There are many players who perhaps deserve a mention when it comes to careers with Birmingham City and Pompey.
The obvious choice and generally the first player people think of is Noel Blake whose own goals were a feature of a recent ‘Challenge Dave’ – read more on that here – another of course is Kevin ‘Dead Eye’ Dillon whose penalties amongst his 45 goals saw Pompey to many a victory during our rise (and fall) to (the old) First Division.
There’s Steve Wigley (88-92), Alex Govan (57-59) and the young Pompey Apprentice Goalkeeper Andy Gosney, who seemed to be an understudy for years before moving on.
Latterly we know about Andy Cole (loaned to Brum last season) and Aliou Cisse (23 games without a goal), and of course there’s Martin Kuhl and Darren Anderton – but I think their careers are best left until we meet Derby and Spurs later in the season.
My choice for this article is a player I never actually saw play, but one that I have heard many stories about over the years.
Back in the mid-seventies my Mum uprooted the family from our home in New Road East and moved us ‘all the way’ to North End so we could be nearer my Nan who was a bit poorly. Times were hard in those days and to make ends meet Mum decided to rent out our front room to a lodger, an old bloke called ‘Bob’ who to a kid of eleven, looked liked he had just celebrated his 190th birthday.
‘Old Bob’ claimed to have seen it all with Pompey: Three cup finals, back-to-back championships, relegation, promotion, the record attendance at Fratton Park, our record victory, our record defeat! He even claimed to have seen a shared Charity Shield match.
Over the years ‘Old Bob’ and I would while away the hours talking Pompey. He’d tell tales of all the greats: Dickinson, Harris, Haines, Froggatt, Reid the list was endless but with each new story I would listen intently. There was one player however that he rated ‘more Pompey’ than everybody else. His name? John Duncan Sinclair (“Johnny”) Gordon.
At the start of the 51/52 season Bob Jackson’s squad was ravaged by injuries so much so that he had little option other than to place his faith in a ‘junior’. A local 18 year old inside-forward who was in the middle of his National Service at Hilsea.
Johnny gave such a good account of himself during his debut (a 3-1 home defeat by Blackpool) that he was also selected to play in the following match, but as the injured seniors returned to full fitness his chances became less and Johnny had to wait until the final fixture of the season before he got another opportunity to impress.
Impress he did and Gordon became a regular in the No.8 shirt during the next couple of years and as Pompey’s top scorer in 1957 established himself as the natural partner for another local legend; Peter Harris. In little over six years Johnny played 200+ games for Pompey scoring 69 goals in the process.
‘Old Bob’ would shake his head in disbelief as he’d tell the story of the ‘Great Clearout of September ’58’, when the then Pompey Manager Freddie Cox ‘sold’, among others, Ray Crawford to Ipswich and Johnny Gordon to First Division Birmingham for the sum of £15,000
He’d scowl at the thought of Johnny’s success where in 1959-60 he became ‘their’ club’s top scorer and then ‘their’ all-time top scorer in European competition. I’m sure Johnny wasn’t complaining as he lined-up for the first English club side to reach the final of a European competition when he played in the two-legged Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Final against Barcelona in 1960, but ‘Old Bob’ was none too pleased to recall how Johnny scored 40 goals in 115 appearances in just over three seasons at St. Andrews. “If we’d ‘ave kept ‘im, we could ‘ave been great again” he’d say on numerous occasions.
By March 1961 Pompey’s Managerial status had undergone another change and when caretaker-manager Bill Thompson made it clear he wanted Johnny ‘back where he belonged’ to help save Pompey from the threat of relegation there was only ever likely to be one outcome.
Despite offers from both Stoke and Blackpool (far bigger and more successful clubs than Pompey at the time) Johnny Gordon wrote his page in Pompey’s history and became our first ‘Prodigal Son’ when for £9,000 he became the first Pompey player ever to return to the club after being transferred, a fitting accolade for a player who was Pompey born & breed.
Unfortunately, it was too little to late and as ‘Old Bob’s’ eyes would well-up he’d tell of the shame of Pompey’s relegation to Division 3.
Luckily, the new season saw another new Manger, George Smith. It was under Smith’s guidance that Johnny continued to ‘rattle ’em in’ and in his first full season back at Fratton Park, Gordon’s goals helped Pompey claim the title at the first attempt. “Thankfully”, ‘Old Bob’ would state, “Second Division football was restored.”
Johnny clocked up another 234 appearances in his second stint at the club taking his total to 489 and placing him 4th in our all-time appearances list.
In his two spells with Pompey, Johnny Gordon clocked-up over 100 goals, but only managed one Hat-Trick. The game came at Hillsborough in October ’53. Johnny’s first levelled the scores at 2-2, then with Pompey looking beaten and trailing 4-2 he struck twice in the final 15 minutes to salvage a valuable point.
In 1967, at the age of 35 Johnny decided to quit the professional game and signed for Chelmsford City. His last game for Pompey however was his shared (with Alex Wilson) testimonial match against Stoke City in March ’68.
As ‘Old Bob’ would tell me time and again how Johnny gave his all for Pompey throughout his career, but Johnny Gordon also had another love … ‘A beer and a song’.
It came as no surprise then when I recently discovered that towards the end of his playing days Johnny appeared in Southern Televisions talent contest ‘Home grown’. Unfortunately his fine singing voice was not enough to win the show and launch him into pop stardom as he beaten to first place by a singing group from Chatham.
As with many retired footballers of his day Johnny turned his hand to the pub trade and as well as managing a wine bar in Osborne Road, also became Landlord at the Milton Arms, funnily enough, ‘Old Bob’s’ local and the pub where I now drink before each and every home game.
‘Old Bob’ died in the mid-eighties just short of his 200th birthday and although it’s been twenty odd years since I sat on the sofa in what is still now referred to as ‘Bob’s Room’ I will always look back with a smile on my face to when I first heard about each and every one of Pompey’s Legends.
Johnny Gordon died in May 2001 at aged 69 and to mark his passing former Pompey player and Chairman of the Pompey ex-professional Reunion Club, Pat Neil wrote an ‘Ode to Johnny Gordon’. It’s too long to publish in this article but it sums up perfectly the man behind many of ‘Old Bob’s’ stories. If anybody is interested I will post it in the forum – It’s well worth a read to get to understand what made one of Pompey’s finest what he was.
It’s a shame Pompey are ‘away’ to Birmingham this Saturday, as had we been at home I would have stood in the Milton Arms, ordered my usual, and raised my glass to a local legend who was Pompey through and through, and to another whose ‘stories of the greats’ unlocked a pride and a passion that will remain with me throughout my life.
“Play Up Pompey? Just one more goal” as ‘Old Bob’ would sing.
Written by Chix.
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