Reg Pickett: Footballer who won the League with Portsmouth

Thursday 22 November 2012 19:30

Reg Pickett, a League champion with Portsmouth in 1950 and captain of Ipswich Town when they lifted the Second Division title in 1961, was a football manager's delight. Essentially a wing-half both dynamic and skilful, he was also a highly versatile all-rounder capable of filling any midfield or attacking role.

Off the pitch he was a powerful and wholesome influence, a pillar of integrity always ready to advise youngsters, heedless of the fact that in nurturing the new generation he was hastening his own departure. In an age when a contract with even a top club did not offer financial security for life, such altruism was far from universal.

Pickett was born in India, where his father was serving in the Army, then moved to England with his family when he was three months old. He attracted the attention of leading clubs 8playing for Western League Weymouth and it was Portsmouth who pounced, paying £750 for his signature early in 1949, a few months before they became champions of England for the first time.

The 22-year-old wasn't deployed during that triumphant campaign, but he was entrusted with the left-half slot at home to Derby County in October 1949 when the regular incumbent, the stylish Jimmy Dickinson, was away on England duty. Pickett proved efficient in a 3-1 victory, and a week later he was handed the No 8 shirt because inside-right Duggie "Thunderboots" Reid was injured.

Soon there was another chance to show his versatility when left winger Jack Froggatt was absent, and in the spring Pickett played 10 successive games, first deputising for Reid and then for inside-left Len Phillips, as Pompey strove to retain their title in a remarkable nine-club battle. In the penultimate game, a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, Pickett was pressed into service in his fifth position of the season in place of sidelined centre-forward Ike Clarke. He missed the tense finale at home to Aston Villa – Pompey won 5-1 to pip Wolves to the title on goal average, the absurdly complicated forerunner of goal difference – but by then had made 14 appearances, the minimum required at the time to qualify for a championship medal.

Pickett was a perceptive passer, a brisk tackler, adept in the air and tactically canny, but for the next few years he remained in the shadows of Dickinson and Jimmy Scoular, two of the most consistent half-backs in the land. Scoular's 1953 transfer to Newcastle United signalled more opportunities, and for several seasons Pickett was in the team more often than out of it, his work particularly impressive as Portsmouth finished third in the table in 1954-55.

In the summer of 1957, now aged 30, he was recruited for £5,000 by Alf Ramsey, manager of Ipswich Town, who were freshly promoted to the second tier. The future England manager, a shrewd judge of character, soon made him captain to succeed the veteran Doug Rees, and in 1960-61 Pickett was inspirational over the first half of a campaign which ended with the Suffolk side, for which his former Pompey team-mate Ray Crawford struck 40 goals, topping the table.

In the January, however, he had suffered an injury and been replaced by Billy Baxter, 12 years his junior, and once the talented Scot was ensconced in the side there was no shifting him. Thus Pickett enjoyed only a handful of outings as Ipswich stunned the sporting world by winning the League title in 1962, and he was no more than a high-quality reserve the following season, his last at Portman Road.

During that season Ramsey, whose high opinion of Pickett had never altered, called him into his office and revealed that he was thinking over an offer to take charge of his country. The player's reaction was prescient, telling the future Sir Alf: "If you do then you'll win the World Cup!"

In summer 1963 Pickett was released by Ramsey's successor, Jackie Milburn, and he joined Southern League Stevenage Town. Later he worked in the Portsmouth Dockyard, then lived on the Isle of Wight.

Ivan Ponting

Reginald Arthur Pickett, footballer: born Bareilly, India 6 January 1927; played for Portsmouth 1949-57, Ipswich Town 1957-63; died Rowlands Castle, Hampshire 4 November 2012.

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