After several abortive attempts, the club was floated in the summer of 1912 as a Limited Company called ‘The Southport Central Football Club 1912 Limited -with a share capital of 2000 Ordinary ten shilling shares. The original directors were George R Cranshaw, George H. Collinge, James Hamer, Harry Rimmer, John Walmsley and Joseph Winterbottom.
Although it was stipulated that any shareholder with more than fifty shares would be entitled to free season tickets the organisation did not create much interest among the general public; indeed, only twenty-three subscribers (beyond the eleven guarantors) took out shares. With the team also struggling, the directors offered each player a free transfer or a cut in wages. Former Welsh international Moses Russell joined Merthyr, Fred Pagnam later to become a prolific goal-scorer with Liverpool, Arsenal and Watford – went to Blackpool and Charles Pinch was signed by Preston North End. And all that after the season had begun well with five consecutive victories.
The 1913-14 season was notable for Central’s record F.A. Cup win when Lancashire Combination side Portsmouth Rangers were defeated 9-0. At the end of the campaign Central found themselves in seventeenth position in the League having taken 30 points from their 38 games.
Although war was declared on August 4th, 1914 the season went ahead as planned. Southport experienced a disastrous year finishing next to botrom with just 26 points. Stringfellow, with seventeen goals, was leading scorer for the third successive season while Billy Caulfield, although transferred to Blackburn Rovers in the February, notched a further fifteen.
The club decided to charge soldiers half price, with wounded soldiers and sailors admitted free. On September I9th, 1914 after the match with Liverpool Reserves the crowd was addressed by the Mayor, Dr Limont, who appealed for recruits for the forces. Tebay, formerly of Croston and a valuable member of the team, joined the Liverpool Scottish just after Christmas and Anderson, the goalkeeper, also responded to his country’s call. By November 1915 no fewer than nineteen ex-Central players were in the forces, About this time Private Jack Flynn the former goalkeeper, wrote to Secretary Edward Clayton asking for a football His letter was a touching one: ‘We returned from the trenches after having had a bit of a rough time. We have had plenty of rain and it’s been very cold with it” Mr Clayton duly complied with his request and helped out again several months later when Flynn wrote to ask for a second ball “the other having been kicked to death”
In September 1915 football was completely reorganized. To save unnecessary travel it was decided to run various sections for different areas of the country. With Blackburn Rovers suspending operations altogether, Southport were called upon to join the Lancashire Section of the Football League which also included Stoke City, Port Vale and Stockport County. There first game was against Blackpool on September 4th. Southport winning 2-0. Later on that month over 5000 spectators, including 2000 soldiers billeted in the town plus a large number of wounded soldiers admitted free watched Southport Central beat Everton whilst a then ground record 6100 paid £131 when Manchester City visited Ash Lane in October. The highest gate receipts of the previous season had been a mere £37 .
The team which began the 1915-16 season was Drabble, Dorward, Holbern, Holdsworth, Fay, Abram, Rigby, Caulfield, Stringfellow, Garner and Semple. Southport were regularly able to field at least six players with First Division experience. Ted Lightfoot came back from Tottenham-he was stationed at Fulwood Barracks often playing at centre forward from which position he scored 4 out of f goals against Preston North End at Deepdale on October 30 th 1915. Sadly he was one of a number of wartime fatalities being killed in action in July 1918
Perseus writing in the Lancashire Daily Post paid the following tribute ‘Edward Lightfoot was a splendid footballer but, more than that, he was a good sportsman and a player who respected both himself and his opponents. He has joined a noble company who will leave a big void in football”
Other football wartime fatalities included Gunner Jack Waring, who had played for Chorley and Burnley as well as Southport Central and Sapper William Sinclair-one of Jack Sinclair’s four footballing brothers-was killed in action in France.
From one week to the next it aas impossible to predict the composition of the team owing to certain players going into the Army and others coming home on leave. Even the great Charlie Buchan, who was in the Coldstream Guards, made a fleeting appearance in mid-season: he was to have held a recruitment rally immediately after the game but heavy, rain left him with no crowd to address!
The team was seriously weakened in March 1916 when Billy Semple joined The 17 th Battalion and Lol Abram the 13th of the Kings ( Liverpool) Regiment, though Abram, based in Oswestry continued to turn out whenever available.
Southport finished the season ninth in the Lancashire section and following the passing of the Compulsory Service Act and the consequent dispersal of many guest players, bottom of the supplementary competition which was run to ensure a full season’s programme. In this latter they managed only one win and a draw in the ten games.
The next season began with Corporal Kenneth Campbell, formerly of Liverpool and Partick Thistle, in goal; he was destined to be capped nine times by Scotland after the war. Admission was now 6d. for adults and 3d. for boys with an additional 1d. government tax on top. On Boxing Day 1916 Southport scored their most notable victory of the season before an Anfield crowd of 15000 and with Campbell, who had returned to Liverpool, guarding the home goal. George Schofield, a Crossens lad, scored the game’s only goal from the left wing. Although they played good class football the team could again finish only ninth, though they improved one place in the subsidiary section.
The 1917-18 season saw the arrival of another splendid goalkeeper in Tommy Capper who went on to play for Dundee and subsequently Southend United when they were elected to the Third Division. Even so, he had to pick the ball out of the net six times in the first match against Everton. Southport born Billy Waring was in the Goodison side and Frank Jefferis was among the scorers. Bert Rigsby another to play in the early Northern Section days, was also acquired from Everton. In defence were Crump, a left-back from West Bromwich and C.Roberts, a strong wing-half from Bristol Rovers. Southport eventually finished thirteenth out of the sixteen clubs and slipped back to bottom in the subsidiary tournament.
Next: 1919 – Southport Vulcan