Southport Football Club began as a rugby team in the 1870’s but a series of
heavy defeats saw the switch to football and it was on Thursday 12th
November 1881 that Southport took to the field against Bootle “second” in their
first match under Association Rules.
were founder members of the Central League in 1911 and in 1918 were taken over
by the Vulcan Motor Company - playing as Southport Vulcan for one season, the
first club to use a sponsorship label as part of their name.
In the FA Cup
Southport became the first Third Division North club to reach the sixth round
in 1931, losing away from home against the mighty Everton 9-1. A season later a
record gate of 20,010 saw the Sandgrounders draw in the 4th round
Southport reached the 6th round in 1965 after defeating Cardiff City
before losing at Hull
last third round appearance was under Paul Futcher in 1996/97 when the hopes of
a big club were dashed being defeated by Leyton Orient.
saw Southport finally get a good draw as a Non League Club when they pulled Sheffield Wednesday out of the hat which saw the Club’s
first ever live TV game on Terrestrial Television. Although the ‘Port went down
5-2, they twice equalized and gained many admirers amongst the watching
two promotions as a Football League side, in 1966/67 under Billy Bingham and as
Champions in 1972/73 under Jimmy Meadows, sadly the second promotion lasted
just one season with the club relegated and the slide into Non League football
gathered pace. Twenty Third in 1975/76, 76/7 and 1977/78 saw the club having to
apply for re-election and it was third time unlucky when Wigan Athletic took
The Sandgrounders place in the Football League, quite a contrast in fortunes
for the two clubs in the following 33 years!
old pals act didn’t work out the third time with older board members Jack
Clough deceased and John Church no longer chairman. Disastrously Chairman
Walter Giller failed to canvas and on a second ballot at the Café Royal on June
2nd Southport lost their league
status. Southport’s fifty years in the
Football League was over. Their last home Football League match was
against Huddersfield Town on April 22nd drawing one all while
their last ever Football League match was away to Graham Taylor’s Watford,
losing 3-2 in front of 10,089 supporters as Watford’s
rise up the leagues began
club stabilised on the pitch under former reserve team manager Harry McNally who
having assembled a talented squad by November 1978, saw the club finish in an
excellent fifth position. Considering at one point the club looked dead and
buried this was a remarkable achievement.
The board’s refusal in the spring of 1979 to take up an invitation of a
place in the new Football Alliance (the forerunner of today’s Conference)
primarily on financial grounds i.e. travelling costs, impacted badly, losing
players and supporters. The early 1980’s were dark days from which the club only
just survived after various Board re shuffles and financial crises.
Clapham took a place on the board in 1982 and became chairman in 1984. He had
the financial acumen that had been missing - a long term vision and with
careful negotiations plotted the club slowly out of its rising near crippling
debts. Today he is one of the longest serving chairmen in the pyramid and the
club is financially secure, something not apparent for most of the club’s
Kettle’s 1992-93 side won the Northern Premier league in real style amassing 96
points and scoring over 100 goals. They also reached the second round of the FA
Cup for the first time since 1968. Kettle took the club into the Vauxhall
Conference finishing fourth. Billy Ayre in his first season went one better
finishing third, just eight points off champions Macclesfield Town.
Had play offs been in existence back then, who knows Southport could be back
playing in the Football League, a status everyone connected with the club is
desperate to get back.
Futcher’s 1997-98 squad achieved a first for both the club and the town - a
Wembley FA Trophy final. Futcher, formerly the most expensive defender in
British football, at the age of 40, achieved a personal lifetime ambition by
running out on the Wembley turf. The town rallied with over 10,000 enjoying a
wonderful day. Whilst Steve Cotterill’s Cheltenham scored a late winner it was Southport who took the plaudits but not their chances.
Futcher was unable to build on his Wembley squad and former England captain
Mark Wright took over the Haig
Avenue reigns. Wright inherited a number of
talented younger players assembled by Futcher and motivated them, taking them
up from second from bottom in the Conference to a respectable 9th
position. Wright’s full season of 2000-01 saw the Sandgrounders finish a fine
fourth behind Brian Talbot’s Rushden and Diamonds.
season was expected to see the Club push for honours but the departure of Wright
saw Phil Wilson take over and it turned into disaster. In November 2002 after
going unbeaten in their first seven league games the squad became FA Cup giant
killers. In front of a near 4,000 gate a rousing 4-2 performance coming back
from 2-0 down destroyed Notts
County in front of the
Match of the Day cameras. But a long sequence of unsatisfactory results led to
Phil Wilson’s departure in January with the club in 9th place but
slipping down the table.
Irish international defender Mike Walsh was given the post originally for a
short spell and then until to the end of the season. Walsh was expected to make
the impact Mark Wright had done as a motivator but he didn’t. A disastrous run
of just 2 wins in 15 Conference matches saw Southport spectacularly slump to
defeat and relegation at Stevenage on the last
day of the 2002-03 season. Walsh stayed on and recorded four straight victories
at the start of the season but an autumn of repeated reversals saw his
departure and the appointment of ex Runcorn player manager Liam Watson, a former England semi pro-international.
appointment of Liam Watson in autumn 2003 re-energised the club, Liam, the
youngest manager in the clubs history signalled a new era at Southport
in which a new younger supporter base blossomed and the transformation was
remarkable. Watson radically restructured his playing staff in rapid time and
lifted the Nationwide North title as inaugural champions.
Liam Watson did a
tremendous job to maintain Southport in the
Nationwide Conference as a part time club in 2005/06 but his departure when the
decision to go full time was made for 2006/07 took the club by surprise and the
appointment of Paul Cook didn’t work out and he departed early in 2007. Cook
was replaced by former England
international Peter Davenport but the ‘Port narrowly missed out on conference
survival despite a late rally. In March 2008 after a run of poor results Davenport was replaced by
Gary Brabin. “Brabs” was a big Southport favourite and guided Southport
into the Play offs but they fell at the semi-final stage on penalties at
Stalybridge and in the summer he moved on to become manager of Cambridge
Liam Watson returned to
the club from Burscough on 30th June 2008 bringing most of the Burscough squad
with him and a season of consolidation in 2008/09 saw the club reach the Play
Offs, losing over two legs to Gateshead.
Sandgrounders fought a titanic battle on and off the field with Fleetwood Town
in 2009/10 and sealed the Blue
Square North title on the final day of the season
at Eastwood Town in front of over 700 jubilant fans.
2010/11 season saw Southport finish in 21st
place and relegated to Blue Square
North but after a dramatic close season the club
gained a reprieve as Rushden & Diamonds were expelled from the Blue Square
Sandgrounders surpassed everyone’s expectations in 2011/12 and made the most of
the reprieve occupying a play off place for a large part of the season before
finishing in seventh place. Considering The Sandgrounders shocking away form in
2010/11 it took everyone by surprise when the club went on a remarkable eight
game winning run away from home to beat the club record which had stood since
2012/13 and with expectations raised after such a thrilling 2011/12 season Southport only ensured their survival with one game to
go. A run of six consecutive defeats in March saw the club plummet from a
comfortable 13th place down to 20th position but wins at Braintree and Forest Green with a draw at Grimsby in the space of ten days ensured
safety. Late goals against were the order of the day with 21 points dropped in
the closing minutes of games.
Watson announced his intention to step down at the end of last season and
received a great send off in the club’s final home game of the season. In Alan
Wright Southport have appointed a rookie manager but his ambition and array of
football experience will be a welcome addition at the Merseyrail Community