Just how close did Southport come to playing Rugby League?
In 1884 the West Lancashire and Border Towns Rugby Union was formed by a group of Lancashire clubs in an attempt to wrestle control from the Manchester based Lancashire RFU. Southport Olympic’s Reginald Slack was part of the committee formed to document its rules.
Whilst Yorkshire clubs had formed a cup competition in the late 1870s, Lancashire clubs were being left behind and association football was taking over.
In 1886, with Lancs authorities still sticking to the RFU line of no cup competitions for fear of it leading to professionalism, the West Lancs and Border Towns Rugby Union Cup was formed.
It was an immediate success with huge gates recorded.
The West Lancashire Cup, as it came to be known, gave birth to the great Rugby League rivalries that we know today with many of its entrants later breaking away to form the Northern Union in 1895.
The rivalries between Wigan, St Helens and Warrington are still going strong over a century later.
Southport Olympic had faced and lost to the hugely successful Aspull side in 1886 and 1887 and the mighty Wigan in 1888 and 1889.
After struggling to compete with their loftier opponents Olympic had broken up by the start of the 1889/90 season, just as the cup competition was being changed to a League format to increase the number of matches played by each club.
When Rugby restarted in Southport, after 2 years without any club, in 1891, the new Southport Rugby Union Football Club found itself with few opponents willing to play along purely amateur lines…and soon succumbed to the same fate as Olympic.
Southport Central had shown in the association game that professional football with it’s organised cups and leagues led to bigger gates and greater popularity. When the Northern Union was formed in 1895 Southport didn’t even have a club. For Olympic and Southport RU it had come too late.
What might have been?