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Southport: Sand, Sea.....and the Sandgrounders! (A FM2005 Odessey)

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The Champion


Southport manager Liam Watson today stepped down as club manager citing he wanted to concentrate on playing. Watson was player manager during his spell, he will now stay at Haig Avenue in a playing role only. Speculation is rife around the club as to who would succeed him, player and assistant manager Neil Whalley has already ruled himself out of the position.

A spokesperson for the club said that this was a mutual agreement between Watson and chairman Charlie Clapham and that there were no other reasons for his resignation from the managerial role. The spokesperson failed to comment on who or when a new manager would be appointed. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Gary Peterson was a little surprised as he read his morning paper, Watson had managed other clubs before whilst still playing. He thought it odd that it was the managerial role that was put aside. He finished off his coffee and flicked through the rest of the paper stopping at any story that seemed of interest.

Gary was from a wealthy family hence his nice house in the centre of Southport. Southport is often seen as a pleasant place to live where wealthy families that commute to Liverpool would settle here. The main economic source for the town is its tourism, miles of golden beaches, restored seafront, a fairground and his favourite six golf courses. He was on his way to one now, as a lot footballers do he liked golf, he could think of no better way of spending a sunny afternoon.

Once a professional footballer, a youth product of Manchester United he moved onto Everton, Burnley, Blackpool, Preston before ending his playing days at Southport. Despite his wealthy heritage Gary liked to work, he was involved with the PASE (Programme of Academic and Sporting Excellence) scheme. This is where 16-19 year olds are encouraged to get a nationally recognised degree whilst training in sport. This is done with an FE College and the local sports organisation, in this case Southport FC. So Gary would train and manage these kids and teach them sports science at the college.

As he was playing his round of golf Gary wasn’t surprised to hear Southport’s fans bewilderment at the news. It was widely accepted that Watson was doing a good job and that Southport were among the favourites to be promoted to the nation conference. This decision certainly threw a spanner in the works.

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The Champion


Gary Peterson has been named as the new manager of Southport FC. In a press release received earlier today Peterson will take charge immediately. He had currently been working as the club’s PASE scheme manager, but he will pass those duties on as he becomes the club manager. It is expected that Peterson will guide the team to promotion as were the expectations of former manager Liam Watson. The 36 year old has no senior managerial experience but club insiders say that he has the potential to be a successful manager. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Peterson was taken aback when Charlie Clapham called him in for a meeting and offered him the job. All he was expecting was to give a report on the PASE team. At this level it wouldn’t be right to offer these kids contracts whilst still in education, however the scheme was handy for scouting talent. Peterson’s job included informing the chairman of any potential stars to sign up when they had finished the course. When he offered him the job Peterson could reply his mind had gone blank, out of the blue he had been offered this job he couldn’t really afford to turn down.

Management was always contemplated by Peterson after his playing career was up, and here was his perfect chance to get a foothold. Clapham had told him that Whalley had refused the job as he would feel uncomfortable managing his old boss. Whalley had also been Watson’s assistant manager at Runcorn FC Halton to give them their full title. Peterson wasn’t surprised, he also expected the two to move on to pastures new.

He couldn’t have found a better place to start his managerial career than here. The training facilities were good and they had a decent ground. The finances were all in order and in the black, they had a competent structure from top to bottom. Also a fantastic group of players and superb support. He relished the chance and was chomping at the bit to get down to the nitty gritty of management.

The club were in a financially strong position, there was still some leeway in the wage budget and transfer budget. However, he was a basics man, about everything both business and team. He would not jeopardise the future of this club by lavishing big wages on players, he would work to the budgets. Also he would use the basic but safe 4-4-2 formation, with this everyone knew their role it was bread and butter for any footballer. He knew tomorrow would be a long day, he had to asses the squad and find a new assistant manager.

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That evening when he got home he sat down at his desk and poured himself a whiskey. He had brought home the player evaluations that ex manager Liam Watson had made. These would give him a rough guide he thought, he would obviously judge for himself in training and pre-season if they were accurate. He hadn’t seen much of Southport as his work with the PASE scheme was always on a Saturday afternoon so he really was starting from scratch..

Southport had two keepers on their books, Steve Dickenson or Dicko as he is known is the first choice. He had some professional with Bradford City, his reflexes, bravery and agility were his better skills. Steve Daly was the backup keeper, at 18 he would be learning his trade from Dicko. In the centre of defence was a giant of a man, Earl Davis affectionately known as The Earl was as wide as he was tall. At 21 big things were expected of him, good heading ability and good marking skills made him a sure candidate for first on the team sheet. Farrell Kilbane brother of Everton star Kevin was a good tackler, he had spent time with Cambridge United and Preston and will be a useful player to have. Kevin Lynch was the other centre back, nothing special about him will spend most of his time on the bench. Jerome Fizgerald or Jez could play right back or at a push centrally, his special ability is killer long throws, something which may come in handy. James Williams or simply Jimmy was by rights a sweeper, but can play as a centre half or at right back, likely to be nothing more than backup. Alex Mortimer is the clubs only left back, not a very good one at that. A product of the Man U youth system he has also spent time at Leicester and Shrewsbury Town.

Neil Fitzherny, Fitz as he was known is a defensive midfielder, a good tackler and header, he could certainly do a job at centre half if needs be. Chris Price or Pricey was the only out and out right winger at the club, his pace was his blessing as his crossing wasn’t up to much. Dominic Morley was about as average as you could be, a central midfield player with no real excelling feature. Steve Pickford known as Syd, is the best all round central midfield player, his tackling and his dribbling ability made him ideal for defensive and offensive roles, he also has a bit of pace about him. Thomas Rafferty at 20 was nothing promising and would amount to nothing other than to make up the numbers.

Neil Robinson or Robbo is the first choice forward, his finishing will be heavily relied upon. Terry Fearns will be the likely partner for Robbo, he is a well rounded striker without really excelling in any particular area. Kevin Leadbetter or Leady as he is known would be Fearns’ competition up front, however his lack of pace means he will likely sit out for Fearns. The young Lee Mulvaney is nothing more than backup, never likely to be anything more.

Gary felt that some of his predecessor’s comments seemed unfair, he would certainly need to find out for himself. He would have to bring in a few players to get competition for places especially the wide spots, there wasn’t a single left sided winger at the club. Fortunately he had about £16k to spend, and he could get in some loans in also. What a day he thought, at least he didn’t have to arrange any friendlies they were all done for him. They were against Clyde, Wigan, Burnley, Albion, Motherwell and Stockport.

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It had been a whirlwind month for him, firstly Peterson discovered yet more player profiles on his desk. These were of players in the reserve team, it made sense as he did think it was a small squad even for this size outfit. All the players were young and were not going to break into the first team, however some provided cover in some vital positions. Whalley had moved to Grays for free, which hadn’t surprised him. What had however, was Watson, he wished to stay. Peterson offered Watson a position on the coaching staff, which he accepted.

Peterson also hired another coach, Steve Crowley a South African goalkeeping coach. He finally found a top notch in Ivor Doble, he was a great man manager and excellent with youngsters. Spencer Field and Mark Bradshaw were added to the scouting staff and were sent to find new talent.

The scouts reported back on a number of possible purchases, only three however took Peterson’s eye. Paul Douglas a 21 year old striker with great finishing abilities was offered a contract. Secondly a left sided winger from Chorley Alex Porter was purchased for £1k. Finally a young star was unearthed in Phil Brown, he was bought for £2k from Kendal. He has fantastic passing abilities and is one to be nurtured carefully.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The Champion


New Southport signing Alex Porter has told us he cant wait to break into the first team setup at Haig Avenue.

The new signing from Chorley told journalists that he didn’t expect to play straight away but that if he gets his head down and works hard his manager will reward him with a first team place soon enough. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The Champion


The chairman of the Southport supporters association told journalists that Brown was brought to Haig Avenue.

Fans are said to be delighted that manager Gary Peterson has show good vision and ambition by deciding to bring talented Kendal youngster Phil Brown to the club.

The 18 year old midfielder has been singled out as a hot prospect for the future and could well become a key Southport player in years to come.

When asked what his expectations of Brown were Peterson said that Brown was a promising talent, but would have to prove his ability to get into the first team. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Peterson had also made some loan signings. Newcastle’s young defender Peter Ramage, Arsenal’s Jordan Fowler, Aston Villa’s Stephen Cooke and Manchester United’s Benjamin Collett. Petersen said that these young talents would provide that bit of quality needed to help push for promotion. Cooke especially would be handy, he can play anywhere in the midfield.

Before he knew it the first game of the season was upon him. The pre season games hadn’t gone brilliantly, however they weren’t totally disappointing either. Against Clyde they lost 2-0, they managed to draw 2-2 with Championship side Wigan. Against Burnley they lost 3-0 and drew 2-2 against Scottish outfit Albion. They were destroyed 5-0 by Motherwell but managed a 3-1 win over Stockport. Against bigger sides they managed to score a few which was pleasing. However, now it was totally different, it counted they were playing for points.

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Saturday – 14/08/04, Conference North, game 1

Southport v Worcester

@Haig Avenue

Southport made hard work out of this game despite it being handed to them on a plate. Firstly Worcester’s star striker Leon Kelly was stretchered off injured after just 10 minutes. Then Worcester’s Robert Warner was sent off for picking up a second yellow by arguing with the referee about a yellow card he had just picked up for a foul. It wasn’t until the 56th minute when Southport made their advantage count. A Collett header from a Cooke corner putting Southport in the lead. 10 minutes later Cooke himself got into the area and slipped the ball under the keeper to give Southport a 2-0 lead. Then Jai Stanley picked up a second yellow and Worcester were reduced to 9 men, however Southport couldn’t capitalise and go to score again.

Southport 2 v 0 Worcester

Goals: Southport: Collett 56, Cooke 67

MoM: Cooke

Att: 506

Tuesday – 17/08/04, Conference North, game 2

Redditch v Southport

@Valley Stadium

Redditch are one of the sides tipped to be battling relegation this season. On the evidence of this performance they should have little trouble with relegation. They dominated the game from start to finish, perhaps the one thing they may struggle with is converting their many chances. It was in fact Southport who took the lead from a Ramage header off a Cooke corner. Reddich equalised through a Simon Hollis strike from the edge of the area.

Redditch 1 v 1 Southport

Goals: Redditch: Hollis 38 - Southport: Ramage 16

MoM: Ramage

Att: 317

Saturday – 21/08/04, Conference North, game 3

Southport v Moor Green

@Haig Avenue

Again Moor Green were another team set to be battling for their lives in this division. On the evidence of todays game they should have no trouble. It was a fairly even game in terms of possession and no one would guess Moor Green were relegation battlers and Southport promotion contenders. Moor Green mustered up an astonishing 27 shots at goal to Southport’s meagre 7. The difference being Southport got all of theirs on target, Moor Green only got 9 of their 27 on target. It would be this difference in quality that would shape the season for these two teams.

It was Moor Green’s attack stance to the game which conceded the first goal. The gave away the ball in the midfield and when Davis slipped the ball through to Cooke it was 4 men onto 1 in Southport’s favour. Cooke’s shot was parried by the Green keeper, into the path of Robinson who was left with a simple finish. Moor Green equalised when Jae Martin managed to turn the defence and get a shot on goal, the ball was parried by the keeper, Green’s Neil Davis was the first to react putting it into the empty net. Again Green’s attack stance was their downfall when Southport countered through Fowler. His cross to the back post was met be the unmarked head of Cooke who headed it back across the goal into the far corner.

Southport 2 v 1 Moor Green

Goals: Southport: Robinson 36, Cooke 70 - Moor Green: Davis 64

MoM: Dickinson

Att: 318

Saturday – 28/08/04, Conference North, game 4

Worksop v Southport

@Babbage Way

Worksop were another side supposed to be battling the drop, yet again Southport found it hard to break them down. It was a very close affair, Worksop just dominating the game slightly. Both sides found it extremely difficult to break the others very stubborn defence down. In the end it was an own goal that decided the outcome of this game. Gary Townsend heading past his own keeper from a wicked Collett corner.

Worksop 0 v 1 Southport

Goals: Southport: Townsend og74

MoM: Dickinson

Att: 641

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By the end of August Peterson was rather pleased, the team were in 4th spot level on points with the top 3, just goal difference separating them all. So far they had only played teams that were considered relegation fodder. To say that they had an easy time of it would be a lie, it was that little bit of class that separated them. Peterson believed that consistency was the key, that the players playing together more often would gel and have a good understanding of each other. The starting line up hadn’t changed, and so far they were doing him proud.

Southport line up : GK: Dickinson, DR: Fitzgerald, DL: Mortimer, DC: Davis, DC: Ramage, MR: Collett, ML: Cooke, MC: Fowler, MC: Fitzhenry, SC: Robinson, SC: Fearns. Subs: GK: Daly, DC: Kilbane, MC: Brown, MC, Pickford, SC: Leadbetter

For the home games Porter was on the bench instead of Pickford and he did a decent job when brought on. Brown also performed well when called upon. Dicko was the best performer so far, he had kept them in the lead on many an occasion and may prove to be the difference between promotion and obscurity. Cooke although he had a poor game against Worksop had proved the ability gap between himself and the other team members. They may be only four games into the season but it was of little surprise that the loanees had the lions share of the goals. Cooke with 2, Ramage with 1 and Collett with 1. Robbo was the only other player to score.

Just before the Worksop game scout Mark Bradshaw recommended 35 year old Billy Barr. The versatile defender just released from Gretna could play anywhere across the defence. After a short trial it was obvious his versatility would be a huge asset and was offered a contract as a backup player, which he accepted. Reviewing the whole playing staff Peterson thought he now had too many players, although still in budget he decided to list some of the players who would never likely get a game. There was now a two week lull in which there was no games what so ever, Peterson thought this would be the perfect chance to see all the players in action. He decided to play one Southport team against another, one team would be mainly first team and the other would be players hoping to prove themselves.

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The friendly was to be held at Haig Avenue although only a handful of fans were expected. This game would be a chance for players to justify their place in the team, and for others to prove they deserve a chance to be in the team. In the week striker Lee Mulvaney was sold to Hyde for £3k. The player would be happy with a better chance of first team football, the board will be happy with the money made and wages saved. Peterson was happy, he didn’t need unhappy players, he could have seen Mulvaney being unhappy at being left out.

So with 29 players on his books Peterson set about creating two teams. He also gathered some youngsters up who could try for a youth contract. But his main priority was those he had and those who had a real chance of first team action. Some of the players in his first team squad were put into the other team to try and balance things out, although he felt one side was definitely stronger than the other.

Southport: GK: Dickinson, DR: Fitzgerald, DL: Mortimer, DC: Davis, DC: Ramage, MR: Collett, ML: Cooke, MC: Brown, MC: Fitzhenry, SC: Robinson, SC: Fearns. Subs. GK: Stancombe, MC: Roscoe, MC: Rafferty, MC: Lynch, SC: Douglas

Southport Res: GK: Daly, DR:Williams, DL: Lowe, DC: Barr, DC: Powell, MR: Price, ML: Porter, MC: Pickford, MC: Fowler, SC: Leadbetter, SC: Watson. Subs. GK: McHale, DC: Kilbane, MC: Allen, MC: Brookfield, SC: Smith

Unsurprisingly the first string were the stronger side and created the most chances. However the second string, along wit some first team members, weren’t completely out played. They battled and put together some good moves, they just didn’t create enough chances. The game ended up 1-1, Robinson scoring for the A side and Watson scoring for the B side. Most of the players played quite well, some underperformed but it did give Peterson something to think about. Williams and Watson staked their claims for possible inclusion in the first team squad. Also Brown and Porter showed that they were ones for the future.

Their next game was at home to Ashton United in a weeks time. Ashton are currently sitting at 20th out of 23 teams in the league. They have yet to win a game this season, however they do have the ability to score goals having scored 8 compared to Southport’s 6. However they also concede a fair few, 10 to Southport’s 2. This is a game Peterson knew they could and should win, also a good chance to try a couple of changes.

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Saturday – 11/09/04, Conference North, game 5

Southport v Ashton United

@Haig Avenue

This was the kind of game he would have to win if Gary Peterson wanted to achieve promotion this season. Peterson decided to put Williams and Watson in for Fitzgerald and Fearns to see what they could do. He also handed Phil Brown his first start, the promising youngster was doing well and needed as many first team opportunities as possible.

Ashton were currently languishing at the foot of the table when they visited Haig Avenue. So when Robinson fired home in the first minute it was obvious that was where they would stay. 10 minutes later Fitzhenry headed home a Collett cross. Ashton hit back in the second half, a strike from Walsh gave them a way back into the match. As Ashton pushed forward Watson caught them out at the back with a fantastic run and finish from the halfway line. Peterson gave Porter the chance to shine and he gave Ashton the run around, so much so he won a penalty which Watson converted for the game.

Southport 4 v 1 Ashton United

Goals: Southport: Robinson 1, Fitzhenry 11, Watson 61, 82 - Ashton: Walsh 57

MoM: Watson

Att: 499

Saturday – 18/08/04, Conference North, game 6

Stalybridge Celtic v Southport

@Bower Fold

Peterson knew this would be a very tough game. Stalybridge were just two places behind them in 5th. They were performing well and seemed to want to challenge the top bunch of teams for a promotion spot. He made two changes from the team that started against Ashton. Porter came in for Cooke and Fowler replaced Brown. Peterson handing Porter his first start after an impressive display against Ashton, and Cooke’s poor performance in the game.They dominated what was actually a rather dull affair. A Bonsall goal for Celtic was all that separated the teams. Peterson had to contend with his first defeat.

Stalybridge Celtic 1 v 0 Southport

Goals: Celtic: Bonsall 37

MoM: Swailes

Att: 356

Saturday – 25/08/04, Conference North, game 7

Runcorn v Southport

@Halton Stadium

After the defeat to Stalybridge Peterson knew Runcorn would have a go at his team to see what they could get. He expected his team to be bombarded with balls. So a conservative tactic he felt was in order. Peterson told his team to defend deep and soak up the relentless pressure he could foresee. His plan was to hit Runcorn on the break, hoping to catch them on the wrong foot. Fizgerald, Cooke and Fearns all returned to the fold whilst the Williams, Porter and Watson sat on the bench. The game was very evenly fought however his plan paid off when Robinson got free of the defence and scored. In a very even affair they sat back and kept countering, this goal proved to be the only breakthrough.

Runcorn 0 v 1 Southport

Goals: Southport: Robinson 62[/b]

MoM: Dickinson

Att: 1733

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Tuesday – 28/08/04, Conference North, game 8

Kettering v Southport

@Rockingham Road

The build up to this game was intense, two teams tipped for promotion going head to head. Kettering were lagging behind in 7th whilst Southport were in 3rd. Kettering were the bookies favourites, Peterson disagreed so the mind games started.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The Champion


Gary Peterson the Southport manager today told assembled journalists at a press conference that his side would beat Kettering on Tuesday. He added to the fire in the build up to the important clash that his side were very confident about beating Kettering. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Kettering Evening Telegraph


After reading Gary Peterson’s comments that the Southport team are confident about beating in the upcoming clash, Kettering boss Kevin Wilson reacted angrily.

With his side about to face Southport in an early season clash of teams challenging for promotion to the English Conference National, Kettering Town boss Kevin Wilson seemed to point out that any team with aspirations of promotion had to beat the big teams and that if Southport were to lose, then maybe they should take a long look at themselves and set goals they have a chance of achieving. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The Champion


In the build up to what seems to be a fiery clash between Southport and Kettering Town, Southport boss Gary Peterson admitted he didn’t see eye to eye with his Kettering counterpart Kevin Wilson. Peterson said that he would like to see Kettering underachieve this season with Wilson at the helm and that he hopes to help him do this by beating his side on Tuesday. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

After these heated comments thrown at one another neither team could afford to fail in the upcoming clash. This game could prove to be a big turning point for either or both of these teams this season. Peterson decided to stick with the team that beat Runcorn at the weekend.

Both managers comments had to have had an effect on the plkayers, adverse or otherwise. It was with no surprise when it came down to one man to step up and vindicate his managers comments. The match as a whole was very even and it was a very lively, entertaining and passionate match. Both players and fans had been worked up by the heated comments in the build up to the game. Cooke found Robinson with a pinpoint pass over defenders heads, with a fine strike Robinson fired Southport into the lead, and the fans into a frenzy. It was Robinson again who scored just before half time, twisting his way through defenders a fearsome shot from 25 yards hit the back of the net, leaving the keeper standing. The game was sealed as a last ditch tackle stopped Fearns shooting, only for the ball to make its way to an unmarked Robinson who slotted into an empty net, the keeper off balance trying to change direction. Oshitola’s goal for Kettering was nothing more than a consolation.

The Southport fans were delirious and were taunting the home fans throughout. Gary Peterson stayed calm and controlled despite the urge to rub it in Wilson’s face. In the dressing room Peterson and his players rejoiced. The mind games weren’t kept to before the game, Peterson had to have the last word.

<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The Champion


Southport manager was over the moon about his teams victory against Kettering Town. Peterson told the assembled journalists that he wasn’t surprised by the victory and that he had told everybody that they would win.

He also said that if Kettering Town were to somehow get promotion, to survive in the English Conference National you had to be able to back up your impressive claims with impressive performances on the pitch. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Kettering 1 v 3 Southport

Goals: Kettering: Oshitola 84 - Sothport: Robinson 27, 43, 55

MoM: Robinson

Att: 707

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I dont usually like the use of the quote code in a story, but you've used it very well and it works, so well done. icon_smile.gif

1978 when Southport got relegated from what was then Division Four, I wonder if, as the game now contains a decent league history, if it will say something about that when you make it make it back there?

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Peterson welcomed in the new year with a defeat to Worcester. The past few months he had really learned about football and how the cliché ‘it’s a funny old game’ is true. Also the fact anybody can beat anybody was also found to be true. Southport found themselves joint top on points, second place only by goal difference. However, days like today made Peterson wonder how.

Barring the defeat to Stalybridge the three other teams Southport had lost to were all ‘lesser’ teams, all in the lower extremities of the league. So when they lost to these teams and for the most part out played by them it made him furious. What made these defeats all the more irritating and strange is the fact they could beat the ‘better’ teams. Southport had recently beaten Barrow and Droylsden, 1st and 3rd in the league respectively when they were beaten. The win over Barrow had meant Southport had frog leaped them into first place.

At one stage in the season Peterson thought Barrow were going to run away with the league. They had gone 11 games without losing a single point at one stage, they were a fair few points ahead of the rest. Then they had gone through a bad patch losing and drawing games allowing for others to catch them up. The top of the league was becoming very compact and tight with a few teams fighting for the elusive automatic promotion place. Barrow, Southport, Droylsden and Nuneaton were all starting to break away from the rest. At the other end of the table Harrogate Town, Ashton United and Vauxhall Motors were in the relegation places and falling behind the rest.

There had been a few entertaining games so far this season. An amazing 4-4 game away at Gainsborough was the best, even though the result wasn’t the best. Another game finished 5-3, that was against Vauxhall Motors. Southport had gone 3-0 up before having the game pegged back to 3-3 by a resilient Motors side. Southport killed the game off in the last 10 minutes. An FA Trophy game against Eastbourne Borough a side struggling in the Conference South division ended up 5-2 to Southport. That was the first round, Southport were knocked out in the second by Hucknall. They had managed to get to the first round proper of the FA Cup, which made Peterson very proud. They were knocked out by League 1 side Torquay

Peterson had also learned the hard way about injuries and squad depth. He had lost Davis and Ramage for a significant period of time. Then he had lost Cooke, Collett and Porter for long periods of time leaving him with a very weakened side and selection choices. Losing these players had given him a major headache also the fact some players weren’t playing as well as they could or should. Fortunately Robinson had been his saviour bagging goals for fun, and vital goals also. Another player had surprised him with how well he had played. Watson his coach had come into the team and performed amazingly bagging a few goals along the way. Injuries had allowed a few players to come in and show Peterson what they were made of. Brown in particular had been impressive, also Porter before he got injured had done well.

Cooke was still injured but his versatility was still needed so Peterson didn’t cancel the loan agreement. Instead he brought in Matthew Birley a left winger, he played a couple of games before getting injured himself. He was only on a short term loan so that was cancelled when he got injured. Ramage also was sent back to Newcastle when he was injured because Peterson’s scouts had found Mike Basham a defender from Thurrock. He was bought for £10k and was put in at the back along with Kilbane then Davis when he recovered.

Peterson hoped he could keep his team going and keep battling for the top spot. All but Cooke had returned from injury and Cooke wasn’t far off. One thing was for sure it wasn’t going to be easy but that’s why Peterson enjoyed it so much.

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>The Champion


In a statement released to the press the Southport FC board are believed to be overjoyed with this achievement. They said wining the league with a new boss at the helm would be a hard task, but it is one that has been completed first time of asking. A spokesperson for the club praised manager Gary Peterson for getting Southport promoted as champions. They say that Peterson is a manager that lives and breathes success and long may it continue.

After a long hard season, his first as a manager, Gary Peterson had won promotion. Over the past few months Peterson’s Southport side have been battling for the top spot with rivals Barrow. The two had been yo-yoing between first and second place since Christmas. Finally towards the end of the season Barrow had lost their form and tripped up, whereas Southport had strung a decent run together.

The fans of the club are said to be over the moon with the way the season had gone, and that manager Gary Peterson was the man to thank. Although a playoff place was always within their grasp throughout the season clinching the title and automatic promotion place means they are guaranteed to go up. For the other remaining promotion slot Barrow, Droylsden, Stalybridge Celtic and Nuneaton Borough are going to have to fight it out.

At the other end of the table it was a sad story. Vauxhall Motors, Bradford Park Avenue and Ashton United have all been relegated. <HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

By the time his birthday came around, two weeks after sealing promotion Gary Peterson was back in work. The excitement surrounding the club had died down somewhat, but there was still a buzz around town. Peterson couldn’t go anywhere without being congratulated and thanked. The fact of the matter was he could so easily not have been here to witness it. A week before they won the title Notts County had approached Peterson about him taking over as boss at Meadow Lane.

It was a hard decision to make to stay with Southport, but he had to see the season through. But to say the offer hadn’t seriously tempted him would be a lie. County were in League two, so he would have skipped a league. He would be a manager of a professional football club he would be playing better teams, and work with more talented players. County were also 9th in the league so it wasn’t like they would get relegated, this tempted him even more. He just couldn’t do it, he had to see the season through and collect the silverware. There would be other chances to manage a professional outfit, of that he was sure.

It wasn’t an easy task to win the league, Barrow’s spot of bad luck in games helped no end. Over the whole season it would be a case of Barrow throwing it away rather than Southport clearly wining it. That didn’t bother anybody connected with Southport though. There were more drawn games in the second half of the season, also closer run games. They had picked up the odd defeat but fortunately so had everyone else around them. The one game Peterson did enjoy was the 2-1 win in the reverse fixture of the Kettering game. Once again he had got one over on Wilson, he enjoyed that, and didn’t hesitate to rub Wilson’s nose in it.

Despite there being no training for a couple of months Peterson still had to asses the squad. He needed to make decisions where the team needed strengthening and who to sell. He knew already there was a lot of work to be done before pre season games and training. Paperwork, there is too much of it in football was his last thought before setting off for a birthday meal with the squad.

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Peterson had regressed somewhat back to his teenage years, although he knew the squad assessment needed to be done it was a case of forever ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. Once the playoff final for the third promotion spot into the conference was won he knew he had to do it. The final was between Barrow from Conference North and Welling of Conference South. The winner would join his Southport side and the ‘Chelsea’ of lower league football, Hornchurch.

They were known as that for their financial power for a lower league side, a huge wage budget and rich backers. Many people were waiting to see the bubble burst and see the day the money left the club and what they would do. That day hadn’t come yet though. Southport, Hornchurch and the winner of the playoff would be replacing Farnborough, Northwhich and Leigh RMI, who were relegated from the conference.

Peterson actually decided to go and see the final, as a neutral of course. He had mixed feelings for who he wanted to win. He didn’t see eye to eye at all with Barrow boss Lee Turnbull, so seeing them lose wouldn’t make him lose any sleep. Also for the same reason he would like to see them get promotion so he could beat them in the Conference. In the end it was a comfortable win for the Conference South side running out 2-0 victors. By the time Peterson got home he was too tired to do squad assessments, it would be the final case of ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’.

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He was up bright and early at 5.30am, seeing as he wasn’t training with the lads due to the break he decided to go for a jog to keep him fit. His apartment wasn’t far from the beach so he decided to jog the full length of the beach and back down the sea front. It was a beautiful and peaceful time of day he thought. Returning back to his flat he switched on the coffee machine and went for a shower. Feeling fresh and with coffee in hand he sat down at his desk to finally do the squad assessments.

Steve Daly - Didn’t feature at all this season, still young an will have learned a lot from Dicko

Steve Dickinson - apps: 48, conc: 52, cln: 14, avg rat: 7.17 - Ever present throughout the season a key player. 8 well deserved man of the match awards. Won’t look to replace him, but if there is a bargain Dicko may move to the bench.

Jimmy Williams - apps: 10(2), avg rat: 7.17 - Did well when called upon, useful as backup but wont push for a first team spot.

Jerome Fitzgerald - apps: 39, gls: 1, avg rat: 7.18 - Good first team player, never let us down and chipped in a few assists to boot. Whether he is replaced or not depends on funds, but would be happy to have him in the squad.

Billy Barr - apps: 12, gls: 1, avg rat: 4.25 - Bad judgement on everyone’s part about him. Useless, the only reason he got so many games was cover for fatigued or injured player. Fortunately was on a short term contract that wont be renewed.

Alex Mortimer - apps: 36, gls: 1, avg rat: 7.03 - Did well when playing, better than expected. However it was always a thought to find a replacement, he will have to be a backup player unless a replacement can’t be found.

Mike Basham - apps: 22, gls: 1, avg rat: 7.23 - Came in halfway through the season, fitted in straight away. A couple of assists and a man of the match award to his name. No need to replace him, he will start next season.

Earl Davis - apps: 32, gls: 4, avg rat: 7.22 - Only injury and suspension kept The Earl from playing. Solid and reliable with a handy number of goals for a centre back. Like Basham a couple of assists and a man of the match award to his name, he will play with Basham next season.

Farrell Kilbane - apps: 27, gls: 1, avg rat: 7.11 - Mainly used as cover, bnut forced his way into first team in front of Ramage before Basham was bought. Again a couple of assists and a man of the match award to his name. Cover for next season.

Peter Ramage - apps: 14(1), gls: 1, avg rat: 7.14 - Did well at start of season but after a lengthy injury wasn’t the same. Did manage a couple of man of the match awards, picked up vital experience for his career.

Neil Fitzhenry - apps: 34(4), gls: 6, avg rat 7.00 - A handy reliable player who had his off days. Hand full of usually spectacular goals and a few assists, earned 2 well deserved man of the match awards. A maybe for first team next season.

Jordan Fowler - apps: 11(4), avg rat: 6.60 - Didn’t live up to expectations and then only became a cover player.

Adam Roscoe - apps: 3(1), gls: 2, avg rat: 6.75 - Came in and did well when called upon. Youngster is one for the future.

Steve Pickford - apps: 31(2), gls: 5, avg rat: 7.67 - A very good player who scored some vital goals and chipped in with a few assists. Picked up 3 man of the match awards, he liked his yellow cards. Lost his way halfway through the season but won his place back. Will play next season.

Phil Brown - apps: 21(12), gls: 2, avg rat: 7.12 - Bought as a highly rated youngster earned his way into the first team. Handful of assists and a mom award he is definitely one for the future. Will feature next season.

Steven Cooke - apps: 26(3), gls: 9, avg rat: 6.66 - A brilliant start to the season banging a good few goals and lots of assists earning a couple of mom awards. Lost his way in the second half of the season which was disappointing. Gained invaluable experience.

Benjamin Collett - apps: 35(3), gls: 8, avg rat: 7.16 - A very good youngster, consistent and scored and set up many a vital goal earning him his 2 mom awards. Got great experience, he is up for sale by Man U but I doubt we could afford him.

Alex Porter - apps: 22(11), gls: 6, avg rat: 6.85 - Slow to start of with but an excellent end to the season. Like Brown he earned his way into the squad, scored some good goals and set up a few too. Definitely earned his 3 man of the match awards. Will probably start next season.

Matthew Birley - apps: 5, avg rat: 6.60 - Came in and did a job, injury stumped his amount of games.

David Poole - apps: 6(6), gls: 2, avg rat: 6.67 - Did a job for us and contributed a little to the cause.

Terry Fearns - apps: 18(4), gls: 5, avg rat: 6.75 - Expected more from him and that is why he lost his place. Did contribute to the cause and earned a mom award. Will only be a backup next season

Neil Robinson - apps: 37(5), gls: 21, avg rat: 7.11 - An excellent season bagging us lots and vital goals as well as setting them up for others. Surprised he only got 1 mom award. Will play next season

Liam Watson - apps: 38(5), gls: 21, avg rat: 7.26 - Our star player for the season. Also the biggest surprise, glad he didn’t leave the club. When given his chance he took it with both hands and clung onto it. His goals and assists were vital, again surprising he only earned 2 mom awards. Will most likely start next season.

Already it was obvious that for next season certain areas, especially midfield width would have to be bolstered. There were also niggly doubts as to whether some players, like Watson could reproduce this seasons form. He hoped that he would get a fair bit of transfer money to play with because the squad needed a fair bit of work to survive next season.

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After his usual morning jog Peterson decided to go into town for breakfast. He popped into his local paper shop for his usual bunch of papers. Then he went into a local coffee shop he often frequents, ordering a full English and coffee. He knew he shouldn’t be eating full English breakfast but it was his weakness. After he had finished he ordered more coffee and moved to the outside balcony where he could read his papers. It was then a tall dark haired Scotsman approached him. He introduced himself as Kenneth Mackie chairman of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Sitting down he got straight to the point, he wanted Peterson to be manager. He told Peterson that he was the man for the job that he could get Inverness CT into the Scottish Premiership. Peterson would have £325k to spend on players and time to do the job. Another tempting offer for Peterson to contend with, yet he knew that he wouldn’t take it. Peterson loved Southport and wanted to take them as far as he could, with that he flatly refused the job.

Southport were now in the Conference National, the team needed bolstering, Peterson got his scouts to start searching for talent. Some players hadn’t had their contracts renewed and of course the players that were on loan had gone back to their clubs. The fans player of the year Liam Watson had told him that this next season would be his last. Billy Barr, Paul Douglas and Michael Powell had all left the club and Steven Cooke, Jordan Fowler and Benjamin Collett had returened to their clubs. This left the squad in a precarious position, he needed some wingers desperately, a defender or two and a striker were also on the shopping list.

The first signing was Michael Bamber a left back who could fill in as a winger. He was brought in on a free from Weymouth, he was a good tackler and had a bit of pace about him. He would fight Alex Mortimer for the left back role. Ciaran Ryan the young Bolton right sided winger was brought in on loan. He looked very promising and would fill in the vacant winger role. West Brom’s young left winger Lloyd Dyer was also brought in on loan. He was fast, hard working and delivered a good ball. Alex Porter would again have to fight for his place in the starting line up. The services of Steven Cooke were once again brought in on loan for a second spell at Haig Avenue. This time however, he would be a bench filler, but a useful one. Phillip Bardsley a young defender from Man U was drafted in on loan also. The youngster was quick and would challenge Jerome Fitzgerald the right back spot. Two more Man U players were bought into the club this time permanently, released from the club they were eagerly snapped up on recommendation. Firstly 19 year old striker by the name of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake very quick with good off the ball movement and a neat finish will see him get a fair share of starts. Secondly a familiar face of Benjamin Collett was signed to help give squad depth and to create competition for the right winger spot.

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The new faces would hopefully get the squad challenging for places and thus get players playing their best. As he made his way onto the training pitch for the first training session of the new season he could see the excitement and eagerness on the faces of the players. They were going national, they had the chance to become professionals rather than semi-professionals. Peterson managed to wipe those looks off their faces with a hard days training. He was excited as anyone but he knew it was going to be tough. They would be favourites to go straight back down, he had to get them established in the league and then hopefully push for promotion in a couple of seasons time.

The influx of new faces had increased the wages over the budget limit, but chairman Charlie Clapham had let that go. He hoped they would stay up and earn some more money for the club. They had received £100k for television rights, which had pushed the club further into the black. He had decided not to tell Peterson or the players of this fact as they may not make it on to TV necessarily. They had assembled a good squad and hopefully they can exceed expectations. Already the bookies had made them favourites to go down, along with the two other promoted sides Hornchurch and Welling.

Harsh training was needed to get the fitness levels up so Peterson enlisted the help of former army staff sergeant Tony Forbes. He had them all down the beach doing exercises in and out of the sea, and had them running up and down the beach all day long. Peterson also hoped Forbes would instil greater discipline into the squad. They decided to only play four pre-season games. They were against Dorchester, Yeovil, Grays and Carshalton, they drew 1-1 with Dorchester and lost the rest. Not the greatest set of results but as long as they performed in the league he didn’t care.

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He couldn’t sleep, looked at the clock 23:37, damn he thought. It was unfamiliar for him to be nervous, he wasn’t a nervous man. Last season he had some here and there, but nothing like this. It was the night before Southport’s first game in the Conference National, they were playing Dagenham and Redbridge. They were in a hotel near the Essex club the lights out rule was implemented at 22:30, he had been lying awake for just over an hour. He started going over tomorrows routine in his head.

It was a bright Saturday morning when his alarm clock buzzer went off at 07:30. He hadn’t a clue what time he had gotten to sleep but he wasn’t tired, a small blessing. Arriving in the hotel dining room he joined his players for breakfast, this time he had a healthy option. 13:00 came around quickly he had to prepare, his mind was blank he needed to go over the tactics and team options, then he had to prep the team.

Saturday - 13/08/05, Conference National, game 1

Dagenham & Redbridge v Southport

@The Glyn Hopkin Stadium

As the team ran out on the pitch a sudden wave of calmness cam over Peterson, suddenly he was relaxed. He just hoped his tactics and squad selection paid off, he told them to be defensive and to counter quickly where possible. D&R were a fast team so Peterson chose pace to counter them, Ebanks-Blake got the nod over Watson for this reason, as did Bardsley over Fitzgerald and Mortimer over Bamber. Pickford and Fitzhenry were in the centre of the field to help out the back four.

It was a game that Dagenham should have won, they had home advantage and experience at this level. They went out and dominated from the start pilling pressure on the Southport defence. Peppering Dickinson’s goal with shots, finding him up for the challenge. Peterson hoped the occasion wouldn’t overwhelm his players, they saw out the first 30 minutes unscathed and started to come out of their shell a bit more. They started to create a couple of openings and started to get in the game a bit more. The Daggers still had control of the game and still rained chances down on the Southport goal. It surprised everyone when it was Southport that opened the scoring, Robinson finding space between the centre backs and receiving the ball from Pickford and firing a wonderful shot home from 25 yards. The stadium was silent apart from the small band of Southport fans behind the goal. Peterson remained calm and told his men not to lose concentration.

A halftime team talk telling them to continue what they were doing. The plan was now to soak up the inevitable onslaught and to hit them on the break. It was a better second half chances wise for Southport, D&R were coming forward leaving space to be exploited. It was looking good, Dicko was in superb form and the strikers were causing the Daggers defence problems. A well worked goal squared things up, Peterson knew Dagenham would push for the winner, he had to be patient. So when a 30 yard wonder strike from ‘The Earl’ blasted its way over the stationary Daggers keeper into the net Peterson went crazy. By all rights after the corner had been taken and gone out for a throw Davis should have been back on the halfway line with Kilbane, it was Kilbane who laid it off for him. Sealing an unexpected but much welcomed win.

Dagenham & Redbridge 1 v 2 Southport

Goals: D&R: Janney: 79 - Southport: Robinson: 36, Davis: 85

MoM: Bardsley

Att: 1,691

Southport: GK: Dickinson, DR: Bardsley, DL: Mortimer, DC: Basham, DC: Davis, MR: Ryan, ML: Dyer, MC: Pickford, MC: Fitzhenry, SC: Robinson, SC: Ebanks-Blake. Subs: GK: Daly, D: Kilbane, M: Cooke, M: Collett, SC: Watson

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Training during the week was a happy occasion, everyone was hyped up after the result. They were now preparing for their first home game of the season, this would be a daunting prospect. The first home game in the conference, they hoped the bubble wouldn’t burst then. Canvey Island were the visitors to Haig Avenue, they were also tipped to be battling relegation, this could end up being the proverbial six pointer.

Saturday - 20/08/05, Conference National, game 2

Southport v Canvey Island

@Haig Avenue

Peterson was greeted with warm applause when he stepped out onto the pitch before the game. Not only had he got the fans team promoted he had also turned down two jobs at league clubs and stayed loyal to Southport. Following the win last Saturday Gary Peterson was fast becoming the darling of Southport. He had made a couple of changes to the squad, Bamber coming in for Mortimer. Collett in for Ryan and Brown in for Fitzhenry.

All in all this was a very evenly contested match, neither side deserved to lose it. Both sides missing many a chance to take the lead. The game was destined to end as a goalless draw, some fans started to leave early to beat the rush. Those that hadn’t gone through the gates rushed back when a penalty was awarded to the home side. Dyer running with the ball into the area went over from a push by Dobinson, replay suggests that Dyer went over too easily. So in the 92nd minute Kilbane had the chance to score from the penalty spot. The tension inside Haig Avenue was palpable, Peterson looked like a coiled spring. Everyone went crazy as Kilbane with the last kick of the game won it for Southport.

Southport 1 v 0 Canvey Island

Goals: Southport: Kilbane: pen 92

MoM: Dyer

Att: 771

Southport: GK: Dickinson, DR: Bardsley, DL: Bamber, DC: Basham, DC: Davis, MR: Collett, ML: Dyer, MC: Pickford, MC: Brown, SC: Robinson, SC: Ebanks-Blake. Subs: GK: Daly, D: Kilbane, M: Cooke, M: Porter, SC: Watson

No-one could believe it Southport had won their first two games, albeit the Canvey Island win was lucky. There was a buzz around town and at the training ground, everyone was smiling. Peterson knew there was a very long way to go but he couldn’t help feeling pleased. They were to travel to the North East next Saturday to face Darlington. They had just been relegated and so were one of the stronger teams in the division. Darlo also played with a 3-5-2 formation meaning Peterson would have to pay particular attention to his tactics. He had been informed that Kilbane had been included in the leagues team of the week, he had been a sub in both games. Basham had played poorly in both so a swap around was in order. Peterson had also received an enquiry about Dickinson, Torquay are interested in buying him. He informed the Torquay chairman that Dicko wouldn’t go for less than £500k. Not expecting to hear from them again he decided to go over his tactics.

Saturday - 27/08/05, Conference National, game 3

Darlington v Southport

@Williamson Motors Stadium

A few changes had been made from last week, Kilbane starts as Basham drops to the bench. Ryan and Fitzhenry returned in midfield for Collett and Brown. Whilst Watson starts ahead of Ebanks-Blake who starts as a sub. Peterson hoped he could utilise the space at the back with Darlo only playing three defenders. He aimed to drop balls into the channels for Ryan and Dyer to capitalise on. It would be a case of soak up the pressure and counter, which so far had been effective.

Darlington didn’t mess around starting to put pressure on the Southport back four. From the whistle Southport were on the back foot, trying to venture forward when possible. The first 15 minutes Darlington were camped in the Southport half but from a Darlo corner they had a chance to break. The ball fell to Pickford in his own half he ran with the ball to the edge of the Darlington box before firing wide. They had just managed to get themselves into the encounter when Darlington hit them with the sucker punch. Armstrong from the byline crosses the ball to the near post where a Graham header flies past the keeper for 1-0. Southport hung on until half time at only 1-0 down, Peterson knew he had to attack to try and get something from the game.

So when the two sides reappeared for the second half Southport went about the business of trying to get an equaliser. They also managed to defend stoutly when Darlo countered, they managed to win a few corners but nothing was really troubling the Darlo keeper. The clock was ticking and still no breakthrough, so Peterson decided it was time for drastic measures. He put on Brown and Ebanks-Blake for Ryan and Pickford, he swiched to an attack minded 3-4-3 formation using the three strikers on the field and Bamber as a makeshift winger, and Dyer on the right wing. It was putting pressure on Darlington but the still had to be wary of being caught on the break.

Eventually Southport scored an equaliser, Fitzhenry heading home from a Dyer corner. Peterson stuck with the formation to see if they could get a winner whilst the momentum was with them. They were putting Darlington under a lot of pressure but Peterson was wary of being caught with a second sucker punch. So he brought on Collett for Watson, switched Dyer back out to the left wing and Bamber to left back. Back in the 4-4-2 formation he went back to his usual tactics of hitting them on the break. This they did with Collett playing a beautiful one-two with Brown down the right wing, then crossing in for Ebanks-Blake to head home after losing his marker.

Peterson couldn’t believe it, not in his wildest dreams had he pictured his team win like this. It wasn’t over yet though, Darlo switched to a 2-3-5 formation looking desperately for an equaliser. Peterson pulled Fitzhenry into the defence to bolster that up and hoped to catch Darlo on the break. Fortunately his team held out for their third win, Peterson couldn’t believe it.

Darlington 1 v 2 Southport

Goals: Darlo: Graham: 27 - Southport: Fitzhenry: 76, Ebanks-Blake: 84

MoM: Alun Armstrong

Att: 3,204

Southport: GK: Dickinson, DR: Bardsley, DL: Bamber, DC: Kilbane, DC: Davis, MR: Ryan, ML: Dyer, MC: Pickford, MC: Fitzhenry, SC: Robinson, SC: Watson. Subs: GK: Daly, D: Basham, M: Cooke, M: Collett, SC: Ebanks-Blake

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Summer and September had been and gone, the 1st of October was a gloomy autumn day. Peterson was sitting in his office at Haig Avenue reflecting, reflecting on the season so far. After winning their first three games they were given a two week break to enjoy their success, that two week break had lost them momentum. Southport were dramatically brought back down to earth with a thump. September had brought them nothing but woe as they lost three on the bounce. Training over the past week had a very down atmosphere, Peterson had to find a way to get morale back and get them back to wining ways.

The first defeat was at home to Scarborough, they were, albeit after three games, in 19th place. So when Ryan put the Sandgrounders ahead after 10 minutes the crowd was expecting this to be a comfortable win. They were sadly mistaken as boro pulled level on 33 minutes through a good Ben Burgess goal. When Burton was fouled in the area by Davis heads dropped, another boro goal before game would have really zapped the confidence out of the players. Fortunately Dickinson pulled off a great save. Scarborough did go ahead eventually through another fantastic Burgess strike. Its funny how one game can bring things tumbling down.

Confidence had plummeted going into the game against Forest Green, who were sitting at the top of the table. The players thought that this was the beginning of the relegation struggle. When Ebanks-Blake capped off a wonderful move inside 30 seconds the Southport players heads rose and belief flowed back into them. That flow was stopped when Fitzhenry pulled O’Shea over in the area, Thomson firing home the penalty. It was visible on everyone’s face that they thought this was to be another Scarborough. They were right as a fine Griffin goal won it for Forest Green.

Liam Carr put Stevenage ahead on 10 minutes and what determination to change things round was left in the Southport players was quickly zapped out. Franticly trying to get back into the game Southport through everything at their opponents. They were the better team, they dominated the game and the chances. When Kilbane was banished from the field for a second bookable offence Peterson knew today would not be the day they turned it round.

So now he was sitting in his office a mere 3 hours before kick off, they were playing Aldershot today. With confidence at an all time low amongst most of the players he had to do something to jeer them up for the game. Kilbane was out suspended, meaning Fitzgerald would start as Basham injured himself in training. Fortunately Bardsley had been performing consistently well, along with Pickford and Dyer he would look to these players to lead the charge.

Saturday - 01/10/05, Conference National, game 7

Southport v Aldershot

@Haig Avenue

There was an air of hope around Haig Avenue prior to kick off, fans hoping that their team could get at least a point. They could see they players heads were down as they ran out of the tunnel. All they needed was a win to get their confidence back, even a draw was a step in the right direction. Peterson wanted them to attack from the start, get at Aldershot. He would like to think an early goal would settle their nerves, perhaps that would rattle them more.

It was of course Aldershot that went ahead, an amazing 30 yard curling strike from D’Sane flying past the stationary Dickinson. Haig Avenue was as silent as a morge except for the band of Aldershot fans behind the goal. Looking on the bright side Peterson hoped that this turn of events would kick start his team. It had been up till now a fairly even game, both sides having chances. When Miller put Aldershot 2-0 up it made Peterson sick, he hadn’t been in this position before. He hadn’t had to deal with many morale issues, certainly not on this scale. As the half time whistle blew the knot in his stomach tightened.

The half time team talk was a case of get out there and do them, win the ball and get at them. When McNiven scored a third for Aldershot 3 minutes after the break Peterson turned away in disgust. He couldn’t bare it, what could he do? After 10 more minutes he decided to get some pride from the game at least, try and show that they hadn’t given in. He threw on Cooke and Ebanks-Blake for Bamber and Collett, switching to the 3-4-3 formation. So when Ebanks-Blake pulled Southport back into the game after a Bardsley freekick sent him clear, Peterson was a bit happier. Perhaps there was the slightest chance of a draw, he threw caution to the wind swapping Dyer for Porter and pushing the wingers up front making a 3-2-5 formation. Despite the immense pressure on the Aldershot backline they defended resolutely and hung on for victory.

Southport 1 v 3 Aldershot

Goals: Southport: Ebanks-Blake: 65 - Aldershot: D’Sane: 24, Miller: 42, McNiven: 48

MoM: Miller

Att: 1,453

Southport: GK: Dickinson, DR: Bardsley, DL: Bamber, DC: Fitzgerald, DC: Davis, MR: Collett, ML: Dyer, MC: Pickford, MC: Brown, SC: Robinson, SC: Watson. Subs: GK: Daly, D: Mortimer, M: Cooke, M: Porter, SC: Ebanks-Blake

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After the Aldershot match Peterson received a report from his physio Bret Harris informing him that a few players were injured. Pickford had hurt his foot and Watson had strained his groin, both men would be out for two weeks. Also Collett had picked up a knock and would miss the next match. That was all he needed injuries on top of a rock bottom team morale. All they needed was one win and he was sure the confidence would come flooding back.

He had the team down the training ground that Sunday. The players were looking sluggish and as if they weren’t trying, this was due to the losing streak they were on. So Peterson pushed them harder and harder, forcing them to try, doing team exercises and fun games to get them working as a team again. Their next match was Wednesday, they were to travel to Mansfield on the Tuesday and play at Field Mill on the Wednesday evening. Between now and then he had to get them motivated.

Mansfield were relegated from League Two last season and are tipped as promotion contenders, they wanted to bounce back up. Like Southport they were languishing in the lowere echelons of the league. They had picked up just one point from their past five games, so this would be the battle of two struggling sides. He’d rather like to think of Southport as off balance rather than struggling. Both needed the win to get their seasons back on track.

It was an even game chances wise, but Southport were dominating possession. They were playing as a team, the passing was smooth and flowing. It was as if they were full on confidence, they were really putting their hearts into it. So if they lost the fallout would be unbearable, if they won then hopefully this kind of performance would be repeated. In the end it was a very well worked goal finished by Ebanks-Blake that sealed it. Mansfield really did push for a goal to square it up but were unsuccessful, Southport’s defending while shaky at times was resilient.

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Gary Peterson was standing in his office looking at his magnetic whiteboard with a list of players, and a list of injured players. It was mid November and they had just finished their game in the first round of the FA Cup. They had beaten Dorchester in the 4th qualifying round to get here. Their opponents were League Two outfit Bristol Rovers, fortunately they were at home so that made the tie a little easier. In fact Southport dominated the game, they kept Rovers on the back foot for most of it. However, it was Rovers who were ahead for most of the game, they had taken the lead in the 20th minute and from then Southport were camped in their half. For all intents and purposes it looked like Southport wouldn’t find a way through the stubborn Rovers defence. Luckily in the 91st minute Southport were awarded a penalty after Hunt brought down Ryan in the area. It was Davis who stepped up and calmly tucked away the spot kick. Peterson felt they should have won, now they had a difficult replay at The Memorial Stadium.

The evening air had a bite to it, he could clearly see his breath as he walked out of the stadium. He turned the collar up on his thick woollen winter coat, it was nights like these that he wished he could drive. He hadn’t really needed to, his ex wife had always done the driving, he meant to start learning again. Chill of the night started to get to him, he decided to get a drink in the next pub. As he got in out of the cold he was greeted with congratulations and ‘well dones’ from the locals. He took his pint and sat on a table out of the way, the general murmur of the patrons sent him into a daydream. He was thinking to himself what a difference a month makes and how one match can change things.

When Southport ended their losing ways against Mansfield Peterson hoped that would kick their season into life. That was exactly what it had done, they had travelled to Gravesend and had been dominated possession and chances wise for most of the game. However, it was they who took their chances, Robinson getting into his best form scoring a brace before half time. Then Ebanks-Blake added a third in the 80th minute, Gravesend got one back but Kilbane put the cherry on top of the cake making it 4-1 to Southport. They then drew at home to Crawly, a 1-1 draw the result of an evenly matched affair. Phil Brown was injured during the game, fracturing his arm putting him on the sidelines for 3 weeks. They lost to Hereford which was no big surprise as they were pushing for automatic promotion. Following that was the win over Dorchester, and a draw against Burton. Southport got back to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Woking, then the game tonight.

His mind drifting somewhat as he sipped at his pint he wondered if he ever would leave Southport. Not so long ago a newspaper asked him if he was interested in the vacant MK Dons post, apparently the bookies had made him favourite to succeed Stuart Murdoch. Peterson flatly denied any interest in the job. Two weeks later he was officially offered the job by the Dons chairman, he refused the job. That was the third job offer he had had, he wanted to spend some time at Southport. He did wonder what he would do if the right team came in for him, if there was an offer too good to refuse what would he do? Turning his thoughts to more recent events he was puzzled about why Collett was unsettled, he had just signed after spending a year on loan here. He had told Peterson that he wanted to go, there wasn’t much he could do.

Coming out of his daydream he noticed a pretty woman at the table next to him. He couldn’t believe it but it was Anna the owner of the Coffee shop he regularly frequents. She had always seemed plain to him, but she had made an effort tonight, she had literally let her hair down and put on more make-up. He asked her why she looked unhappy, she replied she had been stood up. She was supposed to be going out for a meal and drinks with some guy but he hadn’t shown up. Somewhat mesmerised by her new found beauty and somewhat hungry he blurted out a suggestion that they go for a meal. Feeling a bit sorry for herself she agreed to his offer. After a nice Italian meal he walked her home, she thanked him and went inside. As he walked back he had this warm feeling inside, not knowing if it was the food or something else he hurried home.

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Now in the back end of February Peterson had a clear idea where his team would finish up. They had been running hot and cold all season and had shipped too many goals for his liking. Consistency and stability was what he needed. They were going to end up a couple of spots from a playoff place, which would be frustrating. Peterson was in muse mode as he waltzed his way round the training ground, there was still a bite about the air. His team was currently running lukewarm at the moment, he could see it in training despite the chilly air there was a smile on all their faces and they were sharing a joke or two, but when they got on the pitch there were nerves and that showed in results. He wrapped up training for the day and decided to go and see Anna.

Ever since that night in November he had feelings for her, he thought she had feelings for him. Both of them were too shy to make the first move. They had done things together as friends like going out for meals etc, yet that was all it was as friends as neither made the first move. He was gearing himself up for it, he had always been a bit withdrawn when it comes to women ever since his divorce. Today was going to be the day, he felt like a teenager again. As she opened the door he could see suitcases in the hallway, funny time of year to be going on holiday. That’s when she hit him with it, she was leaving town, she decided it was never too late to follow your dreams and she was going to train to become a professional chef. Of all the things Peterson had thought would happen this season Anna leaving to become a chef had never entered his mind. Once again he had been burned and it would seem he would stay womenless forever.

It was funny he thought walking through his front door, he had just realised he thought of his life as seasons. Hand in hand with the football season was his life, for him there wasn’t 12 months in a year but 11 (1 month pre season and 10 season long). The other month was just a void in his diary. As he slumped back in his chair he thought it was a good thing for her to do but why must she do it away from Southport, she was his release from football as she didn’t much care for it. Everyone needs some sort of release, a way of unplugging yourself from the game that is football. Realising he was getting to philosophical he decided to wallow in what can only be described as self pity he decided to get inebriated.

As he opened his eyes all he could see was water, contained in some sort of container. Then as his head told him he was most definitely alive, and in some pain, he realised he had been praying to the porcelain god. Trying to stand up he stumbled back and fell into the wall. Finding his phone he rang Ivor (his assistant) telling him he was taking the day off. He had to pull himself together, what was all this about? This is what you get for doing things outside of football he told himself. He needed the day to clear his head and get back into football and to concentrate 110% on that.

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The season so far was by no stretch of the imagination a failure, they just wanted to stay up. It was the fact that they had been getting so close to a playoff place and then crumbling and sliding towards the relegation zone. They had shown they can do well and do enough to get out of this league. The flip side was that they had also shown they should be in the bottom three. As it was they were

They had been involved in some entertaining games, not all of them good. Firstly surrendering a two goal lead over bottom side Welling to come away with a 3-3 draw. That was followed by his most entertaining game as manager by far. The replay of the FA Cup 1st round tie against Bristol Rovers, it was a classic game, a game that will be remembered for years to come. The first leg was tense Southport scoring a 90th minute penalty to force the replay after dominating the game. This game was monumental, Rovers firing into the lead through Savage, Ryan equalising 10 minutes later. No sooner had he done that Agogo converting a controversial penalty. Then Ryan again squaring things up 5 minutes later, all this in the last 20 minutes of the game. Into extra time and with 10 mins gone Edwards firing in forcing Southport to attack. Then with 3 minutes of the game to go Bardsley the on loan right back found himself in the area scoring a late equaliser. Southport were knocked out after a tense penalty shootout.

That was followed by a run of four games where they couldn’t buy a win. That was ended with an amazing game against fellow promoted side Hornchurch. Southport dominated the game up until Pickford was sent from the field for a second bookable offence. They were 3-0 up by this time and cruising, then they crumbled Hornchurch managed to pull back a 3-0 lead. It was all settled by a 90th minute penalty to Southport, a win they deserved. They then went on a mixed patch where they won drew and lost games. In that period they beat Shepshed 4-0 in a morale boosting win in the 3rd round of the FA Trophy. Then another game where they were 3-0 up and pegged back to 3-3, this time by Forest Green, luckily though they did sneak another winner. The game away at Aldershot was a big disaster they might as well not have turned up, the game ended up as a 6-0 defeat and Davis and Pickford got themselves sent off. Peterson was furious at the two and gave them official warnings about future sendings off, it was both of theirs second of the season. They didn’t like the warnings and thought they were unfair. It was days like these that made Peterson wonder if staying with Southport was worth it, whether he should take a league job and a fresh start.

A couple of players had come in also, David Fox from Man U, a good source of players. Also Steve Davis of Aston Villa, subsequently Steven Cooke was sent back to Villa as he wasn’t being used at all. The two new faces were on short term loan and were both central midfield players, Fox slightly more defensibe minded. Players had surprised him this season, Collett who had wanted to leave just after joining was now happy and wanted to stay. Fitzhenry and Watson weren’t playing at all well. Most surprisingly was that Terry Fearns had come in and done a great job scoring goals. It was an odd season, he would have to make a decision at the end of the season whether to further his career or stick it out at Southport. He had turned down another two jobs, he had managerial offers from Bradford City and Raith Rovers. Post season 05/06 will be an important one for Gary Peterson.

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At one point for Peterson the end of the season couldn’t have come too soon, in the end it came that little too soon. The last ten games of the season saw Southport go on an amazing run dropping just four points, taking 26 of a possible 30. His prediction of finishing a couple of places from the playoff spot wasn’t far off. They were in fact kept out of the final playoff place by 1 goal, Scarborough beat them to it on a single goal goal difference. This sickened everyone connected to the club, despite wildly exceeding pre season expectations it was disappointing to miss out on the chance of consecutive promotions.

Also all the players were happy and content and most of all respected Peterson. It was this late surge and promise from his team that persuaded him to stay on. However Peterson was getting annoyed with his chairman Charlie Clapham for not upgrading the training facilities and youth system. Clapham had told Peterson every time he asked that money wasn’t available. That, Peterson knew, was not the case. The facilities, in Peterson’s opinion, were the future of the club and if they weren’t improved it would decide his future also. Despite once again receiving job offers he really wanted to do his best for Southport, but if it was going to be a case of money lining the pockets of the board he will not be apart of that.

This season would be a fresh start for the team, some 13 players contracts were not renewed. One of which was in form striker Terry Fearns whose goals at the end of the season helped propel them up the league. Because of this Fearns wanted a ridiculous wage. This mass exodus left a squad of 15, three of which were on loan. The services of Fox, Dyer and Davis had been retained, much to the relief of Peterson. He had to get a lot of players in, and most of them would have to be young and be part of the future.

Young players he did get in, by the first game of the new season, at home to Shrewsbury, Peterson had enlisted the help of 7 new faces. Shaun Clohessy is a product of the Arsenal youth system, a 19 year old right back with pace and aggression and a decent tackle. He was bought for £1k from Gravesend, Shaun Came also cost £1k from Northwhich. A 23 year old central defender with a good head and good tackle but is also slow. Danial Lunan is an aggressive centre back with a good tackle and firm header. The 22 year old was signed from Grays for £1k. Ryan Rutherford is a right back who can play on the left if necessary. The 23 year old is quick with a strong tackle.

20 year old Jason Taylor was signed from Oldham for £1k, the versatile midfielder can play anywhere in the centre of the park. Michael Landers is a talented 22 year old is an attacking midfield player who can play up front, his passing and long range shooting ability are an asset. 23 year old forward Richard Bryne is a fast aggressive forward with a decent shot and good crossing ability. Bryne, Landers and Rutherford were all picked up on a free. These new faces will provide a pleasant headache for the Southport boss. It wasn’t just playing staff Peterson brought in, talented German coach Ralf Schmitt and eagle eyed Spanish scout Julen Guerrero have been added to the backroom team. These would be the people that will try and justify the bookies odds of 2-1 to be promoted.

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The start to the season was shaky to say the least, a couple of early victories then a draw and a run of four defeats before they found form again. It was a new, young, fresh faced team so Peterson didn’t expect miracles but he did think they could do better than this. After all they had expectations to live up to, they were currently hovering in and around the playoff places. This was simply not good enough they should be flirting with the automatic promotion spot.

Going in to mid November and it wasn’t looking good, they had been a on a poor run of form and had dropped to mid table. Fans had been voicing concerns, not at Peterson as they held him in high esteem. The board however were asking questions of Peterson, this was the last straw for him. The poorly performing team and a board that refused to back him forced his hand, he resigned from Southport. He knew there would be a number of clubs lining up to get his signature. He wasn’t going to make a decision until after new year, a break would do him good and he could consider his position.

After enjoying the festive period with his family and recharging his batteries Peterson set about a new club. He had been offered a number of managerial positions, only one made sense. They weren’t the highest placed team, or the best prospect but it was a place he wanted to be. Gary Peterson was now the new manager of Bristol Rovers, the team Southport had that classic FA Cup game with. Peterson had spent a number of his adolescent years in Bristol and during that time grew fond of Rovers rather than City. An extra incentive as if he needed one was the fact that Bristol was where Anna had ended up. They had kept in touch, if not often, enough so that he knew what she was up to.

Rovers were currently 2nd bottom of League Two and in the relegation places. However a good run would quickly see them rise up the table. The squad was half decent, but for the his first game in charge a lot of first teamers were out one way or another. This would be a tough first game at home to Barnet, if they could get through this it would put them in good stead. Peterson brought with him Doble and Field, Doble would only be a coach as current assistant Kevin Broadhurst knew the players and had a good reputation. Assessing the squad and bringing in new players on a permanent basis would have to wait until the summer. Peterson did table bids for players to come in on loan.

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