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A club close to death – Memories from the early 80s

The early 80s were the most turbulent period of time in the clubs history. After exiting the football league the club found itself not battling for re-election/promotion but for its own existence.
The club was on its knees.
The following series of articles chart that period of time through the eyes of the match day programme, starting with an article which appeared in the edition published on 23rd September 1980.

​”Dear Supporters,

In welcoming you to Haig Avenue this evening for our first home game since the new Board was formed last Thursday I would like to inform you of the Directors position which is the subject of a Press statement made today. This reads as follows .

’We the Directors having met and discussed the Clubs and our own position feel that we cannot fulfil our duties and responsibilities effectively until the past affairs of the Club have been looked into.

We can then set about the business of rebuilding the team and provide Southport with a go ahead, progressive Club, we have therefore, in this connection requested that the Football Association carry out a full and independent investigation into the business affairs of Southport Football Club.

We look to the people of Southport to support us at this difficult time”

The new directors, principally Dave & Len Cox and Brian Bennet, struggled daily to keep the club afloat and an article at the end of November shows the lengths that they had to go to and the steps they were willing to take to safeguard the future of the club.

“On Thursday, November 20th [1980], the Directors of Southport Football Club made the most important and difficult decision in the Club’s history to put the Company into liquidation. They did so in the knowledge that hopefully, if plans materialised, a new Company would be formed after clearing off all the debts of the old, and from a football point of view very little would change. 

Nevertheless, difficult it was. There are the knockers, the people who stand on the sidelines and say how much better they could do things, and make suggestions when it is too late. 

But consider the facts. On September 16th an Extraordinary Meeting of Shareholders took place. Almost one hundred people turned up. It was imperative that at that meeting a Board of Directors was formed, otherwise the Club would not be able to carry on. The only peeple coming forward at that meeting were Len Cox, his son David, and Brian Bennett from the Supporters Club. These hard working men found themselves in the hot seat, but they hoped, not without good reason, that other, more experienced peeple would come forward. This did not happen. 

In addition, the affairs of the Club were in a mess, plenty of people had ideas as to what had happened in the past but unfortunately no two peeple seemed to have the same ideas. The Directors brought in a highly qualified Chartered Accountant to go through the books and to advise them in the ongoing situation. 
As time went on it became apparent that the Club would not be able to meet its commitments. There just was not enough money coming into the Club to meet the accumulated debts and keep going.

The Directors then called in Thornton Baker, Chartered Accountants from Liverpool. On their advice it was decided that there really was no way forward. The Directors took up the suggestion of Thornton Baker and issued a press release that unless £25,000 was forthcoming the Company would be placed into liquidation. 

In the event an interested party came forward. 
The Directors felt that if this person had control an exciting future could be envisaged with Southport becoming a really go ahead successful Club. 

Discussions to ensure football at Haig Avenue in the future are still going on, but the Directors believe that we could be on the verge of a new era we will fight to ensure a better future for Southport”

On 19th December notes from secretary Geoff Clarke highlight how close the club came before a saviour stepped in.

“Secretary’s Notes

Our Programme for tonights game has been hurriedly put together following the news on Wednesday that we are able to carry on for at least another month. The signs are that Colin and Derek Hall who are interested in taking over the Club will decide to put together a package ensuring that football at Haig Avenue continues. This would be presented to the Shareholders at a further meeting in Mid January. I am sure you will go along with me in supporting their efforts.

With so much going on I am sure the Runcorn contingent will forgive me for relegating them to the final paragraph but our good wishes to their Directors, Players and staff are no less sincere. What can I say about Runcorns league performances this season. In a league as competitive as the N.P.L. their success has been outstanding. Well done John Williams and the players. Finally as Southport F.C. moves into its Centenary Year may I wish all of you on behalf of the Directors and Players of the Club a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New (Centenary) Year.

Geoff Clarke”

At the end of January the better future looked a realistic possibility for the first time.

“Dear Friends and Supporters,

I would like to introduce myself and my brother Colin, as the Clubs proposed new Directors. We run a small group of businesses in Chorley, the two prominent being Newseal Window Systems and N.W.S. (Building) Ltd.

At present we are awaiting the final liquidating proceedings before officially taking charge here at Haig Avenue, hoping a settlement will be reached within the following fortnight. We are without a manager at this point in time as a mutual agreement between Allan Brown and ourselves has led to us parting company. We would like to wish Allan every success in his future ventures in the football world; working with him for the past few weeks, we found him to be a gentleman.

With regards to this Open position we hepe to announce a new Manager in the near future. In the meantime training and team selection will be in the safe hands of our loyal trainer and groundsman Charlie Powell.

For some weeks before Colin and I became involved with Southport F. C. the team of caretaker Directors namely, Dave and Len Cox, Brian Bennett and also ‘the Club Secretary, Geoff Clarke, have been running the Club, doing a truly commendable job and hopefully that involvement will continue. Finally we would like to inform you of the lottery we have started in order to bring, some urgent revenue into the Club. Hopefully you will give it your ready support. Consequently agents are desperately needed and anyone that is. interested please contact the following :

Deric Hall Preston 30794
Colin Hall Chorley 72470
David Edwards Eccleston 452020
Carol Bennett Southport 64147
Charlie Powell Southport 35967

Deric Hall”.

The brothers stepped in when the club needed help the most and helped to stabilise the club. Days later John Johnson was appointed manager and secretary Geoff Clarke confirmed the appointment on 31st January.

“As you may have read in the local press we have now finalised details with Netherfield over the transfer of their mid-field player John Johnson. John will take over the Managers role at Southport and will also be available to play. Because Netherfield are involved in three Cup Competitions during the next few weeks, the arrangement is that John will train at this Club and perform Managerial duties immediately, but will be allowed to continue playing for Netherfield until the 14th February, to assist them in their Cup ties.”

In April Johnson himself chose to use the programme to reflect on the period and heap his praise on Colin and Derek Hall also.

“Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you enjoy tonight’s game. As you know the club has gone through a traumatic period, but thanks to Messrs. Colin and Deric Hall and their fellow Directors, we now seem to have weathered the worst of the storm.

The Board have given me the honour of trying to put things right-on the playing front, and I hope the team will demonstrate that we have improved in recent weeks by giving ‘Super’ Runcorn a run for their money tonight.

I would like to thank all the supporters and the people behind the scenes who stayed loyal to the Club when all seemed to be lost, and also the playing staff whom I understand went a month playing at their own expense.

Southport Football Club owe all of these people a big debt and whilst unfortunately, some players will not be retained at the end of the season, they will always be made welcome om match days and training nights whilst I am Manager.

I have appointed Len Traynor as my Assistant. Player/Managing isn’t the easiest of jobs, and Len takes quite a bit of the strain off my shoulders. We are both ‘attack’ minded, and the sooner we can play with 4 or 5 forwards the better. Let us hope that day isn’t too far away.

John Johnson. Player/Manager. “

Notes from secretary Geoff Clarke on the 2nd of May sum up the impact they made in taking over.

“The season has been a long and arduous one and may rank as one of the worst in the Clubs history. In October it appeared that every game would be the last and at One stage before Christmas the league was actually on standby two days before a game to receive our resignation thus preventing the visiting team from travelling. However with the co-operation of the players who were always willing to help the Club out of a crisis we managed to struggle through game after game. The rest you know. Colin and Deric Hall came in to take over and the mood now is one of optimism and hope for the future. We are now looking forward,rebuilding both on and off the field. Naturally mistakes will be made along the way but the Directors are young and ambitious and don’t know the meaning of failure. The pendulum is be ginning to swing the other way and after years in decline let us work together to make Southport a name to be feared amongst teams in whatever league we are playing.

By the start of next season the Club will be buzzing with an anticipation never experienced in years. We hope that you will be there to share it with us.”

And so the Centenary season happened after all.
25/08/1981:

“A WORD FROM THE BOARD

For those of you who may not be aware of it, we officially took over Southport Football Club on 2nd July, which, as you can imagine, didn’t leave us much time to prepare for the new season. Everybody has worked very hard, and I would like to offer my personal thanks to;

The Programme. Committee of; Gary Holmes (Editor), Bill Briggs, Bill, Abrams and co., for giving so much of their own personal time.

The Sports and Social Club,members who volunteered help in proving the facilities of the Football Club.

John Johnson and Len Traynor (Manager and Assistant Manager) for, again in so short a time, preparing such a promising looking team as indicated by the pre-season friendlies. This side looks capable of providing some entertaining football in the season to come.

During the season, I would like to see a team effort not just on the field but off it as well, right through from the supporters to the board.

If you feel you can help the club in anyway, step forward, volunteers are always welcome.

Finally, I would just like to inform you of the quote of the 1980-81 season from John Johnson. The setting was the presentation of the Lancashire Junior Cup to Barrow F.C., when John Johnson pointed a finger towards the cup and said .“That’s Southport’s next season!”

D. E. HALL (Vice Chairman) “

8/09/1981

“CHAIRMAN’S COMMENTS

Since becoming involved with this club in December, 1980 and officially taking over on 2nd July, 1981, l have been asked many questions from yourselves about the future intentions of Southport Football Club.

Obviously one positive indication is the refurbishment of the clubrooms which when completed in mid-October will accommodate 250-300 people. Around the ground you will see advertising signs beginning to appear. These are two of many plans to bring in much needed revenue to make our club stable and viable. it is early days yet, but hopefully in the not too distant future plans to construct an athletic track around the ground are prominent in my thoughts.

Regarding shares in the club, I would confirm my recent statement that the Board of Directors and myself would hope to make shares available to our supporters. This, however, would be in the region of 12 months time. The new board wish to set a structure that once organised and running correctly will help to make the club successful. it is anticipated that any such issue of shares should be indentified with specific expenditure within the ground and shareholders could then see where their money is being used. There are several features within the ground which would qualify in this respect and the new Board are looking to prepare a list of  these.

ln concluding I would reiterate my brother Deric’ s remark in a recent programme. TEAM EFFORT ALL ROUND, this is essential for S. F. C. to survive and become an asset, respected not just in Southport but throughout the country.

LETS NOT TALK ABOUT lT -LETS DO IT.

C. P. HALL (Chairman) “

History tells us that they lasted only 12 months before it was all change at the top once again (Gary Culshaw took over as chairman at the start of the following season) but we should never underestimate the impact that the efforts of the interim board and then the Hall brothers’ short spell in charge had on our club. Without them, we wouldn’t still be here!

For those interested, here is Gary Culshaw’s welcome note from 2nd October 1982:

“A MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIRMAN

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Haig Avenue. No doubt most of you Will be aware of the changes in the board, the new Directors: are

Barry Hedley (Vice-Chairman) who spends a great deal of time coaching the youngsters in the reserves, John Johnson and Len Traynor who have put in a tremendous amount at work both on and off the field during the last six weeks in running the club and setting up the new consortium, Charlie Powell who needs no introduction has given long and faithful service to the club over many years, I was very pleased that he accepted the invitation to join us. I myself have supported the club from the terraces for many years and hope now that l can contribute to bring success to the club both on and off the field.

if any supporters could help the club in any way, especially by becoming an agent for our lottery tickets please contact any member of the board or phone the promotions office on 40873.

l would like to thank all the supporters who turned up for our “Meet the Press” evening, all the many suggestions raised will be given every consideration by the board.

Finally, my very grateful thanks to all the many helpers who give their valuable time to the club without whom I am sure it would not survive.

GARY CULSHAW, Chairman”

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