Posts Tagged ‘Southampton’

Adam Lallana celebrates scoring against rock-bottom Reading on Saturday, flanked by four of Saints most improved players this season. But which three teams will fill the bottom spots come the end? Photo: saintsfc.co.uk

Adam Lallana celebrates scoring, flanked by four of Saints most improved players this season. But which three teams will fill the bottom spots come the end of this year’s titanic struggle against relegation? Photo: saintsfc.co.uk

So another critical weekend has passed in the English Premier League, all bar the Manchester derby later today, but let’s be honest, the race at the top of the table is all but over, even if teams are still scrapping over the final European Champions League qualification place, so all the real interest now switches to the incredibly congested and exciting – well, that’s one word for it – scrap at the bottom to avoid relegation in one of the last three places in the division.

Here’s the table after everything except the Manchester game.

Saints up to 11th - nosebleed territory

Saints up to 11th – nosebleed territory!

After three great wins on the trot, (the last being a vital “six pointer” against Reading courtesy of goals from Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana) my beloved Southampton look all but safe from the awful prospect of the drop now.

(I trust that is not tempting fate.)

This becomes ever more vital with the vast influx of cash planned from TV rights next year – Premier League clubs will have no excuse not to be swimming in cash in 2013-14. Anyhow, a win for Saints against West Ham next weekend would make survival virtually certain and could also thrust West Ham into all sorts of poo depending on other results.

West Ham do have a game in hand over most of the other threatened teams but it’s against Man Utd in ten days when United will still definitely be wanting a win. Meanwhile, also having a game in hand Wigan can overhaul Sunderland and get out of the bottom three but that game is against Man City, and they’ll still need points, too. So the table as it stands now looks pretty realistic. So, footie fan, who will go down?

I am going to assume that Reading and QPR have been cut adrift, but you may disagree. My pick to go down with them is Sunderland (especially being aware of Wigan’s and Martinez’s fabled determination) but I’d also be very nervous if I supported Norwich or Stoke, both of whom seem to have lost the plot somewhat at exactly the wrong time. Villa seem to have hit a vein of form, but they have been dreadful all season, so who knows? Newcastle surely can’t continue to hover around the bottom with the squad they’ve got, can they? A recent uptick would say probably not. Then again …

So, you tell me: which three teams will head to the Championship come the end of the season? Vote now! Everyone gets three votes of course: just click on the boxes next to three teams and press Vote. Simples!

The poll expires in one week, so vote today! When you’ve voted, feel free to leave a comment as to why you chose the teams you did …

What must be said is that this season’s competition shows once again what a great test of clubs the English Premiership is.

To have so many teams in genuine danger of the drop at this stage shows how the differences between one side and another are really quite marginal, and why, on their day, most teams can beat most other teams. Even if the top spot itself is really, over the course of a whole season, restricted to four or five teams with very deep pockets, even those top sides can come a cropper against a more lowly team who lift their game on the day, as with Saints’ huge recent wins against Liverpool and Chelsea.

This is what gives the league its worldwide fascination. Long may it be so!

Ricky Lambert scores last minute equaliser against Blackpool

Ricky Lambert scores a last minute equaliser against Blackpool in the 2-2 draw on 10 December 2011

I am perpetually bemused and amused by the propensity for otherwise reasonably sane people, oneself included, to become helplessly trapped in a cycle of despair and adoration for a group of sportspeople.

Currently, the football team which has been my deep love for more than thirty years – the “Pride of Hampshire”, Southampton FC, a.k.a the “Saints” – sit proudly atop the English Championship, the second tier of English soccer. If they continue to win more games than their rivals, then the end of the season will see the ultimate dream achieved, returning to the Premiership – the world’s greatest domestic football league – which they once graced for a remarkable 27 continuous years.

St Mary's Stadium

St Mary’s Stadium, home to Southampton FC, nestled in an industrial area near the famous port

Southampton’s story is that of a family club, once based around a Church football team – St Mary’s, now the name of their new stadium,and the origin of their nickname – way back in the 19th century, that has always punched way above its weight. At one point when I started supporting them (whilst at University in the ugly little south coast port city, so scarred by Nazi bombs in the 2nd world war) Manchester United used to make more from programme sales on a Saturday than Southampton made from ticket sales. The club nearly crashed out of existence altogether through financial troubles just a few short years ago, and have languished in the lower reaches of English football while they sort themselves out. These are heady days indeed.

Saints have always, with temporary diversions inflicted by misguided managers who rarely lasted long, been a club that preferred to play “total football”: football with genuine flair, football with what used to be called “Continental panache”, football to make you gasp with pleasure when it went right and cringe with pain when it went wrong. The roll call of great players who slotted comfortably into this unrealistically idealistic atmosphere almost beggars belief for a club of the size of Southampton – Bates, Gilchrist, Davies, Paine, Boyer, MacDougall, Moran, Osgood, Channon, Keegan, Wallace, Shilton.

Matt Le Tissier

Matt Le Tissier, perhaps the most talented footballer of his generation – perhaps any generation – and Southampton legend.

And, of course, the mecurially brilliant and sublime Matt Le Tissier. Or as he became universally known by Southampton supporters, “Le God”. Without question, the most gifted attacking midfielder the English game ever produced, who steadfastly refused multi-million-pound offers to move to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United with the simple words, “I like it here”.

It was this crazy, knockabout passion that led to Saints once memorably defeating Manchester United in the prestigious FA Cup Final, despite being a division below and a light year apart in terms of raw talent. It remains the only major trophy the club has ever won.

It is Saints’ generation-on-generation preference for bold, flowing courageous football, so often resulting in the team losing games 4-3 at the death knock of the 90 minutes as the defence streamed forward, looking for a winner, that led one supporter to memorably comment, “It’s not the despair that really gets to me, it’s the hope.”

So anyhow, last night, my beloved team were on the TV live, playing a team, Blackpool, that on current form they should beat easily. And true to the deadly obsession that is sports fanaticism, a bunch of us on the other side of the world from the actual match trailed loyally into a pub in Melbourne at 11.30pm in the pouring – torrential – rain, to once again undergo the ritual sacrifice of our sanity.

All ages, shapes, sizes and sexes. Actually, what was really funny was that in the streets and in the pub we were surrounded by cheery Christmas party revellers, many of them late teen, early 20s girls dressed in their best party finery – which means mini skirts that make handkerchiefs look excessively over-manufactured and legs that never seem to stop as they reach for the sky. Yet we only had eyes for the TV and every missed pass, crunching tackle, and woodwork-rattling shot. They must have felt their efforts to impress were entirely wasted. Or perhaps we were all gay? We certainly looked peculiar, decked out in red and white team shirts, and one bizarre fellow sporting a felt jester’s hat in team colours with bells. Yes, dear reader, that was me.

Bartosz Bialkowski

Bart Bialkowski – the stand-in keeper’s mistake gifted Blackpool a vital goal

And once again, Saints put us through the emotional wringer, with a performance that ran the full gamut of the sublimely talented to the horrifyingly inept and back again. They totally dominated the opening period, and scored a good goal from the latest hero to embody Saints’ spirit, Ricky Lambert. Then they let in two goals, one a well taken effort that was probably unpreventable, and one a goalkeeping howler that will haunt the lad concerned for the rest of his career. Stand-in keeper Bart Bialkowski somehow let an otherwise harmless shot squirm under his body and through his legs to give Blackpool the lead.  Perhaps the only consolation for the lad is the mishap occurred too late to be included in the “bloopers of the year”compilation DVDs out for Christmas.

Not until the second minute of five minutes added on to the normal 90 did Saints finally score an equaliser (seen above, again from “Goal Machine” Lambert). The relief in the Sherlock Holmes Tavern was palpable. And Saints’ nearest rivals, West Ham, contrived to lose, to boot. So we were still somewhat fortuitously top of the table, still with an unbeaten home record (although the current record-breaking run of 22 homes games won came to a sticky end) leaving us tragics in the pub buoyed up and near-salivating for next Sunday’s game against arch-rivals Portsm*uth.

(I have to write Portsm*uth and not the whole name of that benighted club, because it is a long-standing tradition amongst Saints fans that we never write their club name in full, which would pay them too much respect. They are more commonly referred to as simply “Skates” or “the fish fiddlers”, in deference to the belief that fishermen in the area used to acheive sexual satisfaction by having intercourse with the wings of the Skate fish, common in the area, (a type of small ray), which was supposed to mimic a human female sex organ. The fact that those fish were then on-sold to the locality, including Southampton, may well have something to do with the persistence of the mythology and the mutual dislike. Since time immemorial, the rivalry engenders more hatred and detestation than possibly any other in English football.)

I was left, driving home in the pouring, leaden, dark night, to reflect on what it is about supporting a sports team that makes it such a consuming and culturally-independent experience. Around the world, sport of all kinds, but especially the various codes of football, captures the hearts and minds of thinking, rational people and turns them into dribbling idiots, crying or laughing into their beer, and happily hugging smelly strangers indiscriminately.

I saw it again last night, when, in response to our manic shouting at the TV, (“Ref! You total bastard! Offside!”), the entire clientele of the pub started to forget what is was they were there for originally, and pay attention to the flickering images of inch high men running backwards and forwards, beamed live through unimaginably brilliant technology from the other side of the planet. By the end of the game, and Lambert’s last-gasp equaliser, they were all on side too, cheering, asking us if they could wear our colours, asking about the team and our star players, and cheerful adopting our lifelong allegiances as their own. As one colleague bemusedly remarked to me, “Not bad, another 30 new supporters who’ve never heard of us before.”

Yes, for a few brief minutes, we were the same tribe. We were the same religion. We believed the same things. We were the same town. The same country. The same world.

We were the same family.

Damn, it felt good.

Post Scriptum

Southampton were promoted back to the Premiership in late April 2012, returning to the top flight of English football – possibly, arguably, the best league in the world – after seven years away. A week before, Portsmouth were relegated to League 1, the old “Division 3″. As one wag remarked: “Normal service has been resumed”.

 

LODGE ROAD, SOUTHAMPTON (1-3)

 

1

Determined, the bus belches its way up the incline.

Inside, cold white faces stare at me, unseeing.

They look at me but don’t watch.

(I take care not to stare

as they pull up at the flaky green bus stop

But I do watch).

 

Out from the bus steps the girl with the long, greasy-blonde

hair. I have seen her often. The sort of girl

you really shouldn’t fancy

(so, of course, you do).

 

This morning she pressed her body

into an envelope of black plastic,

stuck down the edges with a gash of make-up,

and posted herself to another pointless day.

 

Tonight she puddles her way home again.

Scuffed red shoes perilously splish-splash their way

past my heart.

A tight little ball of sex

and lost dreams, no longer hopeful,

and not pretty enough for her clothes.

 

2

On the corner of the road with the playground in

Pepe closes up Pepe’s Italian hair-dressers.

Winds back his shiny new awning

and gazes with smiling satisfaction at the light streaming

from his windows.

Lighting up the pavement.

 

Everyone will see what a warm inviting place his little shop is,

as they crawl home in the wet.

They will look at the bright lights and Panther hair tonic

and the piles of unbought faded yellow Durex packets

(“Something for the weekend, Sir?”)

and remember they needed a haircut.

 

(Pepe learnt all this from his father.

so it must be true).

 

As I pass him, he looks straight through me.

He does not recognize wet people in anoraks.

Only dry, springy heads of hair in need of

conditioning and cheerful chatter.

 

Next door at the late night grocery store

the till-girl who wouldn’t be working for the Indians if she had

any choice, but you know how work is,

reaches new heights of indifference.

 

As we all drip politely on her recently straightened pile of

Evening Sports Echos she is already in her lover’s arms.

Proud and defiant, she stares down confidently at all comers

in the local disco.

 

“He’s mine,” she sneers, “­All mine!”

Rich without money, a coarse, virile possession in an

unexciting world.

26p pint of milk kiss

74p curly smoked sausage groping urgent hands

62p Mother’s Pride Thick Sliced last Saturday in his car

it was the first time with him

won’t be the last

oh no.

 

She doesn’t even see me as her mind on automatic pilot

calls out my bill.

Well, why should she?

 

3

I press my nose to the drizzly window of the video shop,

waiting for the crush inside to die down.

Wonder if they’ll remember I owe them a quid?

The little tubby girl is serving, all stupid shy smiles and

dimples. She’ll let me off even if she remembers.

 

Little black boxes of freedom from thought stacked neatly

row upon row. Boxes of dreams.

Don’t get that one, it’s rubbish. Saw it last week.

(Can’t tell you though.

Don’t want to be thought the sort of

bloke who talks to folks in video shops.)

 

Trot home clutching our escape route for the night.

Never mind what it is, dear.

(Not that we do anymore anyway).

You stare at him, and I’ll watch her, and when they do

(as they always do)

we’ll clear our throats self-consciously

(’cause we don’t, so much, anymore.)

 

There was a time when we did.

Watching them at it would

probably have sparked us off.

But the spark went out.

Got damp.

 

(Should we have got a comedy tonight?

Always should when it’s raining. How come it’s always

raining nowadays?)

 

Now, out there in the street,

the dirty old bus putters his way home,

leaving a last late commuter cut up on the kerb.

Impervious, inexorable, the great yellow Leviathan trundles into the middle distance,

unaware that my TV screen has turned to a little white dot

that seems to want to suck me in.

 

As you quietly wander up to bed

I listen sadly to the occasional late-homer,

full of the desperate cheerfulness of a

drab pub where at least someone talks to him.

71 Poems & 1 Story is available in printed format and as a download. Share of any profits to the Bali Childrens' Foundation and Alzheimer's Australia

I am indebted to my good mate Sean Carter for alerting me to this superb example of the genre, which appeared somewhere in Hampshire, UK. Your intrepid reporter is tracking down the provenance as we speak and will report back. The guilty parties must be named, the public has a right to know! *grins*

Er. As Sean so gleefully replied, “Not ‘arf!”

UPDATE: As this link to the Daily Mirror reveals, it was in none other than my beloved Southampton FC matchday programme! I trust someone got a slapping.

I mean think about it, someone supposedly intelligent has written that, that’s got through an advertising committee, the client, the sub editors, the editor. I mean, wtf?

Matelots will be queuing up at the docks, you mark my words. I trust the young lady concerned is well prepared. Sheesh.

Wild, racy Southampton. My old home town. Honestly, who knew?

The other Advertising F*** Ups we’ve spotted this year, in case you missed ‘em.

The world’s stupidest billboard placement: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-gX

Not the holiday anyone would really want: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-hJ

Stores abusing innocent shoppers: http://wp.me/p1LY0z-j8

I have no doubt they’ll keep coming in.

We’ll have to have a poll at the end of the year as to which one is the absolute worst, and publish the results worldwide, “pour encourager les autres” as the French used to say when they would shoot someone for cowardice in the World War 1 trenches.

Southampton FCOK, it’s a personal obsession … so if you’re not interested in football just ignore this post!

But I’d love to know who people think are the greatest Saints players of all time.

As some of us would find it impossible to separate some of these, you can choose up to five of your “best of all time”. Comments welcome, too. The poll is open ended, so I’ll keep it running while people keep voting :-)

PS This is just a sample list: so please feel free to also leave adulatory comments about Adam Lallana, Tim Flowers, Alf Ramsey, John Sydenham, Anti Niemi, Ted MacDougall, Phil Boyer, Wayne Bridge, David Peach, Brian O’Neill, Peter Osgood, John McGarth, Theo Walcott, Joe Jordan, Ricky “Goal Machine” Lambert … etc etc!

Notes on the players in the poll

TED BATES
1937-53, 216 apps, 64 goals

“Mr Southampton” devoted his life to the club and did more to build Saints into a respected top-flight football club than any other individual. But he also played for the club for 15 years, joining his former Norwich City manager Tom Parker at Saints in 1937 on his nineteenth birthday. He was steeped in the club when, on June 8, 1940, he married Mary Smith at St. James’s Church and that evening watched Saints play Charlton Athletic at The Dell. After the war, Bates and the prolific Charlie Wayman were the club strikers but Bates played in every position, including in goal. In 1953, he retired from playing as Saints sank into the Third Division (South) and he began 50 years of backroom graft, from manager to chairman, until his death in 2003. In 2001 he was appointed MBE, and continued to play an integral part in Southampton’s affairs as the club relocated from his beloved Dell to their new St Mary’s stadium. After Bates’s 66 years of faithful service, there was a case for naming it Saint Ted’s. His statue stands outside the ground.

NICK HOLMES
1973-87, 535 apps, 64 goals

Think Saints, real Saints players, and you think Le Tissier, Channon, Benali, all local boys. And Nickie Holmes is right up there with them, born and bred and a one-team man. This man worked his socks off in midfield for 15 years, averaging 35 games every season, the tireless, skilled grafter working alongside the vision and passing ability of Steve Williams. Apart from 1976, he scored in the 1979 League Cup Final and became club captain in 1980 leading Keegan, Ball et all. McMenemy called him “a man for all seasons,” and the fans warmed hugely to his positive attitude and lopsided grin. Not quite the beard, however. Owner of one of the hardest bullet-shots from distance the league has ever seen.

PETER SHILTON
1982-87, 242 apps

Did you know that Shilts earned more caps for England playing for Southampton than any other of his clubs? (And yes, that includes Forest). At Leicester City, he actually scored against Saints, and for Forest played against Saints in the 1979 League Cup final, before coming to his senses and leaving the former European champions to join Southampton in 1982. In the McMenemy all-stars team, Shilton reached an FA Cup semi-final and finished runner-up in the old First Division. There’s not much else to say about Shilton: Saints had England’s No 1 at his peak and during our best ever league campaigns. No coincidence there.

ALAN SHEARER
1988-92, 158 apps, 43 goals

Silly bugger, if only he had stayed with Saints, who knows what he might have achieved in his career? But anybody who marks their professional debut with a hat-trick, as Shearer did against Arsenal in 1988, is likely to prove something special, and so it was with the lad who used to clean the boots at The Dell. Shearer was only 17 on his debut and he matured at Saints until sold to newly-promoted Blackburn for a then British record £3.5m – but it was still a bargain. And he refused to join Manchester United, which amused everybody at the time but Sir Alex Ferguson.

STEVE MORAN
1980-86, 217 apps, 99 goals

Some of his goals were memorable – a late strike at Anfield in 1981 to hand Saints a win at then invincible Liverpool, his hat-trick in the 8-2 demolition of Coventry in 1984 and, above all, his injury-time winner at Fratton Park in the fourth round of the 1984 FA Cup. It seemed for a while that Moran had the world at his feet and would go all the way, but after such a dramatic initial impact, his career waned as he suffered from continual back problems. It was a sad day when he left for Leicester City at still a young age. Moran’s career kicked off when McMenemy turned up to watch his son, Chris, play for Tyro League side, Sarisbury Sparks. McMenemy senior was so impressed by Chris’s team-mate, that he promised him a new pair of boots if he scored a second-half hat-trick – Moran duly obliged. He signed professional forms in August 1979, after finishing his schooling. Later that season he made his debut as a substitute against Manchester City, scoring with his first touch. He was blessed with having Channon and Keegan amongst his team mates and scored 18 goals from 30 starts in his first full season. Voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1982.

DANNY WALLACE
1980-90, 323 apps, 79 goals

Small, compact and lightning quick, Danny wowed Dell crowds with his pace and superb individual goals. He burst into national prominence with both goals in the first match televised live from The Dell against Liverpool in March 1984. His first was an overhead scissors-kick and for the second, he threw himself in front of Alan Hansen to head home a superb cross from Mark Dennis. The first goal was named Goal of the Season. He made his debut aged only 16 years, 313 days in November 1980 at Old Trafford, the youngest ever for Southampton (a record broken by Theo Walcott in August, 2005). Danny’s fine form continued after that Liverpool game, and in April 1984, both he and Moran scored hat-tricks in an 8-2 demolition of Coventry City. His career culminated with him being picked to play for England and scoring in his only appearance in a 4-0 victory, over Egypt in January 1986. He eventually went to Man United for £1.2 million, then a record fee for a Southampton player, but in 1996 was sadly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

ALAN BALL
1976-82, 234 apps, 13 goals

Channon, Keegan, Ball… It still amazes some people that Southampton had such a stellar line-up three decades ago. Football and fun was their creed – with racing thrown in. McMenemy used to joke that training sessions were built around the horses for their benefit. Ball loved the club so much he had two spells as a player, then returned as manager. He first joined in 1976 from Arsenal, despite offers from several top-flight clubs. “I reckon McMenemy and myself were the only two people convinced I’d done the right thing,” he said in his autobiography. But he helped to get Saints promoted, missing just one of 42 games in 1977-78, and bringing on the silky skills and vision of Steve Williams. The second spell were the magic C, K and B years when Saints topped the old First Division for the first time. He left, aged nearly 38, only to return as manager, bring Le Tissier back into the team (who had fallen foul of Ian ‘Dunderhead’ Branfoot) and save Saints from relegation. Apart from Ted Bates, no other player/manager had such an impact on Saints. And while he is claimed by Everton, he was also one of ours, watching Saints against Charlton the weekend before he died, aged 61. The turn out for his funeral at Winchester Cathedral was immense.

MARK WRIGHT
1982-87, 222 apps, 11 goals

A winner through and through. He played for England 45 times, and only lost six. After leaving Saints for Derby County, the Future England Captain went on to Liverpool, captaining them to FA Cup success in 1992, and scored for England in the 1990 World Cup. And he learned it all at The Dell, becoming the best centre half Saints ever had. He made his debut at 18 in a 3-1 win over Leeds, in which Keegan scored twice. Player of the Year in 1982-83, Saints finished second in the old First Division the next season and Wright replaced Terry Butcher in the England line-up. “Mark matured into a graceful and poised defender – a hitherto unkown phenomenom in post-War Southampton back lines,” noted Saints history tome In That Number. He broke his leg in 1986 – a crack heard around the ground – which cost him a World Cup place, and while recovering Derby came sniffing. It cost the Rams a hefty £750,000 but it was still a bargain.

STEVE WILLIAMS
1976-84, 346 apps, 27 goals

Steve Williams was ahead of his time, a Fàbregas of his day. And like Le Tissier, he was another of a lengthy list of Saints who should have played more at international level. He started brilliantly as well, making his debut in a 1-0 victory over Portsmouth that contributed to Pompey’s relegation to the old Third Division. His vision and passing saw fans vote him Player of the Year in his first full season and earn him England Under-21 caps. At Saints, he played alongside Ball, whom he succeeded as team captain, leading Saints to an FA Cup semi-final in 1984 and runners-up in the old First Division. At his peak, Williams was transferred to Arsenal for a club record £550,000, but he was then struck by injuries. He did win a League Cup final against Liverpool but in January 1988, he fell out with manager George Graham and moved to Luton Town.

RON DAVIES
1966-72, 277 apps, 153 goals

When Sir Matt Busby was asked for his opinion on Ron Davies, the response was simple: “The finest centre forward in Europe.” Davies was twice top scorer in the old First Division during the 60s and his tally of 37 league goals for Saints in 1966-67 has not been bettered since. Between 1966-69, he scored 90 times in 123 league games. That quote from Busby came in August 1969 on the back of a stunning 4-1 victory for Saints over his United side, with Davies getting all four. As a result United lodged a then-massive £200,000 bid which was turned down by the Southampton board. A big but amiable giant, Davies was useful on the ground, but it was in the air where he inflicted most damage, although in Terry Paine and John Sydenham he was lucky to have two fine crossers of the ball. He also had a neat little sideline in the days before meg-bucks pay packets: he was a talented artist and his caricatures of his team-mates would be sold in the club shop and appear in The Echo.

TERRY PAINE
1956-74, 811 apps, 187 goals

“A fluke I think. It was a punt by Campbell Forsyth and as its coming, I read it – everybody might miss it. I’ve got on my bike early and it’s bounced. It’s bounced over the top of them and I just head it and stick it in the back of the net.” There have been many more spectacular goals in Southampton’s history but few more significant as Paine’s header that earned a 1-1 draw at Leyton Orient, thus elevating them to the old First Division for the first time in 1966. Paine was already an England regular, about to appear in the World Cup finals and, as a Hampshire boy, he had remained loyal to Saints. He went on to win ten caps for England and to break all club records, making 811 appearances. He was a superb winger, who could land a ball on a sixpence.

MATTHEW LE TISSIER
1986-2002, 541 apps, 210 goals

Saints are known for three types of player: old pros at the end of their career (Osgood, Rodrigues, George, Watson), the Academy kids sold on to balance books (Walcott, Bridge, Shearer, Oxlade-Chamberlain) and the loyal one-team players, of which Matthew Le Tissier was the biggest. The boy from Guernsey was simply Saints’ biggest ever class act. He could have gone to Spurs (or half a dozen other leading clubs) but stayed at Saints, a priceless act of loyalty that undoubtedly saved the club from relegation several times over. He missed only one penalty in his entire career, scored extraordinary goals (just ask Newcastle fans) and, like Channon, played for fun with a huge smile. Work-ethic managers like Branfoot missed the point: scared managers like Glenn Hoddle daren’t risk him for England, but smart managers, like Ball, told his players to fetch the ball and just put it at Tiss’s feet. He was repaid many times over. He was Le God, revered by fans and the last goal ever scored at the much-loved Dell was inevitably one of his specials – twisting impossibly to volley the ball into the corner in a 3-2 defeat of Arsenal. Simply the best. Apart from, perhaps:

MICK CHANNON
1966-82, 602 apps, 228 goals

It was always going to be between Le Tiss and Mick, but as much as Le Tiss was the epitome of Saints in the 1990s, so Channon was the backbone of the club in the 1970s. It’s a generational thing. Those aged in their 30s and 40s today would vote Le Tiss: those in their 50s or over for Channon. Just. He was there for the FA Cup Final in 1976, the first European excursions and gained 48 caps for England in his golden period of 1972-77. His arm waving, windmill goal celebration was copied by every boy on Southampton’s playgrounds, and his permanent enthusiasm and straight talking wed him to fans. He was Saints’ top scorer for seven consecutive seasons and his testimonial two days after the Cup Final sparked jubilant pitch invasions as a wildly over-packed Dell continued the weekend celebrations – it was one of the most special nights at The Dell. Channon was to move to Man City the following season but returned to The Dell for three more years in the top flight. He may love horses but he still passionately loves the club. And he is adored back.

Comments very welcome!

Player comments Steve Keenan, The Times

OK, thrill seekers, go here:  inspired by pinterest i have decided to share pictures of textures.

An eye for colour - add one digital camera - et voila!

A clutch of gorgeous photographs taken by my lady wife Jenie over the years, many of of which would, indeed, make gorgeous background photos for your computer desktop.

Personally, I am staying away from Pinterest, tempting though it is whenever I sneak a peek. I barely exist in the real world as it is between work, Facebook and blogging!

Anyway, it’s Sunday, and Southampton won away at Leeds overnight, so no serious stuff today. Enjoy!

Fratton Park

The clouds are gathering over Pompey. Well, they've gathered, really.

Those with a passing interest in football – that’s the real football, I mean, where the foot contacts the ball, and the use of hands is restricted to two players out of 22 on the park – will have noticed that Portsmouth FC, traditional rivals of my team – Southampton FC – are broke.

Again.

This time for not paying their taxes. Not paying their taxes because presumably they were too busy paying inflated transfer fees and wages, so they could maintain an artificially exalted position in English football. (By artificially exalted, I mean, of course, anywhere higher than Southampton.) And now, they have to find a buyer, or they risk going really, truly, totally, finally broke, which I mean the club will cease to exist and their ground will be sold off for affordable housing or an ice-skating rink.

Which is where Southampton were a few years ago – within two days of vanishing altogether – until a kindly Swiss billionaire stepped into to save us. At the time, may Portsmouth fans were gleefully awaiting our permanent demise with glee that would make the witches in Macbeth toiling over their hubbling bubbling cauldron seem like cheerful old grannies on a seaside excursion. Ah well. que sera sera. Now it’s a case of biter, bit.

And needless to say, many Saints supporters are now cackling maniacally over the possible vanishing of our South Coast rivals, and the grinding of the faces of their fans into the blasted sands of a building site where Fratton Park, their antiquated home ground, used to be.

And yes. It needs saying. Without a word of a lie, the worst of the Pompey fans are awful. But then again, so are the worst of ours.

I suspect Pompey has more dreadful zombie fans than we do because it has always struck me as a rougher, tougher area generally. In its built form it is uglier than Southampton (and that’s saying something, after the Nazis demolished great swathes of both cities with indiscriminate bombing, and what arose in place of charming medieval homes and churches was mile after mile of disgusting concrete tower blocks and squat, low-rise concrete stores) and as far as I know Portsmouth has worse employment and more crime, and I have always found the residents to have a sizeable chip on their shoulder accordingly.

But no, for all that, I don’t want to see our nearest rivals disappear, for the sake of their real fans.

Sure, I’d be happy if they were in what we used to call Division Four, before Division One was re-named the Premiership and Division Two became the Championship, so good old Division Four was christened something called League Two – and I’d be glad for them to be mid table, too, with crowds of no more than 5,000 for a few seasons, to teach them some manners after their hubris in recent years.

And yes, I have experienced some horrid times with Pompey supporters, but then honestly so I have with so-called supporters from Tottenham, Leeds, Chelsea, Millwall, and others.

In the good old bad old days of the 70s and early 80s, it was quite common to see Bedford Place, a harmless little thoroughfare from Southampton Central Station up to the Saints home ground, which was called the Dell, boarded up from top to bottom on match days, otherwise every window would be smashed in, and the mass of fans would prevent any effective policing of the chaos at all.

When I went to the Dell to see us beat Man City once their fans were lobbing darts at random into the toilet queue I was in. Well, I think it was Man City. But it could have been any one of an enormous variety of clubs that still produced magic on the pitch while their fans behaved like crazed mental institution inmates on the terraces. Ah yes, the stepped concrete terraces with their murderous metal-pipe leaning posts, which could crush the life out of you as ten thousand fellow fans tumbled down the terraces behind you and towards the pitch if you weren’t smart enough to get out of the way, and which would ring with the chant “We’re going to have a riot!” “We’re going to have a riot!” And so we often did, although I never threw any punches myself. I was too busy running away, and I say that with no shame whatsoever. If you have never been in the middle of a pitched battle with thousands of young males armed with boots, knives, lumps of wood, metal bars, broken glasses and God knows what else then you can’t really comment on my instinct for self-preservation. I wouldn’t have enjoyed being at the Battle of Floddon much, either, and that was what it was like.

But despite having often been on the receiving end of abuse from fans of all clubs, and often brutally from those from Pompey, really hating people you don’t even know just for supporting another football club is sociopathic nonsense, and doesn’t make the world a better place.

That does not mean I have to like them, much.

And yes, I do love Southampton, because the most important years of the early part of my life were spent there, and I fell in love with the dirty, concrete clad mess of a place.

I understand its traditions, its history, the shared sufferings and joys of its people, and over much more than just football. For me, Southampton will always be uniquely my home, wherever I live. It was where I learned to love, whoever I chose to, and by my choice, and not because I was told to.

It was where I learned to think, and criticise, and analyse, and make my own mind up on the great issues of our lives. In short, this little red smudge on the map of docks and pubs and parks and semi-detached houses which Hitler tried to erase was where I turned from a child to a man, and then a particular type of man, a big part of which was to walk cheerfully to the Dell and squeeze into that tiny ground, on cold winter nights when the frost still sat on the pitch and the air was white with the breath of my fellow supporters and blue with their chants, and on one glorious day in May of 1976, it was where I wandered the streets of Above Bar with an unknown girl on my arm, celebrating the impossible toppling of Man United in the FA Cup Final.

And I fell in love – not with the girl, who I recall was named Sue, but who wanted nothing to do with me the next day after sticking her tongue down my throat most of that night – ah, the follies of youth – but with an idea of a place, with the very essence of a place, a place of civility, and memories, and a curious accent on the voices of its citizens, which would make anyone laugh, and should.

And the essence of Southampton and its immediate environs runs through my veins as surely as my blood still falteringly manages to do so, and it always will.

It pains me to say it, somewhat, but I am sure that’s just as true of people from Portsmouth too. In 1917, my grandfather received the DSC (one step down from a VC) for using his trawler nets to dredge Portsmouth Harbour of contact mines dropped by Zeppelins … in the second war my father sailed in and out of there regularly on the convoys that kept Britain alive in 1940 and 41, which is simply a reminder that what unites us is always greater than what divides us, even with Portsmouth.

And this is the only time that I ever have, or ever will, spell the name of that benighted place with all the letters typed out correctly. From here on, it will be back to Pomp*y, or Portsmou*h. And I will continue to regale all and sundry with the fact that the name of their hideous ground is a perfect anagram of “Krap, Nottarf”, and sing the songs of yesteryear about flying over said ground with the wings of a sparrow and the arse of a crow, and shitting on the bastards below. And when they lose, and we win, I shall be Happier than a Happy Person in Happy Town on International Lets Be Irrationally Happy Day.

But I don’t really want them to disappear, for the sake of the die-hards, the ironed-ons, the kids with tears in their eyes, and the grandads sitting next to them. Because I know they can’t help it either.

They’re hooked, for life, just like me. And we addicts should always support one another, in extremis, at least.

Christmas in Australia

Christmas in Australia ... dirty work, but someone's gotta do it.

OK, so I have to confess: I never really get used to Christmas in Australia. I don’t think I ever really will. Not a complaint, merely an observation.

It’s often bloody hot, for a start. Not just warm, but hot. A friend posts to Facebook that he’s excited to be going to Florida for the holidays where it’s due to be 80 degrees on his arrival. I guess when most of the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year is either cold, or wet, or perhaps cold and wet, that’s good.  Then again, the mercury passed 90 in Melbourne about the same time, and has been climbing steadily ever since.

It’s just not right, somehow.

Last night, at Midnight Mass, the hot weather broke, for about fifteen minutes, as a sharp, severe thunderstorm hit semi-rural Warrandyte, near Melbourne.

(Why we were in Warrandyte? We had met the vicar at the local craft market some weeks previously, where she was cheerfully selling wooden toys and home-made jams to raise funds for the Lord’s cause. A cheerfully chubby lady (says he, who was last described as slim, er, well, never, actually) I hollered out “It’s the Vicar of Dibley!”  She smiled wanly at me, and murmured, “I’m OK with that, really, the therapy sessions have been working.” In response, it seemed only right that we should patronise her pretty little Church for Christmas – and it was called St Stephen’s, as it happens – spooky or what? Anyway, I digress.)

So right in the middle of the Vicar’s homily, God started moving the furniture around upstairs. It started with a few distant rumbles, then some refreshing rain, and then whammo, God dropped the leather recliner armchair he uses for watching sports on TV, right over our heads.

Megan the Vic had just got to the core of her sermon: how important it is that we remember to do the little things at Christmas, the ordinary things that touch people’s heart, when all the lights went out, bar a few well-placed candles. After a brief pause, she carried on, and a few more trenchant remarks later, there was another percussive, punctuating clap of thunder, and the lights all came back on again. People shot each other meaningful looks.

In a small country Church, with a total of maybe forty people, everyone can hear everything. I turned to the future father of my grandchildren and remarked: “Neat trick.”  Hardly pausing for breath, Megan deadpanned from the pulpit: “That’s why I get paid the big bucks.”

Respect.

After the service, we drove future-son-in-law back to his place, windows wide open, oceans of warm, wet air streaming into the car. At 2am, steam rose off the road, almost fog-like. The sky was now perfectly clear, the deepest imperial blue, almost black, like wet just-laid tar, and studded with a billion billion stars. Anyone who has ever seen the Southern hemisphere sky will understand. It is wildly, unfathomably more brilliant and dramatic than the north. Frankly, it’s worth heading south just to see it, at least once, before you die.

Rising bleary-eyed on Christmas morn, the day was already oppressively hot. All the new blue blinds are wound down around the house, the three small air-conditioning units are labouring ceaselessly and largely ineffectually, and the ceiling fan whirls and clicks in the kitchen, stirring the sticky air to no purpose whatsoever that I can divine. By the time we are halfway through the present opening, sweat pops uncontrolled on the forehead and trickles down one’s chest.

Time for champagne, with a block of ice in it. Hang tradition, and snobby wine critics with it. Champagne was not invented to be drunk on days like this, or, indeed, in Australia, but it is Christmas, and I am damned if I will resort to water.

As one glances outside at the pool, it is clear that the overnight thunderstorm has also encouraged the water, by some miracle of chemistry that I will never understand, to turn milky-white and opaque, instead of crystal Mediterranean clear. And then on cue, the good Lord decides he is not happy with the interior design from last night, and starts shifting furniture around again. The heavens open, then shut again. And then again.

Family swim tomorrow, then. And I take a management decision – the duck will remain un-basted and uncooked in the fridge, because it’s too hot for a roast.

Wherever it is I have got to in my wandering life, it is never where I expected to be. So I sit down at my computer instead of pottering with the duck, and idly reminisce over what Christmas used to be like before I ended up on the other side of the planet, more by accident than intent. I recall that when a mere youth I would always wander down on Christmas morning to the Saxon King pub in Southbourne, and have a couple of pints of Gales 6X while Mum struggled to make sense of cooking a turkey for two people.

Need a recipe for left-over turkey rissoles? Just message me.

It rarely snowed, but it was often bitterly cold, and roughly every other day a biting wet wind would sweep in off the English Channel, lashing the little seaside town with horizontal rain. We would cower in the pub, and eat free Stilton provided by the publican, stacking on the body blubber for the walk home like so many vigilant Eskimos. And later in my life, you would find me trudging home from watching Southampton play on Boxing Day, invariably either frozen or sodden – but happy – to thaw out or dry out in the Bevois Town Hotel with mates.

Yes, I am a long way from home.

When you’ve moved around a fair bit, it never really stops being a long way from home, even when what you perceive as home stops being home and home becomes where you are now. I run the idea past my daughter, and she remarks that this will be her memory of “home”, when she has moved on.

Lobster tails on the BBQ

Too hot for Duck. Damn it. Oh, well.

On the other hand, there are compensations for the life Antipodean. The oyster and Bloody Mary shooters for breakfast are already a happy memory. The “champagne”, grown just up the road, is seven bucks a bottle, and by the third glass I am feeling no pain, memsahib and the fruit of my loins have finished breaking open the Antarctic Crab legs that we have decided on instead of duck, and the crayfish tails that I am about to barbecue momentarily and serve with white wine and garlic butter are looking moist and inviting.

Later, we will even get to chuckle at the Queens Speech before it’s seen in her own country.

The message of Christmas is surely to be thankful for small mercies. The small mercy of a tiny child, laid on straw and wrapped in rags, whose words and actions were to change the world, mainly for the best, for the rest of time. And the fact that although the heat may be weighing on my aging British head  like a ton of bricks, we have been blessed with enough good fortune to have a choice of Christmas lunches, and a damn fine choice, at that.

So, Merry Christmas, everyone, wherever you call home today. As I write, the mother of all thunderstorms is now breaking over us, with hail so bad the better half and daughter rush out and cover the cars in the driveway, and so intense and lasting so long that the roof is leaking in 20 different places, and every towel and receptacle we have is rushed into service to prevent the entire house (and all the Christmas presents) disappearing under water. It’s called a “super cell”  storm apparently, which I suspect isn’t good. There’s a tropical cyclone due in Darwin, tomorrow, as well. Then again, that is a long, long way from here, too, and in this case, thank goodness.

“Weird country we live in,” mutters my daughter, serving us panacotta and fresh strawberries, as we watch the pool making like it isn’t a suburban front yard pool but a storm-tossed sea some latitudes further towards the equator.

Indeed, it is. Anyway, anyone mesmerised by the opening photo of this article will be amused by this little flash, hot off the presses. Personally, I am going to bed for a snooze: isn’t that what Christmas afternoon is all about? I see I am supposed to turn the computer off. Isn’t this exciting? Isn’t it like actually being here? The wonders of modern communications, eh?

For coverage of how bad the storms now are this afternoon, just pop here. http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/a-beauty-of-a-super-cell-thunderstorm-hits-melbourne/story-e6frf7jo-1225837959592 or here http://www.theage.com.au/environment/weather/violent-storms-shatter-the-peace-of-christmas-20111225-1p9mc.html

Meanwhile, I shall set the alarm for Her Maj. Pip pip.

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
Victoria Regional Office

TOP PRIORITY FOR IMMEDIATE BROADCAST

SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING – MELBOURNE AREA
for DESTRUCTIVE WIND, FLASH FLOODING, LARGE HAILSTONES and TORNADOES

For people in the Inner, Eastern, Northern, Western and parts of the South East,
Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula, Outer East and Port Phillip Local Warning
Areas.

Issued at 5:19 pm Sunday, 25 December 2011.

THIS INCLUDES A TORNADO WARNING.
The Bureau of Meteorology warns that, at 5:10 pm, very dangerous thunderstorms
were detected on weather radar near Bacchus Marsh, Greensborough, Hurstbridge,
Lilydale, Yarra Glen and the area south of Bacchus Marsh. These thunderstorms
are moving towards the east to southeast. Very dangerous thunderstorms are
forecast to affect Deer Park, Healesville, Melton, St Albans, Sydenham and the
area south of Melton by 5:40 pm and Craigieburn, Essendon, Footscray, Melbourne
Airport, Preston and Sunbury by 6:10 pm.

Other severe thunderstorms were located near the area north of Meredith and the
area west of the Brisbane Ranges. They are forecast to affect Anakie East,
Brisbane Ranges, Lara, the You Yangs, the area south of the Brisbane Ranges and
the area west of Werribee by 5:40 pm and eastern parts of the Bellarine
Peninsula, northern parts of the Bellarine Peninsula, Portarlington, waters off
Portarlington, waters off St Leonards and the area east of Lara by 6:10 pm.

Destructive winds, very heavy rainfall, flash flooding, large hailstones and
tornadoes are likely.

A tornado has been reported near Fiskville [15km west of Bacchus Marsh]
associated with the thunderstorm currently south of Bacchus Marsh.
Very large hail has been reported with thunderstorms this afternoon.

The State Emergency Service advises that people should:
* Keep clear of fallen power lines.
* secure any loose objects in the vicinity of your home.
* keep away from creeks and drains.
* do not drive vehicles through flooded areas.
* stay indoors if possible.
* Avoid using the phone during the storm.
* if you are outside, avoid sheltering under trees
* listen to the radio for storm updates
* switch off your computer and electrical appliances

The next warning is due to be issued by 6:20 pm.

One can but dream …

http://backpagefootball.com/featured/can-southampton-march-into-the-epl/