Peter Harris - Record goal scorer
Posted on 26th May 2023 by David Taylor
Peter Philip Harris, footballer: born Southsea, Hampshire 19 December 1925; played for Portsmouth 1944-59; capped twice by England 1949-54; married; died Hayling Island, Hampshire 2 January 2003.
The durable, diamond-bright brilliance of the right-winger Peter Harris offered persuasive contradiction to glib descriptions of the Portsmouth side which lifted back-to-back Football League championships midway through the 20th century as "the team without a star". Though denied more than fleeting moments in the international limelight by the incomparable talents of Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, the placid, modest Harris was a massive achiever for his only club.
A cursory examination of his statistics reveals him to be Pompey's record scorer, having netted 208 times in more than 500 senior outings during a 15-year career. Those are remarkable figures for any flankman, but they barely begin to do justice to his overall impact in a beautifully co-ordinated team which was damned all too frequently by faint praise.
Harris was a monument to flair, loyalty and dedication, but what commanded the attention most insistently was his searing pace. He was particularly devastating in sudden bursts of acceleration, a natural gift, but one which he honed meticulously by his prodigious application to training.
After seeming to dawdle harmlessly near the touchline, Harris would erupt explosively, his characteristic high-velocity scurry capable of embarrassing the classiest of opponents. Indeed, few men were better equipped to combat speed merchants than the celebrated Manchester United and England left-back Roger Byrne, who lost his life in the Munich air disaster of 1958, but even he was the subject of serial chasings by the Fratton Park flyer.
Of course, Harris would not have flourished so productively by sprinting power alone. He possessed immense guile, as evidenced by the subtle feints and dummies with which he tormented defenders, his ball control was immaculate, and he was a reliable purveyor of tantalising crosses. Crucially, too, he was a fine finisher, packing a shot both powerful and accurate.
Born a short bus ride from the Portsmouth headquarters, Harris trained as a carpenter and played his early football for a local club, Gosport Borough, before being signed by the colourful Fratton Park boss Jack Tinn towards the end of the Second World War. The slim teenager, who favoured long, baggy shorts in the style of his hero, the great Arsenal schemer Alex James, got off to an impressive start in unofficial wartime competition, then made his senior début in a 3-1 home victory over Blackburn Rovers in August 1946.
During the following campaign, he established a regular place under the quietly inspirational leadership of the new manager Bob Jackson, then emerged as a key component of the Pompey combination which romped away with the 1948/49 title, outstripping the runners-up Manchester United by an emphatic five-point margin.
Harris's 17 goals made him joint leading scorer with Duggie "Thunderboots" Reid, the pair being supplied with ammunition by fellow members of an underrated team whose plentiful ability was buttressed by extraordinary degrees of comradeship and co-ordination. Outstanding among them were the wing-halves Jimmy Scoular and Jimmy Dickinson, left-winger Jack Froggatt, inside-forward Len Phillips, and Reg Flewin, centre-half and a skipper of imposing authority.
At one point in the spring, Portsmouth had a genuine chance of becoming the first club in the 20th century to lift the League and FA Cup double. Harris had set their Wembley sights with a hat-trick in the 7-0 third-round thrashing of Stockport County, but after reaching the semi-finals they fell rather tamely to Leicester City, then toiling in the lower reaches of the Second Division.
Pundits who trumpeted the causes of more fashionable clubs from London and the North predicted that Pompey would falter in 1949/50, but they confounded the doubters by retaining their First Division crown, this time pipping Wolverhampton Wanderers by two-fifths of a goal (at that time a difficult goal-average system was used to split teams on equal points, rather than goal-difference).
Thereafter Portsmouth remained an effective side for several seasons, though they became more unpredictable and gradually the title-winning line-up was dismantled as the 1950s progressed. Harris, however, remained on prime form throughout that decade and, had he not shared nationality with Matthews and Finney, surely must have received more than his international two caps.
Sadly, both his England appearances coincided with dreadful team displays. At Goodison Park in 1949, England were defeated for the first time on home soil by a foreign country, and in Budapest in 1954, given the task of avenging the previous year's Wembley humiliation by "The Magnificent Magyars", they were annihilated 7-1 by Hungary.
On the domestic scene, Harris enjoyed his most fruitful scoring term in 1952/53, striking 23 goals, and in 1958/59 he became the first winger to net five times in a top-division game when he dominated the 5-2
triumph over Aston Villa. By then, though, Portsmouth had deteriorated horribly and at season's end they were nine points adrift of their nearest rivals, being relegated for the first time since the war. However, the 33-year-old Harris featured only briefly in the Second Division, succumbing to tuberculosis in November 1959 and never playing again.
On recovery after six months in a sanatorium, he turned down several offers to remain in the game and managed a restaurant complex in Hayling Island, as well as engaging in local charity work.