Harry Penk: An appreciation

By SFC Media time Wed 24 Jun History
Photo by D. Holley | Harry Penk (far left) at The Dell

Assisted by fellow Southampton historian, Duncan Holley (photos), and Plymouth Argyle historian, Steve Rhodes (text), David Bull remembers 1960s winger, Harry Penk, who has died aged 85.

When Ted Bates signed Harry Penk from Plymouth Argyle in the summer of 1960, he was not only solving a logistical problem – how to replace outside-left John Sydenham during National Service – but acquiring an experimental weapon: a winger who could tuck in and tackle back.

Harry had become a key man in the Argyle side that topped the Third Division in 1958/59. When they came to The Dell in late November, they had lost only once in 19 games. The Saints had won 5-1 that day but Harry was reportedly exempt from criticism and Bates is believed to have marked his card.

The move to Southampton, newly promoted to the Second Division, suited Harry domestically as his wife Barbara would be near her parents. Harry and she had met in Portsmouth when Harry joined First Division Pompey in 1955 from his native Wigan Athletic, a Lancashire Combination club, for £2,500 – a then record for that league.

Joining Argyle in 1957, his two good feet enabled him to play on either wing, as he had at Portsmouth. Such versatility would not be required at Southampton, however, as outside-right Terry Paine had been exempted, with an ear infection, from National Service.

Although renowned in his younger days as a pacey forward with an eye for goal, Penk offered his manager a different set of options in his 60 first-team appearances: he could drop deep to help his left-back in a manner not expected of Sydenham. In Harry’s own words, he was required “to chase down fast opponents and put them under pressure.” 

Penk run
Harry trains ahead of Sunderland's FA Cup visit in January 1962

That meant, as he saw it, that he could never be “a spectator’s kind of player”. A man respected by his fellow professionals, Harry felt he “was doing a ‘players’ player’ kind of thing”. Paine certainly appreciated his graft and told him so. “It used to give you all the confidence”, Harry told me, “that somebody like that wanted you in the side.” 

At the age of 30, Harry moved into non-league football, playing part-time – first at Salisbury City, then at Basingstoke Town, Cowes and finally New Milton. Deploying the painting and sign-writing skills he’d acquired as an apprentice in Wigan, he worked for many years at Husband’s Shipyard in Marchwood. After which, he became a self-employed painter and decorator in the local area.

He played high-class amateur cricket with Hursley Park, where he excelled, becoming a club legend and Honorary Vice-President. Shortly after he retired, aged 50, the team reached the 1984 village knock-out final. He turned down a valedictory appearance at Lord’s as he felt it would be unfair to his replacement. As his daughter Sally so nicely puts it, “he was a teammates’ teammate till the end.” 

A natural sportsman, he now took up golf with what his family describes as “the same enthusiasm he approached all aspects of life.” He achieved a handicap low of 11.

Harry and Barbara raised three children: daughters Lynn and Sally and son, Chris. The couple stayed local in their retirement and settled in Ashurst. Lynn and Chris are avid Saints fans, while Sally is notoriously keen for all of her father’s former teams to win.

Penk still

19th July 1934 – 21st June 2020

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