25 years I’ve been watching Southport Football Club….
It sounds a long time.
It sounds even longer when I think that I started supporting the club about 6 or 7 years before most of the lads I’m now coaching were born!
My first football experience was when I was 3 years old. My dad took me to Anfield to watch Liverpool take on Lech Poznan in the European Cup in 1984. Obviously I don’t remember that but growing up I remember going to Anfield a few times and standing on the Kop watching the likes of Peter Beardsley and John Barnes.
I grew up in Ormskirk but my dad was Liverpool born and therefore Liverpool was his club. I tagged along and I guess it never occurred to me to support anyone else.
I actually don’t remember being massively into football as a kid, certainly not to the level that my own son is into his football now. I played a handful of games for school and Cubs and although I was one of the better players I wasn’t good enough to do anything in the game.
How I came to start watching Southport can probably be traced back to April 1989. My dad had bought two tickets for the FA Cup Semi Final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough, with the intention of taking me to the game. I however had other plans and decided that a day trip to Jungle Jim’s underneath Blackpool Tower was where any self respecting 8 year old should be. With hindsight it was probably the smartest decision I have ever made. Not because Jungle Jims is better but because of the chain of events it sparked and then ultimately what happened at Hillsborough on that fateful day.
With 2 tickets in hand my Dad offered to take my next door neighbour instead. Steve, having been to the ground before, knew that at the Leppings Lane end the terracing was banked at the sides and therefore you had a better view when not stood behind the goal. That knowledge probably saved their lives. If I had have gone then there is every chance that my Dad and I would have gone straight down the tunnel to stand behind the goal and as an 8 year old there’s every chance I wouldn’t be writing this now.
I first heard that there was a problem when we were in the mini bus on the way home from Jungle Jims. I knew my Dad was there but had no idea if he was safe. When we got home, my mum was crying in the kitchen as she didn’t know either.
My dad was physically unscathed, but with long queues at all of the motorway service stations for the phone booths, he and Steve had opted to head straight for home rather than try and phone ahead to let anyone know they were ok. They probably didn’t get back much later than normal but to us it felt like an eternity. Suffice to say I didn’t want to know anything about football for a good few years after that.
At the time my Dad worked at Littlewoods and one of his good friends was a Southport born man called Henry Nutter.
In 1992, for reasons completely unbeknown to me I found myself at a Southport v Marine game at Haig Avenue with my Dad and Henry. I’m pretty convinced that prior to stepping foot in the ground I probably didn’t even know it was there.
I hadn’t been interested in football really since April ’89 and I had no knowledge of anything below the First Division. Liverpool were now pretty crap under Souness so there was little to entice me back.
That season Southport won the Northern Premier League but I honestly don’t recall anything about that season. I know that I saw every single home game after they achieved promotion and whilst I probably did attend a few NPL games, I don’t recall them.
93/94 was my first real season as a fan and over the next few years we (Me, my Dad and Henry) developed a ritual of a pre match meal at the Blue Anchor (Scampi and chips please!) followed by the game and a post match analysis in the car on the way home.
I took some flack at school for supporting Southport but it certainly helps to develop a thick skin!
In 1996, when I was 15, a school IT project led to me creating a website. Short of a topic I ended up building a Southport FC Website and included our post match analysis in written form. I wondered if the club would be interested so I wrote a letter to them. Charlie Clapham wrote a nice letter back thanking me for my support and suggested I spoke to programme editor Derek Hitchcock about how I could help.
With the internet in its real infancy the club obviously wouldn’t have known the potential value in having an official website but I was given essentially an “ok” to run an unofficial site.
It must have been around that time that I trialled for the Youth team but I wasn’t taken on board permanently. Kev Ellison and Ryan Lowe had come through the youth team either that year or the year before and they were knocking on the door of the first team – I was clearly nowhere near that standard and I knew it!
At the end of the season I contacted Burscough and ended up playing my youth football there. On my debut for Burscough in a pre-season friendly (youth v reserves I think it was) I set up a goal for a striker called Mike and I’m pretty sure it was Michael Yates who is now a coach with Liverpool and spent some time with Dundee in the Scottish Premier League as a player….Ironically the game was on the day that Southport had a home friendly against Dundee and I was gutted that I had to miss it!
Having not had a football schooling when I was younger my positional sense and understanding of the game was probably pretty shocking so when I look back now it comes as no real surprise that I didn’t kick on. I did well as a player for college (KGV) establishing myself firmly in the first XI alongside 2 others from the Burscough back 4, Andy Pimlott and Greg Fagan.
At the end of that season I basically stopped playing football competitively. The manager, Kevin, was a complete moron and rather than coach anyone with flaws in their game he roared at them. I’m sure he must have thought we were playing for Real Madrid rather than the youth side of a small village football club!
Anyway, I digress, after a few years running the website unofficially and having been the first Conference club to have a website at all, I was approached and asked if it could be made official.
I was delighted to say yes.
I had spent a lot of time helping Kevin Warburton, commercial manager at the time, in breaks, lunchtime and after college so thinking back this change to official status was probably just after Wembley because I’m pretty sure it was Derek who asked me and by that time I think he had the commercial reigns.
I ran the site until probably around early 2000 off an old Acorn Archimedes computer. Everything was hard coded and only I could update it. It was quite a problem when I went on Holiday which was probably less frequent than it felt at the time.
A chap called Nick Davidson who chaired the Junior section offered to set up a replacement site. It must have suited me for that to happen at the time but I was still involved and Colin Hill, who was the PA announcer at the time, and I set up another site which we ran alongside it. My recollection of this period is a little fuzzy to be honest. All I can really remember is having a lot of conversations with Phil Wilson and Mike Walsh for website articles and grabbing the odd lift to games with our new secretary Ken Hilton who, as a Burscough resident, lived a lot nearer to my Ormskirk home than most other fans!
Anyway we ran the second site quite happily until my last year of uni before we had to pack it in. The hosting company we were with decided to try and sting us for some ridiculous bandwidth costs so we packed in completely and I stepped away altogether. Coupled with the disappointment of relegation in the same season I think I was just generally down on things. Dressing up as Sandy the Lion at Stevenage on the last day kind of sealed it! I think Colin had intended to give up the PA job at that time too but ended up staying on for a few more years. I made more of a clean break.
Looking back now it was the start of the real boom in internet traffic, a very fast period of growth in online technologies. As a result hosting companies had started to move towards a pricing model which charged for bandwidth use rather than storage space and we were probably just too naive to have realised that and as we dabbled in how to improve things by introducing podcasts and live away commentary we fell foul of it. Lesson learned the hard way.
Stung by the episode I returned to the terraces. In the meantime the old site run by Nick Davidson was replaced by a site which was now updateable by the club itself…That in itself was a big improvement over anything anyone had done previously and took a huge burden away from the webmaster.
I had a little health scare that summer which distracted me from any thought of football but it doesn’t take a long time before you realise that you’re missing something. The reason I had stepped away so frustrated with things was actually because I cared but I wasn’t able to do what I felt we needed to be doing on a cost neutral basis and on my own.
I came back after about a year and a lot had changed behind the scenes…Liam had come in as manager and revitalised the place….I was no longer in the inner circle and I missed it.
Off the field there had been some “issues” with communication between the club and the supporters so I got involved with the formation of the Trust instead and was on the board for 18 months or so.
When I chose to leave the Trust it was not because I didn’t still support it’s original goals or anything like that. I felt I wasn’t on the same page as some of the other board members. At the time I obviously thought I was right with everything I thought should happen and that I was just wasting my time which probably wasn’t the case at all and probably grossly unfair on quite a few others and the effort they put in. I decided that it was just better that I wasn’t involved. I get on perfectly well with everyone involved now but we just had a different view of how things should run.
One of the achievements I’m most proud of was that I convinced Rob Urwin that as a Trust we should publish another book as a follow on from Geoff and Mike’s masterpiece. I had always been interested in the history of the club (obviously I still am!!) and Rob’s statistics had meant that overall we had a pretty complete picture. I contributed a lot of player and manager profiles for it and I think we did a good job as a team. Rob carried the project. I’ve got a massive amount of time for Rob, and for his wife Julia, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.
Away from the Trust, in 2006, through my workplace I had managed to convince Paymentshield to sponsor the shirts which lead directly to me having more of an involvement with the club itself again. After I had left my trust position (I’ll stress again – I didn’t leave the trust position for this, despite what others may choose to believe because of how close the timing was) Haydn asked me to take on the voluntary press officer role he was vacating to become CEO.
As part of that I had to get heavily involved with updating the website again and between Colin and myself we ended up pretty much back where we were a few years before, only this time on a better platform thanks to the new setup.
I started to build a site which included all the historical results and player information, inspired by the trust project. I named it Port Online after the original site I had created. It had been named as such because we had already got a telephone information line called Port Line at the time and the site was the same thing but Online instead. The intention was for it to become the official site and migrate everything over to it at a point in future.
I enjoyed the press officer role very much, It lasted about 2 years and I threw myself back into it. Paul Cook was an interesting character but when Davenport came back in I was able to work with him quite closely and actually learned a lot from him and from Huw Griffiths.
When he had been with us a player I had gotten to know him away from the pitch as by a sheer coincidence we discovered that one of his good friends worked for my Dad.
I hadn’t spoken to him regularly since that time but the occasional contact had been enough to mean the relationship was still good. I frequently joined them at training and got to know some of the players quite well too.
When Davenport left Gary Brabin came in for a short time and I can vividly remember a phone call with him about the Cambridge rumour when I was trying to manage the message that came out from the club. We got on very well and I still speak regularly with him to this day. He’s an ambitious coach, I don’t begrudge him that even though a lot of people call him for the way he has left us a couple of times.
Then Liam came back…..Liam knew of me already, It must have been from my Trust association because I hadn’t been involved officially with the club during his first spell. Liam made it very easy for me to carry on as I had been with Brabs.
I got more involved, learned a lot more, travelled with the team etc but that year my daughter was born which changed my priorities.
By the high standards I want from my club, someone else needed to do what I now didn’t have the time to do so I convinced myself to step away again. In that role I had effectively been chief editor of the website so in hindsight it was the correct decision – the media side at the club is now streets ahead of where it was. By not being there it enabled others to flourish.
Because I had spent so much time building up Port Online though I didn’t want all that effort to go to waste so I published it on the basis it only dealt with the club history and therefore wasn’t competing with the clubs own site.
I’d enjoyed being press officer…..I had gotten to know quite well a number of managers and coaches and built up good relationships with them. Just observing how they operated I learned quite a lot. Dav had even convinced me to start doing my badges.
When I stepped back this time I didn’t disappear but I enjoyed just watching from the sidelines without the responsibility that came with it.
….Then a few years later, when the kids were a bit older, I heard the youth were looking for some help…The scholarship scheme with KGV had gone and we now just had the community youth system which had been badged as Southport FC Juniors since we brought onboard the YMCA in the early 2000s. Having got my level 1 when Davenport was here I had never made use of it so I got involved with the u18s initially.
Martin Foyle was manager at the start of the year whom I had no relationship with at all. I had by sheer coincidence made arrangements with the U18 manager Jon Monks to go down to watch first team training on the day that Foyle was sacked and his replacement was being unveiled to the first team. That replacement was Gary Brabin and we picked up where we had left off.
With the u18s we had an exceptional year. A league and cup double and 2 or 3 players being called up to the first team for county cups.
We took the same team, by en-large, up to u21 level and won the cup in their first season, finishing runners up in the league. We had a number of players again making their debuts and the U21s took the Liverpool Senior Cup fixture against Litherland Remyca in its entirety. Billy Whittle was also signed by the first team at the end of the season. Unfortunately for him he picked up a serious knee injury in pre season and hasn’t featured since.
A couple of years on from my initial involvement I’m now vice chairman of the youth section (put forward by others in the absence of anyone else willing) and whilst I’m not tied to one team now and coach across the teams, as a fan I’m just trying to drag standards up to the level I think they need to be. We’re not an academy so with the obvious limitations we have I think we’ve done pretty well so far.
Most of the coaches have ambitions to get on in the game and make a name for themselves. They’d love an opportunity to coach with the first team or higher but I wouldnt.
I look up to and respect (most of) the coaches and managers we’ve had and I’m not at the level and standard that I as a fan would expect from someone coaching my team.
I’m just a fan….but because I’m a fan first and foremost the club can always trust me to give them an honest opinion of a player. Yes I want the lads to get experience and learn but when I tell the club that someone is ready then they will be because as a fan I only want the best to play for my team.
I’ve still got a soft spot for Liverpool (sorry) and I follow Celtic as my dad has worked for them for 15 years but Southport is my club….And it’s now my lad’s club too.