Southport FC meeting the opposition.
Tranmere Rovers continue their preparations for the 2023-24 season with an away trip to Southport FC’s Haig Avenue on Tuesday night.
They started their friendly schedule off with a goalless draw against Vauxhall Motors on Saturday afternoon, The Motormen shone that day but recently signed Rovers keeper Luke McGee showed what he can do as he produced a fantastic acrobatic save just before half time.
It has been a busy summer and it will continue to be one, Nigel Adkins has come in to oversee the work the coaches do as technical director and all the recruited players have won promotion from the division in recent times. Club legend Connor Jennings has returned too!
Sandgrounders fan Warwick Monk spoke to me in depth ahead of the midweek match about all things Southport including the times the two sides faced each other in The National League.
How long have you been supporting Southport for and how did your first experience of the club come about?
I’ve supported The Sandgrounders since 1981. Southport had been in non league for 3 years since losing their football league status to Wigan Athletic in the re-election vote 1978. Unfortunately our board at the time decided to decline the invitation to join the newly formed Alliance league (now the National League) in 1979 possibly due to travel costs and our crowds plummeted. By 1981 the local paper asked the local population to rally around to save the club from possible disaster and boost numbers through the turnstiles. Hence as a schoolboy I turned up and was totally hooked!
What have some of the best and worst moments been?
The best time undoubtedly for me was seeing Southport at the old Wembley Stadium in the Final of the FA Trophy in 1998 vs Cheltenham Town.
The worst time for me was the unbelievable 2002/03 season. In November we were 4th in the league and had appeared on Match of the Day as we knocked Notts County out of the FA Cup 4-2 at Haig Avenue. Then we witnessed one of the biggest spirals down the league, Phil Wilson left in February and we brought in Mick Walsh who was an unmitigated disaster. We lost at Stevenage on the last day of the season with a massive away following knowing we had to win to stay up. We didn’t!
Southport finished 18th in the National League North last season, surviving relegation by a point and ten goals. What are your thoughts on the campaign when you take a look back at it?
Last season was one of those years all clubs have with horrendous injuries. We lost our new striker Nyal Bell in a pre-season friendly for the whole season and to be honest never replaced him adequately. We had a decent defence but just couldn’t score goals and with other injuries and such a small squad and a limited budget we scraped to survival on the last day of the season at Leamington after losing our last 8 league matches. We did at least win the Lancashire Challenge Trophy for some silverware thankfully.
How have the club attempted to address their issues in the summer and how well do you believe they have done?
Since May the club have released around 8 players and brought in 5 so far with a few more expected in the next month before the season starts in August. The big signing so far is striker Marcus Carver on a season long loan from Scunthorpe United. He was our leading scorer a couple of seasons ago before we sold him to Hartlepool who were then still in the football league and was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. The Port fans are ecstatic to have him back.
We’ve also brought in two excellent experienced signings in goalkeeper Chris Renshaw from Curzon Ashton and Harry Flowers, a 6ft 5in central defender from AFC Telford, plus two talented highly rated young full backs in Freddie Sass from Mossley and Matty Thomson from Bamber Bridge. I think we need an experienced head in midfield and a couple of wingers, we had 5 trialists in our first friendly with a strong Blackpool team, lost 3-0, and one in particular looked decent. Hopefully we pick up a few more lads and then we can make a push for the playoffs touch wood this season.
53-year-old Liam Watson is manager of Southport, he was appointed on a permanent basis in 2018 after his time as caretaker and had been at the club two times before that. What are your thoughts on him and his playing style?
Liam Watson. Hmmm! ????
He splits opinions at the club amongst our fans, you only have to read the fans forum, Port Chat, to see that! I personally like the guy and he has given us some great times over the years. Yes his style of play isn’t for everyone, direct and robust but people seem to forget some of the flair players he’s had in his teams over the years and progressed their careers, whilst making the club over a million in transfer fees/resale bonuses.
He’s obviously realised we needed big changes from last year’s squad and is in the process of sorting that. We shall see how it works out but he is under pressure after last season’s end of season results. Good luck Liam!
Ian Kyle is Southport’s Chairman. How well are Southport run away from the pitch?
Ian Kyle and his wife Clare have been amazing especially through COVID-19 and after we lost our previous big investor Phil Hodgkinson who left to take over at Huddersfield Town, his boyhood club he had supported all his life.
Ian had to make some very difficult and cost cutting decisions to keep the club afloat and become more sustainable with the great work by Clare in our fabulous clubhouse with our corporate and social events, birthdays, weddings etcetera. I have to mention that Ian and the board are ably assisted by the most incredible bunch of volunteers that keep the club ticking over day by day. Legends, a lot of them and so important in non league football.
Jordan Archer netted ten league goals in 28 appearances in the 2022-23 season, how important is he to the team and how would you describe his playing style?
Jordan Archer is a great lad and loves Southport FC. Totally committed to us travelling from the Midlands, his brother is the highly talented England under 21 Aston Villa player Cameron Archer by the way!
Last season he gave his all but I think even he will admit he missed having a foil next to him, but he’s now got his foil back in Marcus Carver! The double act is back and they will both flourish, of that I am 100% convinced as long as we finally get some luck with fitness and injuries.
Who are Southport’s other one’s to watch?
We have a few young lads who will go onto the football league for sure but I’ll just mention two in centre back Adam Anson first who is a classy footballer who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Then midfielder Josh Hmani who works tirelessly and has a shot on him, he needs to shoot more. He stood out a couple of seasons ago when he was playing for Marine in their televised FA Cup tie versus Tottenham Hotspurs.
Tranmere and Southport competed against each other on a regular basis when The Rovers were in The National League, what are your thoughts on The Whites?
I always enjoyed our recent tussles with Tranmere especially with Steve McNulty at the back for you guys. What a player, a Colossus and a complete pain in the butt! ????
I was surprised to see Micky Melon leave last season and it will be interesting to see how Ian Dawes gets on. He did well in his first caretaker role before Keth Hill and I thought he might have got the job then.
How much are you looking forward to the new season? What are your goals and expectations?
I’m very much looking forward to the new season and hopefully seeing some much needed goals and entertainment after last season. Hopefully we will make the Playoffs and get promotion but we would dearly love a good run in the FA Cup and pluck a massive money making tie. You never know another trip to Wembley would be nice too in the Trophy. A man can dream!
I’m particularly looking forward to our friendly versus FC Isle of Man, something a bit different for our supporters.
Anyway, all the best to Tranmere for the season and your loyal supporters.
Southport FC play their home matches at Haig Avenue. Tranmere travelled here last summer and won 4-1, trialist Joel Mumbongo shone up front but went off injured.