Peterborough Sports 2-1 Southport (National League North)
Formed in 1908 as Brotherhoods Engineering Works it wasn’t until 2001 (after a brief affair as Bearings Direct) did the name Peterborough Sports emerge from a puff of smoke fit for an Aladdin’s lamp of three very ambitious wishes…
Wish one was to get out of the Peterborough & District league where their predecessors had stood as amateurs since 1925, which the newly named representatives did successfully after winning the Premier Division title in 2007.
Wish two was to get out of the United Counties league, which they did thanks to present Manager Jimmy Dean, in charge since 2015, winning back-to-back titles they topped Division One in 2016 before winning the Premier Division and promotion to step four of the non-league ladder the season after.
Wish three was to reach the National League North and step six of the football pyramid, having won the Southern League Central First Division in 2019 they finished second in the Premier Division last season to eventually beat Coalville Town in the playoff final and secure a place in unchartered territory where they have since held their own in the middle of the table.
It hasn’t been without cost though, Chairman Grant Biddle has spent over £600,000 of his own money in the last five years and the club are under a transfer embargo after falling behind with HMRC payments. Biddle has been looking for investors to help-out, after admitting that the club may have now hit their financial ceiling.
Today’s opponents Southport have much less fairytale but more thoroughbred history in comparison and have never been outside the top six divisions of English football. Formed in 1888 as Southport Central, in 1921 they were invited to become founder members of the Football League Third Division North, enjoying top four division professional status until 1978. Dropping firstly into the Northern Premier League before a long spell in the Conference and more recently the National League North, the Sandgrounders are eighth in the table and unbeaten in eight in the division whilst their hosts for the day, who beat them 3-0 at Haig Avenue earlier in the season, are eleventh after three successive league defeats.
It's a wet one as I check Twitter to see if the game is going ahead, rain pelting down as I turn off the A52 at Grantham and head South down the A1, passing one of the few remaining Adult Stores along the Old Stamford Road, a break in the skies appears as I fly past RAF Wittering before turning onto the A47 where I follow the River Nene towards Peterborough and Lincoln Road, the Bee Arena as it’s called for reasons I don’t know?
I’m following a Mercedes with a private reg, racing through the traffic on the Bourges Boulevard before turning onto Lincoln Road where it’s ushered into a car park by a steward (by now I've long gathered it's a player late for duty). The road is permit only and packed full of take-aways and convenience stores from Polish to Portuguese, Indian to Lithuanian, it looks a busy old place, one which I wouldn’t chance parking on, I decide rather than aiming for a street spot I’ll chance my arm by driving past the steward with a quick nod and a wink.
Into the car park of an NHS walk in centre I’m through the gates of Peterborough Sports Club which is lined with Palm Trees, an exotic looking entrance in the style of a Mediterranean Restaurant more than a sixth tier part-time football club.
Parking up, dangerously behind the goal (too dangerously I later find thanks to a ball print on my windscreen), there’s players and staff arriving as I head for the entrance behind a new looking brick built pavilion to the left, I’m behind a family of Southport fans who are keen and early as I ask the gateman if my name is on the list.
Inside the arena I’m pleasantly surprised, the pitch is in good condition despite the recent weather, flat wide and green, the stand to my left housing the Directors seats is small before an open end which has a tea bar and portacabin club shop in the far corner, to the right of that the Colin Day Stand which will include my seat for the day, a press table on row one, pitch side, all be it level with the eighteen yard box, up from that the dugouts and changing rooms, behind the top goal is a small low roofed stand in one corner.
I’m searching for a cup of tea but nowhere takes card, I’m going without as I’m writing the line-ups for the match, no team sheets provided, in fact I’m the only one sitting in the press seats, I’m joined shortly before the game by around twelve cackling Peterborough United fans who’ve came up to see their local non-league team as Posh are without a game.
“He’s brought his homework” one of them shouts as he see’s me writing down the subs… Southport are warming up within touching distance in front of me, the mullet haired Michael Carberry is having banter with another blonde flowing looker in Jack Bainbridge, the rest of the players are deadly silent during shuttles as Carberry shouts out “Antii Niemi, he’s not finished” a gag I fondly remember from the time a TalkSport listener phoned in and stated the Finland International Goalkeeper should play for Scotland.
The crowd has gathered around me at some pace, still nobody sitting in the press seats though, apart from a kid and his mum who use the tables provided for media workers to sit and have their burgers on… All the while the cackling behind me goes on, four women & six men chatting gibberish, there’s one who loves a bit of sarcasm too, they’re already planning a coach trip to watch Stamford play and a train excursion to Kings Lynn as well as trip to Port Vale with Posh.
In amongst all this chat the game kicks off, it takes the away side all of ten minutes to get their first booking, a soft looking foul on halfway by Keenan Quansah, I was thinking pre-match in near 30 games I’ve not seen a red card all season, will today be the day?
The opening is scrappy, Southport have no intention to play football, just get rid and launch, Peterborough the better of the two sides in possession look to use their wingers, the right side in particular a threat as full back Kayden Williams-Lowe links up with Dion Sembie-Ferris who seem to have a good understanding of each other.
There’s an half chance when Sembie-Ferris runs through but he drags the shot wide as the sarcastic Posh fan behind me mumbles to his mates “That’s why Colchester released you” the chirpy guvnor shortly after eats his words as Sembie-Ferris cuts in from the right and unleashes a left footed thunderbolt past McMillan from the edge of the area.
By now the Referee has taken a couple more Southport scalps, in fact he checks the back of one players shirt to see his number after a free kick is conceded, he’s definitely dishing out today, he’s already made that decision ahead of kick off.
It’s musical chairs at half time as some of the women swap places to chat as the men get the tea, at least a little silence from the endless jokes and nonsense, another friend of ‘theirs’ comes over and sits in the media seats without a care in the world, he’s been looking for his mates all half apparently… “Was the goal any good” he asks “I was in the bar”.
Lights switched on as the second half kicks into gear, Peterborough are again the enforcers but chances and quality, are few and far between, Southport continuing to opt with the more direct route as the turbines attack down the sides before a foul for tugging on half way by Keenan Quansah, gives the Referee 'his moment' at last, a second booking and that inevitable red he craved providing since waking up this morning. There's not been a dirty foul all game, Southport have had five bookings and a sending off.
Down to ten it leaves the away side a difficult task which gets even tougher when Nathan Fox trudges into the box to cross low where Dion Sembie-Ferris slots home his second, the hosts sailing into a two-goal advantage with less than twenty minutes to play, a formality to see out the game, not so as Southport react late on with a gutsy rally, they pull one back on 86 as Chris Doyle heads home a corner from close range, but it’s too little too late, they can’t breach their opponents in the final five minutes of injury time and Peterborough hang on to a first win in five. The Southport fans aim their frustration at the man in the middle who they boo off the field of play. "I never want to see you again Ref" one cries. He's still dishing out cards as players are walking off the pitch.
Not much took a shine on a game where little football was played. Dion Sembie Ferris who impressed me against Alfreton earlier in the season was quick and direct and a real problem to Southport left back Carberry who just couldn’t handle him. The former Colchester winger linked up well with right-back Williams-Lowe who despite his small size had a touch of technique and did the simple things well, the former QPR defender now 22, certainly has the potential to make a bit of cash in the game, his level could even be higher than the one he's already at.
Late on Peterborough brought on the experienced big defender Richard Jones who headed back everything that Southport threw at him, a tactical masterclass, all be it a simple necessity made by Manager Jimmy Dean, who must take credit for his side trying to play with a bit of grit and physical presence in their armour. Centre forward Mark Jones a big number nine, quietly going about his business up top, allowing others to run off him and take the credit as he takes a few kicks and elbows for the team.
For Southport, it wasn’t a day where many of their guys could take credit for playing well, looking forward to watching Jordan Archer, he didn’t impose himself the way I expected or hoped he would. Centre backs Anson & Evans were at least no-nonsense, but they certainly weren’t pretty, in no way elegant, Southport looked very organised but very ordinary, a team perhaps crying out for a bit of pace and guile.
The place itself, the venue and set up, I must admit, was better than I had expected, having heard off the grapevine of its basic amenities and layout, I doubt it would be allowed to host fifth tier football if the side were ever in contention to again go up, but should this be the highest that Peterborough Sports will ever sit in the football spectrum, credit to those involved for doing a bloody good job in getting them this far.
It might be mid-table for both of these teams this season, but whilst Southport will no doubt still be kicking around at the level in another ten or fifteen years, I can’t be as confident as to say where the Turbines will be? Maybe if the wind is blowing in their direction, they’ll continue to sale along their magical fairytale story, at least, that is, until the storm really hits, and they do run out of money for good.
Peterborough Sports: Peter Crook, Ryan Fryatt, Connor Johnson, Nathan Fox, Kayden Williams-Lowe, Dan Jarvis (Michael Gash 79), Diadier Camara, Josh McCammon (Richard Jones 87), Dan Lawlor, Mark Jones (Maniche Sani 79), Dion Sembie-Ferris.
Southport: Tony McMillan, Chris Doyle, Adam Anson (Connor Woods 57), Declan Evans, Michael Carberry, Charlie Munroe, Josh Hmani (Niall Watson 57), Keenan Quansah, Connor Heath, Jack Bainbridge, Jordan Archer (Charlie Oliver 69).
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 7th January 2023, Lincoln Road, Peterborough (att 281).