On the final day of a remarkable season Southport lifted the Blue Square North title.
This was a season which ultimately catapulted manager Liam Watson into the record books as the only Southport manager to win two league titles with the club, but it was anything but straightforward.
Had it not been for the demise of Yorkshire side Farsley Celtic midway through the league season the outcome could have been totally different.
The season started brightly for the Sandgrounders and by the end of October they found themselves in pole position. An unremarkable exit from the FA cup at the hands of Gateshead, whom 5 months earlier had ended their play off hopes and uncharacteristic losses on the road at Ilkeston and at home to Farsley were the only disappointments in what was turning out to be a so far near text-book start to the season.
After an undefeated November Southport exited the FA Trophy in a replay at Gainsborough Trinity in mid-December but as the winter set-in the season began to really take shape.
On Boxing Day a snowy Haig Avenue was the scene of a mauling. Pre-season title favourites Fleetwood Town came and the Cod Men were battered 5-0. Despite Southport’s lofty position the result had been unexpected.
Whilst at the time nobody could have foreseen the significance, the start of Southport’s good fortunate can probably be traced back to 28th Devember and a trip to Bower Fold, Stalybridge. After 84 minutes, with the scores at 0-0 floodlight failure forced abandonement of the game. Although both camps were happy to share the points for the sake of 6 minutes, the conference decreed that the game be replayed in it’s entirety later in the season.
The new year got off to a dreadful start. Fleetwood, hurting from their defeat on Boxing Day, got their revenge with a 4-0 victory which sparked life into their promotion and title challenge.
As January ended, the season was fast becoming a two horse race between the two clubs on the Lancashire coast. Given that the reported weekly wage budget of Fleetwood was nearly five times that of the Sandgrounders not many had seen past Fleetwood at the start of the season.
Postponements due to the poor winter weather saw Southport go almost 3 weeks without a fixture whilst the money-men took full advantage of their new £15,000 frost covers and went top of the table. By the time Southport met Telford at the end of the month, even a win wouldn’t have been enough to take them top.
A 2-0 win over Farsley in the league, progression to the final of the Lancashire cup at the expense of Lancaster City, and a draw with Corby Town saw out the month.
On Monday 8th March 2010, the Football Conference was notified that Farsley Celtic FC would be unable to fulfil their fixture on Tuesday 9th March 2010, following advice received from the Administrator overseeing the financial affairs of the club. This meant the club had failed to fulfil three fixtures, with each being a breach of Football Conference Rule 8.6. The club had also consistently failed to pay its Football Creditors, being a breach of Football Conference Rule 11.
Due to these circumstances, The Football Conference was left with no other option than to formally accept the Club’s resignation from the Competition and their full playing record was expunged as of Friday 12th March 2010.
With results expunged the Sandgrounders lost 3 points from their record. More crucially however having capitulated their early season lead to Fleetwood Town, the Sandgrounders found themselves 3 points closer to the top with Fleetwood losing the 6 points they earned thanks to two wins.
Despite the reduction Fleetwood were still in the driving seat and the Sandgrounders were starting to feel the pressure. They were left to rue a series of missed opportunities in the month sharing the spoils with Gainsborough, Redditch, Gloucester and Droylsden however interspersed with the disappointing draws were victories over Workington and crucially Stalybridge in the replayed fixture following the December abandonment.
Fleetwood too were beginning to feel the pressure and refusing to accept the league ruling over Farsley chairman Andy Pilley launched a high profile appeal, reportedly costing in excess of £30,000 in legal costs, against the removal of Farsley’s playing record. The appeal was to hang like a black cloud over the end of the season.
The mid-season postponements meant Southport were continuously playing catch-up in terms of games played. In the whole of March and April there was just one free mid-week slot. With Fleetwood distracting themselves with their appeal Southport put together a run of five straight wins, regaining top-spot at home to Northwich Victoria on Easter Monday.
A 4-0 win over Clitheroe at the Reebok stadium gave Southport their first silverware of the season (Lancashire Junior Cup), but all thoughts were firmly on the league title.
Victory at home to Hyde in the penultimate home game of the season, coupled with a Fleetwood defeat at Blyth Spartans, would hand Southport the title and the Sandgrounders raced to a 4-1 lead. Early signs were good with Blyth Spartans taking an early lead against the “cod Army” however Fleetwood eventually took all three points with a 3-2 victory.
With a 1 point lead and a game in hand over Fleetwood, on 20th April fourth placed Alfreton Town visited Haig Avenue and a bumper crowd of 2021 assembled in eager anticipation of witnessing a title win.It wasn’t to be and Alfreton recorded a 3-1 win which took it to the wire.
The following day Fleetwood chairman Andy Pilley and his expensive Legal team decamped to to Wembley stadium to present their appeal to the FA. With a 2pm start, they eventually re-emerged at nearly 5:30. The FA declared that the outcome would not be given until Friday, the day before the final fixtures of the season. If Fleetwood won their appeal, Farsley’s playing record would be reinstated giving Fleetwood a 2 point advantage going into the final day. If they lost, Southport would go into the game knowing it was in their hands.
23rd April was a key date in Southport’s season as the news of Fleetwood Town appeal failure gave Southport all the incentive they needed. A win the following day, and the title was theirs.
Hundreds of fans made the trip to Eastwood Town and Southport at last clinched a return to the Conference with a resounding 3-0 victory.
EASTWOOD TOWN 0 – 3 SOUTHPORT
Competition: League / Conference North
Southport Line-Up: Tony McMillan, Chris Lever, Earl Davis, Adam Flynn, Kevin Lee, Matty McGinn, Ashley Winn, Alan Moogan, Michael Powell, Chris Simm, Ciaran Kilheeney,
Subs: Sean Lake (GK), Fola Onibuje, Robbie Booth (Chris Simm), Paul Barratt (Ashley Winn), Shaun Gray (Matty McGinn),
Goals: Matty McGinn (Pen), Chris Simm, Chris Lever
Southport manager Liam Watson told BBC Radio Merseyside:
“We haven’t got any superstars, we’ve just got the best group of lads I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with
“It was all about winning the League, everyone today was just outstanding so it was never in doubt.
“This is my third Championship in five years. Everyone is special but with all the baggage, which came with this makes it the sweetest of them all.”