Since 1888

Liverpool Daily Post – 8th March 1935

Earlier this week I made a discovery in the archives of the Liverpool Daily Post of an article dated 8th March 1935 entitled “The Start of Southport F.C.”. Through his article the author sought to “settle the question” of when the club was founded by including minutes from the very first meeting of Southport Central.

Whilst the minutes include some interesting new information concerning the terms of the initial lease of the sports ground, the new club’s home, they don’t change our understanding of the meeting itself – they confirm that the club was founded in 1888. The article doesn’t contradict previous histories published either, such as that found in the Lancashire Evening Post in 1901 which stated that the club was 13 years old at the time. So what makes this article so interesting? For that you have to look beyond the article itself and look at who the information in the article is provided by, when it was provided, and why it was provided.

The article was printed in the middle of the 1930s in response to the growing creation myth that had begun to take hold following Walter Rylance’s flag presentation, and the article was written for the express purpose of clearing up how the current club had really been formed. The article concludes that any doubt should now be removed. That’s the when and the why…but what about the who?

The minutes were provided by Norman Ramsbottom who was in possession of a pocket notebook that had been given to him by his father, Edwin Ramsbottom. Why is that important? Well, Edwin Ramsbottom was the secretary of Southport Central so those minutes were written by Edwin himself. They are, therefore, a first hand account.

He didn’t just turn up in 1888 though…

Edwin had been involved in football in the town from the very start, therefore he knew the context of the myth better than anyone else. He, along with his whole family had been there throughout the whole 7 year period that led up to the pivotal meeting on 12th June 1888.

In fact, Edwin wasn’t just “around”, he had played for the original Southport club, in it’s very first year (1881).

Edwin’s family had also been present at the summer 1886 meeting where the first club was confirmed as dead and also present at the September meeting when Wanderers took over the name of Southport Football Club from its former rival. And then as professionalism took a grip of football in Lancashire, Edwin was one of the 3 men to propose the formation of Central and call for the first meeting two years later.

If anyone would know the history of the club and whether Central was either a continuation of what went before, or a new entity, it would be him!

We can be thankful that Norman passed the minutes to the newspapers because by doing so he identified himself as part of the process and that has meant that I have been able to confirm research into Edwin’s identity and discover perhaps the most remarkable fact about him.

When we originally researched the identities of the founding fathers of football in Southport I could only find one Edwin Ramsbottom and had been tempted to completely rule him out due to the age he would have been in 1881…but then I just couldn’t trace another and it didn’t make sense. I needed additional supporting evidence to be sure and it bothered me greatly that such an important character was so elusive. The discovery of his sons name however cemented these earlier findings. He was our man, or boy, all along.

I’ve traced that Norman, who as the article notes resides in Liverpool, was born to Edwin Ramsbottom in 1898. From birth records we know his father’s name and occupation, which matches with the Edwin Ramsbottom that I had identified in my initial research. The shocking discovery was that Edwin had been born in Blackburn in 1868 which made him just 13/14 when he made his debut for the original association club in December 1881!

Edwin Ramsbottom quite literally grew up with association football in the town.

Edwin was one of four children born to Alfred Ramsbottom, a Master Draper from East Lancashire, that by 1881 had moved to Southport, living at 38 Portland Street, and running a family business on Eastbank Street.

Without an exact date of birth (yet) we don’t know if Edwin had turned 14 at the point he made his debut but either way it’s a remarkable discovery. The first photograph of the original Southport team, taken at the first Challenge Cup tie in 1882, therefore shows Edwin as a 14/15 year old (with a decent moustache) standing next to the much older (approaching 40) Ralph Rylance.

Edwin was a consistent performer for “the reds/the stripes” up until their demise in 1886 and under the title of “A.Ramsbottom and Sons”, the family had published the Southport Football Handbook in October 1885 containing the fixtures and details of each of the local clubs taking part in the Southport Charity Cup, the medals and trophies for which were displayed in their shop window.

Edwin’s brother, also Alfred, who was around 10 years older having been born in Accrington in around 1857, had been part of the committee which had overseen the amalgamation of the original club with Wanderers in the summer of 1886.

In 1888 at only 20/21 Edwin took on the crucial secretary role at the brand new club. It may feel rather young by today’s standards, but in context Francis Maule Campbell was only 19 when he became the secretary of the FA!

After a number of years involved with Central, Ramsbottom moved to Liverpool but continued to indulge his passion for the game by becoming an appointed referee with the Football League. In 1894 he assisted JJ Bentley, chairman of the football league, in calling a meeting to discuss the formation of referee associations at county level where he used his secretarial skills to issue a circular to referees and clubs.

Edwin passed away aged 75 on 7th July 1943, eight years after his wife Florence, and they are buried in Yew Tree Cemetery in Liverpool.