Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lindy Delapenha’s One and Only Goal for Pompey

Portsmouth vs Norwich match report,
Portsmouth Evening News, 1950
(click to enlarge)
In 1950 Lindy Delapenha saved Pompey from an ignominious FA Cup defeat at the hands of lowly Norwich, yet his name was barely mentioned in the match reports of the local paper.

Pompey fans must have rubbed their hands with glee when the draw for the third round of the 1949/50 FA Cup was announced. Their team had been drawn against Norwich City in a tie scheduled to be played at Fratton Park on 7th January 1950. At that time Norwich could be found languishing in the relative obscurity of the old Third Division South, two tiers below the Blues. The Canaries would finish in 11th place that season, a mid-table finish that reflected the mediocrity of their performances. Their form in the cup hadn’t been much more impressive. They snatched victory against non-league Gloucester in the first round and were subsequently taken to a replay by Hartlepools United, although the 5-1 score line in the return fixture suggests they were, eventually, good value for their place in the third round.

In comparison, Portsmouth FC were the reigning champions of England and, despite an indifferent start to the campaign, were on course to retain their title. They had enjoyed a reasonably successful run during the Christmas fixtures. The Blues suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Blackpool on Christmas Eve but went on to record back-to-back victories over Charlton Athletic, before drawing at home with Middlesbrough. It is fair to say that they would have approached their FA Cup tie against Norwich with a fair degree of confidence.

An injury to Duggie Reid meant that the young Jamaican forward Lindy Delapenha was presented an opportunity to impress. Delapenha had made only a handful of appearances for Portsmouth since joining the club in April 1948 and his start against Norwich City in the FA Cup tie would mark the one and only time that he played three games on the bounce for the Blues. It would also bring Delapenha’s first and only goal for the club.

The match itself was disappointing fare for the majority of the 42,059 supporters packed into Fratton Park. Pompey had the best of the game yet their intricate passing, whilst pleasing on the eye, resulted in few chances. It is difficult to know if they buckled under the weight of being labelled favourites or victims of over-confidence but Pompey played poorly that day. During a disjointed first half display the Blues had taken the lead when Delapenha poked the ball home during a desperate goalmouth scramble. Whether or not the goal should have stood, however, was hotly contested. Had there been a foul or a handball in the lead up to the goal? Perhaps. Either way it was not enough to kick-start Pompey’s performance and, with half an hour to go, Norwich surprised the home crowd by drawing level. The 1-1 result meant that the two sides would meet in a replay at Carrow Road the following Thursday.

Two days after the game, on Monday 9th January, the match report in the Portsmouth Evening News (pictured above) took Pompey to task. Journalist The Ranger was almost apoplectic with rage at the champion’s performance. He castigated them for “pattern-weaving” which had resulted in nothing but “failure after failure”. Norwich, it was noted, were a “nice Third Division” side but there “was nothing outstanding about them.” Pompey’s goal was mentioned in passing, and only then with the caveat that it “ought not to have been allowed”. That it was scored by Delapenha is omitted entirely, although the injury the Jamaican forward suffered in the second half is recorded as one possible reason for the side’s lack of fluency.

On Wednesday 11th January, as the local paper looked ahead to the following day’s replay, Delapenha again received scant attention. When they finally mentioned him by name it was to speculate that his place in the side would be taken by a fit-again Duggie Reid who, they hoped, would add potency to the Blues’ toothless attack. Reid had a knack of scoring important goals and the paper suggested the Scotsman was “likely to pop in the winner”. As it was Delapenha missed the return fixture having aggravated a long-running hamstring problem in the game at Fratton Park. To add insult to that injury, Reid did indeed return to the first team and scored both goals as Pompey beat Norwich 2-0 to book their place in the FA Cup fourth round. Reid’s first strike appears to have been a miss-hit lob into the box that drifted past a bemused keeper; the second a stonewall penalty after Peter Harris had been scythed down in the box. Highlights of the game, including both Reid goals, can still be seen on the Pathe website.

It must have been somewhat disappointing for Delapenha, whose individual performance perhaps deserved a more positive write-up. His first - and, as it turned out, only - goal for the club should have been cause for celebration but instead his effort was lost amidst the rantings of the journalist sent to cover the match, the legitimacy of his goal doubted, and his place in the team called into question.

Lindy Delapenha would feature only one more time for Portsmouth, his final appearance for the club coming in a 1-0 win away at Fulham. Transferred at the end of the season he would go on to have a hugely successful career at Middlesbrough, notching up nearly 300 games for the club. His impact during his two years at Portsmouth might have been negligible, but it was not quite as anonymous as the match reports would have you believe.