Football has been played at Haig Avenue since August 1905 when the ground was known as Ash Lane and the team, playing their football in the Lancashire Combination, was known as Southport Central.
But who scored the first goal at the ground now known as Haig Avenue
The very first game played on the ground was on Saturday August 19th 1905 and was a trial match for the upcoming 1905/06 season between Whites (principal players) and Stripes (reserve players) with over 1,500 fans present. Sadly although match reports are available I can find no mention of the result although the Southport Visiter does say that Smith scored three goals. If, as seems likely, he was the only goal-scorer then S. W. Smith holds the honour of being the first player to score on the ground. Sid (or Syd – more on that later) started his career at Liverpool where he played three games, scoring in Liverpool’s opening League game of 1903/04 (a 2-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest) and then two days later scoring a hat-trick in a testimonial game against Manchester City. His last first-team game for The Reds came on the 12th September 1903 against Sheffield Wednesday.
He joined Southport in April 1904, scoring twice on his debut in a 5-0 home victory over Brynn Central and went on to play more than 50 games over three seasons scoring a very impressive 33 goals. This included Southport’s second goal against Everton in the Lancashire Cup Final on the 28th of March 1905 which Southport won 2-1.
There is some confusion as to what S. W. stands for. The book “Football League Players’ Records 1888 to 1939” lists him as Sydney Warwick Smith as does the book “Who’ Who of Liverpool 1892-1989” by the respected Doug Lamming but the website www.playupliverpool.com lists him as Sidney Walsham Smith – a totally different person to Sydney Warwick Smith – and backs this up with evidence from the Ancestry website. Personally I believe it to be Sidney Walsham Smith but it just goes to show the difficulties faced when researching clubs and players from over a hundred years ago.
The first goal scored in a competitive game at Haig Avenue came on Saturday September the 2nd 1905 when Southport Central Reserves entertained reigning champions Leyland on the opening day of the Lancashire Alliance season. Kick-off was delayed by fifteen minutes due to the late arrival of Leyland and at half-time Southport held a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal by James Albert Fisher, as described by the Southport Visiter:
“After some smart play, Fisher got hold and beat Topping all the way with a fast shot, which struck the inside of the net giving the goalkeeper no chance at all”.
Leyland fought back in the second half, eventually winning the game 2-1. Their second goal came just two minutes from time and after the game it was revealed that the Southport goal-keeper J. Rimmer had played most of the second half with a broken finger. Remember there were no substitutes in those days to replace him.
James Fisher appears to have had a short career at Southport which included just two first team games in September 1905, a league game at home to Earlestown and a Lancashire Senior Cup game at home to Preston.
The honour of being the first Southport player to score a goal in a senior game at Haig Avenue goes to Josiah Herbert Birch on Tuesday September 5th 1905 in a Lancashire Combination game against Stockport County Reserves. The season had started with a 5-2 loss away at Stalybridge Rovers but prospects looked brighter three days later when Josiah gave Southport the lead against Stockport. It was a lead Southport couldn’t hold however, Stockport winning the game 2-1.
Josiah spent three seasons at Southport, making over 100 appearances before signing for St Helen’s Recreation in August 1908 and then Chorley in 1909. He passed away in Wigan in November 1929 aged just 52.
There’s a fabulous description of Josiah’s goal in the Southport Visiter, reproduced below:
“Birch tried with a daisy cutter from a difficult angle, which careered at express speed across the Stockport citadel, and proved much too fast for either Wareing or Lawson to divert it into the net. Waddington returned it to Chorlton who kicked over his head. The cranium of Wareing received the leather, which was despatched to Birch, who was lying in wait in a beautiful situation. He made no mistake and netted the sphere in capital style”.