HISTORY OF SOUTHPORT FOOTBALL CLUB (Condensed Version)
Updated 8 September 2016
The original 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.
Southport 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 Haig Avenue record gate of 20,010 saw the Sandgrounders draw in the 4th round with Newcastle. Southport reached the 6th round in 1965 after defeating Cardiff City before losing at Hull City. Southport’s 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.
Southport had 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!
The 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
The 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.
Charlie 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 chequered history.
Brian 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.
Paul 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.
The 2002/03 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.
Former 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.
The 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 United.
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.
The 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.
The 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 Premier.
The 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 1956.
The 2011/12 season 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 millions.
Into 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.
Liam 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.
Alan Wright was appointed as a rookie manager to take over the reins from Liam Watson but after just 25 games in charge and a run of poor form, Alan left the club by mutual consent and was replaced by John Coleman.
John Coleman was a vastly experienced manager who is best known for leading Accrington Stanley back into the Football League. A former player at The Merseyrail Community Stadium he is still the only Southport player to score four league goals in a game and sits in fifth place in the club’s goalscorer charts. Coleman managed Southport to safety before leaving the club at the end of the season
Charged with leading Southport through 2014-15 was Martin Foyle, a vastly experienced manager in The Conference. Martin’s last appointment was at troubled Hereford United and everyone was looking forward with great anticipation to seeing him pull together a new look squad as Southport looked to push for a play off spot but after a string of poor performances and results Martin Foyle left the Club to be replaced by Gary Brabin. Gary returning for a second stint in charge having had a brief spell (49 days) as the boss at the end of the 2007/08 season. However after just 13 league games in charge Gary left the club to take up a coaching role at Everton with Gary’s number two, Paul Carden taking over the hot seat.
It was to be a shaky start for Paul but after seven winless games he steered the club to safety despite an horrendous end of season injury and suspension crisis which saw the club able to field a three man bench at one point and one of those was a ‘keeper. Safety was assured with a surprise home draw against Grimsby when despite the lack of available player’s the best home league game of the season in front of the best gate of the season ended 2-2.
The overall highlight of what was a pretty miserable season was the FA Cup Run to Round Three which saw 2652 (plus a few more) Southport fans make the trip to Derby County to see the side get within 30 seconds of bringing The Rams back to Southport for a replay with a very late but undisputed penalty going against the heroic Sandgrounders.
Southport had beaten Tamworth after a replay, Football League Dagenham & Redbridge also after a replay and big spending Eastleigh to reach Round Three. The win against D&R was the club’s first against a Football League team since 1998.
Paul Carden lasted 299 days in the managerial hot seat before he left the club by mutual consent after a run of bad results including a very disappointing 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup at Salford City.
Next to take up the reins was Dino Maamria. Dino oversaw a transformation that saw the club equal its Conference winning run of six consecutive wins lifting the club up to 14th place at one point.
However, after just 116 days in charge Dino stood down as manager citing family and travel reasons and he was replaced on a caretaker basis by Andy Bishop.
Andy led the club to safety finishing in 16th place and was rewarded with the job on a permanent basis ahead of the final game of the season. The 16th place finish was the club’s highest placing since 2011/12.
The Club faced a difficult set of opening fixtures in 2016/17 but after eight games and just one win Andy Bishop was sacked as manager to be replaced by Steve Burr.
In a shake up of the Club’s Board, former manager Liam Watson along with Nigel Allen and Dave Barron were invited to become Directors.