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1903 – In Search Of A New Ground

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On 15th July 1903 the committee of Southport Central received an intimation that their ground in Scarisbrick New Road, which they had used for the previous 12 seasons, will be no longer available and that they must immediately commence the removal of the grandstand. It was understood that the land was to be used for building purposes although Central were prepared to pay £10,000 for its purchase. It was the start of a period of uncertainty surrounding the ground that would last for some time.
The Lancashire Evening Post reported on Saturday 18th July 1903

SOUTHPORT CENTRAL’S PREDICAMENT- The ground Scarisbrick New-road used by the Central F.C. is to requisitioned for building purpose by the Scarisbriok Trustees. A little while ago the Ormskirk and Southport Agricultural Society and the club executive approached the trustees with view to purchasing the ground for the two bodies, or leasing it for a period of years. In this they have been unsuccessful, though strong effort is likely to be made secure a reconsideration of the decision. Unless Central can secure the use the ground until Easter it is likely that the club will have to disband for at least a season, they will be unable to remove from present quarters and complete arrangements for the use of, say, the Athletic Ground before September. As it hardly likely that building operations could started now and continued during the winter till Easter, the executive are hoping that they will have grace till this day. On such an understanding the club could continue, said Mr. Robinson, the chairman, yesterday. Several prominent clubs have lately been approaching Southport for players.

In August 1903 the Southport Guardian reported that

“The question of the ground continues to cause some anxiety, but it seems probable that there will be no interference of the present pitch for some time – how long remains to be seen. Still it cannot be expected but that some unrest should be caused by the expressed intention of the Scarisbrick Trustees to utilise the land for building purposes in the not far distant future; and in such a case the respite granted is something for which to be grateful.”

One month later the Southport Guardian clarified the matter further.

“The Trustees have taken plenty of time to consider the matter, and it was only a day or two ago that a letter was received stating that the club might have use of the present ground until next Easter. This is taken to mean the end of the season, but as the use of any other plot of ground for football purposes solely is not to be granted, it seems probably that the Blowick Athletic Ground will be the venue next year – if there is any desire for such an arrangement.”

With the Lancashire League defunct, Southport were admitted to the Lancashire Combination ‘B’ Division for 1903-04 season. Continuing the successful form of the previous season Southport won the Championship by one point from Earlestown and in a Challenge match against Everton Reserves Champions of the ‘A’ Division they drew 1-1 at Goodison Park.

In the F.A.Cup Central were involved in an exciting game at Accrington. Goalkeeper Jim Garvey gave a brilliant display as Stanley bombarded the Southport goal, Ben Rickerby scoring the game’s only goal for Central. A Veteran oysterman Stephen Danhay of Anchor Street was one of 300 Southport supporters who made the trip. He suffered a seizure and was removed to a neighbouring cottage and was later conveyed to Southport where he died the same night. In his only interval of consciousness he murmured “Did they score?”

In the Lancashire Senior Cup Central reached the final overcoming Bury (the holders) 6-1, St. Helens Town 1-0 and Preston North End 3-2. In the final at Deepdale two goals fom Lionel Watson, formerly of Southport settled the issue in Blackburn Rovers favour.

Probably the season’s most bizarre incident occured when referee McQueen blew the ‘final whistle’ seven minutes early against Stockport County. Many supporters left the ground but others ran onto the field to explain the mistake to the referee who immediately restarted the game and played another seven minutes. There was no further scoring Southport winning 1-0.

The problems with the ground rumbled on and at the AGM held on Thursday July 14th 1904, those present discovered just how serious the ground issue was when it was reported that the club had been given notice to quit Scarisbrick New Road at Christmas, and only with the consent of the Trustees were they allowed to finish the season at the ground.

Southport were promoted to the “A” Division of the Lancashire Combination for the 1904-05 campaign. They finished third behind Stockport County and Liverpool, their best placing in that league.

It was also the season that central gained their most notable success to date when they won the Lancashire Senior Cup for the first and only time in their career. To reach the final they beat Earlestown 6-1 and Blackpool and Liverpool’s full first teams. The final was against Everton who fielded their reserve team at Sarisbrick New Road their first team having a cup engagement with Aston Villa the following day. Lawson and Smith gave Central a 2-0 lead at half-time and although Caldwell struck an upright and Dilly reduced the deficit, Central hung on to win a stirring game in front of 5,000 spectators Thereafter th e cup was on view in Fred Dunkerley’ sports shop during the day and taken to the police station every night for safe custody.

Southport Central 1904 05
Southport Central 1904 05

In January Central transferred Jim Garvey to Bradford City for a £100 fee and a ‘match gate.’ During his 2 ½ year spell with the club he had been a tower of strength and a wonderfully agile goalkeeper. Garvey was the highest paid member of the staff and was also in receipt of a summer wage.

The season was also the last the club played at Scarisbrick New Road, building development being imminent on the ground. The club first approached the Scarisbrick Estates with a view to obtaining anew ground but could not reach an agreement Several meetings were held with the Athletic Society but after inspecting their ground and being mindful of the cold winds which swept through the ground in winter the offer was not accepted.

Mr.Yates, the proprietor of Kew Gardens tried to induce them to enter terms there but following problems with the trustees of the property this proposal also fell through It was then decided to meet Sir Charles Scarisbrick and the agent Captain Cross who declared that a ground must be found. A field in Ash Lane belonging to Mr.Rimmer a farmer was Chosen and a surveyor measured the land the club wanted. Finally it was agreed to let the ground to them at a rent of £30 per annum on a 5 year tenancy. The final game was against Darwen where two goals were shared. At the end of the match the spectators joined with the band and sang ‘Auld Lang Syne.’

Problems At Ash Lane

Few people who attended Southport Central’s Annual General Meeting in July 1905 would have believed it possible that the club would be holding a crisis meting in December but such was the case. At the AGM, the President, Sir George Pilkington had congratulated the club on “a most successful season if not the best they had ever had.” During 1904-05 the club had won the Lancashire Senior Cup and finished third in the Lancashire Combination.

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t was not until 2 nd December that Central recorded their first victory of the 1905-06 season, defeating Oldham Athletic 3-0. Most pre-season signings played below their reputations and a series of injuries-most notably to Syd Smith and Jack Sinclair-resulted in constant team alterations. Meanwhile the wage bill had mounted considerably but gates were down £5 per game. The move to Ash Lane, including moving the stand, erecting the hoarding and laying the pitch cost more than £200.

For the first time since the crisis of 1896 a Special Meeting was held at which it was reported that the club were £450 in debt. They had lost the proceeds of the Summer Draw due to the pressure of the removal and cup-tie income was well down. Exempt until the Fourth Qualifying Round of the F.A. Cup, Central were actually £11 out of pocket on their trip to Watford after an overnight stay in London and they lost 3-1. In the Lancashire Senior Cup, Preston North End, with former Southport player Herbie damson scoring twice, won 3-0.

In a bid to economise Central released Jolley and McGregor. A £60 profit was realized from the hiring of the Hippodrome for the week between Christmas and New Year. Fencing and boxing competitions and a demonstration between footballing dogs were among the attractions.

More important, the side’s form improved and after taking a mere twelve points from the first half of the season, twenty points from the second half meant that Central finished in 17 th position and this retained their First Division status. Even though short of cash, the club took a collection for their former outside-left, Lollie Halsall whose leg had been amputated. The collection raised £7/10shillings. YMCA and Park Villa also held benefit matches for Halsall who had been a popular performer. The Promenade Bowloing Club also subscribed twenty-three shillings.

The season’s discovery was sixteen year old, Lol Abram, who later played with Stockport County, Hearts, Chelsea, and Cardiff City before returning to Southport in the twilight of his career in 1921. When Oldham Athletic gave Southport twenty-four hours notice to approach Abram, Central protested that they had not received the necessary legal period. In order to keep Abram, they signed him professional and because of this they unsuccessfully claimed £18 compensation from Oldham. Nevertheless, Athletic were fined £5 by the Lancashire Combination, whilst Abram became Southport’s youngest ever professional. Oldham had earlier signed Joey Shadbolt who had joined Central from Birkdale South End as a 17 year old in 1983. A capable inside-forward with a good shot, he was sorely missed.

In November 1906 Southport Central recognised the services of two of their long-serving players, Fred Spink and Jack Sinclair. The latter was a product of the Southport Working Lads Club and the first of the famous footballing family to play for Southport. Both had been with the club for nine years and it was decided to give them a benefit match with the proceeds of the Lancashire Combination game with Barrow allocated to the Benefit Fund; as a result £60 was divided between the two players.

In need of a good F.A. Cup run to improve their ailing finances Southport were drawn at home to Carlisle United. Although Carlisle were only a Lancashire Combination Second Division outfit, they were much better supported than Southport and when they offered a £100 guarantee Central agreed to relinquish their home advantage. Carlisle also agreed to give them 50% of the gate receipts over 4500. Just as on the occasion seventy years later involving Newcastle United, many supporters complained bitterly about the switch but it proved a successful venture. On November 24th, 1906 a crowd of 4,550 saw the game and receipts totalled £122 – Southport’s share being £103.10s 0d- but, most important of all, Southport won the game 44-0. Over eighty supporters paid the 4s.9d. rail fare to Carlisle.

The Cup trail came to a close when Northampton Town from the Southern League won 2-1. The Southport team had left Lord Street station at 7.50am and endured a tedious five hour train journey. An unfortunate goalkeeping error after Gara had equalised cost Central any chance of a replay. A 5000 shilling fund was launched and the usual concerts and draws kept the season’s debt down to £70. At one concert at Southport’s Albert Hall shortly after the Carlisle United victory Fred Spink sang the Toreador’s song from Bizet’s Carmen He was greeted with a “furore of applause” and, commented the Southport Visiter, ‘he delivered it in a right rousing fashion too’. The side who finished ninth in the Combination included Billy Gate, a tricky outside-right from Blackburn Rovers who was just over 5 feet tall, and Tom Edmond, a versatile performer whose unconventional methods and agility earned him the tag of “India Rubber”.

The 1907-08 season saw Southport Central finish in sixth place. Jack Sinclair who had already wrenched a cartilage in his knee, twisted his knee in the third game of the season. At the club’s expense he visited a bone specialist, who announced that the knee was not strong enough to withstand the strain of football any longer and, on his advice, Sinclair never played again. A young wing-half, Eddie Holdsworth, a product of Southport Working Lads, thus gained a place in the side and played so consistently well during the season that he was transferred for a £100 fee to Preston North End where he rendered splendid service over ten years.

When Southport Central Reserves found themselves short of players to fulfil their Lancashire Alliance commitments, Blowick Wesleyans took over their fixtures and won five out of the next six games. One of their players, seventeen year old Billy Watson, made a great impression at left half and was soon promoted to Central’s first team. By March 1909 he had been transferred to Burnley for a record fee of £200. Watson went on to make 346 League appearances at Turf Moor and won England International honours. Another “Wesleyan” who was capped for England was Eddie Moscrop who joined Central some years later.

What proved to be a significant moment in the club’s history came on April 13 th, 1908 when Edwin Clayton was appointed Secretary of Southport Cental on the resignation of Tom Shipley. Clayton was highly ambitious for Central to progress in the football world and from the outset yearned for the day when they would be members of the Football League. Almost immediately an opportunity presented itself when Stoke resigned and a casual vacancy arose.

On June 21 st Central were one of five clubs to apply for the place in the Second Division, but Tottenham Hotspur were elected, while Central failed to attract a single vote: it was recorded that their representative at the meeting did not speak. Clearly Mr Clayton had much work to do if his ambition were to be realised.

Southport Central finished the 1908-09 season in thirteenth place but tighter economic management and Billy Watson’s transfer fee considerably reduced the bank overdraft. A novel event at Ash Lane was the Northern Union (Rugby League) match on New Year’s Day, 1909. The game between the Australian Touring Team and Widnes was staged to assist Southport Central’s funds. Record gate receipts of £123 resulted in the club benefitting by £60. The Kangaroos, making their first tour of England won 55-3. Their team had taken a house in Albert Road as its headquarter and conducted their entire tour from there while training at Ash lane. The Mayor, Cllr. J.W. Paton, kicked off and afterwards entertained both teams to dinner at the Prince Of Wales Hotel.

Lancashire Evening Post, 22nd March 1909, showing Southport in their red and white hooped Jerseys
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FRED SPINK’S RETIREMENT

Fred Spink, now in his eleventh season, was honoured following the home match with Blackburn Rovers when Committee member George Cranshaw invited the players and Committee to supper at the Shakespeare Hotel. A cheque was presented by the club and a beautiful silver flower stand was presented by Richard Orrell on behalf of the players. Spink, who had been captain for eight years, had been out of the team for some weeks: his arrival was greeted by loud cheering and everybody present sang “For he’s a Jolly Good Fellow”. Responding, Spink said he had hoped to be playing with the club until he was in receipt of his old age pension, a topical reference to a measure which had only recently been introduced by the government.

After he had badly twisted his knee early the following season he was forced to retire: this came after he had received a further benefit cheque of £30 as a result of the match with Blackburn Rovers, when Spink and the legendary Bob Crompton acted as linesmen. Without him, Southport Central’s defence was drastically weakened and they were only saved from relegation by the resignations of Carlisle United and Workington. The financial position worsened considerably, a loss of £200 making a total deficit of £500 by the end of the season.

One of the few bright features of 1909-10 was the form of George Latham. He was a full-back and a popular favourite with the crowd. He became the first player to gain International honours while actually playing with Southport when he was capped by Wales against England. At the end of the season he was transferred to Stoke City and served for many years as Cardiff City’s trainer. He also won the Military Cross during the First World War.

The following season, which as it transpired, was their last in the Lancashire Combination, Central defeated their old rivals Darwen in the FA Cup. Walter Knowles-linesman and president of the Darwen club-was ordered off by the referee for arguing when he refused Darwen a penalty. An even more unpleasant incident occurred on December 17 th, 1910 when “Dossy” Wright was sent off for jumping at an opponent. The referee was molested as he left the field and several blows were aimed at him. As a result the club were ordered to post warning notices. Wright, the captain, was a rugged quick tackling defender. He was one of the greatest characters the club ever had. As tough as teak, his pet expression used to be “I can’t play football but I can stop those who think they can” It was ironic, to say the least, that his daughter Belinda should grow up to achieve national fame as a prima ballerina. Some contrast!

At the end of 1910-11, when Central finished in eleventh place, there was a rift between some of the reserve sides of Football League clubs like Manchester City, Everton and Liverpool and the Lancashire Combination. Southport Central joined forces with these teams in a bid to form the Central League. In all, thirteen clubs seceded from the Combination but the league refused to accept Southport’s resignation which was sent by telegram to a meeting of the Combination at the Pack Horse Hotel, Bolton. The Combination felt that they were entitled to more than a mere telegram for a matter as serious as withdrawal. A further meeting held at the Queen’s Hotel, Southport-at which Southport were again unrepresented-turned down their resignation request and went on to draw up the Combination fixture list. Southport, together with Rochdale, stuck by their original decision and the whole matter was referred to the Lancashire F.A who found in their favour. Southport Central were duly elected founder members of the new Central league, receiving the maximum 13 votes.

In 1911-12, for only the second time in the club’s history, Southport Central reached the first round proper of the F.A Cup. Home victories over Padiham, Rossendale United and Colne and a 1-0 win at Heywood(after a 1-1 draw at Ash Lane) had already brought Frome Town to Southport. The secretary of the Frome club caused some amusement by writing to Edwin Clayton to ask if accommodation could be obtained in the village! A crowd which numbered 3566 responded by shouting “Play up Villagers!” and Southport duly obliged by winning 4-1.

Reading, members of the Southern League, provided the opposition in the firs round proper. This time Southport turned down an offered £125 guarantee to take the game to Berkshire. For the cup-ties the ground admission had to be raised according to F.A rules from 4d. to 6d. and the stand charges were increased from 6d. to a shilling. Although the Southport players refrained from their ordinary work during the week preceding the cup-tie and went into extra training, their efforts were unrewarded. With the scoresheet blank after half an hour’s play Eddie Mosscrop shot straight at the Reading goalkeeper from the penalty spot: the chance had gone and Southport were beaten by two clear goals before a crowd of between 5 and 6000 who paid £174 13s 1d.

There were those in the crowd who never forgave Mosscrop for that miss.

The following season he was not invited along for pre-season trials by the club and was persuaded instead by his old Blowick Wesleyan colleague Billy Watson to attend Burnley’s trial matches where he shone and was duly signed up. He was subsequently twice capped by England in 1914 and in later life was Headmaster of Birkdale Council School in Bury Road for a number of years.

Another Southport product to make his mark around this time was centre-half Teddy Lightfoot, who had joined Tottenham Hotspur the previous summer. During the Edwardian period Southport was widely considered to be a footballing nursery for larger clubs. Besides the aforementioned Eddie Holdsworth and Billy Watson other local successes in League football were half-backs Lol Abram, not long transferred from Stockport County to Hearts, and Jimmy Fay at Oldham Athletic, who was originally with Southport Working Lads Club.

On December 16th, 1911 Southport Central suffered a record League defeat when Burnley Reserves thrashed them 12-3. Jack Flynn, son of the Birkdale stationmaster was the unfortunate goalkeeper on the day.

With the following season in mind, Central paraded four new signings on Good Friday 1912, one of whom, outside-left Billy Semple, had just been secured from Haslingden. Few would have predicted the monumental significance of this signing at the time. Later the same month Torn Dorward was signed from Arbroath Dorward himself gave splendid service to the club, as indeed did right-half Harry Schofield, signed some time earlier after excelling for Walkden in an F.A. Cup-tie against Southport.

Next: 1912 – Southport Central Limited