It all begins here

Cod Almighty | Article

by Neville Butt

9 August 2012

Less than a hundred hours to the first blast of the whistle that will start the 2012-13 season. Liverpool by the Sea has never been a happy watering hole in seasons past. The informative We Only Sing When We're Fishing, Town's official history by Dave Wherry, states in black and white that the Fishermen have only won three out of 15 Football League games at Haig Avenue, Southport. In our current guise as a non-League club we drew first time round 2-2, recovering from being swamped and 2-0 down at the break, with goals from the near-prolific Daffy Duffy and Rob Atkinson. A game we should have won - despite the goal from our category C international coming in the 84th minute.

I watched that game, one of the few I saw that season. This was an exercise in exasperation for manager Neil Woods as we failed to convert late chances. We were allowed to mingle on the night with the Southport fans and I was close enough to the touchline to hear the clear instructions issued by Neil Woods. It was astonishing that a player with the supposed experience of Peter Bore had to be constantly told which players he had to mark, when he had to mark them and where they had to be marked. That was only trumped by defender Steven Watt, who seemed incapable of following simple instructions at left-back, being frequently caught out of position. No wonder they were allowed to leave.

I watched the game with Southport on TV last season. After an Anthony Elding own goal we pulled a goal back thanks to poor marking before the interval through defender Mick the Miller. The forceful Liam snatched a second-half winner.

Many older fans of the Mariners will recall the promotion triumph against Southport in April '56, with Billy Evans and Bob Crosbie making our 2-0 success one we can still savour. Southport were victims 4-1 in the record-breaking 11-match winning run of '51-52. Billy Cairns added three goals on that day - a significant contribution towards his overall tally of 132 Mariner goals for a player whose best years were missed because of the Second World War.

At that time a free market existed, with the transfer of players between Town and Southport gathering momentum in the seasons after the war. Wally Taylor from our Division Two side found the journey across the Pennines to his advantage - after 21 games from his Blundell Park base he went on to play 269 times for the Lancashire club. Alf Barratt, he of the free-flowing locks, played 24 games at BP but, like Taylor, was tarnished by playing for the team relegated in '50-51. Barratt moved to Haig Avenue, where he amassed 197 appearances.

The move to Southport was the death knell as far as appearing in the Football League was concerned, with the League careers of both Taylor and Barratt ending at Haig Avenue. Les Barratt, a player of the sixties, made a similar move but he played a mere four games for Town and nine at Southport.

My apocryphal anecdote is that Verdi Godwin had grey shorts as opposed to his colleague's black

On the other hand Bill Bellas left the balmy Fylde coast for the chilly Humber estuary. He appeared five times for Town after 88 promising outings at Southport but he played second fiddle to Duncan McMillan. With the ubiquitous Paddy Johnstone subsequently providing more than adequate cover as a centre-half, Bellas disappeared from the League scene.

There is one more player to mention here. The delightfully named Verdi Godwin played but one game for Town before his Requiem Mass and that contest ended in a 2-0 defeat at Wrexham. Grimsby Town was his sixth club. Southport became his eighth out of ten two years later. I was fortunate to see him play for the reserves but my apocryphal anecdote is that he had grey shorts as opposed to his colleague's black.

Perhaps he borrowed them from Bill Shankly, who had definitely appeared in grey shorts for Town's reserves a few days earlier, on Boxing Day 1951, in a surprise appearance against Scunthorpe's second string. The programme for the league game that followed stated that Shankly showed some of the touches that made him Scotland's number one choice player for many years. The article added that Shankly created a feeling of confidence that greatly helped the boys to their four goals to one win.

While on the player theme, John Fielding started his career at Southport in the 1960s and made 76 appearances for them, 82 at Brentford and 25 at Grimsby. Often in the shadow of Doug Collins, his main claim to fame was that, despite being labelled a winger, he was really the first right-sided midfield player on Town's books with his ability to both tackle and track back and win the ball - new tactics for Town fans, and a cause for debate as the skilful Doug Collins was a much more attack-minded number seven.

Hopes are raised and hopes are dashed at the start of any campaign

I have completely lost the plot - trying to recall opening games of the season - but over the years I have not seen that many, with cricket and holidays frequently taking priority. So often our confidence and hopes have been shattered. Not the least of which was when we were Froggatt-marched and Bull-dozed in 1996-97. Wolves' 3-1 win was the game that brought about the end of Brian Laws' playing career. A few years earlier I saw Cambridge United wallop us 4-3, Town outpaced against a super-fit side whose pre-match warm-up - under iron man John Beck and aided by the use of funny-shaped cones - was revolutionary.

Last year was a disaster when we lost to Fleetwood but that was not a surprise. A year earlier we stole a win at the subsequently promoted Crawley - but that win, in our first non-League outing for 100 years, proved to be a false dawn. The 0-0 draw with York that followed, and then the humbling 1-2 home defeat to Hayes & Yeading, set the pattern for the season.

Hopes are raised and hopes are dashed at the start of any campaign. The 3-0 win over Villa on the opening day of 1947-48 meant Town were second for a few days of Division One before dropping up out of the top league. In 1954-55 Rochdale were trounced by a 3-0 margin and Town had to seek re-election. Our last League season witnessed a 2-1 defeat at Cheltenham and that was a message that went unanswered. A 4-0 opening-day annihilation at Norwich was the harbinger of relegation doom in 2002-03. Town's crass sackings of Alan Buckley and then Paul Groves have come back time and again to haunt the club.

This Saturday may provide an indication as to our Town's potential for 2012-13. Three drawn games at the start of '50-51 set the tone for a season that ended in relegation. Three drawn games at the start of 1997-98, one win out of the first eight games, turned out to be minor irritants but that season climaxed at Wembley. I wish I felt more confident about the coming season - but can we say the new players will have any more success than those they have replaced?

To comment on Neville's reminiscences and analysis, please drop us a line through the Cod Almighty feedback form. Ta.