It was on Thursday 12th November 1881 that Southport played its first Association Football match
Although association football was played in the town’s private schools in the late 1870’s the original Southport Football club began as a rugby team. The ‘handling code’ had been played competitively since 1872 in Southport and there were teams under the titles of Southport Olympic, Southport Wasps, Southport Hornets and The Grasshoppers.
Southport Football Club, who had been in existence for some seasons, arranged rugby fixtures for 1881-82. After some heavy defeats, the last recorded being on 15th October when Wavertree prevailed, the club switched to association football. On 12th November, six of that team lined up when Southport played Bootle ‘second’ in their first match under Association Rules. Bootle took the lead but Jackson shot ‘a capital goal to equalize’ The Southport team was S.Platt (Goal), B Pidduck, JG Howard(Backs) P.Edwards, F Jackson and TB Burnett(Captain) (Halves), JR Topliss and F Holden(Rights) W Platt(Centre) J Melross and J. Sykes (Lefts). The Southport Visiter commented ‘that the team will no doubt render a good account of themselves when they get over the difficulty of hands off and forget the rugby rules’ The following week Southport lost by ‘one goal and one disputed goal to nil’ at Burscough.
Most of the club’s rugby players made the switch to the ’round ball game’ and Dalby, Irving and Morris were also lured over to soccer from Southport Hornets.
Rylance did more than anyone to establish association football in the town. He came to Southport from Blackburn where he was employed by a firm of solicitors. Before moving he played for the Blackburn Law team, a noted eleven in those days. He played for the ‘Lawyers’ against Southport in our third engagement. The Blackburn Club displayed superior skil and thrashed Southport 7-0. Performances soon improved with Ralph Rylance now playing for Southport and Tranmere Rovers were beaten twice whilst the Tradesman of Southport and Liverpool Excelsior were both overcome 7-0. However, little interest was shown in Southport’s matches compared with Southport Olympic who played on an adjoining pitch at Scarisbrick New Road. Spectators left the football field when Olympic began playing. It was not even possible to buy a football in the town and Ralph Rylance had to bring three footballs from his former club.