I was born, and grew up, in Ormskirk but my father was Liverpool born and therefore Liverpool was his club. I tagged along as a child and it never occurred to me to support anyone else.
My first football experience was being taken to Anfield to watch Liverpool take on Lech Poznan in the European Cup in 1984. Being only 3, I don’t have any memories of that game, but I do have fond memories of visiting Anfield with my father on other occasions, standing on the Kop (well, sitting on the crush barriers so I could see!) to watch the great Liverpool sides of the late 80s.
I don’t recall being particularly interested in football as a child, certainly not to the level that my own son is into his football now. I played a handful of games for school and for Cub Scouts and although I was one of the better players I never played for a junior football club.
My first Southport game was not until 1992 but the events that led to that day went as far back as April 1989. My father had bought two tickets for Liverpool’s FA Cup Semi Final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough, with the intention of taking me to the game. I, however, had other plans and decided that a day trip with the Beaver Scouts to Jungle Jim’s underneath Blackpool Tower was where any self-respecting 8-year-old should be. With what happened at Hillsborough on that fateful day, in hindsight it was probably the smartest decision I have ever made.
With 2 tickets in hand my father offered to take my next door neighbour instead. Steve, having been to the ground before, knew that at the Leppings Lane end the terracing was banked at the sides and therefore you had a better view when not stood directly behind the goal. That knowledge probably saved their lives. If I had have gone then there is every chance that my father and I would have gone straight down the tunnel to stand behind the goal and as an 8 year old it is probably quite likely that I wouldn’t be writing this now.
I first heard that there was a problem when we were in the mini bus on the way home from Jungle Jims. I knew my father was there but had no idea if he was safe. When we got home, my mum was crying in the kitchen as she didn’t know either.
My father was physically unscathed, but with long queues at all of the motorway service stations for the phone booths, it was some time before he and Steve could let anyone know they were ok. Suffice to say I didn’t want to know anything about football for a good few years after that.
In 1992, for reasons completely unbeknown to me, I found myself at a Southport v Marine game at Haig Avenue with my father and a family friend, Henry Nutter. I’m convinced that prior to setting foot in the ground I did not even know it was there – at only 11 years old, I had no knowledge of anything below the First Division. That season Southport won the Northern Premier League, and I became a regular from 1993 alongside my father, Southport’s first season in the G.M. Vauxhall Conference.
I took the inevitable flack at school for not supporting one of the big local clubs but it helped to develop a thick skin!
As an enthusiastic student at Ormskirk Grammar School I created my first website. Short of a topic I chose Southport FC and included the post match analysis of a naïve teenager in written form. I wondered if the club would be interested so I wrote a letter to them. Charlie Clapham wrote a nice letter back thanking me for my support and suggested I spoke to programme editor Derek Hitchcock about how I could help volunteer at the club.
With the internet in its real infancy the club obviously wouldn’t have known the potential value in having an official website but I was given essentially an “ok” to run an unofficial site.
After a few years running the website and with Southport having been the first Conference club to have a website at all, around the time of the Wembley visit I was asked if it could be made official – I was delighted to say yes.
Aside from the website I also spent a lot of time volunteering with other roles at the ground from painting the terraces in the summer with volunteers Joe Prescott and Jack Bolton, and helping Dave Sumner and Steve Porter to erect the perimeter fencing when the old white wall had to come down. During the season I then spent most break and lunchtimes at college helping Kevin Warburton the commercial manager.
In the early 2000s my father moved to Glasgow and began to work for The Celtic Football Club, a club steeped in history and tradition. I stayed at home in Aughton with my mum and attended Edge Hill University to study Communication and Media. It was there, in my second year of study, that I met Becky.
I had run the website on my own from an old Acorn Archimedes computer but university made it impossible for this to continue. Before the days that content management systems became common place everything was still hard coded manually and only I could update it.
A chap called Nick Davidson who chaired the Junior section offered to set up a replacement site and I continued to do bits and bobs of media work alongside my degree studies but nothing to the extend that I had done previously and coupled with the disappointment of relegation at the final game in 2002/03, a game at which I was dressed as Sandy the Lion, and a little health scare, I drifted away and returned to the terraces.
In 2004/05 with enthusiasm returning due to an improvement on the field, I began to get the urge to get more involved again but in the space of 18 months a lot had changed behind the scenes. Liam Watson had joined as the clubs youngest ever manager and revitalised the place. The website that had been run by Nick Davidson as a replacement for mine, was itself replaced by another site, this time one that was updateable by the club itself, a huge step forward.
As is fairly typical when a club is down on its luck, there had been some “issues” with communication between the club and the supporters which led to the formation of a Supporters Trust. Rather than return to any media role for the club I joined the Supporters Trust and sat on the board for 18 months or so.
Ever since I had first read the opening chapter of ‘the book’ (as the Complete League History of Southport FC by Geoff Wilde and Michael Braham is most often referred to) in the mid-90s I had been fascinated with the early history of Southport Football Club, and seeing the way that Celtic embraced and celebrated its history made me even more keen to see Southport celebrate its own.
One of the achievements I’m most proud of was that we, as a Supporters Trust, published a non-league history book as a follow on from Geoff and Mike’s masterpiece. I contributed a lot of player and manager profiles for the book and I think we did a good job as a team. Rob Urwin however should take the lions share of the credit as he led and carried the project. I’ve got a massive amount of time for Rob, and for his wife Julia.
In 2006, I got married to my wife Becky, and having started to work for local insurance firm Paymentshield a few years earlier, I had managed to convince Sales and Marketing Director Chris Traynor, who happened to be a football mad Celtic supporter, to sponsor the shirts. This lead directly to me having more of an involvement with the club itself again.
That same summer the club announced its move into full-time football and as I hold a bachelors degree in Communication and Media, Haydn Preece asked me to take on the voluntary press officer role he was vacating to become CEO.
It was around this time that I developed an interest not only in the history of the club but in record keeping and began to independently build a site which included all the historical results and player information, inspired by the trust project. I wanted to be in a position where any supporter could easily look up a player or manager and see their records for us, or look up an opponent and see our record against them. I’m very fortunate that over the years, as my own interests grew, and I started to keep my own Southport FC records, Geoff and Michael continued to indulge by enthusiasm.
I did the press officers role for 3 years and enjoyed it very much. The first manager I worked with was Paul Cook. He was perfectly pleasant but we didn’t form a particularly close relationship because he wasn’t in the role long enough. It was his first job in management and it was Southport’s first season as a full time club since the 1970s. He was under a lot of pressure to deliver and it sadly didn’t work out for him. It is nice to see however that he has since gone on to hold more successful roles elsewhere.
Peter Davenport replaced him in the middle of the season and I was able to learn a lot from him and from his assistant Huw Griffiths.
When Peter had been with us a player I had gotten to know him away from the pitch as by a sheer coincidence we discovered that one of his good friends worked for my father. I hadn’t spoken to him regularly since that time but the occasional contact had been enough to mean the relationship was still good. I frequently joined them at training and got to know some of the players quite well too.
When Peter left, Gary Brabin came in for a short time and we also got on very well. His short spell was successful but he was a very sought after coach and I can vividly remember a phone call with him about the Cambridge rumour when I was trying to manage the message that came out from the club. I still speak regularly with him to this day. He’s an ambitious coach, I don’t begrudge him that even though a lot of people have criticised him for the way he has left us a couple of times.
Then Liam returned. I didn’t really know Liam at this point because I hadn’t been involved officially with the club during his first spell. Liam however has an encyclopaedic brain when it comes to people associated with non-league football and knew of me already making it very easy for me to carry on as I had with ‘Brabs’.
I got more involved, learned a lot more, travelled with the team etc but in 2008 Becky and I had our first child and that changed my priorities. I’d enjoyed being press officer, I had gotten to know quite well a number of managers and coaches and built up good relationships with them, but I couldn’t commit to the “on-call” nature of the role whilst juggling a career and young family. Under Peter and Huw in particular I learned quite a lot and they had even convinced me to start doing my badges in 2007.
Because I had spent so much time building up the history and records, I didn’t want all that effort to go to waste so I published it on this very same website, on the basis it only dealt with the club history and therefore wasn’t competing with the club’s own site.
In 2010 my son was born and I continued to enjoy watching from the sidelines, bringing him along to games regularly from the age of around 4.
Away from football I have worked as a Business Analyst in the Financial Services industry since 2005. My analytical mindset lends itself to research work and in 2019 I started the Southport FC Former Players Association to help promote the history and heritage of the club, and to recognise the hundreds of players that have made their contributions, big or small, along the way. After four years running independently of the club, although with its blessing and support, the FPA became part of the club in 2023 and is overseen by Rob Urwin, the club Head of Media.
I’ve spent a number of years researching the very early years of Southport Football Club and have contributed a number of articles on the subject to the Club’s match day programme and Club website, but, encouraged by Michael Braham, decided that it was perhaps about time I wrote a book. That book, “The Town’s Game” was published in July 2022, and covers the period of 1872 to 1889 and the events that led up to the formation of the current club in 1888.