Two things stood out about Southport's initial season in their new league. Firstly,
it had been imagined that a sizable influx of players would be required to meet
the standards of the higher echelon; this proved not to be the case. Whilst one
or two positions were strengthened, the overall composition of the side frequently
resembled that of the victorious last campaign in the N.P.L.; in many games nine
of the eleven were retained players and there were occasions when only one newcomer
was on view.
Secondly, nobody quite expected the success that Southport were to achieve
in their debut year. After a hesitant start — it was the seventh game before they secured the elusive first victory down at Welling — the confidence returned and a six match winning spell took them briefly to the top of the table by early November. In fact during the whole period from September to February only three League games were lost and once more the 'Port found themselves leading Kettering and Kidderminster atop the Vauxhall Conference going into March.
From this point the season tailed off somewhat. The club had set great store on achieving success in the F.A. Trophy competition and talk of a Wembley final was rife; but their unexpected third round defeat at the hands of old N.P.L. rivals Morecambe — who were also to deny them a second successive Lancashire A.T.S. Trophy Final win at Burnden Park — knocked a lot of the steam out of Southport's advance and the following week their promotion hopes received a severe setback when a crowd of 3,877 saw them go down 2-0 at Kidderminster Harriers.
Though they bounced back immediately by beating Tranmere Rovers 4-1 in the semi-final of the Liverpool Senior Cup, the impetus had largely gone and the club had to settle for fourth place in the Conference, still no mean achievement for their first foray. The final disappointment came when they lost their hold on the Liverpool Senior Cup, Ian Baines scoring twice against his former colleagues to wrest the trophy for Marine. The one bright spot was Jimmy Blackhurst's superb comeback goal after his career-threatening injury.
The only newcomers to command regular places were the powerfully built, experienced midfield player Paul Comstive (a Sandgrounder by birth) and, arriving midway through the campaign, Paul Lodge, back after an absence of exactly six years. Late in the season Southport secured the services of ex-England International Luther Blissett, who had scored against them in their last Football League game at Watford in 1978. Promoted as a positive step in the title challenge, it was in fact little more than a publicity gimmick to revive flagging attendances when hope had gone. It backfired when Blissett got injured at Stalybridge Celtic and never reappeared for the two cup finals where his influence might have proved a crucial factor.
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