January 25, 1966 will always be remembered as one of the greatest nights in the history of Southport FC.
50 years ago today, under the floodlights at Portman Road, Ipswich, the Sandgrounders achieved one of their finest results of all time with a notable giant-killing in an FA Cup third round replay.
The cup run of season 1965-66 has a special place in Southport folklore, and the victory away at Ipswich Town is a defining part of that story.
As cup wins go, they do not come any more dramatic. After a goalless draw in the original tie at Haig Avenue in front of a crowd of more than 9,000, the teams met again three days later at Portman Road.
Scoring a first-half opener before squaring the match at 2-2 after Ipswich had fought back, Alan Spence found the target twice for the Sandgrounders that night.
But just when a draw had looked certain and with extra time beckoning, along came Colin Alty, who claimed the headlines with a dramatic last-minute winner.
The local lad of the team, Alty spent six years at Haig Avenue and, half a century on, that night at Portman Road still brings back special memories.
“There were a lot of people there from Southport that day and it still gets mentioned to me even now,” says Alty.
“People come up to me and say they remember me scoring that goal at Ipswich. It’s amazing how many people still mention it.
“Ipswich were a good team with a good reputation. They had won the Football League a couple of seasons earlier and had played in Europe before they got relegated.
“The game was incredible. We went in at half-time 1-0 ahead and I remember Arthur Peat telling us to keep it tight as we came out for the second half. Not long after, we found ourselves 2-1 down.
“It stayed like that until about ten minutes from the end when Spenny scored an absolute screamer which almost broke the net. I don’t think he’d ever hit one from that far out before and it flew into the top corner.
“That got it back to 2-2 and Ipswich just went. In the last ten minutes we were all over them and they were struggling. We hit woodwork and then we got the winner.
“Terry McDonald put the cross over, Spenny flicked it on at the near post and I was there at the far post to head it in off the crossbar. There must have been about six seconds to go.
“Everyone went mad and there were people coming onto the pitch. They are fantastic memories.”
The third round win at Ipswich was the fifth of Southport’s seven matches in that memorable cup run. They had also claimed an impressive victory to beat Stockport on a replay in the previous round but this was the result that started to get Bingham’s team noticed.
“It could have actually been all over in the home game because Spenny hit the post in the last minute but we went on to win the replay,” Alty adds.
“After the game the champagne was flowing, which we were getting used to by that stage.
“We then went into the pub by the ground and when we walked in everyone there started signing Irish Eyes Are Smiling because of Bingy. It was brilliant.”
Having started out with Preston North End, Alty had joined Southport at the start of the previous season, and says the arrival of Bingham changed the landcaspe at Haig Avenue.
“We were a fit team, Bingy brought new ideas to the club in terms of the training and it worked,” says Alty, who was moved from full-back to centre-forward under the new manager.
“When Bingy came in we were at a different place every day. We would be on the beach, at Princes Park, Southport baths, running along the Promenade and then playing five-a-side. Everything was different.
“He got everybody moving and everyone training. These days every team concentrates on fitness regimes but back then it was new.”
Bingham’s methods quickly brought Southport success, and after victory at Ipswich thanks to the last-gasp winner from Alty, the Sandgrounders’ cup journey continued.
“By now things were fairly buzzing at Haig Avenue,” explains The Sandgrounders: The Complete League History of Southport FC. “The press were beginning to take notice of this team which had come from nowhere the previous season and its youthful, ambitious manager.
“Bingham handled the publicity aspect well and kept the club’s name to the forefront. The draw was again kind and Cardiff were destined to make the trip north.”
For Southport, another chapter was about to be written, but for Bingham’s team and Alty, in particular, this was the night that dreams came true.
*With special thanks to Colin Alty, Steve Beverley, and Geoff Wilde and Michael Braham, The Sandgrounders: The Complete League History of Southport FC
* Bingham’s Boys: The Heroes of ’66, an event hosted by Trust in Yellow celebrating 50 years since Southport’s historic FA Cup run, takes place in the Grandstand Bar on Saturday February 13 at 5.30pm.