The season of 1978-79 proved to be a surprising success, with 19 wins and only 11 defeats in the 44 League games played. A massive turnover of players meant that only John Higham and Chris Kisby remained of the regulars from the previous year, though Paul Birchall and (briefly) George Dewsnip were to return later in the season. Hughie Fisher had departed but his assistant Harry McNally, later to give great service at Chester City, proved a capable replacement as Manager. A ‘crowd’ of 296 were present at Holly Park, Garston to see the first foray into an unknown world, which resulted in a 1—0 win against South Liverpool.
The N.P.L. contained, at that time, all the crack outfits of the northern non-League scene — Altrincham, Boston United, Barrow, Stafford Rangers and the like. That Southport managed to finish in fifth place was a highly creditable performance but the real turning-point came at the end of the campaign with the formation of the Football Alliance. This was to be a new nationwide concept comprising the elite of all the regional leagues and would in time devolve into the Vauxhall Conference. Naturally enough, Southport were invited to become founder-members but the Board turned down the opportunity on the grounds that the additional travelling costs were prohibitive.
One must remember that at this time there was no ‘pyramid structure’ of automatic promotion and relegation to and from the Football League, so some justification for the decision could perhaps exist. Yet it obviously meant that Southport were distancing themselves still further from any hopes of ever recovering their League place. What was not anticipated, however, was the widespread alienation of the supporters that this decision would engender, with its consequent effects on playing staff morale and results on the pitch.
The Sandgrounders: The Complete League History of Southport F. C., by Michael Braham and Geoff Wilde (Palatine Books, 1995). ISBN 978-1-874181-14-9