Date: 5th February 2011 at 7:26pm
Written by:

I am going to give up writing the match previews for Paul. I chose Steven Davies as the man to watch and he notched the opener and I plumped for a score of 1-1 – and I never get scores right!!

In truth Pompey deserved no more than a point and only a Steven Bywater flying save from a Kanu header prevented a home win. The game was ruined by two factors, the strong wind and a dismal Pompey performance. I could probably add a poor refereeing display to that too but then we are used to that in this division. The decision to book Jon Hogg was ridiculous!!

The rest of this week’s Toast is taken up by one man. I hope you enjoy this tribute it has taken me all week to research.

Norman Uprichard 1928-2011

The death of Norman Uprichard (pronounced YOU-PRITCHARD) last Monday 31st January 2011 has robbed the football world of one of the real characters of the game.

During his spell at Pompey in the 1950s he earned a reputation as a brave (some might say foolish), agile and most of all entertaining player, who would go out of his way to please the fans. In fact he lived on Fratton Park’s doorstep in a house on the corner of Carisbrooke Road and Milton Lane and would sign autographs for young fans who knocked on his door.

Born in Moyraverty, Lurgan, in April 1928, Norman started football at an early age, signing for Glenavon Juniors at just 16 before moving on to Distillery. I think that makes Norman and Derek Dougan the only two players to play for Distillery and Pompey. In June 1948, aged just twenty he signed for the mighty Arsenal for £1,500. However the Gunners keeper those days was none other than George Swindin and before long he was sold to Swindon Town for a nominal fee.

During his time at the County Ground Norman won his first five Northern Ireland caps. It was his performance in one of these games a 1-1 draw with Scotland at Hampden that convinced Pompey to pay £6,000 for his services – quite a fee in those days for a lower league player.

His debut came at Fratton on 8th November 1952 in a 2-1 home win over Spurs. A crowd of over 40,000 were there too as Norman got his name on the score sheet being awarded the visitors goal as an OG. The next Saturday Pompey travelled to Hillsborough and defeated Sheffield Wednesday 4-3 but Norman picked up a bad hand injury in a collision with Derek Dooley and his career was on hold while his bones mended.

He was back on Boxing Day playing with padded gloves just to prove his bravery and he then reeled off twenty games before missing the last two of the season.

Norman was to be the club’s regular keeper right through the fifties apart from injury and really blossomed as a player and a character winning over the fans to become a real favourite. Talking to fans of that era you get a real sense of a player they loved even though he played through the ebb in fortunes of a great team. They even choose to ignore the rumours that he could often be seen in a pub in Fratton Road before a game.

A real crowd pleaser then and so agile; he was only after all 5ft 9in tall which these days would be minute for a keeper but Norman made up for lack of height with his undoubted talent. Popular with young fans too who would pelt the goal net with sweets and chocolate leaving Norman to collect them all in his cap when the whistle blew – nobody is quite sure whether he ate all that confectionery or gave it away but that is certainly one abiding story that fans from that era tell.

He had many famous admirers including Matt Busby who after one game when Norman had just returned from injury said ‘You would never have believed he had just returned from a serious injury. His fielding of the ball was clean and confident and it was a great comeback by a man who wouldn’t give in.’ His bravery won his the admiration of his fellow players who gave him the nickname ‘Black Jake’.

The dreadful season 1958/59 arrived and Norman was still the regular custodian but gone was Eddie Lever as manager and now Freddie Cox was in charge. He was probably the least successful Pompey manager of all time taking Pompey down to the brink of Division three with this erratic tactics. Norman even criticised his manager in a national newspaper for which he paid a price. There was to be a mass clearout of players under Cox and Norman was one victim as he moved to Southend.

His last Pompey first team game was also watched by a huge crowd 51,000 at Old Trafford but the result was totally different as United romped home 6-1! To show his versatility in January 1959 in a reserve fixture against Nottingham Forest, after picking up an injured wrist he moved to outside-right for the first time since his schooldays and managed to score the winning goal in a 3-2 away win!

Sadly I never saw Norman play for Pompey as he had departed just weeks before my first visit to Fratton Park in October 1959 and I feel that I would certainly have enjoyed the experience.

International Career

As I said earlier Norman’s international career began while he was a youngster at Swindon but in those days Northern Ireland were a weak side having only just split from the Republic in 1947. Most of Norman’s early games ended in defeat and it was only in his eleventh appearance that he tasted victory over Scotland at Windsor Park in October 1955.

It was however to be the World Cup campaign that was to the pinnacle of the fledgling national team and Norman Uprichard’s career. Although Norman was his country’s second choice keeper behind Harry Gregg of Manchester United but he was to play a key role in the qualifying and finals campaign.

Peter Doherty had put together a useful side and as the final qualifying game approached a win would mean they would reach the Finals in Sweden. The opponents were none other than Italy and with Gregg unavailable Norman was pitched into the side. You can watch brief highlights the game on youtube by clicking below and see goals from McIlroy and Cush take the Irish to Sweden. One excellent save from Norman from an Italian forward too and yes, that is him in the Irish team photo at the end of the clip. The quality is not good but it is worth it trust me.

Qualification was quite a feat when the other team in qualifying group were Portugal!

The draw for the finals was also difficult with their group including Czechoslovakia, West Germany and Argentina. The squad included three Pompey players with Sam Chapman and Derek Dougan also included – although because of the costs involved Chapman was one of five players left at home on emergency call.

The Irish beat the Czechs, lost to Argentina and drew with West Germany and the final table left them level with the Czechs. Goal difference was not used to separate sides in those days and play off was deemed necessary. Gregg had picked up an injury in the Germany game and that meant Norman was required again.

The game in Malmo came just two days after their final group game and went to extra time before two goals by Aston Villa’s Peter McParland took them through to the quarter final with France in two days time. Norman played a starring role but picked up an injury to his hand in a collision with Bert Peacock. That meant both keepers were injured and it was Gregg on one leg rather Norman with one hand that was chosen to play and inevitably the French with Raymond Kopa rampant prevailed 4-0.

There is little doubt that given a little luck and no extra game the Irish could have fared a lot better in one of their only two trips to the Finals. Uprichard’s passing further diminishes the survivors of the 1958 World Cup with only six remaining ? Jimmy McIlroy, Peter McParland Sammy McCrory, Billy Simpson, Billy Bingham and Harry Gregg.

As to Norman he would play only twice more for his country but has never be forgotten for his exploits both on and off the field

After retirement he ran a pub in Sussex. In the 1970s he returned to Northern Ireland where worked in a bar at Queen’s University, Belfast. He later retired to Hastings where he had played some non league games but remained a keen follower of football as well as becoming involved in angling, golf, darts and snooker. He used to visit Fratton Park at least twice as season and was regularly introduced to the crowd on those occasions.

Norman never won any medals during his career but he certainly won the hearts of the fans both at Fratton Park and in his native Northern Ireland. That showed during the minutes applause yesterday when the older fans were telling the youngsters about the man.


Join the Vital Pompey Debate

Click for the forum