For 3 years following their formation Southport played at a sports ground in Sussex Road. The Sandgrounders moved home in 1884 and played at two different grounds in Scarisbrick New Road before moving to Ash Lane in 1905. The ground was renamed Haig Avenue (after Earl Haig) in 1921.
The ground attendance record still stands from 1932, when Newcastle United drew 20,010 to Haig Avenue in the sixth round of the FA Cup.
In 1937 Haig Avenue was the venue of the town’s celebrations for the Coronation of King George VI. An estimated 15,000 were in attendance.
The changing face of Haig Avenue
The Haig Avenue you see today is vastly different from that of years gone by. The original wooden grandstand, purchased from the Southport agricultural show , moved and extended for the move to Ash Lane, burned down on the evening following Southports game against Wrexham on Boxing Day 1966. Southport had beaten promotion hopefuls Wrexham 1-0, with an Amby Clarke header in front of 8,307. The exact cause of the fire will never be known but it is commonly thought that a discarded cigarette butt found its way into debris and rubbish which had collected underneath the old stand over a number of years.
The only thing that survived the devastating fire was the club safe, with the takings from the previous days game still safely inside. Everything else, including kits, went up in flames.Manager Billy Bingham and chairman John Church spent a considerable amount of time standing by the safe on the morning after the fire, talking quietly. It was later said that they had been wondering how to get it open. It had fused closed with the heat. There was a real fear that this might have been the end of Southport Football Club.
A Fire Disaster Appeal Fund was set up in the weeks following the blaze with an initial target of £70,000 set to raise money for a replacement. However, it was wound up after a year after only raising £10,000.
A temporary main stand was erected in its place and players changed at the nearby Meols Cop School. When Bingham’s side clinched promotion to the Third division in May 1967, Eric Morecambe presented the club with a trophy to commemorate their acchievement, inside the temporary stand.
The new main stand on Haig Avenue was opened in August 1968 and remains in place to this day.
An inquiry into the fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade staium, chaired by Sir Oliver Popplewell published its final report in 1986. Its recommendations resulted in new legislation governing safety at sports grounds across the UK. The covered terracing that once lined the Scarisbrick New Road end and the Popular side, was demolished as a result later that year.
In the late 1970s, the state of the terracing, much like the fortunes of the club, had already gone into decline and part of the popular terrace had been fenced off on safety grounds before the rest of the terrace followed during the 1985/86 season.
The following video from 1979 clearly shows the covered terracing still in place. Haig Avenue 1979
Following their demolition, grass banks and a few steps of terracing were all that remained on 2 sides of the stadium. On the other, 3 giant pillars remained behind the Scarisbrick New Road end goal, as a lasting memory of the old stand. These were eventually removed during the rebuilding exercise in the early 90s.
The 1992/93 season saw Southport pushing for promotion to the then Vauxhall Conference from the HFS Loans League (Northern Premier League) and due to the stricter ground grading criteria at the higher level, new open terracing had to be installed on the Blowick and Popular sides of the ground, along with a new covered terrace at the Scarisbrick New Road end of the stadium. This stand has since been renamed the “Jack Carr Stand” in memory of the former club president.
In the late 90s, further terracing was added to the Blowick and Popular sides of the stadium, additional toilet facilities were built underneath the Jack Carr Stand, and the white perimeter wall, built by Billy Bingham’s squad as part of pre-season training in the 1960s, was replaced by a metal fence following the introduction of new ruling governing the height of pitch side fences. A small section of the white wall has been kept as a reminder of the hard work of Bingham’s men.
Up until 2015, still in place,and in working order, were the floodlights that were built in 1961 and first used in an FA Cup match with Shrewsbury Town on 9th Jan 1962. Although installed in 1961, their design was overhauled a few years later, during Billy Bingham’s successful spell as manager of the club. 2 More bulbs were added to each pylon to increase the brightness for any possible television coverage. They were eventually replaced in 2015 due mainly to a massive fundraising effort from the Supporters Trust, Trust In Yellow.
Amongst Bingham’s other ideas to increase awareness, were the erection of a set of flagpoles behind the blowick terrace, similar to those in place at Fulham’s Craven Cottage.
Changes to the Safety of Sports Ground Act (1975)
Under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, clubs who were members of the Football League (such as Southport FC), automatically received ‘designated’ status and as such, had to obtain a Safety Certificate from their local council to prove their ground was ‘fit for purpose’- in terms of structural integrity, fire safety and means of escape in case of an emergency etc.
Once issued, Safety Certificates remain in place until such time as there is a
material alteration requiring them to be re-issued, e.g. a change in legislation, a significant physical alteration to the stadium, a change to the named certificate holder etc.
Since 1975, the Safety Certificate for Southport FC’s stadium has been re-issued by the Licencing and Regulatory Committee on a number of occasions, the latest being in October 2014, following a review of access for emergency vehicles.
In the Autumn of 2014, the Government carried out a review of ‘designated’ sports grounds across England and Wales, in order to assess whether or not all of those stadiums needed to maintain their ‘designated’ status.
As a result of the review, the Government published The Safety of Sports
Grounds (Designation) Order 2015, which came into force on 1st October 2015.
This legislation confirmed that non-league football clubs (with ground capacities of less than 10,000) were no longer required to hold a Safety Certificate for their stadiums. At this time Haig Avenue was deemed to have a maximum capacity of 5,414.
Therefore, given the change in legislation, the current Safety Certificate for Southport FC’s stadium is no longer deemed valid and will need to be revoked by the Licencing and Regulatory Committee.
However, under the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987, clubs with non-designated sports grounds that have individual grandstands holding 500 or more spectators, are still required to obtain a Safety Certificate for each stand.
Southport FC’s Haig Avenue stadium contains two such grandstands, namely, the Main Grandstand and the Jack Carr Stand
In the summer of 2018, the Main Grandstand at Haig Avenue underwent significant redevelopment including, amongst many other works, replacement of the roof, an additional gangway in both the East and West section, handrails on the end of each row and changes of seats from the blue to the gold and black colour scheme. The corporate seating area was also enhanced. As a result the safety certificate was re-issued.