July 2023 Update

With the football club now having taken over the running of the Former Players Association it has allowed me to concentrate on research and historical projects.

As an extension to the research undertaken for my book, the Town’s Game, the biggest news from the past month is that I have now extended the website to include more local sport in the forms of Cricket and Rugby. There may be some who question why and therefore it’s probably worth a brief explanation.

For those who haven’t read it (and obviously I would encourage you to), I state in the preface to my book that it was simply not possible to cover the early years and formation of the association football club without first covering the rugby club, nor was it possible to cover the rugby without touching on the cricket first. The timelines of clubs in this town are interwoven, at least in the beginning, and whilst I had completed a large amount of research to come to my initial conclusion, I hadn’t fully published it all.

The Alexandra cricket club were behind the formation of the first football club in Southport in 1872, in partnership with the Rowing club and encouraged by George Coombe, and i identified also that there were a number of members who indeed played for both the cricket club and the football (rugby) club. I assumed that this was a unique pattern in Southport, but it appears not. I hadn’t fully appreciated prior to my visit to the International Football History Conference in Glasgow just how common this was across the country, nor the reasons why that was probably the case.

I have now added a timeline for the association club, along with individual timelines for both Southport & Birkdale Cricket Club, and Southport Rugby Club. I have also included a combined timelines of all “three” sports clubs. Over the coming months I will expand upon the Rugby and Cricket history sections of the website more fully to complement the association side.

After last year’s success I have been asked by the Southport Townscape Heritage Project to lead another tour as part of the Heritage Open Days week in Southport. This year however it will be a little different. Through the lives of some of the key “players” involved (pun intended) I will be telling the story of the development of competitive sport in Southport, covering cricket, rugby and association football. This “Sporting Lives” tour will be located at Duke Street Cemetery, will last around an hour, and will be free, but you must book a place to ensure that we have a safe number on the tour.

Inspired by conversations with the history department at Meols Cop High School I have extended the section on the website relating to war-time. I had been asked if I could identify any former football players that had been lost, in order that the Year 10 history students could pay their memorials a visit on their recent Battlefields trip to France and Belgium. I include some photographs from their trip below, from which you can see that they did indeed find and pay their respects at a number of locations.
What it made me realise however, is that once again the association football club were standing out front, and the valuable contributions of the cricket and rugby clubs were not being recognised in the same way.
I have therefore added a Roll of Honour section to the site for all three, along with some more details of the individuals lost, wherever known, to go alongside their names. The cricket and rugby clubs were both shut down completely during the first world war and lost some really key members of their clubs to the conflict. Those sacrifices should be recognised and not be forgotten.

Finally, as I have stated previously this website is dedicated to the history of the three major sports clubs in Southport, but with a heavy focus on the association football club, which for a large portion of its history was a professional outfit.
As a result I continue to track each game, and each player with a view to providing statistical analysis for historical context. For example, I will track the results, line-ups and attendances of current football games, in order that analysis can be conducted across the past 135 years. If you want current news and interviews, then visit the club’s own website. This website will only provide articles where they have a historical context.

With that in mind at the end of last season Liam Watson made a post match comment that the season was, for him at least, “the worst ever”. As the website has a wealth of statistics and data relating to club performance I wanted to put that statement to the test for the club itself, fairly confident that whilst the form of the team had been poor, it would be difficult to prove that overall there had not been worse times for the club. Sadly, one or two people seemed to be unhappy that I passed comment at all, questioning the timing of the article, despite it being a clear response to public comment about something of a historical nature.

In the article I noted that matters on the field are only one measure of a clubs success, and that there were various methods of drawing comparisons from season to season. I had the suspicion however that the comments were not solely related to on field matters as he is also a club director. I made the point that financial performance is one of the only real measures of off field performance.

Due to the peculiarities of company law however I was unable to draw a financial comparison as the financial results of the club during the season in question were not yet available. Whilst the accounts covering up to June 2023 are still not available (they are not due to be filed until March 2024) what we would normally have been able to look at however is the previous season’s figures, which would then go some way to help us understand the constraints that the club might have been operating under from the start of the season.

Sadly, at the time of the article, the preceding year’s figures hadn’t been available either – the club had sought, and had been granted a three month extension, from March 2023 to June 2023. All that could be analysed therefore were the 2021 results which painted a different picture to the messages we had been hearing. That season had been played largely behind closed doors and the club had been able to rely on grants and the furlough scheme to safeguard its future. In the end they showed a healthy profit, with no player sales to skew the picture, after two consecutive years of significant losses under normal trading conditions – the highest and second highest ever recorded losses for the club.

In the time that has passed since the article was written, the 2022 financial results have been published and it is now clear to see why they had been managing expectations. Despite the largest ever income recorded against player sales (by a significant margin too), the club returned a large loss of over £130,000 on the season. Whilst it would be easy to compare the raw figure, the third highest in its history, and easy to say that it eclipses the “excesses” of the early 2000s and the “unsustainable” losses incurred under Mark Wright, that would be an unfair comparison. A fairer one would be to adjust those early figures for inflation first. A £100,000 loss in 2001 would be the equivalent of £178,000 today and on that basis last season’s loss is not as severe as the Wright era.

It is not a healthy loss by any means and the concern is that the 2021/22 season losses were not caused by having to play games behind closed doors as one might have thought. 2019/20 was curtailed a month early, 2020/21 was started and abandoned, declared null and void, but the entirety of 2021/22 was played to conclusion in front of healthy gates and gate receipts.

Companies house is a free resource which supporters can use to view the published accounts for themselves. Plenty of comment in interviews from the directors during last season suggest that the 2023 results may not yield a return to profit (or break even) either and that the club has had to rely on financial injections from its directors due to long periods without home games. Until such a time that the results are available it is not possible to comment one way or the other. Using the Wright era for comparison, the club realised it could not sustain continued losses at those levels and took correcting action in the following years to arrest the financial losses. It was clear from comments made across last season that the club was doing something similar.

It is worth noting that since the season reached its conclusion, there has been a reported £100,000 generated by the new agreement with the Big Help project. This will likely not show until the 2024 results but is a positive development nonetheless (not those published in March 2024 as they will cover the period up to June 2023).

There is also one other development for the 2023/24 season that has the potential to impact upon the club’s finances. The National League has announced a new streaming deal that means that any games that take place outside of the 3pm Saturday timeslot (commonly known as the “blackout”) will be available to stream online for a fee. The National League themselves say that their analysis of the performance of the deal at National League level last season showed no detrimental effects on attendances. It remains to be seen whether that translates to regional football in the same way but it is worth noting that should a supporter choose to stream the game, rather than pay the normal gate price to attend, it will have a very real impact upon club finances as the club does not receive the full value of the streaming price. Where it does present opportunities is for exiled supporters who otherwise would not have the ability to watch the game. The fee for the stream however is divided between all of the clubs in the National League structure. That does mean that Southport have the potential to earn a small amount from the streaming of other teams’ games, but once again, we have no way of knowing whether one might offset the other.