WHILE supporters of Bradford Park Avenue and Accrington Stanley, who meet tomorrow in a much-publicised FA Cup tie, will be recalling distant days when their teams used to contest Football League fixtures, another former League club involved in the FA Cup second qualifying round are making promising progress in their efforts to regain their old status, writes Rupert Metcalf.
Southport face a tricky home tie against Chadderton, an in-form Bass North West Counties League side, but the FA Cup may already be regarded as a distraction from this term's real target for the Sandgrounders. Tuesday's 1-0 home win over Hyde United took Southport to the top of the HFS Loans League for the first time in five years. The GM Vauxhall Conference, just one step away from the Football League they were chucked out of in 1978, beckons if they are still top in May.
Although Lincoln, Darlington and Colchester have all bounced back after losing League status since automatic relegation was introduced, none of the clubs who lost out in the re-election vote in the 1970s have come close to climbing back. Brian Kettle, the former Liverpool full-back in his fourth year as manager at Haig Avenue, has the responsibility of ending that trend and bringing success to the seaside team.
'This is a very ambitious club,' Kettle said yesterday, 'and we are also very aware of our history. A lot of the older supporters talk about the League days, and we'd like to go back, but we've got to get to the Conference first.'
The pounds 25,000 raised from selling Steve Whitehall to Rochdale last year might seem like small change to some Lancashire clubs, but for Southport it was crucial. 'It's an awful lot of money for us,' Kettle added. He singled out one of his recruits for special mention: Peter Withers, a midfielder from Runcorn, who has helped to create many of the 23 goals his new side have scored in their eight league games to date.
Since losing League status Southport have kept their Haig Avenue home in good order, and have managed to build a new stand. With good facilities off the pitch and a rapidly improving team on it, Southport might just be the only successful team on Merseyside this season.
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