Liam who? That was the reaction when first appointed as the club’s 19th manager in Non League football.
Born 21 May 1970 in Liverpool. Watson played for Maghull, Burscough, Warrington Town, Preston North End, Marine, Witton Albion, Runcorn and Accrington Stanley. Watson was the man Southport turned to in their hour of need in October 2003 – six months after they were relegated from the Conference. In 2001, Port had finished fourth in the Conference under Mark Wright but that momentum had been lost following Wright’s move to Oxford and Watson inherited a team struggling in the Unibond League. Watson, was not steeped in managerial experience but had been given a tough grounding at Runcorn and his ambition and stomach for the scrap sparked a transformation. As a player he always had to fight to prove himself. He went from Sunday League, to the North-West Counties, to the UniBond League and to the Football League. He won England (semi-professional) caps and that was a good grounding. On his appointment as boss at Southport Watson said “Southport is the type of club where once you raise expectations you have to match them, and I understand that and will be working very hard to try and achieve that.”
Watson, whose League football came at Preston North End, totally re-built Southport\\\’s squad and in his first full season in charge guided the club to the Conference North title in great style. Considering the struggle the club had in the Conference in 2005/06 Watson\’s support from the terraces was remarkable and he was heard to say more than once that it was that support that kept him in a job. The joy that he displayed along with the travelling faithful at Grays when Conference survival was assured against all the odds was a real show of togetherness. Not renowned for their patience the Southport fans took to Watson like no other manager and it was a major shock when he left, some hardened supporters described it as feeling as though a death in the family had occurred. How the news broke about Watson\’s departure.
LIAM WATSON LEAVES SOUTHPORT IN FRIENDLY DEPARTURE by Alan Jones
Following a meeting with chairman Charlie Clapham it was mutually agreed that Liam Watson would resign his position with immediate effect as manager of Southport Football Club. Liam Watson was the youngest manager in Southport\’s history when appointed in 2003 and has managed the club in the Unibond, Nationwide North and Nationwide Conference. Watson manager of the Sandgrounders for two and half years enjoyed tremendous success winning the Nationwide North title in 2004-05 and against the odds as a part time club achieving survival in the virtual full time world of the Nationwide Conference. And that has been the issue for Watson as Southport go full time themselves this close season. Watson said \”I have experienced great times at Southport and leave with my head high plus my friendship with the chairman intact. However with a career outside football, a wife and young family I had to make a major decision. I have been juggling too many balls. After a great deal of consideration at today\’s meeting I felt it right to call time on my managerial role at Southport. I genuinely leave with pride in my achievements at Southport and now it is time for the club move on again. The supporters have been so special to me and the players. I hope to have left a legacy that can be built on. Both myself and my son are now Southport supporters and in the future we will be at Haig Avenue in that capacity. I need a break from football but will want to get back as a part time manager in the future. I wish whoever takes over as full time manager all the best. It has been an honour to manage a club with so much potential. By securing our Nationwide Conference status my time has come to an end but the club will benefit greatly by going full time. It was the only way” Chairman Charlie Clapham added “This has been a sad day. Liam remains my friend but we both recognised a part time manager in a full time club was not going to work no matter how we tried to look at it. I have the highest regard for Liam. He can be very proud of his achievements at Haig Avenue. I respect Liam’s decision and Liam has recognised in his own mind what would benefit the club the most and that was a full time manager. It has been a painful decision for all of us. As a club we will have to manage a major transition from part time to full time and that is a demanding full time role. The timing was right for the future of the club and Liam knew that. It is rare to have a managerial change in such amicable circumstances. “
The rollercoaster nature of life at Haig Avenue was perhaps best illustrated by a frantic seven-day period in July 2008. When boss Gary Brabin fled to Cambridge United, talk of crisis ensued, but little did supporters know it would bring about the return of Liam Watson, one of the club\’s most popular ever managers. After a playing career that included spells with Preston North End, Marine and Accrington Stanley, the former England Non-League international took his first steps in management at Runcorn FC Halton, before becoming Southport’s youngest boss at 33 in October 2003. A remarkable overhaul in the playing squad led to qualification for the inaugural Conference North, which the Sandgrounders won in 2005. Despite preserving the club’s Conference Premier status in equally exhilarating fashion, Watson left in the summer of 2006, leading Burscough to the Northern Premier League title in his debut season.