It’s Pompey v Plymouth – Not a Dockyard Derby

The Football Mail headline on February 5, 1921, when  Pompey and Plymouth drew 1-1 at Fratton Park
The Football Mail headline on February 5, 1921, when Pompey and Plymouth drew 1-1 at Fratton Park
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Little value was given to that maiden encounter, a fixture to be later burdened with Hollywood blockbuster branding.

During two sizeable paragraphs, Pompey’s extensive injury concerns ahead of Plymouth’s visit were poured over in detail.

The fixture’s date was February 5, 1921, and represented the first occasion the sides met in the Football League.

Yet the build-up was unmistakably low-key between clubs almost 100 years later glibly ramped up as sneering adversaries in the ‘Dockyard Derby’.

The label is loathed by many of the Fratton faithful – and they have a point.

For them it is a new-found rivalry artificially-created for handy pigeon-holing, usually lazily rolled out from media outside the area.

As for coming under the banner of a ‘derby’, Plymouth is 170 miles from Portsmouth. Calais is closer.

Back in 1921, the headline accompanying the Football Mail match report between the clubs stated ‘Port Rivals’.

Yet at no point was any reference made by the author, Linesman, to either dockyard or derby.

He’s not the only one. Over the next 95 years and 57 encounters between the clubs, The News’ archives illustrate the likes of Linesman, Reg Betts, Mike Neasom, Mark Storey to the present day have never ventured into the ‘Dockyard Derby’ mythology.

Of course, denying the dockyard links between the cities are irrefutable.

In his August 1923 match report, Linesman wrote: ‘When we of the Pompey party arrived at Plymouth last night, we found the town agog with excitement over today’s clash between the teams representing the rival Naval ports.’

At the end of that 1923-24 season it wouldn’t be for another 36 years before the clubs next met in any competition.

Encounters have also not been without their talking points.

Alan Biley netted the goal which won Bobby Campbell’s side the Division Three championship in May 1983.

That same weekend would see 40 Pompey followers arrested for, as Neasom termed it, ‘hooliganism’.

Chris Kamara was sent off in a 2-0 defeat under Ian St John, there was Barry Horne’s unfortunate leg break of Leigh Cooper, while Steve Claridge made his debut having joined on a permanent basis.

On Thursday, the sides will again attempt to leave an imprint on history when they do battle in the League Two play-offs.

Yes, the play-offs. The only accurate tag-line to be applied to an encounter between two proud port-equipped cities.