Town owner: No bad blood with our cup rivals

Town owner Andy Pilley
Town owner Andy Pilley

Fleetwood owner Andy Pilley says the bad blood that once epitomised their relationship with Southport has gone – and that the two clubs are even planning on working together in the future.

Six years ago after Southport controversially pipped Town to the 2009/10 Conference North title such a thing would have been unthinkable.

The Sangrounders won the league by one point but Town would have been champions had Farsley Celtic, whom they beat twice but Southport once, not folded and had their results chalked off.

Town went up the hard way via the play-offs and went from strength to strength after that season, rising up to the Football League and then to League One.

Southport are battling it out in non-league’s top tier and Pilley says ex-Southport manager – and current operations manager – Liam Watson, who was in charge during that controversial season, is no longer his arch-rival as Town head to Haig Avenue for Monday’s FA Cup tie.

Pilley said: “We were big rivals back in the Conference North days and it was nip and tuck all the way as to who was going to win the title.

“We had the Farsley Celtic debacle and it was clouded in controversy that particular season, we eventually lost the league despite accruing more points than Southport.

“I don’t want to go back over all that but thankfully we were successful in the play-offs and we got through to the Conference.

“That was a really big season for us because we had invested off the pitch with the brand new, what was at the time, £5m Parkside Stand and we wanted Conference National football and the target was the Football League.

“So it was crucial that we got out of that league.

“Thankfully we did in the end but we were nip and tuck with Southport.

“I remember going there and we got smashed 5-0 on Boxing Day and then just over a week later we beat them 4-0 at home.

“So there has always been that rivalry.

“We competed for the same players.

“They had a lot of Scousers at the time, so did we.

“And once we got into the Conference a very pleasant day was when we went there and won 6-0 compliments of a Jamie Vardy hat-trick.

“There has always been lots of rivalry.

“I think what is particularly ironic about this tie is that many years ago we would have been the underdog when we went to play at Southport.

“Southport was one of the teams that we aspired to play and now it is very different.

“We are going there as the favourites and Southport have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“I think there certainly was (bad blood); I have got to say though now that it is quite the opposite.

“I saw Liam Watson, Steve Burr (Southport’s manager) and Keith Briggs (assistant manager) who is an ex-player of ours here at Poolfoot only two weeks ago, they were down watching our development squad.

“I’ve been in communication with Liam, who used to be my arch enemy; he’s not now!

“We are both winners and I think we both desperately wanted to win that league and ensure promotion and we are going to look to work together in the future.

“We are going to look to exchange players to perhaps help them, to help the development of some of our players and to help Southport in their quest to finish as high up the National League as they possibly can.

“We used to be bitter rivals there is no doubt about it, you only have to search the internet and you will see first hand that we were arch enemies.

“But I think there is mutual respect there now.

“I get on very well with Charlie Clapham who is the Southport chairman and I will be looking forward to catching up with him on Monday night too.

“I’m not too sure about the welcome from the supporters but I am quite thick-skinned.

“I know I will get a nice welcome in the boardroom and the other officials when I see them.

“There is pressure every game but we don’t want to come unstuck.

“We don’t want to be remembered as the Football League team that got beaten by the non-league team.

“We want to progress and have a good cup run and I’m sure the manager (Uwe Rosler) and the players will be fully aware of that.”