Southport Football Club moved to Ash Lane in 1905 and it has been their home ever since.
A detailed account of the transition from Scarisbrick New Road to Ash Lane was expertly documented by Mark Iddon in his book chronicling the 1905/06 season, the first chapter of which can be read here.
Originally let on a five year basis for a rent of £30 per annum, as tenants of the Scarisbrick Estate, Southport Central had to spend £60 on levelling the ground and meet the costs of transporting the stand from Scarisbrick New Road when they moved into their new home on Ash Lane in 1905.
In 1908-09 further works were undertaken on the ground, raising the centre of the pitch to aid drainage and a footpath from Forest Road to Ash Lane was opened. The option to renew the lease for the period of three periods of five years was also taken up, provided that the land was not required for building purposes. Within a year both dressing rooms had been improved through new concrete flooring and a bath in the home dressing room. Banking was added to the Scarisbrick New Road end of the ground to increase capacity.
At the close of the 1912-13 season the dressing room accommodation was further improved, with baths in both dressing rooms under the stand. The pitch surrounds were asphalted and the stand and hoardings overhauled. The ground itself was widened, lengthened and relaid, and together with the addition of banking to the popular side, cost more than £200. Billy Semple recalled that there was no stand on the opposite side of the ground ‘ only a wee kiosk which sold threepenny bars of chocolate’.
When the Vulcan Motor Company pulled out of the running of the Football Club in 1919, the expired portion of the lease was taken over by the Southport Education Committee and in turn granted a lease in favour of the Football Club.
Following the club’s election to the Football League in 1921, the grandstand was lengthened on either end to accommodate two thousand spectators and a small wooden structure was built on the far side of the ground known colloquially as the “the scratching shed”. The club’s offices were still situated in London Street, where they had been since the time of Thomas Burnett.
The ground was renamed Haig Avenue (after Earl Haig) in 1921.
“It is proposed to re-name the portion of Ash Lane (the site of the Corporation houses), from Scarisbrtck New Road to the railway gates at Blowick, Haig Avenue; and the name suggested for the new circular road off Ash-Lane, is Beatty Road. Alternative names proposed by a sub-committee of the Town Planning Committee were Northumberland Avenue and Dalyrymple Road. These names, however, did not meet with general favour, states a member of the committee because of their length, whilst it was thought that Haig Avenue and Beatty Road were also more appropriate, the houses being one outcome of the war in which Earl Haig and Earl Beatty, both of whom have visited Southport, and are freemen of the borough, achieved lasting fame.”Southport Guardian, Tuesday April 19th 1921
The Education Committee resolved that permission be granted to Southport Football Club to erect a bank around the playing pitch and in 1923 “the scratching shed” was replaced by what the Southport Guardian referred to as “a much loftier and decidedly superior erection” which was built in the middle of the popular side. A half time scoreboard was erected at the Blowick End which operated until the war.
The following year the paddock in front of the stand was terraced and a drainage defect on the pitch remedied. The roof of the Stand was re-roofed with Galvanised Steel.
Part of the shelter on the popular side was blown away one windy night in October 1927 and when gales destroyed the remaining part in January 1928 a Stand Fund Committee was formed to raise funds to replace it. The new stand was built to the right of the Scarisbrick New Road end at a cost of £1,090 which ahd been fully paid by November 1929.
During the summer of 1931 Southport Corporation (as ground Landlords) made a grant of £1,000 towards providing a new stand at the Blowick end of the popular side. In addition covered accommodation was provided at the Scarisbrick New Road end of the ground leaving only the Blowick end without cover. It was claimed that the ground was now the most modern in the Third division with covered accommodation for 12,000 spectators.
Members of the supporters club did much of the work in connection with the stand behind the Scarisbrick New road end goal. This new stand was connected up to the covered one on the popular side. Both were constructed with steel framing, covered with glavanised corrugated iron sheeting and were fireproof. Concrete terracing was also provided.
The work was only just completed in time as the ground was filled almost to capacity in January 1932 when the ground attendance record of 20,010 was set with the visit of Newcastle United in the fourth round replay of the FA Cup.
The stand was to remain in place for 55 years before being demolished by Sefton council after they were found to be no longer safe.
In 1937 Haig Avenue was the venue of the town’s celebrations for the Coronation of King George VI. An estimated 15,000 were in attendance.
After the war the General Improvement Fund Committee was formed. It raised substantial sums of money towards providing boundary walls round the ground as well as renovating the stands. It also collected the £6,000 needed to erect the eight 40 foot floodlight pylons which were now becoming a necessity. the lights were switched on for the first time at the rearranged third round FA Cup tie against Shrewsbury in January 1962 and remained in place for over 50 years.
The Haig Avenue you see today is vastly different from that of years gone by. The original wooden grandstand burned down on the evening following Southports game against Wrexham on Boxing Day 1966. Southport had beaten promotion hopefuls Wrexham 1-0, with an Amby Clarke header in front of 8,307. The exact cause of the fire will never be known but it is commonly thought that a discarded cigarette butt found its way into debris and rubbish which had collected underneath the old stand over a number of years.
The only thing that survived the devastating fire was the club safe, with the takings from the previous days game still safely inside. Everything else, including kits and club records, went up in flames. Manager Billy Bingham and chairman John Church spent a considerable amount of time standing by the safe on the morning after the fire, talking quietly. It was later said that they had been wondering how to get it open. It had fused closed with the heat. There was a real fear that this might have been the end of Southport Football Club.
A Fire Disaster Appeal Fund was set up in the weeks following the blaze with an initial target of £70,000 set to raise money for a replacement. However, it was wound up after a year after only raising £10,000.
A temporary main stand was erected in its place and players changed at the nearby Meols Cop School. When Bingham’s side clinched promotion to the Third division in May 1967, Eric Morecambe presented the club with a trophy to commemorate their acchievement, inside the temporary stand.
The new main stand on Haig Avenue, opened by Mr Bob Lord, Chairman of Burnley FC in August 196, was completed at a cost of £75,000 and remains in place to this day, although significant works were undertaken to modernise it with internal refurbishment, installation of old gold seating, handrails and a replacement roof in 2018.
An inquiry into the fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade staium, chaired by Sir Oliver Popplewell published its final report in 1986. Its recommendations resulted in new legislation governing safety at sports grounds across the UK. The covered terracing that once lined the Scarisbrick New Road end and the Popular side, was demolished as a result later that year.
In the late 1970s, the state of the terracing, much like the fortunes of the club, had already gone into decline and part of the popular terrace had been fenced off on safety grounds before the rest of the terrace followed during the 1985/86 season.
The following video from 1979 clearly shows the covered terracing still in place. Haig Avenue 1979
Following their demolition in May 1987, grass banks and a few steps of terracing were all that remained on 2 sides of the stadium. On the other, 3 giant pillars remained behind the Scarisbrick New Road end goal, as a lasting memory of the old stand. These were eventually removed during the rebuilding exercise in the early 90s.
The 1992/93 season saw Southport pushing for promotion to the then Vauxhall Conference from the HFS Loans League (Northern Premier League) and due to the stricter ground grading criteria at the higher level, new open terracing had to be installed on the Blowick and Popular sides of the ground, along with a new covered terrace at the Scarisbrick New Road end of the stadium. This stand has since been renamed the “Jack Carr Stand” in memory of the former club president.
In the late 90s, further terracing was added to the Blowick and Popular sides of the stadium, additional toilet facilities were built underneath the Jack Carr Stand, and the white perimeter wall, built by Billy Bingham’s squad as part of pre-season training in the 1960s, was replaced by a metal fence following the introduction of new ruling governing the height of pitch side fences. A small section of the white wall has been kept as a reminder of the hard work of Bingham’s men.
Up until 2015, still in place,and in working order, were the floodlights that were built in 1961 and first used in an FA Cup match with Shrewsbury Town on 9th Jan 1962. Although installed in 1961, their design was overhauled a few years later, during Billy Bingham’s successful spell as manager of the club. 2 More bulbs were added to each pylon to increase the brightness for any possible television coverage. They were eventually replaced in 2015.
Amongst Bingham’s other ideas to increase awareness, were the erection of a set of flagpoles behind the blowick terrace, similar to those in place at Fulham’s Craven Cottage.
Changes to the Safety of Sports Ground Act (1975)
Under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, clubs who were members of the Football League (such as Southport FC), automatically received ‘designated’ status and as such, had to obtain a Safety Certificate from their local council to prove their ground was ‘fit for purpose’- in terms of structural integrity, fire safety and means of escape in case of an emergency etc.
Once issued, Safety Certificates remain in place until such time as there is a
material alteration requiring them to be re-issued, e.g. a change in legislation, a significant physical alteration to the stadium, a change to the named certificate holder etc.
Since 1975, the Safety Certificate for Southport FC’s stadium has been re-issued by the Licencing and Regulatory Committee on a number of occasions, the latest being in October 2014, following a review of access for emergency vehicles.
In the Autumn of 2014, the Government carried out a review of ‘designated’ sports grounds across England and Wales, in order to assess whether or not all of those stadiums needed to maintain their ‘designated’ status.
As a result of the review, the Government published The Safety of Sports
Grounds (Designation) Order 2015, which came into force on 1st October 2015.
This legislation confirmed that non-league football clubs (with ground capacities of less than 10,000) were no longer required to hold a Safety Certificate for their stadiums. At this time Haig Avenue was deemed to have a maximum capacity of 5,414.
Therefore, given the change in legislation, the current Safety Certificate for Southport FC’s stadium is no longer deemed valid and will need to be revoked by the Licencing and Regulatory Committee.
However, under the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987, clubs with non-designated sports grounds that have individual grandstands holding 500 or more spectators, are still required to obtain a Safety Certificate for each stand.
Southport FC’s Haig Avenue stadium contains two such grandstands, namely, the Main Grandstand and the Jack Carr Stand
In the summer of 2018, the Main Grandstand at Haig Avenue underwent significant redevelopment including, amongst many other works, replacement of the roof, an additional gangway in both the East and West section, handrails on the end of each row and changes of seats from the blue to the gold and black colour scheme. The corporate seating area was also enhanced. As a result the safety certificate was re-issued.