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Len Phillips - Pompey legend

Len Phillips won 3 caps for England 

extract from the Guardian  Monday 26 December 2011

Len Phillips, who has died aged 89, was a prominent member of the Portsmouth football team that won consecutive league championships in 1949 and 1950. Though spotted and signed by Portsmouth while serving in the Royal Marines during the second world war, he was, in fact, a Londoner, born in Shoreditch.

At inside-left, he was a classical playmaker who in 261 appearances for Pompey would score 62 goals. Though they were relatively few and far between when Portsmouth won the championship in the 1948-49 season, the team always won when he scored. His total that season was 11 out of the team's 84 goals; he missed only two games. The following season, when Portsmouth retained the title, he played in 34 matches but scored only five times. In the following two seasons Phillips scored, respectively, 11 and 13 goals.

It was the manager Jack Tinn, whose "lucky" spats were ceremoniously put on his legs before each game, – as when Pompey surprisingly won the FA Cup Final of 1939 – who discovered Phillips, but the less flamboyant Bob Jackson who took Portsmouth to their triumphs in the league. In 1952, Eddie Lever, a great believer in creative football, who took over at the club and, after selling his uncompromising Scottish international right-half, Jimmy Scoular, to Newcastle United, had the inspired idea of switching Phillips to that position. It might have seemed something of a gamble, since the two could hardly have had more contrasting styles – Scoular was a formidable tackler and hard man, Phillips was ever the constructive artist – but it worked extremely well, above all in the combination between Phillips and his fellow England international, the outside-right Peter Harris.

PHOTO: Len Phillips for England

An abundance of gifted English inside-forwards meant that Phillips received only a single England cap in the position, against Northern Ireland in the 1951-52 season. Two more caps followed, the first against Wales in November 1954. Then, Phillips played at right-half for England against West Germany in a friendly at Wembley on 1 December 1954. This, untypically for the times, was an England team full of ball-playing virtuosi, including Len Shackleton, who would score a beautifully flighted goal in a 3-1 win, the ball sailing over the head of the German goalkeeper. The German team, to be fair, was greatly weakened by the mysterious epidemic of jaundice affecting many of the team which had then recently won the World Cup.

There might have been other England caps, had Phillips not been injured during training with the squad.

In 1956, another injury, a bad one, to a torn ligament, playing for Portsmouth against Grimsby Town, subverted his career. Leaving Portsmouth, he played for non-league Poole Town, Chelmsford and Bath City, scouted on his retirement for Leeds United, and ultimately worked as a lathe operator for De Havilland, in Portsmouth. There were no football millionaires in those days of the maximum wage.He married Joan in 1951 and they had two children.

• Horace Leonard Phillips, footballer, born 11 September 1922; died 9 December 2011 

Len Phillips - Portsmouth Football Club Hall of Fame


Len Phillips
Date of birth: 11/9/1922
Place of birth: Shoreditch
Position: Inside Forward, Wing Half
Pompey career: 1946 - 1956
Honours: 3 England caps. 1st Division
Championship winners medal 1948/49, 1949/50
Appearances: 261
Goals: 62
Inducted to Hall of Fame: 2010

Len Phillips was possibly the most gifted inside-forward ever to play for Pompey. Spotted playing locally for the Royal Marines, he became a key figure in the squad that manager Jack Tinn assembled to be a championship-winning side two seasons running.

Phillips was a ball-playing schemer who possessed terrific control and was capable of destroying a defence with a single pass. He formed a terrific goalscoring partnership with winger Peter Harris and was rated among the best inside-forwards in the country.

But because of Wilf Mannion, Len Shackleton and Eddie Baily, Pompey's superb technician was only called on three occasions to play for England. Born in Shoreditch in the heart of London's East End, Phillips excited large Fratton crowds who craved creative build-ups. In the 1948-49 season, every time Len scored, Pompey won. But then Pompey only lost nine games all season!

The occasionally rebellious Londoner had a tremendous football brain and, as well as leading Pompey's match-winning attack, Len scored his fair share of goals too, finishing second-leading scorer with 11 and 13 in 1950-51 and 1951-52 respectively. Unfortunately, while training with the England team, he suffered a knee injury which ended his international career prematurely.

But after Jimmy Scoular's departure to Newcastle, Phillip's creative genius slotted into midfield where he could keep possession until a chance opened up for Harris to run on to and score. Harris thrived on the precision service he received from Len - one of the reasons why Pompey were such a force in the early 50s. After tearing a muscle ligament in an FA Cup tie against Grimsby in January 1956, Len left league football and played for Poole Town, Chelmsford and Bath City. After scouting for Leeds United, he saw out his working career as a lathe operator at De Havilland's in Portsmouth.

Len Phillips
Personal information
Full name Leonard Horace Phillips
Date of birth 11 September 1922
Place of birth Shoreditch, England
Date of death 9 December 2011 (aged 89)
Place of death Portsmouth, England
Playing position Inside forward
Youth career
Hillside Y.C.
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
194x–1946 Royal Marines    
1946–1956 Portsmouth 245 (48)
1956–1959 Poole Town    
1959–1963 Chelmsford City    
1963–1965 Bath City 81 (7)
1965–1966 Ramsgate Athletic    
National team
1951–1954 England 3 (0)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

Len Phillips - a fitting tribute

Former Pompey player Pat Neil paid a fitting tribute to the late great Pompey legend Len Phillips with a great piece he wrote that was read out at Len’s funeral. It was also published in the local paper The News, but for those of you who didn’t see it please take a minute to read it and if you can spare some money, please donate at the bottom.

They flocked there in their thousands in those dreary post-war days,
On foot, on bike, on trolley bus, through lanes and alley ways.
To Fratton Park, the Champions to watch come rain or shine – Scoular, Flewin, Dickinson – now that’s some half back line!
With  Butler, Rookes and Ferrier custodians of the box, opponents had their work cut out these stalwarts to out fox.
While tucked in ‘mongst the forwards, Len Phillips stole a place – an ex-marine eastender of bewildering guile and grace.
Supplying Red and Froggatt, Clarke and Peter Harris, a consumate playmaker, opponents he’d embarrass.
The numpties on the terraces ‘get rid of it’ they’d scream, they didn’t seem to understand Len owed it to the team.
To hold the ball, and hold the ball – in this he showed his class, before creating havoc with a penetrating pass.
Down through ensuing decades, the pundits had their say – ‘creative, gifted, thoroughbred’, such plaudits came his way.
In typical forthright fashion, he’d argue to the end, ‘teamwork won those championships, not stars’ he would contend.
Just as it was on D-Day, for he had been there too, no prima donna antics in this team of Pompey blue.
For he was from a different age, and yet before his time – ball playing, scheming visionary, his game came to define.
Eventually his country once again called on his aid – three England caps at number four, and Len had made the grade.
Cruel injury then played its hand. He couldn’t have foreseen the end in sight of first class games on Fratton’s emerald green.
Still playing in his forties though, his skill remained unique, playing as he always did, a ‘one-off’ so to speak.
Giving master classes for teammates half his age, till Father Time decided he had reached the final page.
Len didn’t ‘dig’ the modern game, it truth be told, the spaces left neglected would simply leave him cold.
He’d wave towards the acres bare, if play began to stutter – ‘they might as well plant ‘tatoes there’ impatiently, he’d utter.
And though he’s gone, that final link with feats of yester-year, the legacy he leaves behind continues to endear.
And when the talk’s of football, whilst topping up the glasses, the misty eyed will call to mind, Len’s devastating passes!

For those looking to make a donation to the Exbury Ward, St James’ Hospital (the one that so greatly cared for Len) then you can do so through the Pompey Supporters Trust.

Click here for more info.

Len Phillips - a tribute


PHOTO: Jack Froggatt with Len Phillips 

The football world and the whole of Portsmouth in particular, today mourn one of its great players with the loss of Len Phillips.

Horace Leonard Phillips was born on 11th September 1922 in Shoreditch East London and he played schools football for Hackney Boys and got his first job aged 14 in a wine distillery. He was called up at the age of eighteen and joined the Royal Marines. On the sixth day of June 1944 he was one of the first ashore the Normandy beaches in the D Day landings.

His football career was late starting due to the war and it was then that Pompey manager Jack Tinn was tipped off about the talents Len possessed. he was signed on the 8th February 1946. He made his Pompey debut v Wolves at Fratton Park, in the War League South, three days after signing.

However he did not make his league debut until 28 December 1946 at Blackburn (Pompey won 1-0) and Len had to wait until 27 March 1948 to score his first goal at Aston Villa in only his eighth appearance. He would score twice more at Fratton Park when Middlesbrough visited three weeks later.

It was at the start of the season 1948/49 that a patient Len became a regular in the side and I will leave it to you to decide whether it is more than a coincidence that Pompey would go on to win the Football League Championship for the first time in their history. Len was to miss just two games that season and would score eleven goals from Inside Forward, wearing his number ten shirt for whish he became famous. That season every time Len scored Pompey won!!

I am often asked by younger fans surely Inside Forward and Midfield are the same thing aren`t they? The question is rather difficult to answer as football has changed so mush over the years with a move from 2-3-5 and the W formation in the forward line to Alf Ramsey`s 4-2-4 and then 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 and finally the Christmas Tree but yes is the answer I suppose but high scoring Inside Forwards were few and far between and Len`s average of one goal in five games stood out. Back in those full back and the half backs rarely or never scored goals unless they took penalties and it was the Centre Forward who banged in the goals.

The League title was won again in 1949/50 and Len again was a regular, playing thirty four league games with this campaign just five goals. Len was of course the schemer in the side and it was left to the other inside forward Duggie Reid to score the goals with his thunderbolt shooting.

The forward line in those two season featured the pace and goal scoring of winger Peter Harris, the guile and experience of Ike Clarke, the versatility of Jack Froggatt and Phillips and Reid. Between them they scored one hundred and forty three league goals in those two seasons proof that the Pompey that ruled the nation were a team not just a few individuals.

Sadly none of them would win many caps for their countries - Reid was never capped by Scotland - and they were really ignored by the nation as stars. On Portsea Island though they were revered as Gods and young boys would chase them everywhere for autographs, such were the days before television.

Len Phillips would himself win just three caps for England; his debut coming on 14 November 1951 when at the age of twenty nine he lined up against Northern Ireland at Villa Park - he had team mate Jimmy Dickinson in the team for company. In the current vogue of numbering players in the order they made their first game, Len was number 712. Len had to wait three more years for his other two caps coming in victories over Wales and West Germany both games being played at Wembley.

Sadly while on England duty in March 1955 Len picked up a serious knee injury in a training game and his career was over. He managed just one more Pompey appearance the following January against Grimsby in the Cup but tore a knee ligament.

Sadly two factors were against Len as he tried to fight his way back to full fitness one was the standards of surgery in those days and the other was his age. As a late starter in the game he was now approaching thirty four and most players were looking to hang up their boots by then.

Len was thus destined to play non league football for Poole Town, Chelmsford City, Bath City and Ramsgate Athletic before returning to work as a lathe operator at De Havilland in the city.

How will he be remembered by Pompey fans? Firstly as another of the one club men but mostly for his fantastic ball control and trickery which in the days of the heavy leather ball, with its laces and all, was some accomplishment. In fact I read one story that described him as a Brazilian style ball-playing schemer who possessed wizard ball control and was capable of destroying defences with a single pass. He played 245 league games for the club and scored 48 goals.

Len and his wife Joan celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary on 14th July this year. Len was inducted into the Pompey Hall of Fame in January 2010 and he was the last surviving member of the regular Championship side.

I have even managed to find you a Len Phillips goal - it came against Doncaster in the FA Cup fifth round in 1952. The clip courtesy of British Pathé news shows just how packed Fratton Park was in those days with over 44,000 present - how Pompey fans loved the Cup in those days and how Len was so proud to get his hands on the trophy in 2008 when the club took it to him..

Watch the clip here
Len is wearing number ten and shows flashes of great skill.

All of us at Vital Pompey would like to pass our condolences to Joan and her family many of who live in the City.

Toast remembers

Stories of Len Phillips have many times graced the pages of Sunday Toast.

Here are a few Season 3 #24 celebrated his Hall of Fame induction with 'Older fans would say Len was the most skilful player ever to play for the club. An old fashioned inside forward discovered while playing for the Royal Marines.

Season 2#18 told of Len opening a garden at St James hospital 'Andy Tysoe of the Portsmouth Hospitals Trust said: 'I cannot think of anyone better to open our dignity garden, and I'm honoured he agreed to do so in the presence of the FA Cup, former team mates and his loved ones. I don't think it could be any more poignant.

And even as recently as Season 5#5 we marked Len`s Birthday in the usual way.

I will try and pick up more from fans who either knew him or saw him play as they talk to me and will let you have more of an insight into this true Pompey great when I have it.

Thanks Len!!

The Toast flag today flies at half mast!


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