You will probably be surprised to learn that Southport Football Club started as a rugby team. After some heavy defeats as a rugby club in the 1870s, Southport decided to change to football. The team played its last rugby match on 15 October 1881, and the majority of the players switched to the new game. On 12 November 1881, the team played its first association football match against Bootle, drawing 1-1. Let’s find out more about the early days of Southport FC.
Ralph Rylance Helps Southport FC to Rise
Ralph Rylance probably did more than anyone else to ensure football became an established sport in Southport. He had come from Blackburn, where he had worked for a solicitor firm and played on its football team, the Lawyers. In fact, the Lawyers played against Southport FC in their third engagement. The Lawyers thrashed Southport 7-0. But with Rylance’s transfer, Southport’s player performance started to improve quickly.
Southport Join Football Associations
During the 1882-1883 season, Southport joined the Lancashire Football Association and the English Football Association. Charles Scarisbrick was re-elected club President, and Ralph Rylance was elected captain. On 7 November, Southport FC played its first FA Cup game, which was known as the English Challenge Cup at the time. Southport drew against Liverpool Ramblers 1-1. But the game was watched by only 300 people.
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Mergers and Changes
For the 1884-85 season, Southport FC merged with Southport Athletic Society and moved to the Sports Ground, Sussex Road. And Southport FC finally won a match that year in a 1-0 victory over Preston North End in the Lancashire Challenge Cup.
In 1886, Southport FC merged with Southport Wanderers. The team had already cut ties with the Athletic Society. Southport FC was no more, but at least six players from the club made the transition to Southport Wanderers, and many fans transferred their affiliations. For the 1886-87 season, Southport Wanderers moved to a new ground in Scarisbrick New Road. The name of Southport Wanderers was short-lived, though. In September 1886, it was unanimously decided that the club should be called Southport Football Club. But wait! Only two years later, in the year that the Football League was founded, the name of the club was changed again, and it became Southport Central Association Football Club. In 1905, Central moved to Southport FC’s current home, Haig Avenue.
There were many other re-names and changes over the years. The club was known by names like Southport Vulcan and simply Southport. The former was the result of being taken over by Vulcan Motor Company. The club was the very first team to use a sponsorship name as part of its club name.
A Taste of Success
At the start of the 1930s, Southport hit its stride. In 1931, it became the first club from the Third Division North to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. The team may have lost to Everton 9-1, but Southport’s popularity was rising. In 1932, Southport recorded its highest attendance. More than 20,000 fans watched Southport take on the mighty Newcastle United in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
The next few decades were not kind to Southport. It was not until the late 1970s that Southport started to become a notable team once again, under the leadership of manager Brian Kettle. Despite a shaky start to the 1978 season, Southport finished the season in an extremely respectable seventh place in the Northern Premier League. More success was to come sometime later. In the 1992-96 season, Southport impressively won the league with 96 points and 100 scored-goals, and they also made it to the second round of the FA Cup. And in 1998, Southport had its one and only trip to Wembley. The club lost 1-0 to Cheltenham Town in the final of the FA Trophy. 10,000 Southport fans travelled to London to watch the match.