On July 15th the remaining directors John Church and Gerry Troy were joined by the self-styled Leigh ‘millionaire’ Tom Robinson who, six months later, took over the chairmanship on Church’s resignation. Robinson had ambitious plans for the club, but not the wherewithal to back up his promises. Indeed it is fairly well substantiated that his Rolls Royce was repossessed by a finance company outside the Haig Avenue ground during a match! His term of office lasted little over a year and brought no great benefit to either side. All in all it was an unhappy association.
Other extraneous matters contributed to the general air of unease. The recently formed Sefton District Council were even less favourably disposed to their only Football League Club than were the former Southport County Borough Council; as landlords, they announced that following an inspection by their surveyor some £85,000 worth of safety repairs were needed on the ground. Needless to say, they were not prepared to make any grant towards this cost. It was a far cry from the days when, not twenty years earlier, local councillors formed a sizable proportion of the board.
The five players retained dwindled to three as Frank Lee had his transfer request granted and Jimmy Meadows, now back at Stockport County, came in with a £5,000 bid for Tony Coleman. When, however, Ball returned for a lightning visit in July, he set about signing eight players in two days, including re-engaging the still available Alex Russell and Bobby Noble. The personnel changes constituted one of the biggest turnovers in the history of the club.
When the 1974-75 season opened at Mansfield Town there were eight new faces in the line-up; the most experienced were Duncan Welbourne, the doyen of Watford who was appointed captain, and Bobby Gough, the ex-Port Vale forward, with around 200 appearances to his name. Although Bobby Noble gave them the lead, it was no surprise that the revamped side lost 2-I . What was surprising, however, was that it was the solitary reverse in the first eight games as Southport kept it very tight at the back and rose, albeit briefly, to fourth in the table.
A bad spell came at the end of September, with three defeats in four games. These included a 4-1 debacle at Reading, the only time Southport conceded four goals all season; Robin Friday was credited with a hat-trick, though two of his goals looked markedly offside, and young local full-back Alan Kershaw fell victim to one of the harshest sendings-off imaginable. One of his two bookable offences had been hesitation over a throw-in when no player made himself available for the ball. Thereafter the team pulled itself together and, losing only twice more up to the turn of the year, established itself comfortably in the top half of the table.
December was a good month for Yorkshireman Paul Taylor whose burst of seven goals in five games saw Southport through an otherwise lean scoring spell. The month began with the club’s first ever ‘European’ game, as Moscow Torpedo visited Haig Avenue to play a friendly and served up an entertaining 3-3 draw. Former full-back Fred Leeder acted as linesman. Later in the season film star Robert Redford’s Chicago Sting side, managed by Manchester United’s Munich hero Bill Foulkes, also came over and drew.
Around this time David Hughes, the speedy and efficient winger was switched into defence, from where he assumed the captaincy late on when Welbourne stood down. Other changes occurred off the field; Matt Woods left Tor business reasons’ (he ran his own haulage concern) and his place as Assistant Manager was taken by former Liverpool stalwart Jimmy Melia. Inside a month Ball was off to Sweden for the re-opening of their season and Melia was left to run the show in his absence. With little at stake support ebbed away and one Tuesday night match against Scunthorpe United pulled in a miserly 924. Those who stayed away missed the first full appearance of the young blond winger George Dewsnip, who soon began to attract a deal of attention.
Three days later saw the final performance from Alex Russell, who earlier on had moved into second place in the all-time lists when he overtook Salty Halsall’s pre-war appearance record. He only played against Cambridge United because his U.S.A. visa had been delayed. With seven minutes to go and Southport trailing 2-0, substitute Paul O’Riley pulled a goal back; then, in the final minute, Russell brought the ball upfield and slotted it right into the stride of Jimmy Hinch, currently on loan from York City, who volleyed it superbly over the ‘keeper for a thrilling equaliser. It was a fitting way for one of Southport’s most industrious of ball-players to bid farewell to a club he had served on and off for over 12 years.
Just before he left for the States, he was present at an unusual gathering for a Past v. Present fund-raising match on April 15th. The Past XI makes interesting reading: Reeves, Alty, Eric Harrison, Peat, Darvell, Hartland, Spence, Field, Redrobe, Groves and Ronnie Smith. The four substitutes used were Armstrong, Shaw, Wally Fielding and a ‘guest’ appearance by the latter’s former Everton colleague, Dave Hickson. It finished 4-4 (as if it mattered!) but essentially great fun was had by all. In addition the game was watched by forty former players who included Joe Patrick, Jack Grainger, Wally Taylor, Harry Lowe, Jack Little, Bob Jones, Bill Rutherford, Harry Sinclair and — from before the first World War — England international Eddie Mosscrop. Dubbed ‘The Night They ALL Came Back’ it proved the forerunner to the more formal reunions the authors were to organise in later years.
The team still had one final flourish in store. The last Saturday fixture brought promotion-bound Rotherham United and some i Soo of their fans to the ground. With Dewsnip in prime form and ‘Player of the Year’ Kevin Thomas excelling in goal, Southport sent them back over the Pennines 2-0 losers. Two days on and Lincoln City arrived, hoping to pip Chester to the final promotion place. The hordes of Cestrians who came to cheer the home side on were relieved when Southport clung on gamely to a 3-2 lead for the victory which put Chester into Division III on goal average.
Just to round off an eventful seven days, the Sandgrounders beat Liverpool 2-1 on the Friday night to lift the magnificent Liverpool Senior Cup again after ten years. Welbourne and Johnston scored. It was quite a week!
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