Blackburn.Lancashire born centre forward Jack Southworth began his football career with Brookhouse Perseverance in 1882 before joining Blackburn Olympic in 1883. He had spells with Higher Walton and Inkerman Rangers in 1885 before joining Chester in 1886. Despite being a Chester player, he turned out for Blackburn Olympic in their First Round FA Cup match and as a result of the subsequent FA enquiry he was suspended for four months. returning to play for Blackburn Olympic later the same year. He became a great success as a centre forward and the 1887-88 season saw him finally join Blackburn Rovers, together with his brother James, who had also played with him at Chester.
The first season of the Football League began in September 1888, and Rovers’ inaugural League game took place on 15th September 1888 when they shared ten goals in an exciting encounter with Accrington. Southworth converted a cross from Harry Fecitt to score Blackburn’s first Football League goal. He finished the club’s top scorer with 20 goals as they finished fourth in the League Championship. In the FA Cup match against Aston Villa Southworth scored four goals as Blackburn registered an 8-1 victory as Rovers reached the FA Cup semi final where they lost in a replay to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Crewe.
Arguably the finest goal-scorer in the Football League during its early years, Southworth scored in all three of his appearances for England. He won his first cap for England against Wales scoring in a 4-1 victory at The Victoria Ground, Stoke on 23rd February 1889. Southworth also scored in the other two games he played for his country in another 4-1 victory over Wales at The Ashville Ground, Sunderland in March 1891 and in a 4-1 win over Scotland at Ibrox in April 1892. He was furthermore a reserve once and had to withdraw from a further three England squads in which he was selected. He also played once for The Football League against The Scottish League in April 1893. While he didn’t score, it goes without saying that the match ended in a….. 4-1 victory!
In 1889-90 Southworth’s goal-scoring form continued. Both he and Nat Walton scored hat-tricks in a 9–1 home success against Notts County, before Southworth netted four of Blackburn’ s goals in a 5-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion at Ewood Park. He repeated this feat in January in an 8–0 victory over Stoke. In the FA Cup he scored the only goal in the semi-final victory over Wolves. Blackburn finished the League season in third place, with Southworth ever-present and again the club’s top-scorer with 22 League goals. In the FA Cup Final against Sheffield Wednesday (from the Football Alliance) at The Kennington Oval on 29th March 1890, Rovers were the odds-on favourites to win in view both of their record of three victories in the previous six seasons and their superior League status. Blackburn fielded a team consisting of nine England or Scotland internationals. Rovers lived up to expectations as they romped away with the Cup defeating their Yorkshire opponents 6-1 with goals by Billy Townley (3), Nat Walton, Southworth and Joe Lofthouse. As Philip Gibbons points out in his book Association Football in Victorian England: “The Blackburn side had given one of the finest exhibitions of attacking football in an FA Cup Final, with England internationals, Walton, Townley, Lofthouse and John Southworth at the peak of their form.”
Southworth was christened the “Prince of Dribblers”. A contemporary wrote that: “His dodging, his neat passing, his speed and general accuracy in shooting won the hearts of the spectators at the Leamington ground. He is built for speed, he plays an unselfish game; he’s good at tackling and has excellent judgement.
Rovers opened the 1890-91 season with an exciting 8-5 defeat at Derby County with Southworth scoring a hat-trick. He repeated this in a 5-1 win against Aston Villa in December. In the opening week of the New Year, Rovers recorded their biggest League win of the season as Combe Hall (4), Southworth (3) and Billy Townley found the net in an 8-0 home success against Derby County. In the 7-0 FA Cup victory against Chester, Southworth netted his fourth hat-trick of the season. His next came in a 4-0 success at Accrington. Southworth missed several games through injury but still finished the season on 26 League goals (plus six in the Cup) thus making him top scorer in the Football League. He also still holds the record for the most hat-tricks in a single season with five in 1890-91.
Blackburn reached the FA Cup Final again in 1891. On this occasion Notts County were their opponents in the Final, played at Kennington Oval on 21st March, Rovers put County under pressure from the beginning and in the 8th minute, centre-half Geordie Dewar scored from a Townley corner. Before the end of the first-half, Southworth and Townley had added further goals. Jimmy Oswald of Notts County scored a late consolation goal but Blackburn finished comfortable 3-1 winners and won the FA Cup for the fifth time in eight years.
In 1891–92 Southworth continued his prolific form, scoring freely, including a hat-trick against Bolton Wanderers and four in the FA Cup first round victory over Derby County. By now Blackburn were starting to struggle in the League but finished in ninth place out of fourteen. Southworth was yet again Blackburn’s top scorer with 22 of their 58 League goals.
The 1892-93 season was not so prolific as Blackburn again finished the League in ninth place with Southworth scoring ten times in 23 appearances. By the end of the season Blackburn were encountering serious financial problems as a result of the costs of developing Ewood Park which had not resulted in the expected higher match-day attendances. As a result, they were forced to sell their main asset, Southworth, to Everton for £400 in the 1893 close season. In total he scored thirteen hat-tricks for Blackburn Rovers, which still holds as an individual club record. In the five years he spent at Blackburn Rovers he scored 96 goals in 108 League games, plus a further 22 cup goals in 21 appearances.
Everton were to enjoy the skills of Jack Southworth for just over one season. Following his signing from Blackburn Rovers, he replaced the injured Fred Geary, making an immediate impact with a goal on his debut at Derby County and he soon became a great favourite with the Everton supporters. In his only full season he scored 27 goals in just 22 games, including ten in two games over the Christmas period. He scored four in an 8-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday on 23rd December 1893 followed by six in the 7-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion on 30th December, this still stands as an Everton record. Despite Southworth’s goal-scoring exploits, Everton finished the season in a disappointing sixth place although Southworth was again The Football League’s top scorer with 27 League goals.
The next season, he started off like he finished the previous with nine goals in nine games before a serious knee injury sustained in November forced him to retire from the game. In his two seasons at Everton, Southworth scored 36 goals in 32 appearances.