When Lem Newcomb’s ill-health was reflected in a slump in playing fortunes, the directors saw Willie Cunningham as being just the sort of person to pull things round. A Scottish International, he had played over 400 games for Preston North End and was, moreover, a strict disciplinarian and fitness fanatic. He must have been more than a little disillusioned on his first day in charge when he asked where the club’s gymnasium was only to be told there was none!
An administrative oversight caused his registration to miss the Football League deadline by one day, thus precluding him from playing during the remainder of 1963-64. This was compounded the following season when he was badly affected by injuries and made only limited appearances. Willie Cunningham also suffered the disadvantage of having to await the re-election outcome before he could recruit his staff. Despite assurances from the board that money would be available, he could not persuade them to sign players to remedy the apparent deficiencies; for example, negotiations for the return of jimmy Blain from Carlisle United broke down. Cunningham’s one moment of glory came when he inspired the second round F.A. Cup victory which led to the ‘plum’ tie at Leeds; he drove his side on at Wrexham despite being in considerable pain from a dislocated shoulder. The subsequent game at Leeds netted Southport some k2,800.
At the end of the season came the shock announcement that Southport were not to retain him. The aggrieved Cunningham commented: ‘I am obviously being made to carry the can for the team’s poor performances in the latter stage of the season and the directors have not supported me in my bid to buy new players to strengthen the team’. It seems apparent that Cunningham was not given a fair chance, as he had far-seeing plans for the future, especially with regard to a youth policy; he persuaded lots of schoolboys to come to Haig Avenue in the face of competition from a number of League clubs. He later returned to Preston as assistant trainer and still lives in the shadow of Deepdale.
Profile 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