The following is the excellent opening chapter/forward from the book by Mark Iddon chronicaling the 1905/06 season.
“Referring to the question of the ground, Councillor Smith and himself (Chairman Mr W. Robinson) had been asked by the committee to approach the Trustees and do what they could to secure the ground for next season. They had not yet been able to meet, but there was no doubt but that they would have the ground next season.”
This is taken from the Southport Guardian’s report of a meeting of the members of Southport Central Football Club held at the YMCA on Thursday March 19th 1903. The ground that the club’s Chairman Mr Robinson was referring to was at Scarisbrick New Road, on land owned by the Scarisbrick Trustees and which had been home to Southport Central since 1890/91. In the season just finished (1902/03) Southport had enjoyed possibly their finest season to date, as, following a 4-0 home win over Workington in the penultimate match of the season, the club became Lancashire League Champions for the first time. The Southport Central committee were ambitious and following this success an application was made for membership of the Second Division of the Football League. Councillor Trounson, a prominent supporter of the club, represented Southport Central at the Football League’s meeting in London and in his presentation to the Football League said that:
”He felt confident they would give this request their favourable consideration. The special reasons he would urge on behalf of the club were principally the suitability of the ground, which was one of the best adapted for football purposes in the kingdom. No matter what the weather was like Scarisbrick New Road was always playable, and there was only one case on record when the match had to be postponed owing to inclemency. lhey had a grandstand with seating accommodation for 2000 and about 20,000 more could view the game, With comfort. There was no outstanding debt in connection with the stand or ground. Ample bath accommodation would be provided for visiting teams.”
Of the spectators, Councillor Trounson commented that:
“They had a most orderly lot of spectators, made up of all classes. Ministers of religion were frequently seen on the ground enjoying the game, and visiting teams invariably got a good reception.”
And finally, describing the area, he said that:
“Southport was beyond dispute one of the most beautiful towns in England, and was the source of pleasure to all who visited its salubrious climate, and served the good purpose of reinvigorating visiting teams and sending them back like lions refreshed.”
Despite Councillor Trounson’s presentation, Southport Central failed in their bid for election to Division Two of the Football League gaining just 4 votes out of a possible 33. Four other clubs, Bradford City, Crewe Alexandra, West Hartlepool and Willington, had applied for election to the League whilst another three, Burnley, Doncaster Rovers and Stockport County, applied for re-election. The voting was: Bradford City 30 votes, Stockport County 20, Burnley 19, Doncaster Rovers 14, Crewe Alexandra 7, West Hartlepool 7, Southport Central 4 and Willington 1. Bradford City were therefore elected to the Football League, replacing Doncaster RoverS whilst Burnley and Stockport County were reprieved.
’Ihe committee of Southport Central acted quickly following thi5 disappointment and applied to join the Lancashire Combination which was considered to be a higher standard of football than the Lancashire League. This application was successful, and meant that 1903/04 would see the club playing in the newly formed Division Two of the Lancashire Combination. By contrast, the Lancashire League that Southport had just won ceased to exist following the defection of many clubs to the Lancashire Combination.
Whilst on the field these were exciting times for Southport, off the field, doubt had been cast over the continued use of their Scarisbrick New Road ground. The Scarisbrick Trustees announced they intended to build on the 1and the ground was sited on and in August 1903, just one month before the start of the 1903/04 season, the Southport Guardian reported that:
”Today Southport Central commence their preparations for the opening of the football campaign. The interval between April last and the present date has been fraught with importance to the club’s destiny. Owing to the want of sympathy shown with their aspirations in the direction of Second League honours and to the collapse of the Lancashire League, the only available organisation available was the Lancashire Combination, and it is Division B of this competition that the club will try its fortunes during the coming eight months. The question of the ground continues to cause some anxiety, but it seems probable that there will be no interference of the present pitch for some time how long remains to be seen. Still, it cannot be expected but that some unrest should be caused by the expressed intention of the Scarisbrick Trustees to utilise the land for building purposes in the not far distant future; and in such a case the respite granted is something for which to be grateful.”
In September 1903, one month after the above article was written, the Southport Guardian was able to clarify the situation regarding Scarisbrick New Road:
“The Trustees have taken plenty of time to consider the matter, and it was only a day or two ago that a letter was received stating that the club might have the use of the present ground until next Easter. This is taken to mean the end of the season, but as the use of any other plot of ground for football purposes solely is not to be granted, it seems probable that the Blowick Athletic Ground will be the venue next year -if there is any desire for such an arrangement.”
So for 1903/04 Southport Central were able to remain at Scarisbrick New Road and these off-field problems proved to be no distraction at all to the football team as they enjoyed a hugely successful season. Defeat by Blackburn Rovers Reserves in the final of the Lancashire Junior Cup was forgotten about as, following a tight neck and neck battle with Earlestown, Southport finished as Lancashire Combination Second Division champions with fifty two points from their 34 games (this was in the days of two points for a win), scoring a very impressive 82 goals whilst conceding just 30. Earlestown came a very close second with 51 points whilst Stalybridge Rovers were third with 46 points.
The problems regarding the ground rumbled on however. At the AGM held on Thursday July 14th 1904 those present discovered just how serious the ground issue was when it was reported that the club had been given notice to quit Scarisbrick New Road at Christmas, and only with the consent of the trustees were they were allowed to flnish the season at the ground. Club Chairman Mr Robinson, speaking on behalf of the Committee, stated that:
“Of course they had tried to look for a new ground. First of all they approached the Scarishrick Trustees, or the agent, but could not come to any arrangement with him. He said he had no ground for football, and they must go to the Athletic Ground. Then they met the committee of the Athletic Society. They had several meetings with them, but after inspecting the ground and knowing what it was like in winter they thought it was not a wise course to take it. The Kew Gardens were then offered. Mr Yates had them up there backwards and forwards several times trying to get them up there. They had almost settled terms and agreed to go to Kew Gardens, but there was the expense attached to it in terms of removing trees etc. Eventually it was suggested that they should give him £50 and give him so much out of the gate receipts instead of a yearly rent. They went to their solicitor and showed him the letters and correspondences they had had with Mr Yates, and he advised them not to sign anything or do anything until they had seen the Scarisbrick Trustees themselves. They then saw the agent, who told them that Mr Yates had not the power to spoil or move a tree or plant in the gardens. With that they gave up all hope of it. They tried to see Sir Chas. Scarisbrick and Captain Crosse, who was a local trustee for Southport. They met the committee like gentlemen. They called a meeting on the Friday at the oflice, and they sent up Captain Crosse and Mr Deane, the agent, to examine the ground near Kew. He (the speaker) and their solicitor met them there, and they decided that they could not go there. Captain Crosse said it was not a case of wanting a ground, it was a case that they must find one. He (the speaker) suggested land in Ash-Lane, which they could have for 12 months or two years. Captain Crosse said he wanted to find them a ground which they could have without continually moving. So he took them across to the other side and showed them ground in Ash-Lane belonging to Mr Rimmer, a farmer. He (the speaker) said that would do very well. They measured it and they decided to let the club have it for £30 a year. They would grant a lease for five years, and then the) would be on a yearly tenancy. But the ground question did not end there. They had had notice to quit their present ground, and he went to Mr Deane to ask him to wait for a few days while he saw about the new ground. He (the speaker) went to see Mr Woodhouse, the contractor) who said it would be impossible for him to be off the ground until the end of September. He (the speaker) explained all that to Mr Deane who said “We must have you off that ground, we want it for building, The builders are wanting it.” He had sent Mr Hirst, the Surveyor, there, saying he must get the street through. So it was a case of getting to work again. They saw Captain Crosse again, and said it was impossible to get off the land until the end of September and beginning of October, and could he let them wait for a while longer. Mr Deane had telephoned down that morning that they had decided to leave the club where they were until the end of October. They were exceedingly obliged to Sir Chas. Scarisbrick and Captain Crosse. No one could have done more for them than they had done. Sir Charles said most of the sport in Southport was killed and gone, but football must not go, and football was the only thing really in sport for bringing visitors into the town when there was nothing else stirring. He had promised to do all that he possibly could to find a ground, and so had Captain Crosse. Their thanks were due to those two gentlemen for their special effort which had placed them in the position they were in that night.”
In August 1904, this article appeared in the Southport Visiter: “The following circular has been issued by the Southport Central club:
The committee of the above club wish to draw your attention to the fact that the football season is close at hand, and hope to receive the hearty support of the town.
It is now fifteen years since the club commenced its useful and successful career of providing manly sport for all classes of the town of Southport and district on the present ground in Scarisbrick New Road, and as is well known, notice has been received to leave the ground. A considerable sum of money will be required for removing to the new quarters in Ash Lane, and the committee make a special appeal for financial help from their fellow towns-men to aid them in this extra cost.
Further, it has been felt all along that a town like Southport should make an effort to aspire to have a team in the English Football League and with this view in mind the committee have for this season engaged a class of players who will, it is believed, help materially to this end.
The club, having gained admission to the First Division of the Lancashire Combination, will be provided with excellent football, and the visit of such teams as Accrington Stanley, Everton, Liverpool, the Manchester, and other clubs may be looked forward to. The Reserve team have also a full programme, so that matches will be played every Saturday.
The committee specially ask the tradesmen for support, as should the team be successful, it is sure to advertise the town of Southport all over Great Britain, and confidently close this appeal for subscriptions and donations, feeling sure that when such other attractions have been before the public they have always responded liberally to them.
Season tickets are now ready and may be had from any members of the committee, Mr W. Robinson, Mr J. Gregson, Hon. Treasurer, Mr W. H. Griffin, Mr F. Leach, Mr H. Rimmer or the Secretary.”
1904/05 again saw Southport Central put their off-field problems behind them and they enjoyed their first season in Division One of the Lancashire Combination, finishing a very creditable third, level on points with second placed Liverpool Reserves. The champions were Stockport County who, following relegation from the Football League the previous season, fielded their first team and won the League with 49 points from their 34 games, Seven more than both Liverpool Reserves and Southport. In fourth place On 39 points were Manchester United Reserves. Winning the Lancashire Combination saw Stockport elected back into the Football League whilst also voted into the League for 1905/06 were Chelsea, Hull City, Leeds City and Clapton Orient. After just one season in the Football League Doncaster Rovers failed in their bid for re-election and were relegated whilst Football League Division One side Small Heath changed their name to Birmingham.
As well as success in the League, and following a shock 2-0 win over a strong Liverpool team in the semi-final, Southport won the Lancashire Junior Cup, becoming the first non-league club to win the trophy. They defeated Everton Reserves 2-1 in the final, played at Scarisbrick New Road, in front of a crowd of 5000.
The last league game ever played at Scarisbrick New Road was on Saturday April 29 1905. It was against Darwen and the final score was 1-1. The team that day was: Goal H. Viner. Backs W. E. Dobson and J. Rimmer. Half-Backs J. Sinclair, J. H. Wareing and B. Tickle. Forwards W. Dawson, J. Shadbolt, S. Smith, H. Danson and R. Lawson.
Danson, later to play in the Football League for Preston North End, scored the Southport goal.
The match report in the Southport Guardian stated that:
“A touch of sentiment was lent to the opening of the second half, when Mr Rimmer’s band played “Auld Lang Syne” in which some of the spectators joined. The conclusion of the music was followed by a cheer to recognise the occasion.”
The week after the game against Darwen, the following article appeared in the “Athletic News”:
“Last Saturday’s match with Darwen closed the ground of Southport Central so far as football is concerned, for the town is moving outward, and at the present price of land the Central have had to move along as it were. Their new quarters will not be far from the Athletic Grounds at Blowick, and the pitch will he in readiness for next season. It seems a pity that the Athletic Grounds could not be taken, for everything there is tit for the home of a first class club; but the Central Committee very properly prefer to maintain their independence, and have their own home. In my junior days I have had some good times among Southport football. There were then three clubs, Southport High Park, Churchtown, and North Meals, but if I remember aright, the first two amalgamated to form the present town’s club, and North Meals went out of existence. The Central has always maintained a high standard amongst the second-class clubs of Lancashire, and their crowning feat was the winning of the Lancashire Cup this season. Two seasons ago a bid was made for the Second Division of the League, and when the club is settled down in its new quarters another attempt will be made to reach a higher sphere of football.”
On Saturday 2nd September 1905 the Southport Guardian reported that:
“Reference was recently made in our columns to the excellent work performed by willing volunteers in removing the equipments of the Scarisbrick New Road ground to Ash Lane during the “close” season which has just terminated. In justice to these industrious men their names should be made known to all who have an interest in the club.
The workers who have so energetically performed this by no means light task are as follows: Messrs Rd Aughton, Robert Baker, John Ball, 8. Gregson, John Gaskell, John Houghton, Chas Halsall, B. Halsall, John Howard, Hy. Hodge, Geo. Hulme, S. Lord, J. T. Todd, 5. Rigby, L. Tyldesley, R. Marshall, Geo. Wilmore and H. Seddon. The treasurer, Mr
John Gregson, has captained these willing workers, and has not spared himself in the good work.
A glance around the new arena will give a fair idea of the amount of labour required to effect so excellent an end, but an even better notion of what the work has meant will be found in a rough computation of the time expended in the accomplishment. It is estimated that in all nearly eight thousand working hours were put in by this small army of volunteers, while the amount of money represented by these gratuitous services is about £250. However hard the work may have been, the result is so excellent that the workers will find a recompense and pride in viewing the results of their efforts. The football loving public of the town certainly owe a deep debt of gratitude to this admirable body of enthusiasts, who have transformed a barren piece of land into one of the neatest football grounds in the country and have solved a difficulty as to Central’s new home in an entirely praiseworthy manner.”
When Southport Central Football Club ran out at Ash Lane for the first game of the 1905/06 season, few, if any, of those present, could have imagined the legacy they were to leave behind. More than 100 years later the supporters who cheered on Southport Central FC (and for one season Southport Vulcan) have been replaced by supporters cheering on Southport Football Club but the venue, despite a change of name from Ash Lane to Haig Avenue in 1921, has remained the same.