Many had alleged, when the club was started, that for such an ambitious scheme it would barely last a month, but with a full season behind them there was a large turnout and plenty of optimism at Central’s first Annual Meeting, on 24th May 1889.
Having undertaken to run the first professional football team in Southport it came as no surprise to the committee that it would come at considerable expense. Whilst well supported, the majority of the expense came however not from the payments required to players but from having to pay large sums for clubs to visit them. Their exploits however had not gone unnoticed, with Stoke contacting the club to request a fixture, fresh off the back of the visit from “the Invincibles” of Preston North End.
Following the success of the Football League it was hardly surprising that there would be a demand for a County Competition in Lancashire, nor was it surprising that Central might look for opportunities to join any organisation that could guarantee it a set of competitive fixtures at less expense.
At a meeting organized by the Secretary of Earlestown, the Lancashire League became a reality. Central, had already began to be recognised and they were one of the first clubs to be successful in joining the newly formed league. lsaac Smith, Central’s Chairman, became the league’s first treasurer.
The Lancashire League would guarantee 22 League matches with good quality opposition, with a number of additional fixtures coming by way of Cup competitions.
The second of the two most important events of the summer was that the Old Boys Football Club, having seen the project come to fruition, at last chose to amalgamate with Southport Central. The Old Boys formed the nucleus of their reserve team, calling themselves Central Old Boys. To cement the new partnership the Annual Meeting had been attended by Mr John Hodson and Mr John Wright, and of the nine committee men elected at the evenings proceedings, three were selected from the Old Boys.
The committee elected as follows: Mr Smith, Mr Watson, Mr Shell, Mr James & Mr McGown all served for a second year. Ballots were cast for the remaining four members and were won by Mr James Whalley (55 votes), Mr T J Dowhurst (53 votes), Mr John Boe (47) and Mr Dan Ashton (25). 8 other men were unsuccessful.
The team was strengthened with new players, amongst them Herbie Fecitt, who had helped Rovers to win the F.A. Cup in 1885 and 1886.
The Central Football Club are evidently doing their utmost to be in the front rank during the coming season. A splendid combination has already been got together, including such well known players as Geo. Dobson (late captain of the Everton Club), Hodgkinson, Akeroyd, Horton, Lyons (Blackburn Rovers), Lea-Jones, Chew (Darwen), Fecitt (Blackburn Rovers), and Taylor. The second team will also be a strong one, comprising members of the late Old Boys and the Central Swifts, and the organisation will be known as the Central Old Boys. The first team commence the season by meeting the famous Preston North End Club on September 4th, and the following Saturday they encounter Accrington. Afterwards the League fixtures comments, and, judging from the combination, I have no doubt they will be well up the list at the end of the season. The matches have been arranged so that a contest will be played on the home ground every Saturday throughout the season.Southport Visiter, Saturday 3rd August 1889
Travelling a arrangements were facilitated by the club committee reaching an agreement with the West Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company to obtain cheap rates for eight men coming from Blackburn.
Preston North End made a quick return the following season to open Central’s new ground at Scarisbrick New Road. The ground had previously been occupied by the Southport Olympic Rugby Club and the goal posts were directly opposite the Infirmary Clock. The Southport Visiter said that the field was “sufficiently extensive, thoroughly well laid out, capitally fenced and included two excellent pavillions and a covered grandstand.” lt was to be Southport Central’s home for the next sixteen years.
The Lancashire League programme was opened on 14th September with a visit from Rossendale, Central winning 3 -1. On 31st December when Central met Higher Walton at Scarisbrick New Road the ground was illuminated by the Wells patent limelight.
The clubs had met a short time earlier with the home team winning 3-1 but a greater part of the second half was played in semi-darkness and it was agreed to replay the match at Southport. A torchlight procession accompanied by the 3rd L.A.Y. Band headed the visitors to the ground. Although it was raining heavily such was the novelty of the match that 3,000 spectators assembled on the ground for the 7.30 kick-off. Higher Walton took the field shortly afterwards but it was quite half an hour before Central put in an appearance they had a reputation for lateness at that time. The visitors lodged an objection before the game actually got underway so a friendly was played instead with Walton winning 2-1. It was to be more than 70 years before floodlights were erected at Haig Avenue. Later that season, 3rd March, Southport visited Bootle in another floodlit match. The lights were under the managership of Central defender Frank Sugg, a former Everton and Derby County footballer and a County Cricketer. Central won 4-1 before a crowd of 5,000.
For the new season there was an effort to try and improve the class of player on the field, and so it was that the first international to represent Central would take to the field in the shape of goalkeeper Herbie Arthur. Having played for England on six occasions whilst representing Blackburn Rovers between 1885-1887 he had looked a sure-fire bet – it couldn’t have been further from the truth.
From it’s inception the club’s financial position had always been a cause for concern. Isaac Smith single handedly saw the club through many a crisis and without his willing efforts and assistance it is hard to visualise how the club would have survived the difficult early days. Indeed by January 1891 the Southport Visiter reported that “the Central club is over £500 in debt, and the committee are making every effort to wipe off the deficit. It is to be hoped the working classes, for whom football is so largely catered, will rally to their support. “
Over the course of the season the committee laid on concerts, dances and a series of events at the Shakespeare known as “Smokers” in order to raise funds. These were social events featuring sketches and songs, and they were largely successful. It would not be unusual for the Visiter, however, to make passing comment on one or two of the first team being spotted a little worse for wear after such an event.
Life in the Lancashire League wasn’t quite turning out as planned and by January Central found themselves quite off the pace and on the end of an 8-2 thrashing away to title chasing Bury. Their poor mid-season form appeared to have taken supporters and the committee by surprise. Whilst the forwards regularly turned out performances of note, it was at the back that there were consistent problems and the there were continual changes made the side in a bid to address the poor form. The committee were chagrined when even supporters publicly began to suggest an eleven but much of the blame was levelled at the feet, or even hands, of Herbie Arthur. “Arthur’s display between the sticks was tame, almost indifferent. He might have repelled one at least. He offered an exceedingly weak resistance to some of the easy shots he had to negotiate” remarked one report in the Southport Visiter for the Lancashire cup defeat to Blackpool. After finally losing patience he was moved out of the team. At first, Old Boys goalkeeper Lewis Tyldesley was promoted to the first team, before the committee settled on defender Frank Sugg who was to see out the remainder of the season between the sticks.
For the Old Boys despite a mid season wobble, their form remained good, and when they took on Blackburn Swifts they came away 10-1 winners with even the aforementioned goalkeeper Lewis Tyldesley making advances up the pitch to try and get on the score sheet.
As the season drew to a conclusion, and with Frank Sugg in good form in goal, Central began to find their groove, eventually recovering to finish 6th place in the Lancashire League table for the second year running. Having disposed of the Southport Charity Cup holders High Park comprehensively 7-2 in the semi-final, and off the back of 6 straight wins they had appeared to hit form at the right time for the Charity Cup Final but alas it was not to be. It was a surprise to most that they were to taste defeat at the hands of Churchtown and miss out on the cup. Herbie Arthur’s surprise recall to the side at the expense of Sugg cost them dearly, as he made mistakes for 2 of the 3 Churchtown goals. It was to be the last game he played for Southport. He returned to Blackburn Rovers initially for a benefit match, but ended up by staying for a further season before retirement.
The Old Boys by contrast, succeeded in their quest for silverware and lifted the Junior Charity Cup Competition with a 2-0 win over Birkdale South End.
Stalwart goalkeeper had Jimmy Gee spent the season with Crewe, but despite interest from Burnley amongst others, he would soon make his return to Central after what turned out to be an unhappy stay.
In the close season Frank Sugg was appointed club secretary. On 4th July the Southport Visiter remarked “His professional engagements, we are authorised to state, have been so arranged as not to interfere with the proper discharge of these duties, or of his taking his accustomed place as a playing member of the team at the commencement of the season”
Fundraising efforts continued with the second annual entertainment show held in November in aid of Central funds with Frank Sugg taking over MC duty from J.G. Emmison who had been delayed out of town.
With the returning Jimmy Gee now in goal and without mass change, given the end of season form there was hope for an improvement as 1891/92 began. Find of the season turned out to be young local Lawrence ‘Lollie’ Halsall who would go on to make over 180 appearances for the club sandwiched around spells at Blackpool and Preston North End.
The season had begun well for Central and by mid-October they were sitting at the top of the Lancashire League undefeated. The visit of Nelson however started a run of defeats which threatened to derail the season. Only success in the Lancashire Junior Cup would make the month a palatable one with progress in the third and fourth rounds vs Ashton-In-Makerfield and Kirkham respectively.
Central’s run in the Lancashire Junior Cup would take them all the way to the final but, after a fierce struggle on the Deepdale enclosure, Kearsley prevailed by the only goal. In the lead up to the game the Visiter had given Kearsley “not a ghost of a chance against Central”.
It was the same story in the Liverpool Challenge Cup too. Comprehensive wins over Tranmere Rovers and Bootle Wanderers saw the Sandgrounders in another final only to lose out once again, and still by a solitary goal.
In the League, standings Central’s third season in the Lancashire League saw a slight improvement by 1 place on their previous two 6th place finishes. However with much of the season spent flirting with the top position there was a general feeling that with what had been acknowledged as the best squad Central had yet put together, the opportunity for honours had been squandered.
In time for the 1892/93 season Central strengthened with the signings of Tom Smith and Bethel Robinson. Full-back Tom Smith, signed from Aintree Church went on to give 10 seasons splendid service with the club. The star capture was inside-forward Kenny Davenport from Bolton Wanderers who had been capped twice for England in 1885 and 1890 against Wales and Ireland respectively.
Central were also bolstered by the arrival of another former England international in Joe Lofthouse who arrived at the end of November. Lofthouse had played 7 times for England (1885–1887) and whilst with Blackburn Rovers won the FA Cup in 1890 and 1891. Lofthouse was also to coach the side and introduced himself to the Scarisbrick New Road crowd when he refereed the home win over Wrexham on 19th November.
Frank Sugg’s departure to West Manchester gave way to his formal resignation from the Central Executive Committee and by mid September whispers started in the press that the Central Executive were not working together as amicably as they might. The Lancashire Evening Post (7th September 1892) reports that “one or two of the members have evidently determined to make it as hot as possible for the hon. sec, in order that their own defeated candidate may have another chance.”
The way the season began couldn’t have been in more contrast to the previous campaign. Dubbed the “coming champions” the year before, they found themselves propping up the table after a few games this time around with gates dropping to half the average of the previous campaign. Their first win in the League did not arrive until 22nd October, when they defeated Heywood Central at Scarisbrick New Road.
Despite Central’s poor form Goalkeeper and now captain, Jimmy Gee was attracting the attention of Everton and they were rumoured to have offered him a large sum (£4 per week) to switch. Gee had left Southport once before to join Crewe but after a short spell was said to have been glad to return to Southport.
In their desperation to turn results around new players were arriving almost weekly. One of the most controversial in local circles was that of North Meols captain Johnny Watkinson, a half-back. Mr J G Emmison, chairman of the Central club had previously stated that he would not countenance the poaching on a local club and would resign if it occured. His silence on the whole affair left North Meols furious and claiming jealousy of their success whilst Central were struggling, particularly as half-back was not a position in which Central were considered short.
Of the players who had departed The brothers Lea were becoming fan favourites at Accrington, Harry being handed the captaincy by mid October. How the Central could have done with their talents still.
A record gate of 5000 was present as Central drew 2 a piece with Everton in a fundraiser for the Infirmary. £40 14s was taken on the gate with half going to the infirmary fund. The remainder went towards clearing some of the club’s debts.
By December it appeared that Central would be in a scrap for the wooden spoon. The LEP reported:
“Central’s ill-luck is making it hard for one or two of the Executive, notably Mr Emmison the esteemed Chairman, and Mr Dan Ashton his right hand man. Both have gone deep into their pockets, and will have to do if things don’t alter.
Some of the Central so called supporters remind me of rats skedaddling from a sinking ship, save and exept their action is not as justifiable as that of the rats. The gentlemen who talk so much about having a first class football team for Southport will have to pay for it. They can well afford to do so, and if the things fails they only have themselves to blame.”
During 1892-93 a Special Fund Committee was formed to liquidate the clubs debts. Their efforts raised £73, a Christmas Draw realised £53 and a number of members doubled their half guinea subscriptions, resulting in the club making a profit of £38 Early in February, many supporters took the opportunity to pay a shilling instead of 6d admittance. Central meanwhile shocked everybody by defeating Bury 2-1.
The team was strengthened by the signing of Jimmy Tattersall a hard but scrupulously fair wing-half who had played for the defunct Accrington ‘Reds’ in their early football league days. “Tatt” went on to make 194 Lancashire League appearances out of a possible 204 in eight years with the club.
In the F.A. Cup, Central beat Oswaldtwistle Rovers 9—0, Workington 5-1 but were narrowly defeated 4-3 at South Shore. The match against Fairfield on Christmas Day was the only occasion that a match was abandoned at Scarisbrick New Road, the referee calling the game off after an hour with snow freezing as it fell.
Although successful on the field Central had to effect further economies to keep solvent. The Central “Old Boys”, the reserve team, cost the club £50 a season and in December it was announced that the Old Boys would be worked and financed independently of the first team. More economies ware inevitable and at a meeting of the Executive a letter was read from Mr. R. S. Stuart resigning his position as Secretary. The Executive accepted the resignation and as they could no longer afford to have a paid secretary. Don Ashton was appointed honorary Secretary. Don, one of the members of the original committee, was, like lsaac Smith, a generous benefactor during these times.
Another economy measure was the Executives decision not to pay any bonuses during the summer and to run the team at £5 per week less in 1894-95.
After only-eight years in existence, Southport Central almost folded in May 1896. In December 1895 the players who had not received full wages for a fortnight sent a “round robin’ to the Committee stating that unless the money was paid they would refuse to play the following Saturday. Tom Smith, who had been absent for several weeks during illness but had his wages paid regularly, also signed the document. The Executive felt he had no grounds to complain and showed their disapproval by striking his name off their books. The mutiny was eventually quelled and the players received their wages. The Executive reconsidered their decision regarding Smith who was punished only with a short suspension In February the players, now aware of the precarious financial position, agreed to forgo one weeks wages.
Although in the middle of five consecutive wins attendances did not improve. As Central’s championship challenge waned, they finished 4th, support slumped still further.
A special guarantees list was started and the Honourable George Curzon MP promptly sent £5. However, only £72 was forthcoming altogether, Squire Platt, a Committee member gave a valuable fox-terrier puppy as a prize in a draw which realised £18.
A special Committee was formed to confer with the Executive on how to improve the ailing fortunes of the club. They decided not to form a Limited Company even though the Guarantors, Messrs. Smith, Ashton and Emmison were prepared to take out one third of the shares. On 24th April, bereft of further ideas, the affairs of the club were temporarily suspended.
“SHALL IT DIE?”
Four days after suspending operations, a meeting was held at which lsaac Smith expressed his wish to keep the club going. Posters were placed on the walls calling a further meeting asking “Shall it die?”. On 4th May Southport Central was revived when a new committee was formed and lsaac Smith once again came to the rescue when he wrote off £290 owing to the Guarantors leaving the club with debts of £60.
The season began disastrously with the first league win coming at the fifth attempt with a 10-1 victory at Rossendale. The Saturday evening Football Standard, edited by William Lymath, a Central Committee member who wrote under the name of ‘Itinerant’ celebrated in verse,
Bring out your brazen trumpets Have forth the sounding drum There's no mistake about it That first league victr'ys come! Then blow yer bloomin' ardest And bang that blessed drum Let all both near and farthest Know that league victr'ys come This latter state of Rossendale Must surely be their worst- For Central landed seven goals 'Ere they could notch their first Oh! Sad the fate of Rossendale All hope must serve be gone When on their own high mountain's steep They're routed ten to one Bang, Bang, along that drumlet For Central's spanking team Who waltzed all round the Hillman And banged 'em through like steam
Central won the return match 10-0 on Christmas Day. lnside left Jackie Kirwan scored five goals at Rossendale and three in the return match. A native of Wicklow he was Central’s most sought-after player at that time and in February, 1898 he was transferred to Everton together with centre-half Harry Stringfellow for a fee of £130. He subsequently played for Tottenham Hotspur in the 1901 F.A. Cup Final and gained 16 lrish International caps.
The transfer fees enabled the club to embark on a London tour losing 5-0 at Reading and defeating St.Stephens 2-0.
With transfer fees and a curtailed wage bill the club’s finances improved. At the end of the 1896-97 season Central met Preston North End in a friendly and to everyone’s amazement won 6-1. Speedy outside-left Lollie Halsall subsequently to play for Blackpool and Preston, excelled.
There were two important acquisitions to Southport Central’s staff during the 1897-98 Season. In September T. G. Shipley became Secretary. He had been the founder of Southport Royal in 1894. In 1895 he helped found the Southport and District League. He stayed with Central for eleven years as secretary. His nine predecessors had only nine years service between them.
In March Fred Spink was signed from Clitheroe and during a career with Central which spanned 13 years he gained the reputation of being one of the best backs in Lancashire.
He had several offers to assist league clubs but preferred to remain at Southport where his coolness and resource where his outstanding characteristics. On Christmas Day 1899 he missed the train from Parbold and rather than not play he walked all the way to the ground in time for kick-off.
Central at this time fielded a settled combination, Tom Abram in goal proved to be a most consistent performer and gave five years service. Smith and Spink were generally acknowledged to be the best pair of full-backs in the league, with Cunliffe, Herbert Hallows and Tattersall at half-back and a forward line of Charles Hallows, Lang, Lawson, Sinclair and Wilmington. Central’s players continued to be in demand. Bolton Wanderers offered £120 for Jack Sinclair but Central refused to part under £200, whilst negotiations with Sheffield United for Tom Wilmington were broken-off when the price offered fell below Central’s valuation.
Southport Central Reserves stole the honours in 1900 by winning the Preston and District league The cup and flag was brought back to Scarisbrick New Road by Mr. Shipley.The reserves then defeated “The Rest” 6-1 in a challenge match. The centre-forward and captain, Roly Gibson, was an army international, a stalwart of the now defunct Hesketh Park Club and later became a Director of Southport Football Club. He received the trophy from the Mayor, Alderman T.P.Griffiths. Thus a Southport team had won a trophy for the first time since Southport Wanderers Reserves lifted the Liverpool Junior Cup thirteen years before.
Like today referees at the turn of the century had to contend with crowd disturbances.
In a game against Earlstown a visiting spectator believing the referee was favoring Central called out “when tha comes to Earlstown tha may come for tay to ahr ayse” To the amusement of the spectators the referee stopped the game and ordered the offender off the field! Against Chorley a corner was awarded to the visitors which was taken by Ashton. Some nearby youngsters gave cheek so Ashton threw the ball at them. At that point a “pugilistic” spectator intervened and he had his coat off on the boys behalf. The expected fight was only just avoided by the timely arrival of the referee.