No. 12 in an occasional series of Club Focused FA Cup specials.
Having first entered the FA Cup in the 1882/83 season, there are only 14 clubs still competing in this famous competition that have an older history of competing in it than Southport do.
In those pre-Football League days of the FA Cup there were no Qualifying Rounds meaning that for their first four seasons The Sandgrounders began in the 1st Round. The club’s inaugural FA Cup match was a 1-1 draw at Liverpool Ramblers, a club still in existence although only playing friendlies, and the first club from Liverpool to compete in the FA Cup. Mr C Ambler scored the Sandgrounders’ first ever FA Cup goal. The replay saw Southport lose 4-0 at home having had to field a weakened side due to a couple of key ‘no-shows’.
The following season Southport lost 7-1 (some reports say 7-0) in the 1st Round to eventual winners Blackburn Rovers, the first of that club’s hat-trick of wins, but the 1884/85 season saw the club record their first FA Cup win, although not until after they had already been ‘knocked out’.
A 3-0 defeat at Accrington was contested by Southport on the basis that their opponents had played ‘professionals’, a selection process the FA frowned upon at the time and resisted for several years. Accrington were disqualified and Southport were re-instated. Their second round opponents were Clitheroe Low Moor and Southport won the match 3-1 with goals from J L Briggs, Mellor and an own goal. The 3rd Round saw Southport return to Accrington to take on a local side there called Church FC who won the match 10-0, inflicting what is still Southport’s record defeat in the FA Cup.
When the Football League was established in 1888-89 Southport were still playing friendlies before joining the Lancashire League the following season and when they did enter the FA Cup they had to begin in the 1st Qualifying Round. The club had to wait until the 1894/95 season before appearing in the Proper Rounds again where they lost 3-0 at home to Everton. Their next appearance in the 1st Round didn’t occur until 1911/12 season, the club’s first season as a member of the Central League after eight seasons as a Lancashire Combination club. They fared no better this time around losing 2-0 at home to Southern League side Reading.
Southport wouldn’t appear in the 1st Round again until the season they were founder members of Football League Division 3 North in 1921/22, although it wasn’t an automatic exemption to the 1st Round in those days and they had to beat Altrincham (3-0) and Coventry City (1-0) to get there. Still no luck in the 1st Round, though, as following a creditable 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers, they went down 2-0 in the replay at Haig Avenue.
The FA Cup was re-structured for the 1925-26 season, ostensibly making the old 1st Round equivalent to what we now know as the 3rd Round (with some minor differences). As a consequence Southport were exempted until the 1st Round and finally achieved their first ‘Proper’ Round victory for 41 years defeating Welsh National League side Mold 1-0, before going on to beat fellow Division 3 North side Durham City 3-0 in the Second Round to equal the club’s best ever FA Cup run. A 5-2 defeat at Third Division South side Southend United brought that run to an end, but things were to go ever better the following season.
Their 1926-27 FA Cup run began with a 1-1 draw at home to fellow Division 3 North side Tranmere Rovers before winning 2-1 at Prenton Park. This was followed by a 2-0 Second Round home victory over Crook Town from the Northern League and then a ‘revenge’ 2-0 win at home against First Division Blackburn Rovers, their biggest scalp to date. Southport were into the FA Cup 4th Round for the first time ever and were drawn to play at Anfield against Liverpool. Tommy White scored for Southport, but the club was knocked out as Liverpool netted three times to win.
The following season Southport made the 4th Round once again thanks to a 3-2 First Round win at Midland League side Denaby United, a 2-0 win at fellow Division 3 North side Bradford (Park Avenue) in the 2nd Round, and a 3-0 home victory over Second Division Fulham in the Third. First Division side Middlesbrough was a step too far with the Sandgrounders going down by three goals to nil at Ayrsome Park.
However, it wasn’t long before Southport were to make FA Cup history by becoming the first club from Division 3 North to make the last eight of the competition in the 1930/31 season. The run started impressively enough with a 4-2 win over fellow Division 3 North side Darlington, thanks to a Paddy McConnell brace and goals from Archie Waterston and Ralph Hills. This was followed up by an even more convincing 4-0 victory at Midland League side Gainsborough Trinity. This time Waterston scored twice alongside another one for Hills and a goal for Jimmy Cowen.
Southport were into the 3rd Round of the FA Cup for the fourth time in six seasons where they faced Division Two side Millwall (who had recently twice made the FA Cup Quarter Finals as a Division 3 South side themselves). Two goals from Cowen and another from Hills gave Southport a 3-1 victory and a chance to test themselves against First Division opposition again in the shape of North West coastal rivals Blackpool. Another Waterston double gave the Sandgrounders a 2-1 win and their second top-flight scalp. A solitary goal from Cowen in the Fourth Round at home to Bradford (Park Avenue) took the club further in the competition than they had ever been before.
Southport were drawn to play at Goodison Park against mighty local rivals Everton, but in front of over 45,500 spectators the club succumbed to a heavy 9-1 defeat, although Waterston did manage to grab his sixth goal of their Cup run as a consolation.
Another Fourth Round appearance was to follow the next season, and another heavy defeat by a First Division side, this time 9-0 by Newcastle United, but not until after the sides had played out two 1-1 draws, with Jimmy Cowen scoring in both games and a record 20,010 spectators at Haig Avenue watching the first replay.
It would be almost 35 years before the club got anywhere near replicating their achievements in the FA Cup either side of 1930, with a trip to the Fifth Round in the 1965/66 season when playing in the Fourth Division. Higher League opposition in the shape of Division Two sides Ipswich Town and Cardiff City were dispensed with before losing 2-0 at Hull City, themselves going on to the Quarter Finals as a Division Three side.
With the club now competing outside of the Football League for almost 30 years, it seems unlikely that the Sandgrounders will grace the Quarter Finals again some time soon, although the exploits of Lincoln City this season gives everyone hope. But for now that memorable run to the last eight of the competition 86 years ago remains the pinnacle of Southport’s achievements in their 120 FA Cup campaigns.