End of an era at Pompey as Owen bids farewell

John Deacon, centre, left, celebrating Pompey's 1986-87 promotion-winning season with manager Alan Ball
John Deacon, centre, left, celebrating Pompey's 1986-87 promotion-winning season with manager Alan Ball

The smoke escaping underneath the door would announce to him Pompey’s legend was in residence.

Within was Jimmy Dickinson, puffing on his pipe while scribbling furiously, applying the final touches to programme notes he often agonised over.

A regular Thursday lunchtime encounter for Richard Owen, charged with gathering those deeply respected musings before delivering them to the printers for publication.

That was 1978 and represented the first steps for somebody who would spend the next 36 years working for the Blues.

It began as an assistant programme editor and developed into his appointment as the club’s historian.

This summer, though, Owen walked away from Pompey, his job in the police force and his Bedhampton home, to retire to the Lake District.

Passions have been sapped by modern-day football and his beloved club’s recent dismantling at the hands of a rogue’s gallery of owners.

During five different decades, Owen has been a fixture in the Fratton Park corridors, closely dealing with chairmen, managers and players.

In the case of Dickinson, Bobby Campbell and Mick Tait in particular they are precious memories for the 54-year-old.

But it has been time to depart.

He said: ‘When Pompey were relegated to then division four in 1978, I wrote to the club criticising the programme and secretary Bill Davis replied “If you can do better, then do so”.

‘So I sent him a dummy programme and was appointed as assistant programme editor for the 1978-79 season working under a lovely guy called Bert Davis, no relation of Bill.

‘In my role, I was sent to Fratton Park to collect Jimmy’s notes to take to the printers in Norway Road that afternoon for Saturday’s programme.

‘I never saw Jimmy play because I wasn’t old enough, but the smoke would be wafting under the door of his closed office at Fratton Park.

‘I would go in and he would be puffing on his pipe. He wouldn’t always have finished his notes, so I would sit and wait quietly.

‘He would look for inspiration and occasionally I would help him in concocting his manager’s notes.

‘He didn’t have a clue as a manager, bless him, it was wrong what John Deacon did by appointing him.

‘He had been a player, he had been secretary, he had been PR manager, but no way was he a manager and it was cruel to do it.

‘I remember outside Deepdale in May 1977. I got there at 2pm and he came out of the dressing room to where the fans were.

We asked him the team, he shook his head and said “I haven’t a clue yet”.

‘I thought there’s a man that’s really worried. He was a great secretary, but wasn’t a manager.

‘The players were young and didn’t have a great respect for him. The team talks weren’t fantastic, we were going to grounds he had never been to before because we had sunk that low.

‘What a great guy and charming man, though, I never saw him angry or bang his fist or get in a temper.

‘You talk to the players in that 1978-79 team, like Billy Wilson, Peter Denyer and Steve Foster, and they will tell you they never saw him get angry at training or anything like that.’

During Owen’s long association with Pompey he has written four books and continued to contribute to the club programme up until last season’s final match against Plymouth.

The last 30 years have been served as the Blues’ historian and archivist – and it was his intervention in August 2006 which saved so much precious memorabilia during Sacha Gaydamak’s infamous boardroom purge.

Encounters with Pompey owners have been just as memorable as managers like Dickinson.

He added: ‘John Deacon was an amazing chairman, very pompous, but saved the club several times.

‘It was January 1986 and I was writing a Fratton staff feature in the programme which was a little list of favourite things from the tea lady, secretary, the steward, and others.

‘Mr Deacon read this and wanted his turn – which was fine.

‘So on the day we were playing Middlesbrough Paul Weld told me that I had to go to Mr Deacon’s office – at 4.15pm!

‘We were on a promotion trail, finishing fourth in the end, but he summoned me from the Fratton end to his office during the game to sit there and listen to his list of thoughts.

‘I thought that was most odd – it was bizarre.

‘We won 1-0 after a goal in that second half.

‘Jim Gregory was another amazing chairman, although he was a very shy man, very reserved, only in the boardroom for a few minutes at a match.

‘He was an extremely ignorant man but good with football and money.

‘He could hardly read or write, but built up that empire of garages in London and it went from there.’

Owen once painted the Fratton goalposts and washed the club kit, but feels it is right to walk away from it all.

He said: ‘I look at those early times with fondness – there has been a bit of bitterness in the last six or seven years.

‘With the different sorts of owners we’ve seen, I have lost a bit of that passion and it has been a factor in my thought process of moving north.

‘I haven’t got as much love for the club now as I used to, although I am now pleased I’m leaving it on an even keel.’