The outbreak of World War One in 1914 saw the suspension of League football. It was replaced by
regionalised football comprising clubs that were still willing and able to field a team and as
Southport fell into this category they were invited to join the Wartime League – Lancashire Section
for the 1915/16 season. It was a big step up for Southport, then a Central League team, as they
would be mixing it with Football League teams such as Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Bolton,
Stoke and Preston and this article is about the game played here at Southport on the 26 th of February
1916 where a crowd of 2,000 saw a game that finished:
Southport Central 5 v 0 Manchester United
It has to be remembered that the Wartime Leagues that ran from 1915 to 1919 were unofficial
games and therefore don’t form part of the official history of the club but nevertheless, a 5-0 victory
over Manchester United should not be forgotten and neither should the players that won the game.
The victorious team was: Bill Wright, Tom Dorward, Teddy Lightfoot, Eddie Holdsworth, Lol Abram,
Billy Caulfield, Arthur Stringfellow, George Merritt, Billy Garner, Billy Semple and Bert Rigsby
Several members of the team had enjoyed lengthy spells at Southport before the outbreak of War.
Goal-keeper Bill Wright had played over 110 games for the club, Tom Dorward – signed from
Arbroath in 1912 for £2 10s per week – over 120, Billy Caulfield over 90 and Billy Garner over 70. All
four players would subsequently feature for Southport in the Wartime League as would right-back
Eddie Holdsworth, a youngster who broke into the first team in 1907/08 and was so impressive that
Preston paid £100 for him before the season had finished. He went on to captain Preston and played
several games in the Wartime League for Southport including one game as goalkeeper against
Robert Lawrence Abram, known to everyone as Lol, became Southport’s youngest ever professional
player in November 1905 when he signed for the club aged just 16. On leaving Southport in 1906 he
had spells at Colne, Stockport and Heart of Midlothian before signing for Chelsea in May 1914 where
he was a key member of the side that reached the 1914/15 FA Cup final. Sadly, a knee injury forced
him to miss the game which Sheffield United won 3-0.
In 1916 Lol played for England in a Military International game against Scotland, scoring once in a 4-3
England victory. Following the War he joined Cardiff City on a free transfer making just one
appearance for the club, a 0-0 draw with Clapton Orient on the 30 th of August 1920, which was the
first League match played at Ninian Park.
In 1921 he returned to Southport who had just become members of the Football League, playing in
the newly formed Division Three (North) and he played in our very first Football League game, a 1-1
draw with Durham City on the 21 st of August 1921. Later appointed captain he finished his
professional career when his contract was cancelled in February 1923 having scored 7 goals in 50
Billy Semple made 264 appearances for Southport (excluding Wartime League appearances) and is
21 st on the list of all-time appearance record holders for the club. Signed in 1912 he’s another who
played in our first Football League game in 1921 and he gave the club over 50 years continuous
service which included spells as player, trainer, player-coach of the reserves, first-team trainer,
groundsman, scout and gateman. In 2021 he was rightly inducted into the Southport F.C. Hall of
Bert Rigsby was an occasional player for Southport during the War. He made one appearance in
February 1916 before joining Everton but the following season came back to Southport and
eventually signed for us in 1921. Another to play in Southport’s first Football League game he left at
the end of the following season to play for, amongst others, Burscough.
Little is known of George Merritt who played just one game for Southport before the War and then
made several appearances during the War. There was a George Merritt playing for Burscough
Rangers in 1914 so it may be him but more research is needed.
Tragically two of these players would lose their life in the carnage of World War One. Edward John
Lightfoot, better known as Teddy Lightfoot, was the youngest son of Elizabeth and Edward Lightfoot
of the White House Inn, Litherland. He joined Southport Central – then in the Lancashire
Combination – in March 1909 and in two seasons at the club played over 70 games before joining
Division One side Tottenham in May 1911. He was a regular member of Southport’s Wartime League
team before losing his life on the 20 th of July 1918, just four months before the end of hostilities. The
Liverpool Echo reported his death as being due to “accidental injuries received on active service”
Arthur Stringfellow, scorer of two of the goals against Manchester United, played over 120 games
for Southport before the outbreak of War, scoring over 50 goals and like Teddy became a regular
member of the Wartime League team. The date of Arthur’s death is recorded as the 25 th of March
1918, the Lancashire Evening Post reporting “Arthur Stringfellow, the Southport half-back, is
reported missing, and I am afraid, may be presumed to be dead, for he was last seen on March 25 th
walking to a first-aid station after having been wounded in the arm”.