Statistics and Records

What is considered a competitive first team game? A look at statistics and records.

Which international footballer, capped 8 times for his country – including as captain, made 250 top flight football league appearances, played over 50 times for Southport but isn’t normally considered as part of any ‘official’ appearance records?

The answer is Danny Blair, the former Scotland Captain who played over 250 games in the top flight for Aston Villa and Blackpool before the second world war. He’s a high profile player, and during the war he was stationed at Ainsdale and made over 50 appearances for Southport over a two year spell.

Danny Blair’s record can be found here on the website because it is a historical fact that the games took place, however only two of Danny Blair’s games for Southport count towards his first team playing record, because they were played in the Lancashire Challenge Cup, a 2 legged first round game with Everton. Look up Blair’s playing record anywhere else and you will rarely even see Southport mentioned.

Letter from Bert Pelham to Danny Blair, 11/02/1943
Letter from Bert Pelham to Danny Blair, 11/02/1943

That the Lancashire Challenge Cup should even be considered a “First Team” game is much more of a controversial topic today than it was back in the 1940s when Blair made his appearances, even if they universally are held to much less significance than a standard league fixture by supporters. Southport have a long history of competing in County Cups. As early as our first year in existence, 1888, we entered both the Liverpool Senior Cup and the Lancashire Junior Cup. The organising bodies, our two County FA’s have always considered them First Team competitions, the club have always done the same, and therefore I take the same approach. 

Blair’s other 50 or so appearances however were made in the wartime league. The war time league was a football competition which replaced the Football League when it was suspended three games into the 1939/40 season. After the much feared bombings didn’t materialise clubs at first arranged a number of friendlies, but it wasn’t long before there came a clamouring for games of a more competitive nature. The home office agreed to a restructured football programme with a ‘friendly championship’ arranged by the Football League. They were to be treated as friendlies due to the number of ‘one-off’ appearances or ‘guest’ appearances made by players whilst stationed around the country on military duty.

For those living through the period, and taking part, however they will agree that the games were played in no less competitive a spirit than any Football League game, despite the ‘friendly championship’ moniker. A league table was compiled and there were cups to be won. The public still paid to watch the games and cared about the results, certainly more than they would for a standard practice or friendly game. As a result there has been plenty of controversy around this approach.

A notable argument relates to the goal scoring records at Newcastle United of Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer. In 2005 Alan Shearer retired with a career total of 206 and was acknowledged as the club’s highest ever goal scorer, surpassing 200 goals from Milburn. However, when taking account of Milburn’s wartime matches, he scored a total of 238 and on that basis easily beats Shearer’s record to take the top spot. It is an ongoing debate amongst Newcastle fans to this day over who should be considered their top scorer of all time.

Thankfully there is little such controversy over records at Southport, however I am inclined to look more favourably at war-time appearances than most. I accept that even though there was a league table, and even though fixtures were arranged like a normal season, albeit with more restrictions on travel and some peculiar methods of deriving league positions, they were known from the outset that they would be seen differently. In terms of match classifications and their contribution to records I have therefore categorised them separately and not as ‘first team’ games.

Whether or not the first 3 games of the abandoned Football League season of 1939/40 should be counted however is slightly different. When they were played there was no prior agreement that they wouldn’t count (which could be argued in the case of the wartime league) and they had taken place as ‘proper’ games with players making ‘proper’ appearances and taking their usual wage, goal and win bonuses from them. Supporters too paid their admission on the basis that it was a Football League fixture. And yet the decision was then made after they had taken place to declare the league and all of its fixtures and results null and void.
That means to act as if they had not taken place when it comes to the result and the appearances and goals scored.

Nobody was given their money back, the players still kept their wages and bonuses, people could still legitimately say they saw the games, were able to keep their programmes, but the players appearances were not added to their official records, nor the results to the club’s.

If they had counted then Joe Patrick should have another goal on his official record. In terms of total goals scored there is no Milburn/Shearer controversy as he would still be some 12 goals behind Alan Spence in Southport’s record goalscoring charts.

There are more recent examples of results being removed from the record books which do have much more of a significant impact on Southport and its players.

In 2009/10 Southport played Farsley Celtic twice, but then later in the season Farsley ended up resigning from the Conference due to financial trouble with the league and the FA declaring that any games involving Farsley Celtic that season should be declared null and void with their results expunged from the league table.

There is plenty of precedent for this approach throughout history when one team withdraws from a league so this was not a controversial decision and there is broad acceptance that when this happens not only do the results of those games not count, but neither do any appearances or goals scored by players of either team involved.

Action from the game between Southport and Fleetwood Town on Boxing Day 2009

The controversy however arose due to the impact that Farsley’s removal had. Fleetwood Town had also played Farsley Celtic twice, and had recorded 2 wins taking the maximum 6 points available. Southport on the other hand had only won 1 of their 2 fixtures with the Yorkshire club and therefore the removal of any points earned narrowed the gap at the top of the table between Southport and Fleetwood Town by 3 points. This put the title back in Southport’s hands. Fleetwood inevitably appealed, but lost.

An FA Appeal Board has dismissed an appeal by Fleetwood Town FC against a decision of the Football Conference Limited to expunge the full playing record of Farsley Celtic FC in Conference Division North for the current 2009-10 season. Fleetwood needed to demonstrate that the Conference came to a decision to which no reasonable body could have come to but the Appeal Board rejected the grounds of appeal after a three hour hearing.

An FA spokesman, April 2010

Southport famously pipped Fleetwood by a single point.

 I had the same situation when I was at Burscough when we had points docked. We never once moaned about it, we accepted it because we had faith in our players to go on and win the league. Fleetwood have been shouting and screaming saying they have been wronged but this league is not just about Fleetwood, there are 20 other teams in the league. I have said all along the appeal was a joke. We feel they were just trying to unsettle us with this appeal but the right decision was made 

Southport Manager, Liam Watson, April 2010.

As demonstrated by the comments made by Liam Watson, Southport’s Manager, at the time, Southport were happy to accept the outcome of the league decision that those games not count for the record book. Southport then pipped Fleetwood Town to the title by just one point. The results of those four games therefore do not exist in any record book and those appearances and goals aren’t included in records either.

However, obviously those games did take place, and at the time they were played, were considered competitive. Where it becomes interesting statistically regarding player records is that Southport’s Steve Daly scored in both of the expunged games, and therefore had those goals counted towards his total he would be sat on 99 goals. The effect of that is that he would leap frog David Gamble into fourth place in our all time top goalscorers chart behind Alan Spence, Joe Patrick and Joey Shadbolt, and would become Southport’s record goalscorer since their exit from the Football League in 1978.

In recent years there have sadly been other examples where results of games have also been declared null and void after they had taken place, once again due to factors outside of the control of the club, namely the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Southport took the decision that the league games played during the 2020/21 season should count towards their own published statistics, and this has generated controversy also. The previous season, 2019/20, had been curtailed early with the majority of the season having been played. There was no declaration that results were to be expunged and declared void however. When the nation entered a national lockdown in March, after a short initial suspension, the remaining fixtures were cancelled and the final table decided on a points per game basis.

The 2020/21 season however was markedly different. There had been a feeling of uncertainty from the very beginning due to the ever shifting nature of the nation’s response to the pandemic. The first fixtures had been delayed until October, the latest ever start to a league campaign, whilst clubs fought for assurances that they would be compensated appropriately by the league for the fact that games had to be played behind closed doors. Almost inevitably the season was fraught with problems from the outset with games cancelled at short notice due to reported illnesses of players, clubs (including Southport) refusing to play due to inappropriate testing facilities being available and possible curtailment had been a topic of conversation since the beginning. Those games that were played had been considered competitive, however the league was initially suspended after little over 3 months of action, before later being was declared null and void after a vote of member clubs with less than half of the season played. Southport are understood to have been one of the 15 member clubs in the National League North to support this resolution.

Official statement from the National League declaring the season null and void
Official statement from the National League, 18th February 2021

There is plenty of precedent throughout history of what that would mean. The aforementioned 1939/40 season is one such example. All playing records were therefore expunged officially by the league, the decision supported and ratified by the FA. The dictionary definition of null and void quite literally means having no validity, and to be considered as if it did not exist.

Statistics and records on this website, whether match results or player appearances/goals, do not therefore include games originally played as League fixtures during the 2020/21 season. The details of these games are recorded, just like the war-time games, but they are given a ‘covid’ classification rather than ‘first team’ classification. There are therefore occasions where the statistics published by the club themselves may differ from those that appear here. This should hopefully explain the differences. FA Cup and FA Trophy games played in that season do count, as those competitions were played through to their conclusion, albeit many of the games being played behind closed doors with no official attendance declared.

Just like after the war, football eventually returned to some semblance of normality and the seasons of 2021/22 and 2022/23 were able to reach conclusion without major incident. It has however taken many clubs, Southport included, some time to readjust. Average attendances have thankfully stabilised once again around the 1000 mark.

Southport’s average home attendances since 1921/22

The results archive section of this website contains a record book featuring a detailed statistical analysis of all of Southport’s first team games.

This can be done season by season, for example 2022/23, by competition, a combination of the two (e.g. 2022/23 League) or overall.

Analysis of all First Team League results as at 30th April 2023.

The playing records of every player to have played for Southport in a First Team game can also be found.

Playing Record of Tony McMillan as at 30th April 2023
Playing Record of Tony McMillan as at 30th April 2023

I hope that you enjoy browsing through the records on the website and that you find the information useful.