The Lancashire County Cup Story Part 2

An experiment to play all Lancashire Cup games late in the season was deemed unsuccessful and the early rounds of the competition went back to being played in the first half of the campaign. For Southport this meant that by the end of September 1937 their interest in the competition had gone after a 3-1 defeat at home to bury.

As the onset of war loomed ever closer in 1939 the FA temporarily suspended all organised football 3 games into the league campaign, deferring to local authorities to determine whether regional football could be started with restrictions on the numbers allowed to attend matches.

The previous season’s final between Preston and Bolton had ended in a draw and ultimately was never replayed. Lancashire FA too initially deferred the start of the 1939/40 competition before eventually agreeing for it to go ahead. By the time the competition got underway a number of sides had withdrawn. Accrington, Brighton and Oldham were given byes as a result of their opposition scratching, but Southport were drawn away to Blackpool. The seaside derby ended with Southport on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline.

The following season the format of the Lancashire cup was again changed. In the first two rounds all ties would consist of a home and an away leg with an aggregate score determining the side to progress. This format lasted until 1946 and results from these games would also count in the Football League North. Any extra time required for the Lancashire cup however would be ignored for the league fixture. For the first two rounds clubs were drawn together based upon loose geographical pairings but attendances were low, with Chester attracting little over 400 for the visit of Southport. Over the two legs Chester soundly beat Southport 9-3.

Southport fared a little better the following season, only beaten by Everton by 4 goals to 3, and even recording a home win against their more illustrious neighbours. In 1942/43 Southport got their revenge with a 5-3 aggregate win. With all games still being played over 2 legs, special dispensation was given for the second round tie between Liverpool and Southport for the game to be played over just one leg. Liverpool triumphed at Anfield by 3 goals to 0.

A year later and Liverpool beat Southport 13-6 on aggregate after two remarkable games in the first round, 6-2 at Anfield and 7-4 at Haig Avenue. They went on to lift the trophy.

In 1945 Liverpool had begun their defence with an easy 5-0 win over Southport once again but before all of the first round ties could be completed were forced to withdraw due to other commitments giving Southport a reprieve. Their reward was a second round tie with Everton and whilst both legs did get played the first leg scoreline  of  5-0 meant that the creditable 1-1 draw at Goodison Park ultimately meant very little.

With the war over, football began to get back to normal. Whilst games remained over two legs, they no longer served two competitions and the Lancashire Cup was once again separated from the Football League. Following the success of the war time programme the Lancashire FA once again declared that full strength teams should be fielded for all Lancashire Cup ties. It was somewhat unfortunate then that Southport should be drawn to face (eventual semi-finalists) Manchester City. They did however give them an early fright with a 3-2 home win in the first leg of the first round, before succumbing to defeat at Maine Road in the second leg.

In 1947 each tie was back to being played on a knock-out basis however there was controversy with a number of clubs fielding weakened sides. Whilst Southport did well to get to the final, it was a little fortunate. Not only did they get to play all of their ties at home the draw had also been kind. All of their opponents on route had been fellow third division north sides and when they did eventually meet stronger opposition, they inevitably faltered.

After defeating Oldham in the semi-final, Southport had to wait over 3 months to discover their opponents for the final. Eventually Bolton Wanderers prevailed over Blackburn Rovers, one of the four sides accused of not fielding full strength sides for the Lancashire cup.

Whilst the Southport defence kept star man Nat Lofthouse quiet (Bolton did indeed field a full strength side), winger Willie Moir managed to grab himself a hat-trick as Southport lost out 5-1 in front of over 10,000 at Haig Avenue. Cec Wyles grabbed the consolation for the home side.

The Southport side included two players who were playing for their third different club in a Lancashire Cup final, George Mutch (Preston North End 1938/39, Bury 1946-47) and Jack Westby (Backburn Rovers 1941-42, Liverpool 1942-43, 1943-44).

Burnley prevented Southport from repeating their success the following year but whilst their path to the final had been easier two years previous the same couldn’t be said for the 1950 competition. On the way to a semi-final defeat at the hands of Liverpool (2-1) they had been drawn against and beaten Everton (3-1) and Manchester United (1-0).

Southport weren’t to reach the same stage of the competition for a further 7 years. In the meantime the competition itself had begun to lose money. Lancashire FA secretary Jack Robinson commented in his annual report that it was because clubs were treating the competition with a lack of respect. In 1957 the competition was won by a side from outside of the county. Rather than allow some of the senior non-league sides from the area to enter, Chester had been invited to compete and boost numbers. Following their win and as a gesture of thanks Chester presented the Lancashire FA with a display cabinet in order to show off the trophy with it being commented that it was the finest looking football trophy in the land.

Southport had lost out to the beaten finalists Burnley 1-0 in front of just 1100 at Turf Moor.

In 1962-63 the first change to the competition entrants since 1946 was forced upon the FA due to the demise of Accrington Stanley. It had also been agreed that due to the increasing importance of other domestic competitions for first and second division sides a “Central League” strength (reserve side) was all that was required for a Lancashire Cup fixture whereas third and fourth division clubs should field full strength teams.

It was the season of the big freeze. With no football played in either January or February there was such a fixture backlog that none of the entrants took the competition seriously. It was eventually declared null with only a handful of second round matches being played and the rest of the competition scrapped. Southport had already been knocked out in the first round back in the October.

In 1963-64 with only 15 clubs entering the competition the winners of the previous seasons Lancashire Junior Cup were invited to participate in order to get an even number of participants. It was the same reward originally offered when the Junior cup had first been formed back in 1885.Morecambe entered the competition for the first time but their stay only lasted until the end of the first round.

Having been unable to defend the trophy the previous season and retain their place in the Senior competition Morecambe dipped back into the Junior cup. It was Chorley’s turn in 1963-64, entering for the first time since the 1930s when they had been regular participants.

Southport went on to reach the final once again, defeating Barrow (3-1), Blackpool (2-0) and Liverpool (3-0) on the way. Their opponents were Lancashire Cup specialists Burnley, in the final for the fourth time in the past five years that the competition had concluded. Despite holding them to 0-0 at half time, two second half goals gave Burnley their 8th cup success.

With Southport achieving promotion to the Third division in 1967 under the guidance of Billy Bingham, they made the semi-finals too of the Lancashire Cup losing out to eventual winners Oldham.

Their second round tie against Blackpool had been forced to play on a mid-week afternoon with the floodlights out of action. A respectable 1100 crowd given the circumstances saw them run out 3-0 victors.

The following season Southport played their second round tie against Liverpool in the week before an important FA cup tie with Runcorn. Wanting to avoid injuries they openly fielded a reserve side. The decision was a sound one with Southport beating Runcorn and earning a tie with Everton. The second string hadn’t been disgraced by Liverpool either only losing by 2 goals to 1 but the Lancashire FA were far from happy and fined them £50 for fielding an under strength side

In July 1969 the Competition, which had been known as the Lancashire Senior Cup for a number of years in order to distinguish it from the Junior competition, underwent a re-branding. It became known officially as the Lancashire Challenge Cup, with the Junior competition the Lancashire Challenge Trophy. Seeing out the decade on a sour note Southport were relegated from the third division after three seasons and fell at the first hurdle of the Lancashire Challenge Cup to non-league Wigan Athletic (2-1), one of the five non-league teams that had been admitted to the competition that season. Within 8 years Southport’s dramatic fall from grace would see Wigan take Southport’s place in the football league.

During the 1973-74 season the growing discontent amongst member clubs for the competition came to a head. Proposals were submitted to change the format of the competition to a pre-season tournament with League clubs being joined by some of the prominent non-league sides, rather than have the competition intrude into the already crowded domestic fixture list.

The suggestions were not taken up and the Lancashire FA disbanded the competition from the 1974-75 season. With the competition having previously kept the Lancashire FA afloat through a share in the gate receipts clubs instead opted to not play and make a contribution to the running costs of the FA. Southport’s contribution as a Fourth division club was £40.

For eight years there were to be no Lancashire Cup matches and this meant that the FA were without its flagship competition during its centenary year in 1977-78. At the original level of fees clubs were happier to pay than play but when in 1982-83 it was suggested to increase fees (starting a £67 rather than the original £40) it was decided that there were enough clubs who would rather play and the competition was briefly resurrected.

Pre-season tournaments had become a popular way of gaining competitive football in preparation for the new season and the Lancashire FA arranged a competition for the 8 Lancashire Football League teams who were outside of the first division. Two groups of four were created with points awarded for wins and draws in a mini-league format. The winners of the two groups would then meet in a final. From start to finish the tournament lasted only 10 days and with a sponsor backing the competition (Isle of Man Tourist Board) for the first time it was considered a success. Revived and later renamed as the Manx cup, the competition with attractive prize money to boot, thrived in its new surroundings. Clubs took the competition seriously with competitive pre-season football hard to come by.

As a non-league team languishing in the depths of the Northern Premier League Southport were not invited to take part during the competition’s revival in the 1980s, instead taking part in the more junior Lancashire Challenge Trophy. The Isle of Man tourist Board’s sponsorship of the Challenge Cup ended in 1991, and with it the opportunity for the winners to participate in the Isle of Man Football Tournament.

New sponsors were found for the 1992-93 season in the form of the Marsden building society and the competition became known as the Marsden Cup. With the prize money significantly reduced, the interest and the number of applicants also declined. All of the clubs participating in the newly formed Premier League were allowed exemption from the competition along with Wigan Athletic who were taking up their position in the Isle of Man Football tournament as reigning Manx Cup winners. With the competition somewhat devalued due to the absentees, the competition again underwent a change and only 6 clubs participated in two groups of three, starting in July, the earliest the competition had ever been contested.

In 1994-95, for the first time in the competition’s history Bolton Wanderers were absent. Southport took their place and became the first non-league side to enter the competition since the 1973-74 season. In the first game between the two sides since 1978 when the two teams swapped positions between the Football League and Northern Premier League, Southport took revenge on Wigan Athletic with a satisfying 3-1 win at Haig Avenue.

Southport retained their place in the competition for the following two years but the number of clubs willing to play continued to dwindle. Manchester United joined the ever growing list of clubs wishing to pay the £1000 opt out fee and the 1996-97 competition was not a great success. The competition had once again gone into decline and the Lancashire Cup was described as the cup that no one wanted. The competition was suspended once again in 1997-98 with disputes over the appropriate level of exemption fees. Wigan and Rochdale had been the only two clubs showing any real interest in the competition. With clubs beginning to ask why participation at all was necessary Lancashire FA were forced to point out that entry into the FA Cup was dependent upon participation in a knock-out competition run by their own county association.

The competition briefly resurfaced for the 1998-99 season but Southport were once again missing. It became a competition for Lancashire clubs playing at Football League level.

In March 1999 it was decided to again suspend the competition but in September 2001 it was stated that the competition was now defunct due to lack of interest.

After an absence of five years, the competition was brought back in time for the 2004/05 season, reverting back to the format it had previously held as a straight knock out competition, played during the season. Eight of Lancashire FA’s senior teams agreed to take part in its first season back, Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, Bury, Oldham Athletic, Preston North End and Rochdale. The competition was won by Rochdale. Other than a single year’s absence due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2019/20, the Challenge Cup competition has been competed for ever since.

The Lancashire Challenge Trophy, the more junior of Lancashire FA’s senior club competitions, has run continuously since its inception in 1885, with the exceptions of 1915-1918 and the two seasons of 1940/41 and 2020/21, and is open to all senior non-league clubs within the historical boundaries of the county. It is contested by clubs across six different leagues and Southport are the current holders of the trophy and have won it on 10 occasions (1919/20, 1992/93, 1996/97, 1997/98, 2000/01, 2005/06, 2007/08, 2009/10, 2018/19 and 2021/22). Of those previous winners who still qualify for entry, Southport’s record is only bettered by Chorley whom have won it on 18 occasions, the last being 2017/18.

Sources: The Sandgrounders: The Complete League History of Southport F. C., by Michael Braham and Geoff Wilde (Palatine Books, 1995). ISBN 978-1-874181-14-9
The Lancashire Cup – A Complete Record 1879-80 to 2006-07, by Gordon Small. A SoccerData Publication on behalf of the Lancashire Football Association. 2007. ISBN 978-1-905891-04-7.