Having finished second-bottom of the Fourth Division in 1978 Southport were elected out of League football. When the League clubs first voted, the Sandgrounders were tied with Wigan Athletic. A second ballot was called and Wigan prevailed by 29 votes to 20. It spelt disaster for Southport. Wigan had been nominated to stand for election after ending the season second in the Northern Premier League. Arthur Horrocks, the Wigan Chairman, and manager Ian McNeill had visited all First and Second Division clubs where a large number of votes lay. In contrast, Southport Chairman Walter Giller and his directors sent only a letter to those clubs.
For Preece the pain of Friday June 2 1978 has never gone away. As he runs through the series of events which culminated in the end of Southport’s League status, the sense of loss remains apparent and one of his aims is to right the wrongs of the past.
“The day we came out of the Football League is the worst day of my football supporting life,” he recalls. “I was at home in Bowling Green Close when the news came through and the news actually said: ‘Good news for football in the north west.’ So that lifted my spirits until it said Wigan were in the Football League and Southport were out. The frightening thing about that was there was no reaction from the people of Southport, which showed the demise of the football club had happened well before we came out of the Football League.
“I think our last fatal mistake was when Tom Robinson, who was Chairman here for a short period of time, reversed a League Cup fixture with Newcastle. I think there’s a lesson to be learnt there and something the supporters should take note of. John Church had been a wonderful Chairman here and we had two promotions under his Chairmanship, but he was tired and exhausted and wanted to hand this club over. Lo and behold he couldn’t find anyone, the first was Tom Robinson and the second was Walter Giller.
“I was at a meeting as about a 16-year old when Leon Rapaport introduced Walter Giller to supporters. It was held in the boardroom area and there were a small number of supporters there. Looking back that was the beginning of the end because we finished in the bottom four and I think that because of pervious histories we were going to be doomed. Hughie Fisher did everything he could, but again without the budget. There are people at this football club who were at that meeting, mature people who should have stood up to Walter Giller and should have been a lot stronger in their stance. If we’d have had Trust members of today and the experience we’ve now got at this football club that wouldn’t have been allowed to happen. There was virtually no negative press published about this handing over or the consequences of it.
“We’ve now got another very solid, long-serving Chairman in Charlie Clapham who runs the club on a tight ship as John Church did and he’s striving for success but within the parameters of the finances. The consequences where Robinson let the Newcastle game be switched and Walter Giller let us come out of the Football League lived on for many a year. Let’s be honest, this club should not have come out of the Football League. We didn’t finish bottom: the club did not canvass for votes appropriately and let Wigan in. One of the significant factors there was that a former director in Arthur Horrocks, an FA Councillor, had jumped ship from Southport to Wigan and that didn’t go down well with me, especially when he visited the club a lot later.
“Making it even more galling was the fact that there was no reaction in the town. I was actually taken by my parents that night to something which had previously been booked, which was Ken Dodd at the Floral Hall. It wasn’t a night to laugh. What was interesting is that nobody in that audience made any reference to Southport Football Club. One of the roles that I want to see now is that everybody has got ownership and feels that Southport Football Club is part of the community. Then it was detached, it had lost its way, and it shouldn’t have lost its way.
The above is an excerpt from the Port Personalities section of Trust In Yellow’s Non-League book, published in 2008