Southport FC vs Bromley FC, Vanarama National League Premier, 19/12/15, Merseyrail Community Stadium
“You should go to the Lawnmower museum.” Was my father in laws response when he heard where I would be travelling to for today’s game, and whilst that was tempting, it wasn’t as tempting as a trip to watch Southport play Bromley. The weather was always going to be a worry and the Southport FC twitter (https://twitter.com/southport_fc) was very confident that the game would be on, and a trip to the Lawnmower museum looked very unlikely.
I was to be joined by Adam for today’s match, and we set off from my father in laws’ house in Chorley at around 1.20pm, I hadn’t consulted Google Maps for directions, as I was confident that if I travelled south on the M6 to junction 26 I would find signposts for Southport. I was right, and we parked up near Southport’s Haig Avenue ground, known as the Merseyrail Community Stadium for sponsorship purposes, at about 2.10pm. We then walked down to the ground, where I bought a programme for £3, and had a pre-match pint in the Grandstand Lounge, I must point out that Adam bought the round, cheers Adam. The lounge was filled with Southport and Bromley fans, with Bromley bringing a good number of fans given the fact that they had had to travel for, according to Google Maps, around 4 hours and 20 minutes.
Once we had finished our pints, we headed round to the turnstiles for the Jack Carr Stand. Before the match we had discussed who we would be supporting for the game, and had settled on following Southport, our decision may have been affected by the rain, as we both wanted to stand, and the Jack Carr Stand is the only terrace with any cover. After paying £13.50 to get in to the ground, I then parted with another £1 for a Golden Goal ticket, I pulled out 73 minutes and 30 seconds, and Adam began to hope that we wouldn’t see a goal until the 89th minute.
Haig Avenue is your typical non-league ground, with 3 sides of terracing, and a main stand providing the only seats. The Grandstand straddles the halfway line and doesn’t stretch the entire length of the touchline, it’s a smart stand but is beginning to show its age, and in front of the Grandstand are the dugouts. To the left of the Grandstand stands the Blowick End, the Blowick End is a terrace which is uncovered, it is given to away fans, and some very brave Bromley fans had decided to stand on this terrace for the game. On the other touchline is the Popular Side, this is a terrace which stretches the length of the touchline, at the back of this stand is a TV gantry. The Popular Side appeared to be closed for this match, and I can understand why, as given the weather I doubt that anyone would have wanted to stand on it. The final stand in the ground is the Jack Carr stand, this is a covered terrace, and the steep incline of the stand affords a good view of the pitch, next to this stand is a scoreboard which stopped working for part of the game.
Southport Football Club were formed 134 years ago in 1881, the club had actually started life as a rugby team before switching to association football in November 1881. In the 1884 to 1885 season the club merged with Southport Athletic Society and they moved to the Sports Ground, Sussex Road. As the popularity of football grew, other clubs popped up in the town. Southport Wanderers, High Park, Churchtown and Southport Old Boys were amongst the most prominent but it was Southport Football Club to be the town’s premier side. In June 1886, at the Southport Wanderers’ AGM they invited Southport to amalgamate following the severance of their connection with the Athletic Society, whose unfortunate connection with the Football Club had resulted in the Society incurring an expenditure on their account of £88-3 shillings, and after 5 years of existence Southport’s first football club folded. At least 6 former Southport players and the majority of the supporters transferred their affiliations to Wanderers, and in September 1886, Southport Wanderers unanimously resolved that they would henceforth be known as Southport Football Club. Southport would then go on to be known as Southport Central until 1918 when they became Southport Vulcan, as they had been bought by the Vulcan Motor Company, and they became the first club to take a sponsor’s name. Southport Vulcan reverted to simply Southport in 1921, as they joined the Football League, becoming founder members of the Third Division North. In 1978 disaster struck and the club were voted out of the Football League, following three consecutive 23rd (out of 24th) placed finishes, and they were replaced by Wigan Athletic. Following a number of years in or around the Northern Premier League, with a stint in the Conference, the club became founder members of the Conference North in the 2004 to 2005 season, and they were the league’s first champions earning promotion to the Conference National. The club became a full time club in 2006 and stayed that way until 2008, when they reverted back to part time status. Southport have been in the Conference National, now the National League Premier since 2010, but have found themselves at the wrong end of the table, a poor run of results saw Paul Carden sacked in November 2015, with Dino Maamria taking over as manager.
Southport’s opponents Bromley were formed 123 years ago in 1892. Their early days were spend playing friendly matches against mainly local opposition. They then joined the South London League which they won at the first attempt. They would then go on to move frequently between leagues in their early days, as two seasons in the Southern Football League were then followed by a spell in the London League, and they won the Division Two title in 1897. They then had a brief interlude in the Kent League, and they returned to the London League but were expelled in 1900, they then moved to the Spartan League and they won this league in 1908, following this they had their first spell in the Isthmian League, and they won the championship in each of their first two seasons. After the First World War they joined the Athenian League, and won the title in 1923. Bromley moved to their current home in 1938, Hayes Lane. Though the 1930s were successful on the cup front, the club would have to wait until 1949 to win a league, when they won the Athenian League Championship, to go with the FA Amateur Cup. The 80s were somewhat of an up and down period as they bounced between the Isthmian Premier League and the First Division. The early 2000s are probably a time that Bromley would like to forget as they fell into a period of sharp decline. However in 2002, local businessman and former Bromley player Jerry Dolke took control of the club, and their fortunes revived slightly, but it was not enough to stop them from dropping into the eighth tier of English football for the first time following the 2004 restructuring of non-league football. Bromley had finished the 2003 to 2004 season in 8th in the First Division South, and if they had finished in 6th or higher, they would have qualified for the new seventh tier Isthmian Premier Division. Via the play-offs in 2005, the club returned to the Premier Division, and consolidated their place in the 2005 to 2006 season. Once again Bromley were victorious in the play-offs, and in 2007 the club reached the Conference South, where they spent several seasons before winning the league in 2015, making this their first season in the Conference Premier (National League Premier).
This was to be the first ever match between Southport and Bromley, with Bromley becoming the 129th team Southport have played in Non-League football, I have to admit that I had not known of this fact until I read the programme, and I was slightly proud of my ability to pick a football match, as I had unintentionally picked a little piece of Non-League history.
Ten minutes into the historic match, I decided that I needed the toilet and headed behind the stand to the toilets under the Jack Carr stand, although they’ve probably seen better days, they are still well-looked after. Following this I decided to go and get a drink from the “Licensed to Grill” refreshment hut, and I paid £3 for a coke and a diet coke, which were served in Coca Cola disposable cups, and not the usual bottles.
The first twenty minutes were evenly matched with both sides looking to get the advantage, despite the distance that they had travelled, the Bromley players looked good, and were showing some good attacking play.
It was to be Southport that broke the deadlock, as the ball was whipped in from a free-kick on the right wing, and it was Southport’s number 8, Andy Wright who would get the final touch to steer the ball into the net.
Bromley found an equalizer in the 35th minute, as the ball was delivered into the box, Lee Minshull managed to get onto the end of it, and took a shot. The ball took a deflection off of the keeper, but it found its way into the back of the net, and Bromley found their way back into the game.
The referee, Simon Bennett, wasn’t allowing the game to flow as he frequently blew when he probably could have played the advantage, and despite the amount of fouls he awarded, it took him until the 40th minute for him to produce a yellow card, which was awarded to Bromley’s Ali Fuseini for a poor tackle.
In the 45th minute Bromley won a corner, and the ball was delivered into the box, where Rob Swaine beat the home defense to the ball, and he netted a header to put Bromley into the lead.
Bromley’s lead was to last a minute, as Southport stormed up the pitch from the kick off, and Gary Jones equalized with a good finish past Chris Kettings in the Bromley goal. An evenly matched first half was to finish with both sides even.
Half time: Southport 2-2 Bromley (Wright 20, G Jones 45+1 – Minshull 35, Swaine 45)
At half time, Adam and I wandered round to the “Licensed to Grill” refreshment hut, and I decided on a ½ pound cheeseburger with onions. The ½ pound cheeseburger came to £5, and whilst it was a good burger, it wasn’t a patch on the burger I had at Chirk. Though to be fair I still dream of the burger I had at Chirk and it will take a very special burger to ever match that one.
The emergence of the two teams for the second half put an end to my daydream about the burger at Chirk, and I began to focus once again on the pitch. Southport went into fifth gear straight from the kick off, and in the 47th minute Mike Phenix made it 3-2. A low cross was put in from the left wing, and the ball ran across the six yard box, where Phenix ran in and slotted home.
The opening 15 minutes of the half were all Southport as they looked dangerous in the box, and to be honest they could have had a fourth before the 58th minute. As it was the fourth came in the 58th minute as Southport won a penalty, Louis Almond stepped up and made no mistake, as he fired the ball low into the bottom left corner. (https://twitter.com/southport_fc/status/678248111656067073)
Southport made their first change in the 67th minute, as Sam Grimshaw came on to replace Paul Rutherford, who left the pitch to a standing ovation.
Bromley made a double substitution in the 70th minute, as Ali Fuseini and Rob Swaine were replaced by Sean Francis and Alex Wall.
Jamie Allen made it 5-2 to Southport in the 76th minute, as he beat the Bromley defense and found himself one on one with the keeper. Allen kept his cool and he fired a good shot into the bottom right corner. Following this goal Bromley made their final substitution as Pierre Joseph-Dubois came off for Paul Rodgers.
Almost straight from the kick off, Shaun Francis raced down the other end of the pitch, and slotted the ball past Max Crocombe in the Southport goal. The Bromley fans began to sing “We’re gonna beat you 6-5”, rather optimistically.
Southport made their second change of the game in the 82nd minute as Mike Phenix went off to be replaced by Andrai Jones. Phenix had played well, and had put in a good shift in the Southport attack.
In the 84th minute Charlie Joyce came on to replace Louis Almond, and Almond left the pitch to a standing ovation for his excellent contribution to today’s game. Almond had played brilliantly and hadn’t given the Bromley defense much rest.
The fourth official signaled that there would be four minutes added on to the game. Southport were still attacking, looking for more goals, as Andrai Jones looked to be a threat down the right wing, and the Bromley left back looked unable to contain him.
Even though they were 5-3 down, the Bromley fans were still singing, and towards the end of the game it was clear to hear their chants of “You are my Bromley!” It can’t be easy travelling for hundreds of miles up motorways just to watch your team lose, and I feel that the Bromley fans deserved more from this game just for their dedication alone. However it wasn’t to be, and following the four minutes of added time, Southport emerged from this game deserved winners.
Final Score: Southport 5-3 Bromley (Wright 20, G Jones 45+1, Phenix 47, Almond 58, Allen 76 – Minshull 35, Swaine 45, Francis 78)
As soon as the final whistle blew, we headed for the exit. It was still raining, and I cursed myself for parking as far from the ground as I had. The Bromley fans had started to board their coaches, and I hope their journey back to London was a quick and easy one.
Both sets of fans were exceptional during the game. The Southport fans haven’t had an easy time of late, as they haven’t exactly been watching their team play brilliantly. Hopefully today will mark the beginning of an improvement, and although the play-offs may be out of their reach, I feel that they should be aiming for mid-table safety. I’ve already stated that the Bromley fans deserved more from this game, as it takes dedication to follow a team around the country, and to go to Southport on a wet December day, days away from Christmas takes a high level of commitment. Hopefully the Bromley fans will be rewarded for their level of support in their next match.
Haig Avenue is a lovely ground, and I would like to visit again, only next time I would like to visit on a day when it isn’t pouring with rain, so that I can stand on the Popular Side. Credit should go to the Southport groundstaff as they must have worked exceptionally hard to get the pitch to the standard it was. The rain clearly affected the pitch by the end of the game, and its effects on the game were clear to see, as both sets of players struggled to stay on their feet. Southport deserved the win, as they coped better with the conditions, and their attackers played out of their skin, although the man of the match for me would be the Southport keeper Max Crocombe.
Attendance: 751 (79 Bromley fans)
Hat-tricks seen so far: 3
Next week’s plan: MBI Llandudno vs Bangor City, Dafabet Welsh Premier League, 26/12/15
Money spent: £25.50
Thanks for reading!
RIP Jimmy Hill, you’ll be missed.