The Lancashire FA’s Senior Challenge Cup is one of the oldest cup competitions in England dating back to 1879, two years before Southport Football Club were formed. Their first participation in the Lancashire Cup wasn’t until 1882 when they opened their account as 4-0 victors over Stacksteads Working Mens club.
The early years of the competition were dominated by clubs from East Lancashire such as Blackburn Rovers, Blackburn Olympic, Darwen and Accrington, but as football grew in popularity across the county the number of applicants to join the competition increased.
With well in excess of 100 applicants, in 1885 moves were made to limit entrants to those more “senior” clubs in membership of the Lancashire FA having previously been open to any club which held membership. It had become impractical for all clubs to be placed in the same competition on equal terms, particularly with the adoption of “professionals” by many of the larger clubs, so in August 1885 a “junior” version of the competition was created for the growing number of village sides and minor clubs for whom the senior competition was unrealistic. When the draw was made for the first round of the “Lancashire Cup” 53 clubs were placed in the senior competition and 59 in the junior. This inevitably included clubs who were not pleased, including Everton however Southport found themselves on the “right” side of the draw apparently having less to prove to the Lancashire FA than the Anfield Road club. The winners and losing finalists of the Junior Cup however were to be rewarded with a place in the Senior competition the following season.
Whilst we claim descent from the Southport Football Club that participated in the Lancashire Cup up to this point, this was in fact the final season for the original Southport Football Club whose final foray into the county competition was a first round 12-1 defeat away at Darwen. After five years existence, Southport’s first football club folded. At least six former Southport players and many of their supporters transferred their affiliations to Southport Wanderers who were to change their name to Southport Football Club by the end of September.
The senior completion was completely restructured in time for the 1886-87 season and was limited to just 32 teams, both Everton and Newton Heath still refused permission. This season was to be start of Preston’s dominance and when the football league was founded in 1888 the superiority of North End continued, winning the title without losing a game and collecting the FA Cup along the way. The downfall of the competition in senior terms can perhaps be traced back this far as Preston had clearly seen themselves “above” the Lancashire Cup as they withdrew from the competition and declined to enter the following season.
In the meantime with Southport absent from the Lancashire Senior Cup they picked up the Liverpool Junior cup defeating Earlestown at Anfield Road in front of 3000. With discussion of professionals joining the ranks a new club was formed at the club’s AGM in 1888, Southport Central Association Football Club.
In their early years Southport Central often experienced difficulty in arranging fixtures with other clubs treating them with disdain. The reason for the mention of Preston earlier in this article? Well they were one club who were not afraid to mix with the new club and having collected their silverware they visited the Sussex Road sports ground for an exhibition match on 13th May. Whilst North End prevailed, rather expectedly, 4-2, Central had given a good account of themselves and North End made a quick return to open the new ground on Scarisbrick New Road.
Between 1888 and 1892 Southport had entered the Junior competition, an indication perhaps that the Lancashire FA did not see the two Southport clubs as the same entity. Their best performance in the competition saw them reach the final in 1892 (having traversed 7 previous rounds including qualifiers) where they were to lose out to Kearsley in front of 5000 supporters at Deepdale, Preston. Whilst the winners and losing finalists were guaranteed a place in the Senior competition at the time, Southport had joined the Lancashire League two years previous and a written request from the league secretary had requested that the Senior Cup be opened to all of its members from the 1892-93 season anyway.
With the increased number of applicants further qualifying rounds for the Senior Cup were necessary and Central’s opponents in their return season were the new occupants at Anfield Road. Nobody quite knew the impact that Liverpool would go on to have on the English game. Southport were defeated 2-0 in a qualifying road in front of 4000.
In the years that followed they fared little better, failing to make it past the first round until 1900 when they defeated Wigan County in a second replay. Defeating Newton Heath, the forerunner to Manchester United in the second round, they eventually lost out to Burnley in the Semi-Final. Newton heath got their revenge however, ending the Southport clubs cup trail for the next two seasons!
For the 25th year of the competition there were some notable rule changes. Firstly there was a request that all games be played on a Saturday, but more importantly it was no longer necessary for entrants to field their full strength sides. Football League clubs openly began to play their reserve sides and after defeating Preston North End in the semi-final, Southport became the first non Football League Club to reach the final since 1891. They were defeated 2-0 by the mighty Blackburn Rovers at Deepdale with both goals being scored by former Southport player Lionel Watson!
The game was perhaps more notable however for the events which took place off the field. The rule changes were undoubtedly to blame for the fact it was the lowest crowd for a Lancashire Cup Final in its history, just 1500. After the final whistle, whilst Rovers collected winner’s medals for the eighth time, the Central players refused to collect the runners up medals and for a brief time were suspended by the Lancashire FA.
Had they not made a formal apology they would not have been invited back for the following, much more successful season.
With the bulk of the team still intact, Southport went one better in 1904-05. It was the first time that any club had openly fielded a reserve side, Everton (Southport’s final opponents) had one eye on an FA Cup semi-final replay the following day but were still able to name 9 who had played some first team football that season . Southport defeated Everton’s reserves 2-1 infront of a much healthier 5000 gate at Scarisbrick New Road, a neutral ground not selected for fear of the financial consequences. It was customary at the time for the Lancashire Cup to be on display to the public and the cup was on view in Fred Dunkerley’ sports shop during the day and taken to the police station every night for safe custody.
The success story of the season however was arguably the previous round win having defeated Liverpool’s first team 2-0.
The appearance in the final in 1905 was to be the last for the club for 33 years. The 1905-06 campaign notable only for the fact it was the first Lancashire Senior Cup tie to be played at the club’s new ground on Ash Lane (later to be renamed Haig Avenue).
In 1912-13 Southport had been fortunate to receive compensation when Bolton Wanderers were fined for failing to advertise properly their game. It was beginning to look obvious that not everybody was taking the competition seriously.
The Lancashire cup was suspended for three seasons whilst the Great War was fought and resumed in 1918-19 with Southport entering the competition under their Vulcan guise. A statistician’s nightmare, the Football League’s Lancashire Section Subsidiary Tournament doubled as the “qualifying” competition for the Lancashire Cup. Finding themselves in Section D with the full first teams of Liverpool, Stockport County and Everton, Vulcan were to find themselves 1 point better off than Everton in the final table but a full 6 points behind their dominant enemies Liverpool.
1919-1920 was the first properly organised football season after the great war. The competition was limited to just 12 teams all of which were from the football league. Southport therefore found themselves back in the Lancashire Junior cup for the next two seasons.
Southport lifted the Junior cup in their first season back with a 1-0 win over Lancaster Town in the final, but were unable to successfully defend it the following year losing out in the semi-final to Chorley.
With the expansion of the Football League to include a Third Division Northern Section in 1921 the Lancashire FA took the view that all Lancashire clubs playing in the football league should enter the Senior cup and Southport were back.
In 1933, fearing that the competition was in decline, the Lancashire FA appealed to all clubs to “do all you can to make it a success”. Despite a number of unexpected reversals which suggested that not all were taking it seriously (A Manchester United defeat at the hands of Barrow for example) Southport were not so fortunate and suffered a humiliating 8-0 defeat to Liverpool. To make matters worse they were subsequently fined 10 shillings for fielding an ineligible player.
Two years later Southport reached the semi-finals where they were drawn away to Blackpool. Whilst the result was far from what they were looking for, a 9-0 defeat (the most comprehensive in the competition for almost 10 years) it showed that Southport were beginning to find form in the competition.
In 1937 further rule changes saw the Lancashire FA decree that First and Second Division clubs had to play their “Best available” team, whilst Third Division clubs were asked to play their “Best” team. In the final it was expected that both clubs would play at their full strength and so it was with much anticipation that Southport were to welcome Manchester United to the final at Haig Avenue. Over 7000 turned out to witness Southport lose out to a solitary goal. It was more disappointing that Jack Smith’s headed goal was scored whilst Southport’s goalkeeper Joe Rutherford had been off the field with an injury.
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
The Lancashire Cup – A Complete Record 1879-80 to 2006-07, by Gordon Small. A SoccerData Publication on behalf of the Lancashire Football Association. 2007. ISBN 978-1-905891-04-7.