Changing times but Southport are ready
WOW! Where do you start? Waterloo Road may not have seen any rugby since May but besides the lack of rain for most of the period, much to groundsman Shane Cook’s chagrin, Southport RFC has not let the grass grow under its feet.
Much of the summer break has however been shrouded in uncertainty arising from a reorganisation of the First XV league structure and at one stage the club looked forward to playing clubs in Cumbria.
However, great effort from Chairman Steve Olive and new Honorary Secretary Bill Nichol has seen the Firsts now placed in Lancashire & Cheshire Division One.
And what a strong league this promises to be with fixtures against strong clubs from last season - Bowdon, Glossop, Hoylake, Leigh and Sefton alongside Altrincham Kersal, Bolton, Fleetwood, Liverpool Collegiate, Rochdale, Tarleton and Winnington Park.
Regardless of the eventual outcome of which league the team would be playing in, last season’s mixed effort showed that the club needed to strengthen throughout to maintain the progress of recent years.
In doing so a coaching team under Neil Ryan, a former England u20 international player and one of the best up and coming coaches in the region has been assembled including securing the services of backs coach and centre Chris Mayor from North Champions Sale FC who had a stellar dual-code rugby career at Wigan Warriors, Sale Sharks, Northampton Saints and Wasps. In addition he has represented England U21s, England 7s and the Barbarians and is joined by ex Orrell, Grenoble, Neath, London Scottish and Fylde second row and Lancashire u20 coach Adam Jackson - now Director of Sport at the club’s iconic summer training base in the grounds of Scarisbrick Hall School.
With a pedigree in line with what current and emerging players wanted in terms of improving individual and team performance the effect has been immediate with increased numbers at training and interest from quality new players to add to the strength and unabated spirit of the senior squad.
A new first team captain sees born and bred Sandgrounder Dan Whalen elected to take over the mantle from the excellent Joe Mawdsley.
Dan, aged 24, joined the club whilst still a babe in arms at Fa r n b o rough Road and with many of his age group has given unstinting hard work and commitment whilst progressing through the ranks also laying the foundations within the emerging set up at Birkdale High School which is now reaping rewards too. Dan even found time this week to make his debut as a musician at the Cheshire Lines in aid of Queenscourt Hospice. Having been mentored over the years by the likes of Joe and the evergreen former Captain and enduring legend Gareth Lang, now approaching his 20th season in the First XV, Dan’s vocal chords will be put to good use directing the play on the field. He is joined by retained skipper Andrew Boland as he looks to build on a solid finish to last season’s campaign for the Seconds, boosted massively as the emerging Colts progressed seamlessly into senior rugby, likewise the infectious Graham White who along with former skipper, now retired through old age and injury (although not necessarily in that order!) have completely galvanised the Third XV set up. So much so that strength in numbers will mean the club is hoping that the Shipwrecks are able to contribute to the cause with regular Friday evening fixtures against like minded opposition with fixtures against the likes of Cheste and Wilmslow in the offing. The Colts go from strength to strength with this season’s crop finding the team placed at the highest level in the NW and a daunting fixture list that goes with it.
The Ladies too, who are now recruiting for new players, prior to commencing their season in the RFU Women’s Championship North 2.
Sitting behind all this is the extraordinary effort by new Club Captain Jason Keating.
Building on the strong foundations laid by Colin Toohey ‘man mountain’ Jason has been a whirlwind of activity in galvanising the club in organising players, sponsors, social events even finding time to sort out the odd blazer or two.
Also superb commitment by current and new commercial partners led by local company EFT and others with their name on the smart new kit embracing the traditional red, black and amber hoops.
With all the first team matches spoken for there are still opportunities with the other teams, pitch side boards, memorabilia and other initiatives.
A mention too for the unsung volunteers throughout the club without whom none of this can happen including the Executive led by the relentless Chairman Steve Olive in pursuing and backing plans on and off the field within and beyond Southport including establishing relationships with local schools, colleges, employers and Edge Hill University.
Southport RFC is proud that the President of the Students Union Joe Bradford and the First XV captain James Wright will again be playing for the club throughout the season.
With all this the attention now rightly turns to Saturday and Sunday to the pitch with the Firsts and Thirds at Fleetwood and West Park respectively, the Seconds at home to Fleetwood.
On Sunday the Colts are away at Caldy. We’re under starters orders!
Southport RFC in action against Hoylake last season and (inset) the new strip