1881 The Original Association Football Club

Although association football was played in the town’s private schools in the late 1870’s the first association club was not formed in the town until November 1881. As the third club to bear the name of Southport Football Club, the first association club had originally begun, like its two predecessors, as a rugby club, the ‘handling code’ having been played competitively in the town since 1872.

Liverpool Daily Post – Saturday 12 November 1881
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Southport Football Club originally arranged rugby fixtures for the 1881/82 season but lasted only three games before switching to association football, and therefore it was on Saturday 12th November 1881 that a team representing the town of Southport played Bootle ‘second’ in its first association football match.

Bootle took the lead but Jackson shot ‘a capital goal to equalize’.

The Southport team was:
S. Platt (Goal),
B. Pidduck, J.G. Howard(Backs)
P. Edwards, F. Jackson and T.B. Burnett(Captain) (Halves),
J.R. Topliss and F. Holden(Rights) W. Platt(Centre) J. Melross and J. Sykes (Lefts).

The Southport Visiter commented ‘that the team will no doubt render a good account of themselves when they get over the difficulty of hands off and forget the rugby rules’. Most of the club’s rugby players had made the switch to the ’round ball game’ and Dalby, Irving and Morris were also lured over to soccer from Southport Hornets.

The man responsible for the decision to switch was a former Welsh international, Thomas Blundell Burnett. In the story of Southport Football Club, Burnett’s role is very significant. He was the instigator of the switch, he was the Secretary of the new club, and he was also the Captain. He was the pioneer of association football in Southport, of that there is absolutely no doubt.

The club played its games on a field on a large plot of land opposite to the entrance of Chambers Road on the corner Scarisbrick New Road and Ash Street backing onto Trap Lane (today’s Southbank Road), roughly where Westmoreland Road lies today. There was space enough for multiple pitches, one of which was used by Southport Olympic rugby club.

At the club’s first Annual General Meeting in May, under the stewardship of secretary Burnett, the Club opened lawn tennis courts for it’s members and prospective members were encouraged to apply to Burnett at the Arlington Chambers on Lord Street.

You can read the full story of Burnett’s Southport and this enthralling part of the history of the Club in the new book, ‘The Town’s Game: The Origins of Rugby and Association Football in Southport (1872-1889)’.

Encouraged by their first year, Southport joined both the Lancashire and English Football Associations and entered the English, Lancashire and Liverpool and District Challenge Cups.

The 1882/83 season was preceded by an exhibition match between the two famous Blackburn Clubs – the Rovers and Witton – at the Athletic Society’s brand new Sports Ground on Sussex Road. In goal for Blackburn that day was Herbie Arthur, who would later go on to represent Southport Central.

The competitive element of the cup-ties aroused most interest. On 7th October, Southport entertained Liverpool Ramblers in their first ever F.A., or English Challenge Cup tie as the competition was called for years. This game was watched by 300 spectators including many women supporters and resulted in a 1-1 draw, Ambler scoring for Southport following a neat pass from Arthur Dalby. In the replay, Southport were weakened by the non-arrival of one of their best forwards and goalkeeper, Platt, missed the train.

“The Reds”, named after the scarlet colour of their shirts, had to play two substitutes and because of the re-organisation lost 4-0. In the Lancashire Challenge cup, after easily accounting for Stacksteads, 4-0, Southport, lost 5-4 in a thriller at Rishton.

The rules of the game were somewhat different at that time. The game was rough with little combined play. Penalties were as yet unknown and the charging of goalkeepers was not only permissable but relished with delight by the forwards. The players boots were of the ordinary every day variety and spikes in place of studs were not uncommon.

Games were often spoilt by colour clashes. When Southport visited Birkenhead Association they were placed at a disadvantage with the home side, who also wore scarlet shirts and the ground was covered with long grass- on other occasions home games were interrupted when the ball was kicked into adjoining gardens and the players had to argue with irate householders.

The second club AGM, in September 1883, Thomas Burnett retain his position as Secretary and W.J.Connell as Treasurer. Connell was a well known local journalist who penned under the pseudonym of The Sandgrounder for the Southport Visiter. He and Burnett were also to be involved that summer in the reformation of Southport Cricket Club. Ralph Rylance, a Solicitor’s Clerk from Blackburn, who had recently moved to the town was appointed Captain.

The highlight of the 1883/84 season was the English Cup clash with Blackburn Rovers at their Leamington Road ground. Rovers won 7-1 but Southport were far from disgraced.

Rylance’s tenure as captain was short lived, Dalby taking over the role by the end of March with Rylance having departed for the USA.

In the 1884-85 season the club merged with the Southport Athletic Society. The team moved to the Sports Ground, on Sussex Road. It was unanimously decided to change their red jerseys for red and white striped flannel shirts. The Reds were thereby now known as “The Stripes”.

As football grew in popularity other clubs sprang up in the town. Southport Wanderers, High Park, Churchtown and Southport Old Boys were amongst the most prominent. However Southport Football Club was considered to be the town’s premier side.

In 1884 the Charity Cup was launched. Eleven local teams entered with the proceeds, £18 in the first year, going towards the Infirmary. Southport confirmed their premier spot by defeating Crescent 5-0 in the final at the Sports Ground.

The club’s most notable success to date was their 1-0 victory over Preston North End in the Lancashire Challenge Cup in 1884. Although North End only sent their reserve side Southport caused something of a sensation and it was said that the Preston players were ashamed to go home after such a disgrace. Dalby scored the goal just four minutes from time.

The County selectors were present at that game and singled out Squire Platt, the Southport goalkeeper, to represent Lancashire against Hallamshire at Sheffield the following month, Lancashire winning 4-3. Platt also appeared for Liverpool and District, alongside Thomas Burnett when they played North Wales at Wrexham.

As the premier side in the town it was little surprise that Southport Football Club prevailed over Crescent in the final in the first year of the Southport Charity Cup (1884/85) in competition and success on the field locally continued in 1885/86, beating Southport Wanderers 4-0 to retain the charity cup.

Southport Football Club were certainly recognised as the leading club in the town and were also recognised as one of the “senior” Lancashire sides at the time, as can be evidenced by their placing within the Lancashire Senior (rather than junior) cup.

Boarding was erected around a portion of the ground as protection against the weather. This did not prevent a match against Burscough being reduced to half an hour each way due to ‘Boisterous and disagreeable weather’

In October, an understrength Southport lost 12-1 at Darwen. The following week, although Southport led Astley 2-0 at half time, they were beaten 3-2 in an English Cup-tie.

Off the field the club was not in a healthy state and in the 1885/86 season they were facing stiff competition from twenty six other clubs in the town. Southport reduced their annual subscriptions to five shillings to try and compete but were later forced to sever their connections with the Athletic Society and in the Athletic Society’s Annual report the Committee regretted ‘their unfortunate connection with the Football Club which resulted in the Society incurring an expenditure on their account of £88-3 shillings.

After five years existence Southport’s first football club folded.

You can read the full story of Burnett’s Southport and this enthralling part of the history of the Club in the new book, ‘The Town’s Game: The Origins of Rugby and Association Football in Southport (1872-1889)’.

You can listen to an audio summary of this story on the Grains of Sand Podcast


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