“I hope when you get home you find that your toasters and kettles have broken!” were the irate words that Arthur, a recently retired pensioner shrieked at a group of shell-shocked Chorley fans. Their crime? Celebrating their victory against a plucky Atherton Collieries in the Lancashire Challenge Trophy. It was a freezing cold November night at Victory Park. Patches of ice were forming on the pitch, extremities of the body were turning funny colours and we had cruelly lost against a club four divisions higher than us thanks to an own goal and a penalty claim that wasn’t awarded.
Arthur is a proud scouser with a Welsh background. His voice, they say, could cut steel. South Liverpool were his ‘proper’ club but having moved close to Atherton from Merseyside, he found a love for Colls and took great exception to the Chorley fans gloating and mocking after scraping past a club who, in reality, they should have absolutely hammered. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard from Arthur for a few years now but I will always remember his love for South Liverpool FC; a club he spoke about at length with pride and passion.
The club that Arthur used to watch when he was younger weren’t quite the same one that Adam and I caught take on Burscough on this warm summer’s evening on Jericho Lane, Aigburth. They had fallen into deep financial difficulties and were forced to call it a day in 1991 but prior to that, had attempted on numerous occasions to enter the Football League. FA Cup wise, they were relatively successful, reaching the First Round Proper eight times and making it to the Second Round twice.
Arthur would regularly regale us with stories of various ‘South away days’ and other memories that he clearly cherished. His connection to South Liverpool was more deeply rooted than many, with his father, who was a volunteer at the club tragically passing away one day while tidying up the Holly Park ground. Arthur’s veins were a strange mixture of Evertonian blue, South white and Collieries stripes.
From the ashes of a once proud club, a newly formed committee decided to carry on the club’s name but merge with neighbours Cheshire Lines FC. Despite South Liverpool Lines FC sounding like a drugs cartel, they experienced early success but this premature venture didn’t last long and by 1995 the club, now known as South Liverpool FC entered the Liverpool County Combination.
Since 2000, South have played at North Field on Jericho Lane. The clubs old spiritual home of Holly Park, Garston was demolished and the impressive South Liverpool Parkway transport hub was built on the very site where Ferenc Puskás once played in front of over 10,000 spectators. There’s a plaque in the station building commemorating the occasion and it ensures, in a small way, that Holly Park and the history that came with it isn’t forgotten.
North Field had been built up by the club and had served their purposes well during their time in the County Combination and subsequent parallel move into the West Cheshire League. However, a new sense of ambition has taken hold in the past couple of years and if it wasn’t for the pandemic that swept the world, South Liverpool would be a NWCFL side for the upcoming 2020/21 season. The couple of volunteers I spoke to didn’t seem to grumble though, saying it was just one of those things.
Liverpool City Council and the FA have been proactive in creating and funding a new sports facility on Jericho Lane, just a minute or so south of the North Field pitch. In 2019, the club moved into the new facility and by March of 2020, they had almost completed all work required to make the step up in the pyramid. Upon building a covered terrace, they proudly announced that it was the first roof they’d had since 1990.
As I’ve already alluded to, when the 2019/20 NWCFL season was null and voided, the club who were arguably hit the hardest were South Liverpool. They were told that they would not be able to make the step up, whilst clubs such as FC Isle of Man and Bury AFC were flighted in without any issues whatsoever. It wasn’t a fair call at all and it’s desperately harsh on South. They’re just going to have to wait another season and hope they finish within the promotion boundaries of the West Cheshire League once again.
In the meantime, they’re taking as many opportunities as they can do to test themselves against NWCFL opposition, with the newly rebranded Warrington Rylands visiting last week. One huge advantage of this whole mess, from a purely selfish perspective, is that South weren’t able to access their brand new ground due to it being a council facility so they had resorted to playing their friendlies at their old home. It presented fans and ground hoppers alike a few more opportunities to ‘properly’ tick off North Field.
With the sun shining, I picked Adam up in Leigh and we headed over in the rough direction of Aigburth ahead of what I predicted would be a 18:45 kick off, although this wasn’t confirmed anywhere as spectators were being discouraged from attending. We were going to put camouflage clothing on and hide in the bushes but things like that lead to vicious rumours in the groundhopping fraternity.
In search of a pint, we made a pit stop at the Childwall Fiveways Hotel, where a large group of students were busy celebrating (or drowning their sorrows) following
Predicted Grades Day A-Level Results Day. A small minority were discussing whether to appeal their grades, while most didn’t care and were well on their way to forgetting about the whole ridiculous mess.
Arriving in Aigburth, we passed the ground and went for a wander along the course of the River Mersey, with the imposing dockyards at Cammell Laird visible on the other side. I got down on my knees and thanked Neptune, the Roman God of Water the Sea, for ensuring that Colls don’t have to travel there for a league fixture for yet another season. Five visits to the Cammell Laird Social Club is enough for even the most hardened of alcoholic football enthusiast.
Back on my feet, I attempted to mount the large statue of a bull that was presiding over the local park. Failure followed and we duly made our way back towards the ground in search of a pint and some food before the match kicked off. Google Maps had promised us a Harvester which would have sufficed… but upon arriving we were presented with a Miller & Carter Steakhouse, who weren’t keen on letting us in whatsoever. I think, in hindsight, we probably looked a bit too common for them. It doesn’t bode well for a future visit to South Liverpool’s new ground, with that being the nearest place that serves alcohol.
Nevermind, we were kindly pointed a mile further up the road to where the riff-raff were and ended up at The Britannia which was a proper naff chain pub which had been invaded by an army of busy wasps. It did offer ‘nice’ views of the Mersey, with many cyclists and joggers opting to use the pub as a resting point before pressing on. We were soon on our way ourselves, driving back to Jericho Lane where we were able to park on the club’s field next to the pitch.
Tucked away, shrouded by trees and other foliage, in the corner are the changing rooms which proudly display the South Liverpool name above them. Spectators were littered around the perimeter barrier, with one bloke bringing his own deckchair to sit by the corner flag while he casually drank a bottle of rosé wine. What a life.
South Liverpool emerged, rather bizarrely, wearing a full Newcastle United home strip. The club had bought a large batch at a cut down price and thought they would be ideal for pre-season when they can get through a huge number of players in one match. In my head, I imagined some bloke driving around the streets of Toxteth trying to flog random football kits out of the back of his van. Oh, I forgot to mention. They couldn’t get hold of a Newcastle United goalkeeper shirt so the stopper had to make do with a Tranmere Rovers one.
Lining up for Burscough was former Colls centre back Luke Gibson, or Gibbo to give him his nickname. I won’t lie, I felt like my thunder had been stolen when he arrived at the club, as my nickname was then subsequently changed to ‘Joe Gibbo’. After a few months I forgave him when he struck the winner away at Cheadle Town which clinched the NWCFL Division 1 title for us. So, despite not being with us for a long spell, he is a Colls cult hero.
South Liverpool took the lead after just five minutes when a clever lay off allowed Steve Doyle to slot the ball into the bottom corner. Burscough came close on a couple of occasions but it wouldn’t be until the 65th minute when they would equalise through a well taken back-post header.
By this point, Burscough had changed all of their players, were now playing in orange instead of green and Adam had lost his glasses following a collision with wayward shot from a Linnets forward. We were stood behind the goal in the company of Salford City fan Andy and Prescot Cables fans Steve and Adam. The bloke to our left was still enjoying his wine as South regained the lead with 12 minutes to go through Cameron Dalton.
It had been a pleasant evening down at South Liverpool, where the older gentlemen who volunteered for the club were great to chat to. They asked me to get in touch if I heard from Arthur, a man they shared many happy times with 30 years ago. I left wishing them the best for the future and looked forward to meeting them again at some point. South do have a couple more home friendlies scheduled against AFC Liverpool and Litherland REMYCA if you’re keen to visit North Field before they return to the Jericho Lane Sports Hub.