The season which followed confirmed Southport’s status in the Conference. Though never leading the field, the club was seldom out of the top six and eventually finished a very creditable third; the tone was set with an early 4-1 victory over the 1993-94 champions Kidderminster Harriers, in which the versatile Alan McDonald, making a rare appearance at centre-forward, led the line with panache and was rewarded with two goals; but the turning point of the campaign came at home on January 7th when, before 2,207 spectators, Southport allowed runaway leaders Macclesfield Town to overturn a 2-0 deficit and escape with an unlikely 3-2 win.
The biggest disappointments, however, were the Round One exits from both the major F.A. competitions — 3-2 at Altrincham in the Cup and 2-0 at Telford in the Trophy. Nor did success attend the club in the minor cups, Marine winning a place in the Liverpool Senior Cup Final while Southport meekly surrendered their place in the Lancashire A.T.S. Trophy following an administrative blunder concerning registration.
On the positive side the unfortunate departure of popular goalkeeper Paul Moore was remedied by the acquisition of the reliable John McKenna, the only ever-present of the season. Jimmy Blackhurst’s return to full fitness proved both welcome and rewarding, while Dave Gamble’s late season flourish augured well for the future. The essential stability of key positions saw the season finish with not only Dave Fuller, David Gamble and Alan McDonald in the club’s top five for non-League appearances
but with skipper Paul Lodge also past the 130 game mark.
Yet the real shock was reserved for the closing weeks. One Thursday evening in the middle of March came the sudden announcement that Brian Kettle — the manager through almost six very successful campaigns — had ‘resigned for personal reasons’. 1994-95 had been his first year in a full-time capacity, a move intended to smooth the transition to a place in the Football League. The abruptness of his departure fuelled much speculation as to its exact nature; the general consensus was that, despite the official pronouncement, the boot may well have been on the other foot …
Within a week or two his replacement had been appointed. Billy Ayre, a County Durham man with a pedigree in Football League management, was installed for the final month. The ever enthusiastic Steve Joel, himself a candidate for the top job, was happy to remain as his assistant. At the April A.G.M. Chairman Charles Clapham — revealing a record 148,00o profit for 1993-94 — reaffirmed his avowed intention to regain Southport’s rightful place in the Football League.
As the season concluded with a ten game unbeaten run, the omens looked undeniably propitious. Only time would tell.
The Sandgrounders: The Complete League History of Southport F. C., by Michael Braham and Geoff Wilde (Palatine Books, 1995). ISBN 978-1-874181-14-9
Lancashire Senior Cup Group B
P W D L F A BP Pts Blackpool 3 2 1 0 7 2 1 8 Preston North End 3 1 1 1 3 3 0 4 Southport 3 1 0 2 4 7 1 4 Wigan Athletic 3 1 0 2 4 6 0 3