Life in the summer of 1939 continued largely as normal. The club installed Billy Semple as head trainer in place of Jimmy Seddon while Bob Jones returned as his assistant. At the Football League's Annual General Meeting it was decided that all players must be numbered for the first time in League matches and there were to be new elliptical goalposts with the framework standardised on all grounds.
The club assembled a professional staff of twenty-four players who, on August 16th, attended their annual pre-season get-together at Arrowe Park, Birkenhead; pitch and putt and bowls competitions were held and prizes were donated by director Mr A. Lofthouse. A lunch of steak and chips or ham and eggs was provided at the Park Cafe and the party, which included directors, trainers and secretaries Gordon Hunt and Les Rimmer, went on to the Argyle Theatre in Birkenhead to attend the second house variety show.
Southport approached the season in an optimistic frame of mind, with plans under consideration to erect new dressing-rooms and a gymnasium on the far side of the ground; yet they began badly, losing 6-1 at Accrington in the Football League Jubilee Fund game. The following Saturday at Darlington Southport caused a sensation by dropping stalwarts Jack Grainger and Dave Hill in favour of new signing Jack Preece from Bradford City and young Harry Harrison. Darlington won 1—o but on the Tuesday evening a crowd of 5,310 were kept on their toes by a clean, sporting contest against Tranmere Rovers which, fittingly, ended in
a 3-3 draw.
Saturday, September 2nd saw the German invasion of Poland. A bulletin from the Home Office stated that the situation did not warrant cancelling matches. Southport's official programme, reviewing the Tranmere game, explained that `Anything up to 2,000 followers of the game were kept away by calls of important work in regard to the nation's defences. Football, of course, comes a very poor second to the calls of the country in these critical days.'
In disappointing contrast to their spirited showing against Tranmere Rovers, the Southport attack served up a lifeless and disjointed display against Hull City; the game, which ended in a draw, provided little entertainment for the crowd of 3,711. The Southport Visiter observed: 'It may have been that the players were affected by the international tension; in fact the atmosphere was far from normal'.
After Lowe had scored for Hull in 23 minutes, Dick Spivey, a pre-season signing from Bristol Rovers and himself a former Hull City player, equalised in 57. The following Southport side took the field: Stevenson, Hodgkiss, Preece, Newcomb, Harrison, Scott, Stapleton, Hawkins, Patrick, Hewitt, Spivey. At the time there was every reason to suppose that Joe Patrick had just played his 121st consecutive Football League game for the Sandgrounders; but it was not to be .. .
Clearly not all supporters realised the seriousness of the international situation, as four season tickets were sold before the Hull City game! The outbreak of war came the very next day. The immediate effect was a ban on the assembly of crowds until further notice. All the players were handed their Health and Unemployment cards to enable them to make immediate application for Unemployment Benefit and the majority dispersed to their homes in various parts of the country.
- The total blackout of football only lasted a few days. It was announced on September 14th that friendly matches could be arranged and Southport wasted no time in fixing up a visit to Stockport County on the 16th. Permission was granted to play i8-year-old Billy Sinclair who was in the Army. It was reported that Bob Jones, Albert Stapleton and Jack Preece had found employment at Brockhouses, the engineering firm, while Dennis Grainger was working as a hairdresser and his brother Jack had got a job at Hartwood Hosiery. Later on that month, as the opening three games were expunged from the records, regional football was introduced, with the Football League divided into seven sections; Southport were accommodated in the North West grouping. Bob Hodgkiss earned the distinction of scoring the first goal in regional football from a free-kick within two minutes of the start against Oldham Athletic.
As players were called up and left the town, so others came back. In December 1939 Jack Little made his first appearance for six and a half years and obtained employment at the gasworks, while other pre-war players like Norman Kitchen and Jimmy Watt returned to the town to play. The Football League decreed that the maximum wage would be no more than 3os. and no bonuses would be paid. The minimum admission price was fixed at a shilling, although clubs could charge less for women and boys. Week by week the exodus gained pace and by March 1940 it was reported that at least sixteen Southport players were serving in the forces.
As the season drew to a close, youth was given its chance. A friendly game was arranged with Preston North End 'A' at Deepdale. Though Southport were defeated 8-0, the one redeeming feature was the brilliant display of Billy Dobson, a Holy Trinity product, in the Southport goal. Another star of this game was a Preston youngster called Tom Finney, who gave the runaround to local lad Bill Sumner.
Southport finished tenth out of twelve in the Regional League North West and announced a loss of k 1,303 18s. id. A great deal of this deficit stemmed from the summer wages paid out in preparation for a normal season. It was announced after the Annual General Meeting that Secretary-Manager Gordon Hunt had agreed to forgo any remuneration and would carry on unpaid until better times were reached. His gesture was much appreciated by the board. It was further stated that the club now had no paid staff, all the work being undertaken voluntarily. Even trainer Billy Semple's name was reluctantly removed from the payroll when he started work at Brockhouses. In the summer of 1940 Gordon Hunt declared that 'It is the wish of the board that the club should carry on if at all possible and I am trying to complete a list of twenty fixtures for the first half of the season'.
Reproduced with Permission from:
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
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