What can one say about Arthur Peat? To those of us lucky enough to have been around in the 1960s when the fortunes of Southport Football club took a sudden and entirely unexpected turn for the better – the better, in fact, bordering on the miraculous – there is little more that can be said; to those who have come to the club later one can only trust that ones words will not be taken with a pinch of salt, the distance lends enchantment syndrome.
Things were not always better in those far off days. Indeed things in the late 1950s at Haig Avenue had scarcely been much worse. The turning point came, indirectly, with the abolition of the maximum wage, hardly an issue to a breadline club like Southport, but an issue which forced a lot of the bigger League clubs to trim down their vast playing staffs by unloading some of their still promising younger players who, they reckoned, were not quite going to make the grade at the highest level.
Southport had already benefited by picking up young Everton cast-offs like Jimmy Blain, Bryan Griffiths and Johnny Fielding but the major coup came when, in the July of 1961, Southport manager Lem Newcomb signed the twenty year old Everton reserve defender Arthur Peat, initially as a part-timer while he completed his plumbing apprenticeship. With the right-half berth still firmly in the possession of club captain Jack Hannaway, Arthur started in the reserves and in only his second game had his leg broken just above the ankle at New Brighton.
The fighting spirit for which he was to become renowned saw him back playing again before Christmas and making his League debut, at outside-right, in a game at Colchester United on February 10 th . That was to be the first of 401 Football League appearances for the Sandgrounders, a record never to be surpassed.
Suffice it to say that, within a couple of seasons, Peat had made the Number 4 shirt his own, going through two campaigns – 1967-68 and 1969-70 – without missing a single match. During this time what had begun under Newcomb as a good footballing if none too successful side combining older and younger players was transformed in the middle of the decade into a compact fighting unit by the arrival of coach, later manager, Billy Bingham.
It has been well documented that Arthur Peat did not always see eye to eye with Bingham, particularly on the latters rigorous training regimes which involved running up and down the sandhills by the shore. Nor did he particularly relish the newly created sweeper role to which Bingham converted him; Arthur had always enjoyed being an attacking wing-half, as his tally of 27 League goals duly testifies. However he played the role to perfection and was a key player in the defence which saw Southport storm through to the Fifth Round of the F.A.Cup in Binghams first season (1965-66) and then to promotion – the clubs first ever such achievement in the Football League – in his second a year later.
There were other key players who had a part in these successes of course but ask any of them what Peats contribution to the side was in terms of technique, effort, guts and determination and youll get the same answer from Alex Russell, Alan Spence, Colin Alty, Eric Redrobe and all the rest – just invaluable. On the odd occasion his commitment to the cause got the better of him and he found himself sent off in a game against Barrow (along with their Jim Mallon) on one very wet Friday night at Haig Avenue , an occurrence which some people seem to have overlooked! In those more enlightened times the dismissal was regarded as punishment enough and no suspension resulted.
In due course he went on to be an inspiring club captain and even, halfway through the troubled season of 1969-70, player-manager, as the Port battled – unsuccessfully as it turned out – to avoid the drop back to Division IV. He commanded tremendous respect from his players during this spell and brought the best out of all of them, not least Tony Field who responded with a hat-trick and then a four goal return in consecutive home games to boost the Peat renaissance.
Replaced as manager by firstly Alex Parker and then Jimmy Meadows he loyally stayed on for two more seasons, though the arrival of John McPhee as captain and right-half dislodged him from his familiar position. Much to his chagrin he was released in the summer of 1972 and so just missed out on Southports one and only (to date) Football League Championship in 1972-73. What a fitting climax that would have been to a wonderful career at Haig Avenue .
Two seasons with Crewe Alexandra followed before Arthur finally hung up his boots as a professional. Also a cricketer with Fleetwood Hesketh, he had remained a Southport resident and initially resumed his trade as a plumber for a number of years before branching out into the world of catering, taking a pub in Rochdale for a time before becoming steward at the Park Golf Club on the Promenade.
In later years Southport F.C. granted him a life vice presidency but, for one reason or another, the role was never satisfactorily fulfilled. Yet he took his place as one of only seven players appointed to the Southport F.C. Wall of Fame and he remained a familiar figure around the town, invariably in the company of Ellie, his wife of over forty years. In the pantheon of Southport footballers Arthur, despite not being the tallest of men, stands out as a giant. Nobody has given such unwavering, wholehearted service at such a level of ability over so many years. It has been a privilege to view many of his fine performances, revel in his achievements for the club and admire his dedication. Not all clubs have had an Arthur Peat. Just for once, Southport have been lucky. *** This is the full transcript of the article Geoff Wilde & Mike Braham submitted to the Southport Visiter.