Disastrously Chairman Walter Giller failed to canvass and on a second ballot at the Café Royal on June 2nd 1978 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 1-1 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 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 subsequent years.
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. He was to become one of the longest serving chairmen in the pyramid and the club became 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 103 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 which in modern days would have secured a play off berth. 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 reins. 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 3519 gate a rousing 4-2 performance coming back from 2-0 down destroyed Notts County in front of the Match of the Day cameras. 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 club’s 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 in 2004/05.
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 and 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 750 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 poor 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.
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 that 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 previous 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 only 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 players the last 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 2014-15 season was an 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 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.
After flirting with relegation in six out of the seven seasons since our elevation to the top flight in 2010/11 it finally became in reality in 2016/17.
Andy Bishop was dismissed after just eight games of the season which saw one win. Steve Burr came in and steered the club out of the relegation zone before a run of three bad results saw him replaced by Andy Preece.
Andy had seventeen games in the hot seat with just two wins and the club were relegated with a whimper and once again the need to rebuild.
As the season neared its end long serving Chairman, Charlie Clapham faced a fans’ revolt which saw him stand down as chairman to be followed by Vice Chairman, Sam Shrouder and Chief Executive Haydn Preece. Eventually all the board resigned and the club was under the new ownership of James Treadwell and Adrian Shandley.
Alan Lewer and Mark Wright were brought in to steer the club into the 2017/18 season and hopes of an immediate return to the top flight with the season starting well with just one defeat in the first eight games which saw the club sitting in third place at the end of August. Unfortunately, it was downhill after this with the club going through a run of 20 games without a win in all competitions. Lewer and Wright departed to be replaced by Kevin Davies who oversaw a massive player turnover. It took Kevin a few games to get going but after a 3-0 home win against Chorley on New Years Day he lead the team to a club record 6 consecutive home wins and from 21st to 8th in the table.
The rollercoaster ride that is Southport Football Club continued however as the good run was then followed by 7 consecutive defeats leaving the club flirting with relegation. Safety was assured and the club finished in 15th place.
Kevin Davies was dismissed at the end of the 2017/18 season and replaced by Liam Watson who returned to the club for his third spell in the hot seat.
Off the field the club revealed ambitious plans to regenerate the ground and reinvigorate the club. The exciting new vision was presented to the supporters at the Southport Conferencing Centre.
The club then came under the directorship of Phil Hodgkinson and Ian Kyle following the decision of firstly Adrian Shandley to be followed by James Treadwell to stand down as directors.
The club went into the 2018/19 season with a completely new off field team and a squad filled with experience at this level and above and hopes high that the much needed stability on and off field is in place to allow the club to progress.
The 2018-19 season was, as so many have been at Southport Football Club, one of ups and downs. A dreadful start in the league saw the club sitting bottom of the table at the end of October but a fine run of form in November saw manager Liam Watson pick up the Manager of The Month award and a climb up the table.
Cup runs were to be the main feature of the season. An FA Cup run to round two saw the club one game away from a tie against Tottenham Hotspur after holding Tranmere to a 1-1 draw at Prenton Park and very nearly winning the game. It was not to be as front of a new ground record capacity 5414 gate and TV audience Tranmere won the replay 2-0 and the dream was over.
The league form improved and a 14th place finish was attained.
Silverware came the club’s way in the form of a Liverpool Senior Cup, Lancashire Junior Cup double with wins against Prescot Cables and Colne, the first time the club had done the cup double since 1992/93.
As soon as the season ended the club were rocked by the news that owner Phil Hodgkinson was leaving to take over as chairman and majority shareholder at Huddersfield Town.
A new Board of Ian Kyle, manager Liam Watson and Steve Porter lead the club into 2019-20.
A season brought to a premature halt with the Coronavirus Pandemic seeing all football suspended in March 2020. Southport had played 32 games of the season which ended up being decided on a points per game basis and a finishing position of 12th which was the same as the actual finishing position.
Southport sat in twelfth place when the season came to a halt on March 7th with little chance of going up or down and we could sit back and watch everyone else argue about the rights and wrongs of how the season should be completed.
No awards and no records to report and the same manager started and ended the season.
If the 2019-20 season was unique we have to qualify that by adding that 2020-21 was somewhat similar with the pandemic once again bringing to an end a season that few people thought should have started.
We had played 14 games and sat in 17th place when, after a lot of arguments, the season was declared null and void.