We continue our series of interviews with the 2009/10 league winning squad as Michael Powell spoke to James Houghton.
JH: First thing’s first, we have to address the current situation? How are you dealing with the lockdown and how has it impacted you?
MP: Yeah it’s been ok for me. I’ve still been working from home actually so I’m just trying to get on with things. There’ve been a few WhatsApp groups created at a time like this so all the lads are back in touch and it’s been good to hear from everyone.
JH: So we’re here today to talk about the 2009-10 National League North season. When I say that what are your initial thoughts on that campaign?
MP: My first thoughts are that I can’t believe it’s already been ten years! Looking back on it now, it’s definitely my best season from when I was playing and it was the best group of lads I ever played with as well. But yeah definitely my most memorable season.
JH: It’s well documented that the team spirit of that squad and how close you all were played a big role in winning the title that year. Earl Davis mentioned in his interview that a lot of you are still in contact, what are your memories of the squad back then?
MP: I saw Earl’s interview the other day and I think he’s spot on. Yes we had a good group of players and we were a decent side but I think the underlying reason for us winning the league that year was because of the team spirit and the group of lads that we had. I mean ten years on we still have a WhatsApp group, we’re all still in touch. I was on a video call with Chris Simm last weekend. So, you know, we’re just a really close knit group of lads and at the time we were as well and that was the big thing that pushed us over the line in the end I think.
JH: The phase “Hometown Boy” has often been used to talk about you in relation to that season. Do you think having that connection with the club and the town made that achievement even sweeter for you?
MP: Definitely. I was with the club for a long time. I think I was with the club for seven or eight years in total so yeah it was definitely special for me. I went on to play for Chester and I won some leagues there as well but as good as that was, it was nothing compared to the leagues that I won at Southport.
JH: You were vice captain that season at 24, a relatively young age for that kind of role. What role did you take in the dressing room, would you have considered yourself a leader or were you still learning on the job in that regard?
MP: Yeah, Flynny (Adam Flynn) was the captain. He was a good lad and Flynny was the real leader in that team. Throughout my career I’d always been in that kind of role. I had been captain under Paul Cook before Liam came back that year we won it so it was nothing new to me really. I suppose I was probably a leader in the group, that was how I was thought of by the manager.
I think being captain is always important but actually in that squad we had leaders all over the pitch, we had a team of winners. In that squad we had six or seven people who could have been captains in any other team so I think that’s part of why we won it that year.
JH: A pretty fierce rivalry formed with Fleetwood over the course of that season with the two sides trading that top spot. Did it push you on thinking you could get one over on them every week?
MP: Oh yeah definitely! It was quite a good rivalry in the end. I think their manager, Micky Mellon, had given Earl some stick in the press and I think there were a few sly jabs flying around like that but that definitely spurred us on.
If you look back on it now I think they were probably the favourites. They had a lot of spending power and had a big squad with some really good players and you could probably argue that they should have run away with the league. So the fact that we were pegging them back and going toe-to-toe with them every week was great and it probably did spur us on yeah.
JH: One of the biggest results that season was against Fleetwood as we beat them 5-0 on Boxing Day. You managed to bag a couple of goals yourself that day, what are your memories of the game?
MP: I remember that day well. I think if I had to pick a game from my playing career that would be the one that I would pick as my favourite game, I remember it well. Boxing Day was always my favourite time to play in the year. I used to get a bit of stick saying I got suspended on purpose to miss it but I didn’t, it was always my favourite. I remember waking up and there was the snow and we thought the game was going to be off and then there were 50 or 60 people down there shovelling the pitch to make sure the game got on.
I think we were always going to win that game. It was one of those games, I knew that we were going to turn up and we were going to win because we were all so up for it and then we battered them, we absolutely battered them in that game. I think Earl scored two, as I said Micky Mellon had given him some stick in the press prior to that game and he answered it well with two headers if I remember correctly.
JH: You said in an interview with the Southport Visiter at the time that you thought the key moment of the season was a 2-2 draw against Redditch United in March. Do you still think that was the turning point and do you have any memories of that day?
MP: Yeah I still definitely think that was the point where I thought: ‘We are going to go on and win this now.’ I remember playing away and we were awful. I was awful, all of us, we were well below par. I remember thinking at 2-0 down: ‘If we don’t go and get something out of this game we could well fall away.’
I can’t remember who got the goals but I remember us getting back to 2-2 and thinking: ‘Right that’s it, we’ve got through that bad game.’ Because there was always going to be that one. There was another one after that at Alfreton actually. But yeah I remember thinking: ‘We can kick on now and we can go and win it.’
JH: The last game we have to mention is the day we won the title away at Eastwood. How much of that day do you remember?
MP: I actually remember it really clearly. I know a lot of the lads say that they don’t but I remember from waking up. I picked up Liam Watson, Matty McGinn, then we met the coach where we normally got picked up.
I remember the game, Simmo getting the penalty early doors. Matty McGinn easily stepping up and scoring like he always did, he never missed them and again, from the moment I woke up that day, I knew we were going to win. The celebrations afterwards were brilliant and they went on for a good few days.
JH: One thing that’s really come across to me in our chat today is the confidence and self-belief that the squad had that season. How much of an impact did Liam’s management have on creating that culture of self-belief?
MP: Liam had a big impact on us and that was his group of lads. Sometimes managers inherit players and they don’t fit but that was his team that he had put together and like you’ve said, it was a team of winners right through the squad. I mean you could list everyone in there and the thing is all of them had a winning mentality. Every single lad gave 110% every week.
I’ve played in loads of teams and sometimes you carry people. There can be people who aren’t reliable and they’ll shirk out of things but that group of lads was probably the most honest, hardworking group of lads that I have ever played with and I think Liam created that mentality and attitude among us so yeah he was a big influence in that way.
JH: You had been a part of the previous Southport squad to have played at National League level. Did having that previous experience drive you on even more, knowing you had the ability to play at that level?
MP: Yeah I was desperate to get us back into the National League because I always held myself a little bit responsible for us falling out of it. Because the year that we got relegated we lost 1-0 at home to York. I think it was the second to last game of the season and we desperately needed the points and we lost 1-0 and I got sent off for handball on the line and Clayton Donaldson stepped up and scored the penalty and we were relegated that day.
I know it wasn’t entirely my fault with that one incident but I always sort of carried that moment with me a bit so I was desperate to play a part in getting the club back to the National League so it was a big moment for me.
JH: So that must have been a huge feeling of relief and redemption when you did get that win at Eastwood?
MP: Yeah absolutely. Like I said, I did carry that York game and that handball with me for a long time and I remember actually thinking about it after that game at Eastwood and getting them back into the National League was a big achievement and not really a weight off my shoulders so to speak but it was just nice to be part of the team that got them back to where they should be in my opinion.
JH: I’m sure when anyone asks you about your time at Southport it is the 2009/10 season that stands out but what are your memories of the club in a more general sense?
MP: Wow, where do I start? I was released by Preston when I was 16 and sort of fell out of love with the game really and then I got contacted by Haydn Preece who invited me into the PACE set up, so I went and did two years there at KGV College which was brilliant, then Liam brought me through from that.
So Liam, not only did he sort of give me a chance in the first team then he went away and came back and I was part of his squad that won the league. So, Southport for me, I was there between the ages of sort of 17/18 all the way through to 25 I think it was when I left for Chester. Southport is my team, I’ll always look out for the results and I always try to come back and watch games when I can.
JH: For anyone reading who has not followed your career after leaving Southport, what are you up to now?
MP: So I left Southport, went to Chester and played there for two-and-a-half seasons and then I went and played a few games for Witton Albion when I was sort of slowing down. After a number of knee operations I decided to call it a day. Whilst I was at Chester I studied for some qualifications and got into financial services, so now I’m in that game which is doing well for me, so no complaints.
JH: Finally, do you have a message for any fans that have fond memories of the 2009/10 season and your role in it?
MP: Really I’d just like to thank them because they were a big part in helping us along the way that year and just to say I hope they’re all keeping safe and it’s a disappointment that the football’s been brought to a halt this year but I hope to see them all at Haig Avenue sooner rather than later.