Picking Winners for a Cinderella Club

The following article was written by then Southport manager JJ Commins and published in the Topical Times on August 31st 1935. It’s amazing how little times have changed.

MANAGING the average Third Division club (especially in the Northern Section) is like a puppy dog chasing its tail. It’s a struggle to make ends meet, and when it occasionally succeeds, the position is too unnatural to be long retained.

I have managed two clubs in the Third Division-Barrow and Southport. I have also been in charge of Clyde and Barnsley.’

In twenty-three years’ management I have a balance of “fees gained over fees spent”, of about £100,000! Yet I have never been comfortable financially.

And though it may sound queer, no club can be comfortably off financially when operating in areas of small population like Southport and Barrow -not, that is to say, over a period of years. Like the puppy dog, you sometimes make ends meet, but you can’t hold the position.

The whole point of Third Division football is that except in occasional cases, the gate money doesn’t equal the wage bill. Which means that the club must sell players, not once in a while, but on every available opportunity.

We find good players, develop them, sell them, find new ones. Hence we seldom have a settled side, seldom can keep star players, the crowds lose interest (what crowds there are), and we have to live on transfer fees until the undeveloped talent nets to stardom.

I HAVE always had to find my stars in the most unlikely places. It is little use my trying to get young players in the semi professional leagues-Cheshire League. Birmingham Combination, North-Eastern League or in Scottish circles.

Clubs in these leagues usually exact small fees for their players -anything from, say, £30 to £200. Each sum is equally ridiculous to me!

I HAVE to get raw amateurs and talk them into joining my poor club.

I have an argument which I employ in talking to these boys. I tell them that should they get on the books of a First Division club with a large staff they’ll get only occasional games.

But if the boy will come to Southport on a small wage (he can keep on his work if he wishes) he will get a game every week-probably in the first team. I can’t afford to pay even a “semi-professional” to do “ nowt.” He will get league games with me almost right away.

The big clubs watch Southport. If the boy impresses he will be transferred- and take his place with a senior club as a “ proved player.”

ONLY once have I been rebuffed. I had a letter from a youth in Durham who told me that under no circumstances would he consider playing in Northern Section football. Youth! Pride! Good luck to him.

As a rule, though, the boys listen to me. I got Ray Worsick out of Liverpool junior football-practically Sunday School stuff. He was playing league football within a month.

Last year I could have sold him for a figure-an absolutely ridiculous one. Fortunately he is working as a tile-layer. I pay him a proportionate wage and can afford to hold on to him until the senior clubs realise that even poverty-ridden clubs don’t have to “ throw away ” talent.

Matt O’Mahoney, a centre-half whom I have just transferred to the Wolves came out of Liverpool “ baby ” football”. He graded league football whilst still an amateur. He was only a few weeks pro. when Wolves took him. How long would Matt have waited for his chance in football if I hadn’t been “ driven” to stalking “ infantile ” clubs for talent?

Jim Kelly, the Grimsby back, is another “from nowhere” capture. I took him out of a tiny Colliery in Durham to Southport. When I went to Barrow (prior to my return to Southport via. Shelbourne) I took him with me.

At no time did Jim Kelly get a big wage with me. But he got a game practically every week since he joined me. Naturally he developed quickly.

Other youngsters taken out of “darkness” and forced into “light” include Bob Jones, Bolton goalkeeper; Fred Tillson and E. Brook, Manchester City; Harry Lowe, Preston back; Jack Astley, Brentford back; Middleton, the sunderland goalkeeper: Albert Walker, West Ham’s “Cresswell”; Albert Valentine, the Halifax centre-forward; Chris Green, the Wolves half-back.

I am given the credit of bringing these boys to the front. Actually they got this chance because they joined a poorly-off club. Let me give you some idea of how a “Cinderella”  club is run.

At the end of the season we must retain five or six of the more promising members, say at three pounds a week. .

After the close season has been gone a week or two a manager has “snatched” one or two he noted at the end of the year with other clubs-men he must sign quickly or lose. With the new season ten weeks off he must have a staff of ten at least. Which means that, counting manager, trainers, and groundsmen, &c., around £60 a week has to be found.

In ten weeks £600 must be got- from where? There’s no income, seldom a profit from the previous year. There are only four sources of summer income. Transfer fees from last year (if anything left), bank overdraft, sale of season tickets, and the generosity of the directors.

Now, when the season is a month off you would to get your men in training. But when they report for training they go on to “winter  terms.’ So you have to delay training until the very last moment-to save money.

The only salvation for the club is a run in the cup. That is rare but a godsend.

How, you may ask do I (and others in the same position) stick it out? A fair question. But I’m dashed if I could give a reasonable answer. It’s just that we’ve got football in our blood. The delight in coaching and developing young players has more than a golden award.