day be in the dwindling group of Pompey fans who can remember the late 1950s games and the wonderful players of that time! I was lucky enough to see Jimmy Dickinson play many times and feel honoured to have done so.
Like many older Pompey fans I watched Jimmy play from 1959 until his retirement. I can still see him, in my mind’s eye, on the pitch, as Captain, always calm yet determined. I was there on his 750th appearance for PFC and got his autograph that day - as well as on several other days! In fact, I was lucky enough to have an uncle who was a director at that time and so was in the Board Room after the game when he was presented with the cake in the famous photo. I even ate a slice!
I started watching Pompey in 1959 so never saw him like my Dad did at his peak, although I admired his style of play and would definitely say Jimmy was my inspiration for playing the game at a good level. He was a master of reading the game and was the epitome of playing with purpose, poise and a natural ability to tackle fairly. Just imagine never being booked or sent off in an entire career - a thing of the past for sure! The "Gentleman Jim" tag he got is very apt and he will always be my footballing hero.
I was present on that great night when Jimmy, on his 40th birthday, played his 764th (and last) league match for Pompey. Pompey needed a point to stay in Division 2, while Northampton Town would remain 2nd to Newcastle United, whatever the result, so the stage was set for Pompey's glory. However, poor Johnny Gordon scored a most unfortunate own goal, but, with the clock ticking down, Alex Wilson saved Pompey with a very late equaliser. Swansea Town and Swindon Town were relegated, and crowds ran onto the pitch at the County Ground, many celebrating Northampton Town's promotion but most cheering Pompey and Jimmy Dickinson. I was 18, and had never witnessed such scenes. Claret-and-white and blue-and-white everywhere, people in sailors' uniforms, and laughter and tears in equal measure. I shall never forget my good fortune to have been there on that famous night in Northampton 57 years ago, when I was able to clap Gentleman Jim Dickinson until my hands hurt.
I was Club Secretary for many years, and when I joined the Club back in 1973, my immediate boss was Jimmy who I was Assistant Secretary to until he took over as Manager from Ian St John. Working under Jim was an absolute pleasure, he was exactly as portrayed - a perfect gentleman and the epitome of calm and good manners, which I can assure you is not easy at a professional football club, especially under the extreme financial restraints at that time at Pompey! We remained good friends until his far too early passing at 57.
What more can be said about the Pompey legend? He was a gentleman on and off the pitch. Never booked, and I wonder what he would have thought of the modern shirt tugging when an opponent went past you. It’s a pity this statue was not done in his lifetime so that he knew what the fans and local community thought of his input to Portsmouth Football Club.
Thank you to everyone who has kindly shared their memories of Jimmy Dickinson, and to the Pompey History Society who have supported us in contacting some of these supporters and sourcing archive quotes. We would love to hear from anyone else who has memories or stories they would like to share – please get in touch with us at [email protected]
To help us build the statue of Jimmy Dickinson at Fratton Park, please donate to our Crowdfunding campaign at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/jimmydickinsonstatue