It is virtually impossible for anyone not around at the time to appreciate exactly what it meant to the game’s followers when the Football League resumed its activities in August 1946. Not only had many of the fans been denied their weekly entertainment for seven years, but a large proportion had been engaged in the most appalling conflict, that of the Second World War. Inevitably there were those who never returned to the terraces but, for the lucky ones who did, the Saturday afternoon match was another sign that, life was getting back to normal.
Not just followers but footballers themselves were lost in the war. Of those who had donned Southport shirts back in the thirties, Les Cant, Harry Salmon and Jimmy Briscoe were never to return to their homeland. Although there were no fatalities amongst the staff on the clubs books at the outbreak of hostilities, Reuben Scott was forced to quit playing after losing an eye in an accident in Malta and Jimmy Clough was lucky to survive five years in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Others, like Jack rothwell, managed to keep in training by competiting in quality forces teams in India during the latter stages of the war.
So there was great excitement and huge attendances when the season oepened. There was also a sense of deja vu, as the League retained the fixture list which had been abandoned so abruptly in 1939-40. Southport thus started at Darlington again and followed up with the home matches against Tranmere Rovers and Hull City. The immediate difference for the returning Sandgrounders was the new strip; gone were the familiar black and white stripes and in their place since 1944 had been green and white hooped shirts with white shorts, donated in 1939 by club director Bill Paulden. They were not the luckiest of outfits for Southport, however and after the 1947-48 campaign they were to be discarded in favour of the old colours.
The team that took the field at Darlington that Saturday included only two of the eleven who had run out on August 26tj, 1939 – Jack Preece and Harry Hawkins – though in due course Harry Harrison and, after a season with everton, Bob Hodgkiss were to return to duty. Yet the outcome was much the same, Darlington repeating their win. Hawkins was dropped for the opening home game with Tranmere but when this also brought defeat he was reinstated and, under the scrutiny of Arthur Ellis who was making his Football League debut as referee, proved his worth by rattling in a hat-trick just 29 minutes into the game against Hull the following Saturday.
Less fortunate was Peter burke, another of Southport’s one-game wonder centr-halves; like Bill Miller in 1935, the opening match was his sole appearance in the league side, despite his excellent pre-war pedigree. One familiar name reappearing on the team sheet was Sinclair; Billy, the nephew of Tommy and Harry, notched up a few games on the left wing.
But – there always seems to be a ‘but’ with Southport Football Club! – despite all the euphoria engendered by the resumption, the team failed to perform and the season was a disatser. That win against Hull flattered to deceived; by the end of October the club’s record read: Played 12, Won 1, Drawn 2, Lost 9 – a start almost as dire as the abysmal opening to 1975-76, which led inexorably to the loss of League status. The twelfth game, a 5-1 defeat at the ground of Bradford City for whom, incidentally, the evergreen Matt Middleton featured between the posts, saw the final appearance of Jack Grainger whose epic career only just straddled the war. In fact he was a mere 23 days from the thirteenth anniversary of his Southport debut, a record which neither John Coates nor Alex Russell could quite surpass.
Putting aside the dreadful results and the F.A. Cup exit, November did bring a modicum of cheer; within the space of a fortnight two larger than life characters appeared who were to become firm favourites with the Southport fans. Goalkeeper Wilf Birkett needed no introduction; he had guested for the club during the war and was already a popular figure. Cec Wyles from Bury, a battering ram of a centre-forward, had also been on Everton’s book’s, though his origins were in the fen district of south Lincolnshire. How dreary those early post-war seasons would have been but for the bustling enthusiasm of these two personalities; their influence on the rest of the squad was incalculable.
Typical of the results Southport were suffering around this time was the defeat at Accrington Stanley on November 9th. Birkett played an absolute blinder, saving everything the home team could throw at him, until beaten by a goal in the last minute. Another example occurred on Boxing Day at York City; Southport led 1-0 until a penalty four minutes from time levelled the scores.
It was January 11th before the second victory was chalked up, 2-0 against New Brighton. the side had gone twenty games without a win and the 28 players called upon by Christmas Day looked like creating another unwanted record.
Therefore however, with only Gordon Shaw being introduce d(briefly) late on, some stability was restored to the line-up. It was February 15th before the first unchanged side was fielded – in the 28th game! – and the players repaid the confidence shown in them by trouncing Stockport County 4-1. Cec Wyles, who had struggled to find his scoring touch, made up for lost time by netting his first hat-trick.
Suddenly hat-tricks were in. One week later Jack Rothwell scored three times in an astounding four goal second half burst at Oldham Athletic; by early March he had been snapped up by birmingham City for what should have been a sizeable fee. Later that month Wyles scored three more as the team celebrated left-back Jack Preece’s wedding day with their biggest win of the season – 6-1 v Halifax Town. Including Harry Hawkins’ early trio against Hull, this made it four times one player had achieved this distinction in a match; odd, considering the whole side only scored 53 goals all season.
The late flurry did not herald a revival; only one point was picked up from the final eight games, when Joe Simpkin sent in a 30 yard rocket to equalise against Wrexham with time running out. Southport finished in 21st position, with an all time low 25 points, yet still attracted attendances which only twice dipped below 3000. What might the gates have been had better results been achieved on the field?
Two more departures to Birmingham City took place in May. Martin McDonnell had been one of the few successes amongst the new signings and was now embarked on a lengthy career as a centre half for various midland clubs which would take him to five different divisions of the League; copper haired Alan Ball was less lucky and was back at Haig Avenue within a few months.
Much later he was to resurface as manager. Southport did, in fact, agree terms with Birmingham for the purchase of Syd Owen, but the player was dissatisfied with the accommodation offered and refused the deal; instead he joined Luton Town and went on to complete almost 400 games for them. Southport had missed out again.
Source: Wikipedia the free encyclopedia and reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
FINAL TABLE LANCASHIRE COMBINATION '46-'47 ========================================== 1. Bacup Borough 42-61 (111-54) 26 9 7 Champions ------------------------------------------------------- 2. Marine Crosby 42-56 (121-72) 25 6 11 3. Netherfield 42-52 (100-64) 22 8 12 4. Morecambe 42-51 (133-85) 23 5 14 5. Rochdale II 42-49 (116-72) 23 3 16 6. Prescot Cables 42-48 (116-99) 21 6 15 7. Lancaster City 42-47 (104-66) 22 3 17 8. Oldham Athletic II 42-47 (95-94) 20 7 15 9. Clitheroe 42-45 (107-105) 19 7 16 10. Barrow II 40-44 (77-76) 15 14 11 11. Nelson 42-43 (100-85) 18 7 17 12. Fleetwood 42-43 (78-72) 18 7 17 13. New Brighton II 42-42 (80-92) 20 2 20 14. Horwich RMI 42-40 (83-93) 17 6 19 15. Bangor City 40-37 (84-94) 14 9 17 16. Southport II 42-36 (76-84) 15 6 21 17. Chorley 42-35 (84-92) 13 9 20 18. Darwen 42-34 (84-122) 14 6 22 19. Leyland Motors 42-33 (66-90) 13 7 22 20. Rossendale United 42-32 (76-113) 11 10 21 21. Accrington Stanley II 42-29 (70-122) 11 7 24 ------------------------------------------------------- 22. Great Harwood 42-16 (63-178) 6 4 32 Relegated (remaining matches not played anymore).
Source: The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation.Author Dinant Abbink