Due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic the start of the 2020/21 season was delayed until October. Unusually, the season began with an FA Cup tie against Morpeth Town on 3rd October, with the League campaign kicking off a few days later.
Friendlies had been taking place since the first week of August, the same weekend that typically signified the beginning of competitive football, but the real action wouldn’t come along for another 13 games – likely to remain the longest pre-season on record. The majority of these games took place behind closed doors due to regulations restricting large gatherings, however teams at steps 3 and below were allowed limited crowds and therefore the first action in front of spectators came away at Marine on 26th August. The 6-2 victory was notable for the hat-trick scored by “Trialist 1” who turned out to be Niall Watson, son of manager Liam. Small crowds were permitted at Warrington, Nantwich, Bamber Bridge, Nelson, Ashton and AFC Liverpool, but none at home due to the “Elite” status badge that had been attached to Southport and team’s at their level in the Football Pyramid following the resumption of play-offs for 2019/20 in May.
With fans not permitted to attend, games were “live streamed” via the internet for the first time to those who either bought a ticket or had earlier purchased Season Tickets or Club Membership. Tickets had originally been sold on the basis that the Government had stated that fans would be permitted to attend games from the start of October however with less than 3 weeks to go before the gates opened on the dawn of a new season, a by now all too familiar Government U-turn put all plans on hold. After seeking assurances from the National League and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the season kicked off with an assurance that funding via Grants of £10m would be shared between teams in the National League structure, to replace the income lost due to the absence of gate receipts. This grant would cover the period of October to December with more funding to be available dependent on whether supporters were able to return in the new year.
The season stuttered along behind closed doors with a number of games being postponed across the division due to positive cases of Covid-19. It wasn’t until the start of December that the Government began to allow a reduced number of fans to attend “Elite” level games for clubs not within a “Tier 3” area. This left just 4 clubs in the National League North able to host supporters, Southport one of the lucky few. The plans originally in place for socially distanced observation in October were dusted off and Southport welcomed 560 fans to watch a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Farsley Celtic. What once would have been perceived as a low gate was instead seen as a triumph for the organisation skills of club secretary James Tedford in implementing the many new safety protocols required. Southport had been set a reduced capacity due to social distancing rules, however due to the travel restrictions put in place by the government many fans also found themselves unable to cross the border from “Tier 3” West Lancashire into “Tier 2” Sefton, despite holding tickets.
Marginally more were able to see the following home game v Alfreton where a last minute goal from Jordan Archer rescued a point for the Sandgrounders. Only two more games were able to take place in front of fans. An FA Trophy second round tie away at Marine had a capacity set at 400 with ticket sales restricted to those with a Liverpool postcode.There were a small number of Southport fans in attendance regardless.
The government had relaxed the restrictions in place for Christmas Day to allow limited contact with families, but a last minute change from 5 days allowed contact for3 families, down to 1 days contact, due to a surge in the national infection rate meant that those attending the home fixture against Curzon Ashton on Boxing Day knew that it may be the last live football game they saw for some time. Sadly a victory was not forthcoming (2-2), and it turned out to be the last League fixture before the League programme was inevitably suspended for Southport for the second season running. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced that the next round of funding would only be available in the form of loans, meaning that many clubs could be faced with insolvency if they continued.
Between Boxing day and the suspension to the League programme announced on 22nd January, Southport had already had a number of fixtures postponed due to suspected covid cases in their own squad, as well as in the opposition camps. Although the FA Trophy 4th round tie with Halifax eventually took place on 19th January and the subsequent round against Torquay on 6th Feb, it was set against a background of funding uncertainty and not having been able to play or train for over 3 weeks due to postponements and player isolation. An impassioned Liam Watson spoke after the final whistle (v Halifax), imploring the National League to reconsider what was fast becoming a farcical situation with an “Elite” status and no covid testing available to players.
Two days later Southport chairman Ian Kyle became one of 12 club chairman to add their name to a letter asking the National League to suspend the season.
On 18th February the National League confirmed that the League season had been declared Null and Void and would cease immediately.