The close season moves were significant; big central defenders
Mark Schofield and Derek Goulding arrived and, along with the returning Alan
McDonald, Kettle signed one of his former South Liverpool players whom he had
long sought —
goal-scoring winger Peter Withers. The repeat home defeat by Emley in the opening fixture was deceptive, a late tumround at Fleetwood in the next game heralding a run of eight successive victories. By this time Southport had also acquired the speedy front runner Steve Haw from neighbours Marine and when, late in October, the lanky yet cultured utility man Leroy Dove was secured from Buxton, the major elements of success were all in place.
Back in August 1991 chairman Charles Clapham had announced a four-year plan to recover Football League status which involved gaining entry to the Vauxhall Conference by 1993. Few believed him but the single-mindedness with which he and the club now pursued this aim reflected tremendous credit on all concerned. Brian Kettle and Steve Joel — the latter now recognised more for his value off the field by his promotion to assistant manager in place of Les Blasbery — knew exactly what they wanted of the players and the players responded. Looking back it seems incredible that Southport not only stormed to the H.F.S. Loans League Championship with 96 points and well over Too goals but that they also managed to win two cup competitions along the way! Furthermore, an impressive F.A. Cup run took them through to the second round proper for the first time since 1968.
It was a season of superlatives. By an astonishing parallel with the previous year, the early run of 20 League and Cup games without defeat again ended at Leek in November; yet again this sparked off an even more amazing run — the club record of 19 games without defeat dating back to 1955-56 was eclipsed as 24 consecutive League games passed before the team again tasted defeat, at Marine on April 12th. The very next game, over at Emley, brought the deserved triumph; Peter Withers scored a hat-trick in the 4—o win that sealed the championship amongst scenes of euphoria, just twenty years on from the winning of the Division IV title.
It would be invidious to single out players for special mention, but two demand such treatment; skipper Kevin Mooney, ever-present through a season of no fewer than 68 matches until his enforced substitution in the Liverpool Senior Cup Final at Goodison Park, deservedly won both 'Player of the Year' trophies; and leading scorer Steve Haw who debatably surpassed Archie Waterston's 62-year-old League record — if you include his outrageous claim to the Buxton 'own goal' in January! — indisputably overtook all other scoring records, notwithstanding his late arrival.
Other highlights spring to mind; Kevin Mooney's quirky goal in the important League win at Barrow, when his free-kick, taken from his own half, bounced over the home 'keeper and into the net; Mark Brennan's rocket powered headed goal in the 5—o win at Goole; the transformation substitutes Brennan and Ian Baines wrought on a stagnant 2-2 Lancashire Trophy final at Bolton to lift the team to a resounding 5-2 win over Chorley in extra time; and manager Brian
Kettle keeping faith with Baines by ensuring that he brought up his moth League appearance for Southport in the last game of the season.
Kettle, for his part, won the League's Manager of the Month award on three occasions — September, October and February — though oddly he did not earn the accolade of Manager of the Season. He did, however, receive the sponsor's prize money, which was more than the club managed; of all the seasons to win the championship, Southport picked the one when the H.F.S. Loans company sponsorship had ceased and the club lost out to the extent of around k3,000!
With the title won and the Lancashire A.T.S. and Liverpool Senior Cups safely annexed, the only remaining hurdle was to satisfy the Vauxhall Conference of the ability of the Haig Avenue ground to match its demanding criteria. The rigorous standards had been known since the first official inspection in January, when the Conference's scepticism that the necessary work to ensure ground eligibility could be completed in time was barely disguised.
It was at this point that Charlie Clapham came into his own; the plans had been drawn up for some time and the actual improvements were set in motion on March 1st. The transformation was astonishing; a brand new covered stand was erected at the Scarisbrick New Road end, new terracing complete with safety barriers was constructed down the popular side and at the Blowick end, and tarmac was applied to all remaining open areas. Around £250,000 was spent, part funded by a new share issue, and by the time the astonished Conference party returned on May 11th their final inspection had become a formality. All in all it was a tour de force for the chairman who had shouldered the responsibility for the whole project himself.
The Vauxhall Conference held their Annual Meeting on May 20th at the Cafe Royal in London — ironically the same venue as that for the fateful Football League meeting back in 1978. This time the outcome of the voting was favourable; Southport were duly elected to membership of the Vauxhall Conference. It was the first step on the long road back.
The above summary is re-produced with kind permission of Geoff Wilde & Michael Braham from"The Complete League History of Southport FC"
1992/93-A SEASON TO REMEMBER by Haydn Preece-
(This article appeared in Glory Glory Southport FC - the brochure brought out to celebrate our Championship Season)
Brian Kettle's 1992 summer signings consolidated a team that had finished 7th in the 1991/92 season - a consolidation that had been missing from many previous Southport NPL campaigns. The potentially powerful squad had encouraging pre-season wins against Wigan Athletic and Everton Reserves. New signings, towering centre-backs Derek Goulding and Mark Schofield, featured along with the returning Alan McDonald; and Peter Withers, a pacy ex-South Liverpool winger – who left Runcorn to limit his travelling commitments while his wife was expecting their first child - had also joined the squad.
Optimism was high in the Haig Avenue camp.
Yet the record-breaking season began in total anti-climax on August 22, with a 1-2 home setback against Emley. A freak cloudburst was the culprit just as an Emley through ball pierced the home defence. Looking offside the Emley striker hammered the ball past Paul Moore. The only explanation for the linesman's decision was that he must have been unsighted due to the intensity of the flash storm. A crowd of 415 had witnessed
a promising performance- if not three points. Four days later a visit to Highbury Stadium saw Fleetwood snatch a 1-0 lead as Southport trailed with under 12 minutes to go. Optimism and spirit seemed to be draining from the supporters; after so many disappointments since 1978 just another season seemed to be here. Even the national press reported a Fleetwood victory the next morning. Yet the season actually began that night!
Two late goals from Tony Jarvis and David Gamble secured all the points and the season of records had begun.
From August 26 to November 7 'Port were undefeated in the league, as a new formation
gelled at Haig Avenue. Alan McDonald, originally a midfielder in his first spell before leaving for Witton, Altrincham and Accrington Stanley, slotted into the right-back position.
Determined when going forward and with an eye for goal, his sorties were a major contribution to the goals tally. Mark Schofield began the season in what appeared a rather flat back five in the first two games, then he moved further forward and took the central midfield anchorman's role.
Strong in the air and the tackle, the robust Schofield was a dominating force, his power supplementing both his forwards and defence.
The promise of goals galore began on August 31 when Southport recorded their third
consecutive win, with a 7-1 trouncing of Chorley – Mark Brennan netting two to achieve
four goals in four games. Incredibly, Southport hit Chorley for six away on October
30, and despite a spirited ATS Lancashire Cup Final Chorley succumbed 5-2 in extra time, on April 19 at Burnden Park. Glenn Buckley's luckless men had conceded 18 goals to 'Port during the season.
By mid-September, Southport had defeated Buxton in the FA Cup first qualifying round
and gained a top two league spot. September 19 was a key date in the club's fortunes.
Steve Haw, a diminutive forward, made his debut at Matlock Town, and hammered
in two in a 5-2 rout. A header from Ian Baines' cross announced Haw's arrival - and
his personal record breaking goal-scoring crusade was set in motion.
Haw, a highly experienced player, had left Marine due to problems over internal disciplinary matters before the 1992/93 season began. Always a fierce competitor in Boxing Day/Easter fixtures, he demonstrated a great deal more in what was undoubtedly his best season.
Haw's close control and attacking style bedeviled defenders and he was prepared
to shoot with either foot; with never-say-die running and tackling Brian Kettle had unearthed a 'goal-den' gem.
Linking with Peter Withers the duo formed a speedy, highly skilled strike force. By no means tall, they exploited their pace to unlock opponents either on the flanks or straight down the middle. The 'Port therefore played without a traditional centre-forward after Jarvis departed in September but the goals just kept flowing from all angles.
By the season's completion only left-back Dave Fuller had not figured on the scoresheet but his overlapping moves contributed to many goals in his 66 appearances.
With gates increasing – 542 watched the FA Cup 2nd qualifying home tie with Chadderton, and 904 saw the tense 1-1 tussle with Morecambe - it became obvious the Southport public were beginning to return. The 4th qualifying round of the FA Cup proved a watershed.
After what Brian Kettle described as an excellent performance in a goalless draw at
Holker Street, Southport beat their ex-league colleagues 3-2, on what turned out to be a very wet and emotional night. Three outstanding goals by Derek Goulding, Alan McDonald and Mark Schofield, sent the 'Port into the First Round draw. Just after half-time Alan McDonald hit a superb 25 yarder, from the right, into the roof of the net to equalise, and Mark Schofield's rasping 25-yarder secured the tie in front of a tremendous crowd of 2.082.
The final piece of the jigsaw was placed expertly by Brian Kettle with the signing of Leroy
Dove from Buxton. A utility player at home at centre-half, midfield or as a forward, Dove
played all these positions as the squad's resilience was tested in their 68 match endurance test. Joining Dove from Buxton was forward Stuart Thompson, but due to the absence of any injuries up front Thompson did not feature, apart from twice on the subs' bench - coming on just once. Reward for a fine first half of the season came with the club reaching the FA Cup Second Round for the first time in 24 years. Battling from the first qualifying round on September 12 the 'Port drew fellow non-league Blyth Spartans away, in the First Round proper. Against a highly partisan home crowd and an early goal down, the players fought tenaciously to overcome the North-Easterners with goals from the dynamic duo Steve Haw and Peter Withers.
In the Second Round another long trip to Hartlepool on December 6 saw Southport suffer
defeat - but receive a standing ovation from the 4,171 crowd. For 60 minutes 'Port held their Second Division opponents. Centre-forward Andy Saville, later to transfer to Birmingham City, hammered a hat-trick to end the Sandgrounders Third Round dream.
Yet consistency continued to be the 'Port's trademark. The Boxing Day fixture against local rivals Marine saw the highest league gate at Haig Avenue (2,078) since the club's Football League days. A hard fought 0-0 draw on a muddy pitch (only passed playable at lunch time) was the 'festive fare'. From January 9 Southport held top spot and with great confidence chairman Charlie Clapham launched the new ground development plans.
On January 16 Southport dismissed the Championship pretensions of Frickley Athletic,
previously unbeaten in nine league games. They elected to kick against a gale in the first
half and felt the wrath of an angered squad! Withers scored in the 2nd minute and went on to record a first half hat-trick. Haw and Dove also scored in the emphatic 5-2 victory.
The reason for such determination? On January 13 Accrington Stanley's forward Paul Beck had done a Maradona, punching in a goal under Paul Moore's nose. Angered, Moore sprinted 50 yards for a heated exchange with the referee - and found himself sent off with just seconds to go. Fortunately 'Port held on for a point and Moore, suspended for three matches, only missed one league game - a 5-0 victory over lowly Goole.
John Routledge deputised in goal.
Cup glory continued in the Liverpool Senior Cup. A crowd of 1,285 saw Peter Withers score a spectacular goal in the 115th minute against Liverpool Reserves. Liverpool had secured extra time with just 11 seconds of normal time to play, but even the brilliance of Bruce Grobbelaar could not deny Withers a dipping 25 yard drive.
In the semi-final a strong Tranmere Rovers side found the 'Port in brilliant form. Stacked
with League experience the Tranmere outfit could not come to terms with the rampant part timers. Goals from Goulding, Dove and Walmsley put Southport into the final, on a night when the squad showed they had the potential to play in the GM Vauxhall Conference. On May 11 Southport traveled to Goodison Park and defeated Burscough in a rather subdued final.
The club received no favours from Marine on Easter Monday.
With the champagne on ice the Mariners ruined the day by ending 2-I victors in front of a 1,611 crowd. It was Southport's first league defeat since November 7. Highly experienced skipper Kevin Mooney had warned all season that even the best teams have a bad run - but thankfully for the Haig Avenue faithful, it never came!
April 17 will go down in Sandgrounders' folklore as a day of mass celebration. Just as 20 years earlier when the atmospheric 1-1 home draw with Hartlepool saw Southport gain
the Fourth Division Championship, an historic 4-0 victory at windy Emley sent the massed golden-clad supporters ecstatic. A Withers hat-trick and a David Gamble penalty had done the trick.
The celebrations in Yorkshire carried on well into the night, ably helped by the faithful Emley fans who showed tremendous hospitality.
Brian Bennett (away trips organiser) presented Charlie Clapham with a trophy from the travelling supporters as a thank you for achieving success, after 20 years of waiting. Many of the older supporters on the pitch after the Emley game had been at Haig Avenue two decades earlier; it is hoped the younger ones will not have to wait a similar time span.
The next home game versus Frickley saw 2,230 turn out to see the HFS League Champions' presentation - which was videoed for posterity! Frickley formed a line of honour to applaud the home side out, but in a hard fought match Southport had to show great professionalism in gaining an (irrelevant) 2-1 victory. Again that man Stevie Haw scored two - setting a new goal-scoring record on an emotional afternoon. Incredibly, Winsford featured in three of Southport's last five fixtures. In the President's Cup 'Port could not overcome a 2-0 first leg deficit, going down 4-5 on aggregate - despite a storming 4-3 victory at Haig Avenue in the return leg. The runners-up then ended Southport's season the way it had begun with a home defeat.
However. in the last fixture of the wonderful season Southport had a 2-1 victory over Burscough in the Liverpool Senior Cup Final, at Goodison Park. Kevin Mooney just failed
to complete all 68 matches, limping off in the 82nd minute. Still a truly admirable feat!
Sources: 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