National Sporting Heritage Day 2022

It’s National Sporting Heritage Day and what better way to celebrate by revealing the latest addition to the Southport FC FPA Archives.

The 1886 Southport Association Football Charity Cup Final was contested between the original Southport Association Football Club, founded in 1881, and Southport Wanderers, founded in 1884.

In the history of sport in this town, this match was a significant one. It was the most notable fixture of the year and took place on 8th May 1886. Southport, as the holders, faced Southport Wanderers, who earlier in the season had merged with the previous season’s losing finalists Southport Crescent. Of those representing Southport only brothers Charlie and Willy Morris remained from the previous season’s final, where they had lined up in opposition. For Wanderers, however, four of their XI had experience of playing in the final from the previous year, namely Halsall, Leadbetter, Liptrot and W.Rimmer.

A report from the game, as published in the Southport Visiter on 11th May can be read here.

The teams afterwards dined together at the Railway Hotel, and Mr J.H. Ellis, Town Clerk, afterwards presented the medals to both teams – gold medals to the winners of the cup, and silver ones to the “runners up”.

(Southport Visiter, 11th May 1886

From the above report we know that this medal, being silver, was presented to a member of the Southport Wanderers team. Having purchased the medal from the Halsall family, we therefore must conclude it was the medal presented to W.Halsall, who the report concluded was the “pick of the forwards”.

Off the field, despite their local success, Southport Football Club was not in a healthy state financially. Having faced increasing competition throughout the previous two seasons they had reduced their annual subscriptions to five shillings to try and compete. The addition of a second string to help them to develop their own players too was a failure. After the Charity Cup final success, the original Southport club, as they had already become known, played just one further fixture, against Christ Church, as a benefit to Bailey who would shortly head off for a new life in New York.

Throughout the season there had been plenty of discussion about the future of the club, its strengths and its weaknesses, and there had been growing calls for amalgamation with Southport Wanderers, the club whom they defeated in the final. Whilst their ground at Scarisbrick New Road was less developed than Sussex Road, they were on the main tram line, and were enjoying regular healthy gates which all helped to increase the stability and success of their club. It came as a surprise to nobody that the mid-season calls to consider a merger would eventually be tabled for serious discussion. Whether any proposed merged club would be suitably representative was still a matter for debate. Proposals from a Mr. Ellis had already been made that for exhibition purposes a side should be drawn from the best of all of Southport’s players, Southport, Wanderers, Christ Church, High Park et al.

“The Town’s Game: The Origins of Rugby and Association Football in Southport”, Daniel J. Hayes, https://amzn.to/3BlNHHM

By August it was known that the original Southport club had died a natural death. There had been no grand announcement concerning their future however at the Wanderers AGM in June 1886, barely a month after the Charity Cup Final was contested, at which a representative of the Southport club was also present, they formally invited their ailing rivals to amalgamate.

The meeting confirmed the re-election of Dr. George Pilkington as the president of Southport Wanderers, the man who had originally been behind the formation of Southport (Rugby) Football Club in 1872, and now serving as MP for the town. That Wanderers had been able to call on his support as club president for a second time, shows just how highly the club were regarded. Of all those members present, he surely would have been amongst the most vociferous supporters of the proposed amalgamation.

There had been growing unity between the two clubs over the second half of the previous season and a joint venture had even been called for by the Southport Guardian.

The Guardian issued a follow-up editorial comment four days after the historic meeting:

In Saturday’s Guardian appeared a report of the Southport Wanderers Football Club annual meeting. The two chief points were the promise of a good enclosed ground in Scarisbrick New-road, and proposed amalgamation, combination, friendly jointure, or working union with the Southport Football Club, the men of the neat striped jerseys. Instead of one member of the Southport Committee being present as a deputation, it is a pity all were not there. They would have found the friendliest of greetings, the kindest consideration for their position, and a manifest desire to make all things pleasant or rather continue pleasant, for the existing feeling seems deprived of all past jealousies. A cordial letter of invitation was ordered to be addressed to the Southport Committee, and the issue is awaited with a good deal of interest. It is fraught with important results to Southport football, the “town’s game”, as it has been called, in the future. The ambitious hope expressed by Mr Ellis when the challenge cup was presented may not be so far from realisation as some people thought. If there was one borough in Lancashire which ought to send out the premier county team, a bona fide local team, of course, surely that borough is named Southport.

Stature in the Southport Town Council has happily nothing to do with the championship of athletic sports. Councillor Kilby defended the Southport Athletic Society when he thought it was being attacked, and Alderman Hacking is the most regular figure when the Wanderers are in the field.

(Southport Guardian, 16th June 1886)

You can read the full story of the formation of the original Southport Football Club and Southport Wanderers and this enthralling part of the history of football in Southport in the new book, ‘The Town’s Game: The Origins of Rugby and Association Football in Southport (1872-1889)’.