Rugby in Southport

Brief History

“Southport Football Club” was formed in November 1872, as a Rugby Club.

Dr. George Augustus Coombe, later Sir George Pilkington (House Surgeon and Medical Officer of Southport Hospital from 1870 to 1884) was the driving force behind the formation of the club, with the intention of “improving the physical development of our young townsmen”.

Backing for the new venture also came from Southport Rowing Club and the Alexandra Cricket Club, the large field next to whose Club on Manchester Road would become Southport Football Club’s first ground.

The club’s colours are recorded in Charles Alcock’s football annual in 1874 as Black, Red and Amber.

In 1876 other teams sprang up playing ‘the handling code’ in the town, amongst whom the most notable were Southport Olympic and Southport Wasps.

After 6 years of existence, forward G. Schofield became the first Southport player to be selected for the Lancashire county side.

Around this time, and as older players began to retire, the club began to suffer through a lack of recruits. The Southport Olympic Rugby Club had by this time grown to be the premier Rugby club in the town with younger players choosing “Olympic” over the original Southport club. After a particularly harsh winter in 1879 the original Southport Football Club failed to re-emerge for the new season.

Southport Wasps dropped the ‘Wasps’ suffix and played for a season as Southport Football Club, becoming the second club to play under the original name. They briefly switched to Red, White and Blue. The playing of Rugby was stopped altogether by the club in August 1880, leaving Southport Olympic and Southport Hornets as the town’s remaining rugby clubs. A number of the players to have either represented the original club, or Wasps, transferred their allegiances to Olympic, along with a number of supporters and key officials.

After a season’s absence, in 1881, Southport Football Club was reformed, and the new club became the third to bear the name. A set of rugby fixtures was arranged for the 1881/82 season however after only three games the team switched to association football.

Southport Olympic had by this time already become the premier rugby club and continued to carry the Rugby torch in the town through to 1889 when it disbanded due to the popularity of association football following professionalisation.

Rugby restarted in Southport after 2 years without any club, in 1891, but the new Southport Rugby Union Football Club found itself with few opponents willing to play along purely amateur lines. By 1893 the club had broken up and it was to be another six years before Rugby was played in town. Birkdale RFC acquired pitches at Victoria Park and put rugby back on the map. Despite reorganisation under new management in the summer of 1901 the club lasted only until 1903.

A new club was formed in 1903, taking the name of the old Southport Olympic club. The club rejoined the Lancashire County Rugby Football Union in 1906 and took over the vacant pitches in Victoria Park.

In April 1913, a proposal to drop the Olympic name in favour of Southport Rugby Union Football Club was carried at a general meeting.

When Britain joined the First World War in September 1914, an extraordinary meeting of the club cancelled all fixtures and recommended that all members ‘join some military organisation’. Fourteen club members lost their lives in the war, including the 1914 club captain J.E. Grimshaw, who was killed in the Gallipoli Campaign while serving with the Lancashire Fusiliers.

The club returned to playing fixtures in 1919, and by 1922 it had 75 players and 176 patrons. The year 1926 saw the start of the last season at Victoria Park, and on 26 March 1927 the club celebrated the opening of the new ground at Waterloo Road with a victory over Preston Grasshoppers.

The move to Hillside was completed in time for the 1929/30 Season and a 200 capacity Grandstand, costing £231 was opened in the 1935/36 season. On 23rd May 1936, Old Georgians, a club that had been formed of former players of King George V School, amalgamate with Southport bolstering the clubs playing strength.

When World War Two began all club activities were once again interrupted. The government requisitioned the waterloo road ground and pavilion. Twenty seven members lost their lives in the conflict, including six first XV players.

Shortly after the war ended, funds were raised for a permanent memorial to those former club members who lost their lives, which takes pride of place in the club house to this day.

In September 1966 new bathing and changing facilities at the clubhouse were used for the first time. November saw the club change its playing policy and for the first time called teams by names such as First team, Second Team, Sandgrounders, Barbarians, Wanderers, Saracens, and Colts. In 1970 The club appointed its first ever trainer/coach, schoolteacher Tony Bray after five seasons with Preston Grasshoppers

In 1972, The club hosted Lancashire-v-Northumberland celebrating 100 years of Rugby in Southport. A commemorative brochure is published.

Three years later, captained by Julian McInerney Southport Colts were the first ever winners of the Lancashire Colts Cup.

In 1983 Australia used the club’s Waterloo Road ground as a training base prior to their match against “The North” and in the same year the club as voted as Junior Club of the month by Rugby World magazine in recognition of its successful junior structure. To emphasise this further before the decade was out sixteen year old Shane Cook was selected for Lancashire Colts v Lancashire Presidents XV.

As the 1990s began boards commemorating past Captains and Presidents were unveiled above the clubhouse bar, and longstanding club member Dick Bretherton was elected President of Lancashire County RFU. 

In 1996 Southport Womens senior rugby team won their first ever competitive game 58-10 at Avonmouth. Southport lost 47-18 to Huddersfield YMCA in the quarter finals of the National Junior Knockout competition, but finish the season Champions of the Thwaites South Lancashire and Cheshire Division Two. 

In 2005/06  The u13s won the Lancashire County RFU Junior Rugby Challenge Junior Bowl, the first team from the emerging junior section to win a trophy. A year later, the first team, now captained by the aforementioned Shane Cook, won the South Lancashire and Cheshire Division Three title. 

On 8th October 2009 the club was awarded RFU Mini & Youth Seal of Approval. A plaque is fixed to the wall adjoining the entrance to the clubhouse. That same season the first team won through to the final of the Lancashire Plate, the first ever final of a senior competition that a first team from the club has reached, but lose to Didsbury.

Under the direction of Mark Astwood in 2011 the clubhouse was extended and refurbished

Southport RFC’s first XV currently plays in North Two West in the Rugby Football Union Northern Division, and the club fields many sides at all age levels.