South Liverpool have big plans to climb back up the Non-League Pyramid
By Matt Badcock
Heard about the Non-League club that launched the careers of future English champions – including a three-time European Cup winner – and once saw legendary Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskas turn out for them?
Meet South Liverpool FC, the Step 7 outfit trying to recapture past glories and push their way back up the Pyramid.
“We’re very proud of our history,” secretary Jim Stanway says. “Some of it is quite unique.”
Stanway has seen a lot since the 12-year-old him started watching the club back in 1968. But even before they became founder members of the Northern Premier League, the name South Liverpool was long famous in football.
Playing at their Holly Park home in Garston, South were a force in the 1930s, winning the Lancashire Combination and – following a 1939 win of the Welsh Cup – on the verge of election into the Football League before World War II. In all, they applied ten times without success.
As Stanway says, their history is quite unique. In 1949, they hosted the first match in the UK to be played under “modern” floodlights against a Nigerian touring side and, in 1967, 40-year-old Puskas drew a sell-out crowd of 10,000 to Holly Park for a fundraising friendly.
At Liverpool South Parkway Railway Station – the site of their old ground – there is a commemorative plaque to mark the great Hungarian’s appearance.
“Up until 1991 when we folded, we played a very high level of Non-League football,” Stanway says.
Former names roll off the tongue. Jimmy Case went on to win the European Cup three times with Liverpool, as well as the UEFA Cup, four First Division titles and a hat-trick of European Super Cups. John Aldridge was another to pull on the famous South shirt.
“I remember Aldridge particularly,” Stanway says. “He played for our youth team and then he went to play for a local side, Cheshire Lines, for a year at 18. When he came back he initially couldn’t get in the side because the player-manager, a lad called Russ Perkins, was a centre-forward and he played himself.
“But three or four months in, John’s performances as a substitute were just spectacular. By February, March of that season we were tearing teams apart. We had some very good players as well as him – scouts were coming from all over the place. Sometimes you felt there were more scouts than spectators.
“Then Newport County came because they had a link via their manager at the time. Len Ashurst, he was a scouser, and his brother was a scout up here. The rest is history.”
Like Case, Aldridge would win the First Division with Liverpool but would also lift the FA Cup in 1989. But in 1991, the club folded. By then, at the behest of a sole owner, they’d moved out of Holly Park – the clubhouse had burnt down and a deal was struck with Bootle which saw them take their floodlights and play for free. A nomadic period saw South drift out of the locals’ conscience and out of business.
“In order for us to take back control of the club, we had to let it die,” Stanway explains.
Current manager Martin Ryman had been involved with the club as an 11-year-old – his dad was manager of the reserves – and he played in the first game when they reformed in the Liverpool County Combination. He’s been there ever since.
“I had eight years as a player and I sort of got railroaded into being the manager when I was 29,” Ryman, 49, laughs. “There were certainly better players than me and certainly more experienced players than me. We were a close-knit bunch.
“But I got railroaded into helping them out for a short period and I enjoyed it – albeit in my first game as manager we got beat 6-2 and you’re thinking, ‘I don’t think I’m going to hang on to the job here!’. I’m privileged to have represented the club, captained the club and now manage the club.”
In recent years, they’ve started climbing again, coinciding with moving into their own Jericho Sports Lane ground.
In 2011-12, they won the West Cheshire League Third Division and followed it up with the Second Division title and the First Division. They’ve now won it three times in five years and were on track for a fourth before the season was wiped out.
But this league title would have been bigger than ever. They’d announced their intentions to get promoted into the North West Counties League.
A concerted effort has seen their social media presence treble and for their final two games they had more than 100 fans through the gate. In October, Mason Nevitt scored eight in a game and club captain Cameron Dalton hit a club record 22nd hat-trick for the first team, ending an 80-year milestone.
“We’ve had people who have come to the game because they’ve clicked onto our social media pages,” committee member Gary Johansen says. “We’ve also had people who used to come years ago who have now come back.”
The decision to null and void the leagues has hit them hard. They’d spent £25,000 to get their ground up to Step 6 standard – including a covered terrace, an enclosed walkway to the pitch and some changing room and perimeter fencing tweaks all due to be completed the day the country was put into lockdown – and they admit their frustration at the outcome of a season of toil on and off the pitch.
“Last season was the most important season since South Liverpool reformed because we stated very early on: We are going to apply for the North West Counties,” Ryman says.
“We put it out there we were trying to get back in the semi-pro circuit. A lot of people say they didn’t realise South Liverpool were still going so we’re trying to make our own little bit of history.”
Ryman puts their success down to continuity – his staff Stephen Ward and David Cringle are long-serving – while players like Kev Martin have been with him 17 years.
But it’s also been about looking after the players and them buying into leading the rise of a famous name of Non-League’s past.
“It’s to regenerate that,” Johansen says. “To get people to say, ‘Wow, South Liverpool. What a name and here it is back in the Non-League Pyramid’. It would just be tremendous.”