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In May 1920 the question of the formation of a Third Division of the Football League with Northern and Southern sections was considered at a meeting in Sheffield and it was decided to proceed with the proposal. The Northern clubs unanimously carried a resolution that the formation of a Third Division was in the best interests of football, pledging themselves to everything in their power to facilitate its adoption: but the following month it was announced that, subject to obtaining the consent of the F.A. a Third Division of the Football League would be formed for 1920-21 with such division being composed entirely of clubs from the Southern League. The clubs in the proposed Northern Section did not commend themselves to the Management Committee as being suitable and it was agreed that the matter would be further considered the following season.

The Northern clubs convened a meeting at the Grand Hotel, Manchester on June 3 rd 1920 and passed the following resolution: “That those present do all they possibly can do to press forward with the programme for the 1921-22 season” A committee was elected with Southport’s own Edwin Clayton as its Secretary. A Northern Section of the Football League Division III now appeared a real possibility, but would Southport be admitted?

The 1920-21 season was completely overshadowed by the club’s attempt to gain admission to the proposed Third Division North. Secretary Edwin Clayton played a large part in its formation but the voting could not have been much closer.

At a special meeting of the Football League held at the Connaught Rooms, London on March 7 th 1921 Southport were one of twenty-eight applicants for the proposed Northern Section. After the First and Second Division clubs agreed to the formation of the section on the recommendation of the Football League Management Committee it was proposed that fourteen clubs be elected en bloc. This was passed unanimously. Thus Accrington Stanley, Ashington, Barrow, Chesterfield, Crewe Alexandra, Darlington, Durham City, Hartlepools United, Lincoln City, Nelson, Rochdale, Tranmere Rovers, Walsall and Wrexham were accepted. A ballot was then taken to admit four more and those who received the most votes were Wigan Borough with 34 and Halifax Town, Stalybridge Celtic and Southport with 25 votes each. For the record, the unsuccessful clubs were Castleford Town(18), Rotherham Town(13), Blyth Spartans(9), Gainsborough Trinity(8), Doncaster Rovers(6), West Stanley(6) Wakefield City(6), Lancaster Town(3), Scunthorpe(3) and South Liverpool (1). The Division was made up to twenty clubs by the inclusion of Stockport County who dropped down from the Second Division and Grimsby Town who were transferred over from the Southern Section.

Mr Clayton who represented the Southport club together with committee member Walter Parkinson, could take satisfaction from the fact that thirteen years after first proposing a Third Division his ambition had been realized. On a later occasion he was presented with an inscribed gold watch on behalf of the clubs in appreciation of his efforts.

Southport ’s last season in the Central League saw them finish in eighteenth position with 32 points from their 42 games. The most impressive feature of 1920-21 on the field was the Billy Semple, Tom Dorward and Harry Schofield benefit match in April which attracted a new record crowd of 7000 to the Haig Avenue enclosure, Ash Lane having recently been renamed in recognition of Earl Douglas Haig, who had been made a Freeman of the Borough the previous year.

On April 4 th 1921, at a wildly enthusiastic public meeting at the Temperance Institute Assembly Rooms, with hundreds of supporters unable to gain admission the club once again became a Limited Liability Company with a share capital of £4000 divided into 8000 ten shilling shares. The qualification for directorship was then only twenty shares and the members of the first board were Richard T. Bentley (Chairman), Fred Lawlor, Walter Parkinson M.B.E, Fred Read, Fred W.Hyde, John W. Robinson, Sam H. Banner, Arthur E.Hindley, Henry Watchorn and John H. Preston. The club issued a prospectus explaining that it was being formed to promote “Football, cycling, cricket, trotting, tennis, bowls, pedestrian tournaments, athletic sports, fetes and galas” The new Southport Football Club was thus launched and after forty years of courageous and determined endeavour, the town was at last firmly on the football map.

Twenty years after first applying for membership of the Second Division, Southport Football Club were admitted to the Football League with the formation of the Third Division North in March, 1921.

Their election was largely due to the efforts of Edwin Clayton, the hon. secretary, who was one of the leading lights, along with Alderman Cropper, of Chesterfield. in urging the formation of the Northern Section. He was secretary of the Northern Section until 1035, as well as being a member of the Football League Management Committee.

At a packed meeting on 4th April, 1921, in the Assembly Rooms at the Temperance Institute—hundreds were unable to gain admission—the club became a limited liability company with a share capital of £4.000 divided into 8,000 ten shilling shares. The qualification for directorship was then only twenty shares and the members of the first board were: R. T. Bentley (chairman), F. Lawlor, W. Parkinson, Fred Read, F. W. Hyde, John W. Robinson, Sam H. Banner, Arthur E. Hindley, Henry Watchorn and John H. Preston.

Having finished their last season, in the Central League 19th out of 22, the team was strengthened with several new signings, amongst them were Sandgrounders Jimmy Fay and Frank Drabble from Bohan Wanderers and Lol Abram from Cardiff City. In all, 13 locals appeared in the first team that season. The only player to cost a fee was William Greatorex, a full-back from Preston—and that a mere £75!

Improvements to the ground included the erection of a covered stand on the popular side—paid for by the Supporters’ Club—and the extension of the stand bordering Haig Avenue. Centre stand season tickets cost £2:2:0, wing stand £1:10:0, and ground £1. Southport’s first Football League game was against Durham City. A 7,000 crowd saw Billy Glover score in a 1-1 draw. Southport were represented by Drabble. H. Sinclair, Bainbridge, Skinner, Little, Abram, Appleton, Glover. Wray, Rigsby and Semple. During October, Grimsby Town visited Haig Avenue and were thrashed 7-1. Billy Glover scored six—which still remains a club record for one player—and veteran Billy Semple scored the other. In addition Rigsby missed a penalty, and Southport played the second half with only ten, men—Skinner being injured.

In the Cup. Southport reached the first round proper—the equivalent of the present day third round—and shocked the football world by holding First Division Blackburn Rovers to a 1-1 draw at Ewood Park before bowing out 2-0 in the replay at Haig Avenue before a then record crowd of 12,408. They had previously defeated Second Division Coventry City 1-0 at Haig Avenue. Glover scored the goals against both of these teams, to add to his 26 goals in the League.

A satisfactory ninth position was reached which would have been higher but for a deplorable injury crisis after 20 points had been secured from the 16 games up to Christmas. Yet almost £2,000 was lost during the season-a familiar story which was to recur again, and again in the years that followed.

Read more of the Southport story through our season by season summaries starting with 1922/23.

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