University of Portsmouth's History Blog

Pompey: Champions of England: A research collaboration between the History team, students and Pompey History Society

In this blog, our Rob James, Senior Lecturer in History, discusses the local history project he worked on with one of our local community partners, Pompey History Society, that culminated in the publication of a book which includes a chapter written by Rob and four of our History students, Sam Ewart, Maria Kopanska, Dan Ward and Jack Woolley. Rob’s research explores society’s leisure activities and feeds into a number of optional and specialist modules that he teaches in the second and third year.

‘POMPEY Champions of England’ front cover


On 26 October 2022, I attended the launch of the book POMPEY Champions of England: The sporting and social history of Portsmouth FC’s league title wins in 1949 & 1950, edited by the chair of Pompey History Society (PHS) Colin Farmery. The book launch, held at Portsmouth City Museum, was the culmination of the project ‘POMPEY: Champions of England’, run by PHS and generously funded by the Heritage Fund.

I have been involved with the project from its inception. Many years ago now, Colin Farmery contacted me and asked if I was willing to be on the steering committee of a project that intended to capture, through undertaking oral history interviews, the memories of fans who witnessed Portsmouth Football Club’s back-to-back title wins in the 1948-49 and 1949-50 seasons. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the project. It allowed me to be more closely involved with the history of the football club I’d supported for many years, and also provided me with an opportunity to get the University, and more importantly, our students, involved and working with a local community organisation.

Despite being disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the project progressed well, and around 40 interviews were conducted and archived, leading to the production of a supplement of fan memories in the local newspaper The News, and the unveiling of a permanent exhibition at Fratton Park in late 2021.

Pompey: Champions of England exhibition at Fratton Park


The final aim of the project was to publish a book that placed the fans’ memories within the social and sporting context of the time they were visiting Fratton Park to watch Pompey achieve their incredible feat of consecutive title wins. The book was divided into the themes that had been drawn out from the testimonies of the supporters who were interviewed, and these included their memories of living in war-torn Portsmouth, the match-day experience, and the important role the football club played (and continues to play) in the local community. As editor, Colin Farmery had already commissioned a number of the chapters, but he approached me and asked if our students would like to be involved in writing a chapter on the theme of ‘Women and Football’. Of course, I said yes!

First page of the chapter written by Rob, Sam, Maria, Dan and Jack


Fortunately, one of our second year core modules, ‘Working with the Past’, is specifically designed to enable our students to work with the many local organisations who the History team are involved with. My colleagues and I work with the module’s coordinator, Mike Esbester, to offer students a suite of choices that allow them to gain valuable experience by working with these community partners.

One of the choices I put forward was the opportunity to work with Pompey History Society, and we recruited four students, Sam Ewart, Maria Kopanska, Dan Ward and Jack Woolley, to work with the organisation. Colin invited the students to Fratton Park so that he could introduce them to the aims of the project. He also gave them a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium, which included showing them the project’s permanent exhibition as well as a look at the Society’s archive. The task was set: the students were to be given access to all of the interviews that were conducted with female fans so that they could begin the research for their chapter.

History students visiting the exhibition at Fratton Park


For the project, four female fans – Joan Elder, Audrey Hawkins, Joan Phillips, and Maggie Thoyts – were interviewed. The students each took one of the testimonies, evaluated it, and wrote up a section for the chapter, which also coupled as part of their assessment for the module. I came back in at the end of the process and edited the students’ contributions so that the chapter ran along a thematic line, introducing additional contextual material to build a full picture of the women’s experience of being a female football fan in the 1940s and early 1950s.

Lady Mayor Maria Costa speaking at the book launch


So, there we have it, the book has been launched and the students are now published authors. That’s something to catch the eye of a prospective employer! Pompey History Society are thrilled with the work the students have done, and we are currently discussing what future projects our students could be involved with (I’m on the ‘125 Committee’ which is planning a series of activities to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the formation of Portsmouth Football Club in 1898). All in all, it’s been a great experience and I am so proud of our students’ achievements. Well done Dan, Jack, Maria, and Sam!

Colin Farmery, Sam Ewart and Rob James at the book launch

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