Southport Wanderers formed as an amateur outfit in 1884. The earliest confirmed game we have identified so far was played on Saturday 13th September 1884 between Halliwell (of Bolton) and Southport Wanderers. Not only were Southport Wanderers a different club to the Southport Football Club of 1881, but the result of this game shows that the two clubs were a class apart in terms of stature and ability. reports and letters published in various local papers in the week that followed the game give valuable insight.
Southport Football Club were clearly concerned that as other clubs were springing up in the town there would be cases of mistaken identity when those teams played further afield. The scoreline of this particular game was a 20-0 defeat so they acted quickly to set the record straight!
A letter printed in the Liverpool Mercury on Tuesday 16th September, written by R W T Hatch, the secretary of Southport Football Club, revealed their concerns. ““This is calculated to do the Southport Club much unnecessary damage in the football arena” and corrects that this “was the first team of a new Southport club, called “The Southport Wanderers”. The Athletic News, the prominent sports focussed newspaper of the day, dubbed Wanderers “an eleven of ‘novices’, who know very little of the game”.
All that being told, Wanderers continued to make progress as a club and by the summer of 1886 had grown into one of the most popular clubs in the town. In fact, by the time of the demise of the original Southport Football Club they were able to field a first and second eleven on a regular basis, something the original club struggled to do for much of early 1886.
At the Wanderers AGM in June 1886, at which a representative of the original Southport association club was present, they invited Southport Football Club to amalgamate. Southport Wanderers AGM Report; 11th June 1886
At least six former Southport players and many of their supporters transferred their affiliations to Southport Wanderers.
Southport Wanderers moved to a new ground in Scarisbrick New Road for the 1886-87 season. It was a large field, enclosed to a height of 7 foot 6 inches and big enough to accommodate three matches at once. A covered grandstand, to seat 140 spectators, and a dressing tent were provided. Three cows which grazed on the field withdrew behind the grandstand during matches.
On 25th September 1886, with the Wanderers leading 2-1, Skelmersdale United’s team walked off the field after disagreeing with the referee’s decision and Southport claimed the match.
Lancashire FA however refused the new club permission to enter the Lancashire Senior Cup and did not recognise Wanderers as having assumed the former club’s senior status. Frustrated by their perceived poor treatment the club did two things to rectify it. First, they opted to join the Liverpool FA and went on to pick up the Liverpool junior cup against Earlestown at Everton’s Anfield Road ground a year later. Secondly, at a General Meeting held in the Mather’s Saleroom, it was unanimously resolved that in future the club be called ‘Southport Football Club’ Thus imparting to it a representative character which it had not hitherto enjoyed.
Although not winning the Charity Cup, High Park defeated Old Boys 5-2 in the final, Southport’s second team won the town’s first regional honour by lifting the Liverpool and District Cup after defeating Earlestown 1-0 at Everton’s ground in front of 3,000 spectators. The victorious Southport team and 100 supporters journeyed from the ground to Exchange Station in wagonettes amid the tooting of horns and blowing of bugles. When the train arrived at Chapel Street Station some three or four hundred people heartily welcomed the winners. The captain, Alfred Halsall was carried shoulder high to the Railway Hotel, the club headquarters.
The Athletic News continued to take a dim view of Southport Football Club listing the club amongst the list of “junior clubs” as late as 23rd August 1887. However, within a year (12th June 1888), professional football was born in Southport.