Posts Tagged ‘football’

Your indefatigable correspondent doing what he does best, Dear Reader

Your indefatigable correspondent doing what he does best.

You find us on our occasional travels this bright autumn day, Dear Reader, this time to Italy again, to see the immortal Southampton Football Club scale the tobacco-smoke-filled heights of Inter Milan at the San Siro Stadium. Which lofty ambition was thwarted by our customary inability to score from a hatful of golden chances, while Inter Milan scored from their only shot on goal of the game, much of which they spent with eleven men behind the ball and employing every niggly, nasty, time-wasting tactic imaginable, which makes their baby-snatching victory all the more galling, but heigh ho, that’s football. And anyway, what can you expect from a game administered by an obviously blind namby-pamby incompetent fool of a referee, played against a bunch of [insert nakedly inappropriate insults here], who have made a virtue of winning by playing so badly the other team subsides in a heap of confusion and frustration. Bah, humbug and curses to youse all.

We would not use our precious leave to re-visit a country we have explored before, in reality, were it not for the precious nexus of European football and a bunch of good mates traveling to see the game, but Italy is one of those wonderful, shambolic, loveable, infuriating experiences that makes a return trip enjoyable under any circumstances.

If one can ever get there, that is.

Having left home 36 hours before one finally schlepped up to our Milan hotel bedroom, one could be forgiven for thinking the Arab states have got it right and it is, per se, perfectly appropriate to cut the hands off whichever idiot air bridge operator crashed their charge into the side of our plane, thus occasioning all of us to get off again and spent an uncomfortable few hours inside Dubai terminal C waiting for a new one to complete the hop to Milano. Or whatever it is they do to ground crew who mistake their handling of what must be the slowest vehicular transport known to man for racing their new Mercedes and proceed to crash it into a $250 million Airbus, leaving an unsafe dent in the fuselage. “So sorry, Effendi, I just didn’t see it there.” Yes, medieval torture has its place in modern jurisprudence, especially when its 40+ degrees outside and your credit card isn’t working any more than the airport air-conditioning so you can’t even indulge in an iced Starbucks as you disappear into a puddle on the immaculately scrubbed floor. Even the mid-day call to prayer over the loudspeakers fails to lift our spirits. If Allah existed surely he wouldn’t let bad things happen to good people, right?

Milan is, of course, the jewel in the crown of northern Italy, home to fashion and fashonistas, and wandering its streets waiting for the game to start it is hard not to be struck by the fact that everyone is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, beautiful. The women are beautiful – effortlessly, so, with their immaculate coiffure and laughing eyes, high on life. The men are beautiful – boldly so, with their perfectly cut clothes in impossible, improbable colours. There is an air of stylish self-confidence evident everywhere. The short fat people are beautiful. The tall skinny ones are beautiful. Beauty is ageless – the retired indulge the autumn of their lives by dressing in designer fashions that actively defy death and wrinkles. Even the homeless guy pushing a trolley does it with a certain panache as he greets the street vendors who know him. The African migrants trying to sell useless tatt table-to-table in the piazza have adopted their hosts’ insouciant air of belonging, and the street-mime working the restaurants for tips is genuinely funny in a knowing, mocking manner. This is a city high on art culture, so that performance permeates its very fabric. Performance is the core standard. Everyone has an eye on everyone, and knows for sure that everyone’s eyes are on them. It is, frankly, as invigorating as it is scary. So one pulls in one’s belly fat and smiles at the impossibly gorgeous girl at the next table with what you hope is an appropriate devil-may-care atteggiamento. To your astonishment, she flashes you a warming smile back that would melt a Milanese gelato at a dozen paces. This stuff really works. It’s a psychological conspiracy, adhered to by all. We are all beautiful. Keep the faith. Pass it on.

churchSomewhere, a bell tower tolls the hour. Very loud. And very near. And all around, other bell towers take up the tune. The saints clustered around their tops stand impassively calm as the wild clarions ring out, as they have for centuries. They ignore the bells, as the walkers in the street ignore them, as we ignore them. Only the pigeons are startled, but not for long, and return to walking over our feet looking for crumbs.

Our hotel does not disappoint.

It is purple, for a start. Purple from top to bottom.

The grout in the bathrooms is purple.

The walls are purple.

The artworks are purple.

The helpful advice folder in the room is black type on purple paper, so that it can only be read when held under the bedside light at about two inches distance, at which point, like an ancient Illuminati text in the floor of a cathedral, it reluctantly gives up its arcane knowledge of the impossibly complex local train system.

table-and-chairsModern art furniture assails the eyes. Somewhere a table and chairs in the shape of a glass and two steins beckon the unwary. Stay .. drink … relaaaaaax. Tom Hanks rushes into the lobby, crying out to anyone who will listen that it’s not the Metro we allhotel need, but rather the slow suburban S2 line, except they’re on strike. He rushes out again, pursued by a bald monk with evil intent. Or it may have been a postman.

The carpet in the lobby is purple. Your head spins, and not just because ten minutes before you’ve gone arse-over-tit on the laminate floor in your room and you’re no longer quite sure what day it is. Ah yes, it’s match day.

Two Limoncello, please, and two beers.

The ubiquitous lemon liqueur turns up in frozen glasses that are surprisingly beautiful. That’s the aching knee fixed. Onward. Forza!

The game happens.

Having paid a king’s ransom to sit in the posh seats, we exit the ground quickly and safely, with all the fearsome Inter fans (their collective reputation marginally worse than Attilla the Hun’s) shaking our hands with courtesy and smiles and something that looked like pity, as they are enduring a season of shocking failure and they seem to say, “we know what you’re going through, we love you, we share your pain”. Halfway down the stairs, young men and women share the single toilet to serve hundreds, as the male lavatory is inexplicably padlocked, and as they wait in comfortable unisex discomfort they smile, and chatter, and look nothing more nor less than a slightly disreputable renaissance painting come to life. Caravaggio, perhaps.

We are not in Verona, but we might be. There Romeo. There Juliet. There, Tybalt, drunk of course, intent on lechery and perhaps a brawl. All beautiful.

To prevent a brawl, our friends are locked into the stadium for 45 minutes after the game, and then eight thousand Southampton fans are grudgingly permitted to exit down a single narrow staircase. As we stand outside shivering in the suddenly bitter late-evening breeze, they are greeted by a hundred or so police in full riot gear, as clearly the fact that every single one of them is cheerful and good-natured and very obviously they wouldn’t riot if you stuffed a cracker up their collective arse means nothing to Il Commandante Whoever, and having pumped millions into the Milanese economy and behaved impeccably they are now treated like morally dissolute cattle, and dangerously so, too. One stumble, and hundreds could have perished. Criminal stupidity from the authorities, who are obviously only interested in lining the pockets of their carabiniere with unnecessary overtime, as groups of young men in ridiculous gold braid with sub machine guns strut first one way, then another, then back again, noses in the air, sniffing for trouble. They glower. Only word for it. And it isn’t beautiful. It isn’t beautiful one little bit.

But after that distasteful experience, essential Milan reasserts itself, and we walk, semi-frozen and tired to a nearby restaurant owned by a friend and head of the Italian Saints supporters group, and the restaurant is tiny and warm and welcoming, and as feeling returns to our fingers and toes we are treated to a sensational repast of local salami and proscuitto, followed by the most ineffably delicious and unlikely Osso Bucco-topped risotto with creamy rice so imbued with butter and white wine and saffron that the plate almost glows as it comes to the table, and the Osso Bucco topping is gelatinous and rich and the bone marrow in the veal is luscious and braised for hours so that it melts in your mouth. And at the next table are members of the local Parliament representing the curious Legia Nord, the byzantine regional and federalist party which is anti-EU and anti-Rome, fiercely proud of local traditions, socially-conservative, and essentially a party of the right (especially in its anti-immigration activism) yet containing many socialists, liberals and centrists too, who care more for their local area than they do about mere matters such as political philosophy. We remind the leader that we had met previously, at Wembley Stadium, no less, and exchanged happy banter, even though he is Legia Nord and we are socialists. “Of course I forget you if you are socialist!” he laughs amiably, and then says, perfectly seriously, “We need more socialists in Italy. All our socialists are not really socialists, they all agree with the right. This is not good for democracy. How do you like the risotto? It is a local speciality. Best risotto in Italy! More wine?”

panatonneAnd his colleague at the next table waves his serviette in the air as he makes an important debating point about bureaucrats in Brussels and sets it alight on the candle, which seems as good a reason as any for everyone to adjourn to the doorway for a cigarette. And the wind has dropped so the sky is clear and cold, and in the distance a police siren cuts through the still and smoky air and the patron announces “We have Panettone!” which is served with sweet mascarpone cream and it is explained that this doughy, fruit-filled dish is really only served on Christmas Day, but in honour of our visit they have made it specially tonight. And our hosts make it clear that they, not us, are paying for dinner, and we must come again soon. And they really mean it. And everywhere is smiles and gentility and the Gods of football work their magic.

And tomorrow, naturally, the trains are all on strike, so we will not be visiting the Cathedral to see the Last Supper, so we will have time to write this.

And it is beautiful. They are beautiful. Life is beautiful. Italy is beautiful.

And mad. But mainly beautiful.

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We are not the world’s biggest fan of referees. Sure, they have a thankless job, but too often they seem to want to be the story in a football match: not a part of the story, but the story itself. Grrrrr.

Well, years ago there was a documentary on TV about English 1974 World Cup Final referee Jack Taylor – it was called “Don’t Shoot The Ref”. Now, 41 years on, the programme called could be ‘Don’t Shoot The Players”…

Brazilian lower league official Gabriel Murta reacted to being slapped and kicked by Amantes de Bola, so raced to the dressing rooms and returned brandishing a gun.

This got the players’ attention, some of whom fled the pitch in terror, as the man in black contemplated terminating the match in Brumadinho near Belo Horizonte with extreme prejudice.

Murta now faces disciplinary action and is due to undergo a psychological assessment later today and could face suspension or a permanent ban.

Referees’ association boss Giuliano Bozzano said the official felt threatened and went to look for the weapon to defend himself.

Bozzano said: “The Minais Gerais Football Federation has already summonsed the referee and a psychologist to a meeting and I’m going to talk with him today.

“On the basis of that conversation and his account of events and the results of the psychological assessment I’ll decide what if any measures to take.

“What’s happened is obviously not a common occurrence and I don’t want to rush into anything. At the moment it happened he’s opted for getting his gun because in his view it was a question of controlling a situation.”

Diego Costa, Luis Suarez. You have been warned.

Who is the worst referee you have watched, and why? Comment now!

(Yahoo and others)

Mehdi Tutunchi, himself a sportscaster, said his wife Niloofar Ardalan could not lead out the national team at the September 21-26 championship in Nilai, because it coincided with their seven-year-old son’s first day at school.

Ardalan went public to plead her right to represent her country at the first women’s tournament of futsal — a form of five-a-side football — organised by the Asian Football Confederation, in a case that captivated Iran’s social media.

Niloofar Ardalan. Photo: Facebook

Niloofar Ardalan playing football. Photo: AFP

She appealed for a change to the law, in force since the Islamic revolution of 1979, that bars women from leaving home, let alone the country, without the permission of their male guardian.

“I wish authorities would pass a law for sportswomen so we can defend our rights in these circumstances,” Ardalan told Iran’s NASIM news agency.

“As a Muslim woman I wanted to raise the flag of my country, I wasn’t going there for fun.”

Just as Iranian boys who have not completed their military service get temporary permits to attend sport events abroad, “something must be done for us women too,” she said.

Niloofar Ardalan has played football for 20 years. Photo: Facebook

Iranians took to Facebook to express sympathy for Ardalan and condemn her husband’s decision.

“To publicise this in Iran… This woman is very brave and selfless,” Atefeh Amin wrote on a women’s rights Facebook page.

Another user criticised the husband.

“Mr. Tutunchi, you are depriving a human being of her first right to live her own life. Whatever the reason, you cannot do this,” wrote a user going by the name Samaneh.

But as the outcry intensified, Ardalan backed down, saying it was a private issue and that she was sorry that “anti-revolutionary media” had exploited her case.

The story has caused outrage on social media. Photo: Facebook

“I’m a Muslim Iranian woman and my absence from these games is a personal and family matter,” she told NASIM.

“I only described my problem and asked for a solution for it,” she said. “It’s no one else’s business.”

Unlike in some Muslim countries in the region, Iranian women enjoy the right to drive, vote and join a profession, and the majority of students enrolled in universities are female.

However, women are required to wear the Islamic headscarf and are barred from certain activities, such as watching men play sports in stadiums, singing solo at concerts or riding a bicycle on the street. And apparently, their husbands are incapable of taking a child to school.

Moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in 2013 on a platform of more social and political freedom, has three women vice presidents.

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly

 

It may be that Adam Goodes (and anyone of a bunch of other players) receive boos for their style of play.

It is also entirely obvious – Blind Freddie can see it from the coverage of the original game against Carlton – that the initial outbreak of booing was over his celebrating his celebration of his aboriginal heritage, and that has continued as the sheeple now duly join in, game after game.

Why? Goodes’s real error is being an uppity black who doesn’t know his place. That’s why the 30 or so other black players in the AFL don’t receive the same treatment.

As the West Australian asked, “Why, in the round of footy created to celebrate Aboriginal players and their contribution to making the game great, is it so offensive when one of the best Indigenous players of all time celebrates a goal with a war dance?

Why is his celebration analysed through the prism of white versus black Australia?

Why can’t he just be allowed to celebrate in his way during a round of footy set up for exactly that reason?

Why is his way of celebrating and gesturing towards the crowd who boo him any different than a white soccer player running over to the opposition crowd after scoring a goal and putting his hands up to his ears as if to say, what have you got to say now?

It happens all the time.

It’s called passion, defiance – and, yes, provocation. It’s sport, for heavens sake.”

We should note that Adam Goodes explained it like this:

“Yeah, it wasn’t something that was premeditated.

“Lewis Jetta and myself had a chat on Thursday that we wanted to represent on Friday night and we wanted to do a dance and it was a shame that Lewis couldn’t get on the board because he had something special planned as well.

“So it was all about representing our people and our passion and dance is a big way we do that. There wasn’t nothing untoward to the Carlton supporters, it was actually something for them to stand up and go “yep, cool, we see you, we acknowledge you, bring it on.” My team mates loved it. The Carlton players loved it. It’s not something that people should be getting their backs up against the wall about.

Is this the lesson we want to teach our children that when we don’t understand something we get angry and we put our back up against the wall – [and say] ‘oh that’s offensive’? No,  if it’s something we don’t understand, let’s have a conversation understand – What was Goodsey doing? He spoke about it after the game. ‘Oh, ok, it was from the Indigenous Allstars, it’s something he learnt from these under 16 kids’. I just think of those kids watching last night and they saw that, how proud they would be.”

goodes2Quite. Let us also remember, as the boos echo around the stadia, that on January 26 last year, the Sydney Swans champion was named Australian of the Year for his contribution to sport and indigenous youth, including supporting Aboriginal kids in detention centres and promoting education and healthy lifestyles as co-founder of the Go Foundation.

His citation read: “Adam is a great role model and advocate for the fight against racism both on and off the field and is admired by a great many people around the nation.”

You know what would impress me in this sad situation?

A bunch of white players doing an aboriginal war dance this weekend when they score. Not because they are celebrating Goodes’s heritage, that his to celebrate, but to 

That’s the most effective thing the whole football community could do to stop this thing stone dead, and it would be a very Australian response, too.

An activist group which secretly documents life inside the Islamic State-controlled Syrian city of Raqqa has reported that militants publicly executed 13 teenage boys for watching the Asian Cup football match between Iraq and Jordan.

Syria Being Slaughtered Silently, quoting Jordanian news agency Petra and other unspecified Iraqi media, reported that the teenagers were rounded up and shot by firing squad in the IS-stronghold of Mosul, in northern Iraq.

According to the report, the boys were caught watching the match and were being accused of breaking Islamic principles.

In a response to IBTimes UK, the group has confirmed the executions have taken place after corroborating the information with local Iraqi activists.

“The bodies remained lying in the open and their parents were unable to withdraw them for fear of murder by terrorist organisation,” the group also wrote on their website.

Before the victims were executed, their ‘crimes’ were announced on the streets of Mosul on a loud-speaker, the activists said.

The report has not been confirmed by international news agencies or Iraqi authorities and IBTimes UK cannot independently verify it.

The activist group secretly documents the executions carried out by the Sunni Islamist group in various places controlled by them.

The latest chilling execution emerges alongside the threat made by an IS militant, suspected to be “Jihadi John”, to behead two Japanese hostages if their ransom demands are not met.

The masked man – who is believed to be the same militant who appeared in earlier videos executing western hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning – has asked for $200m (£132m) within the next 72 hours to free the Japanese captives.

fistAs you can see by clicking the link below, a Sydney Premier Division AFL player has risked spending 20 years in jail for sucker punching an opponent during a game.

Risked 20 years in jail?

Absolutely: that’s the new available sentence for a one punch “sucker punch” – also known as “coward’s punch” – that results in the death of the victim, whether that death results from the punch itself or from a head hitting the ground.

Watch the shocking vision here:

https://au.sports.yahoo.com/afl/news/article/-/24751903/afl-player-throws-sickening-sucker-punch/

As reported, the incident occurred during the UNSW/ES Bulldogs v Western Suburbs Magpies game on Saturday afternoon.

A Magpies player can be seen chasing his opponent before throwing a left hook that instantly knocks the Bulldogs player out.

The only way you can see the very obvious and incredibly stupid assault is by clicking the link above because vision was originally posted on YouTube as part of AFL Sydney’s ‘Match of the Week’ video before it was taken down.

The disgraceful act is gaining worldwide attention, with US website The Bleacher Report posting: “Australian Rules Football is a physical game, but there is no room in the sport for a cheap shot like this.”

The incident has also been condemned on social media:

It is not clear who the players involved are, but the victim is reportedly okay. We find it simply astonishing that any young man would engage in this behaviour after all the recent publicity over the dangers of this kind of behaviour.

One thing’s for sure, he should be kicked out of his club, and banned by the AFL for a very, very long time.

 

The blogosphere has today gone mildly bonkers over Shakira’s “sexy” performance at the Final of the World Cup. It’s all over the internet.

Seems to us, people may have forgotten her most famous performance and video. Currently 165 million hits and counting!

 

Cracking song too.

We suspect her performance will be remembered a lot longer than the Final itself, which wasn’t a great advert for the game. No lack of huff and puff and back and forth, but most of it unsuccessful. Argentina were left to rue a hatful of good chances missed, with one beautiful moment from Goetze to win the game for Germany.

 

Thank you Brazil: now, onto Russia, which somehow we suspect will not be quite as much fun for all concerned.

Thank you Brazil: now, onto Russia, which somehow we suspect will not be quite as much fun for all concerned. Photo:AFP

 

Overall though, the World Cup has been a superb showcase for the way the standard of football has become equalised around the world, with standout efforts from USA*, Australia, Algeria (who must have watched the final thinking “We could have beaten them!) and Costa Rica among the less fancied nations – especially Costa Rica – and impressive efforts from less-well-known but more major teams such as Holland, Chile and Columbia, and disastrously poor performances from previous powerhouses like, notably, England, Italy and Spain. And, of course, for the monumental slaying of Brazil 7-1 by Germany in the semi-final, which broke a nation’s heart and became a talking point for the ages.

Suarez-Hannibal28Biggest worldwide news of the tournament (sadly) was undoubtedly Luis “Hannibal Lechter” Suarez being banned from all soccer for a couple of months for biting an opponent for the THIRD time in a competitive game.

Cynics will note that didn’t stop Barcelona paying E88 million for him two weeks later. As in most sport, bullshit talks, money walks.

The other big news was the number of goals.

There were 136 of them in the 48 group games – an average of 2.83 per fixture. This was a record for a World Cup, with six more than 2002. After that the goals slightly dried up (Brazil v Germany aside) but we still saw a joint record 171 for a tournament – level with 1998.

There has been quality as well as quantity. James Rodriguez’s left-foot thunderbolt, Robin van Persie’s acrobatic header, Tim Cahill’s strike that thumped the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the line – all creating memories that will last a lifetime. And Miroslav Klose came into the tournament needing two goals to become the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer. He got them. The 36-year-old Lazio player scored with his first touch, from a yard out, against Ghana and become the joint top-scorer in World Cup history, alongside Ronaldo. He then scored his landmark 16th in the 7-1 rout of Ronaldo’s former side Brazil.

Horror moment was Brazilian wunderkind Neymar nearly breaking his spine following a knee in the back. Whilst the supremely talented young man was seriously injured, fracturing a vertebrae, we can all thank the good Lord it wasn’t more serious.

Teen World Cup fan Axelle Despiegelaere scores L'Oreal modelling deal after photo goes viral. Ten million women shout "Bitch!"

Teen World Cup fan Axelle Despiegelaere scores L’Oreal modelling deal after photo goes viral. Ten million women worldwide simultaneously shout “Bitch!

So what was your best moment of the World Cup?

For us it was the “vanishing spray” referees could use to mark the “ten yards” that defenders need to retreat from the ball at a free kick. Such an incredibly simple idea which should instantly be adopted in all leagues. FIFA, are you listening? Well done; now make it happen without delay!

So, your best moment? Do share. And no, we don’t mean the girls in the crowd, one of whom has now scored a modelling contract with L’Oreal.

We simply can’t believe, in 40 years of watching football, that no-one ever picked us out and offered us a deal. For a diet plan, if nothing else.

Jenny Craig, where are you when we need you?

And so it is back to domestic football, and in just a few short weeks all eyes will turn to the English Premier League for one. Which means I need to catch up on my sleep before the joy (or otherwise) of following the fortunes of Southampton FC at 2 am in the morning – new manager, new players, new goals. Who do YOU think will shine in the EPL this year, and where will Saints end up? Do let us know!

*Was this the World Cup that saw football break through its final frontier to become genuinely popular in the USA? Time will tell.

A friendly time-zone, a successful team and a travelling support that was bigger than any other, all came together to create a unique blend that led to record TV audiences and crowds of tens of thousands watching on big screens Stateside. Even Barack Obama watched from Air Force One and the White House. 

125 years strong

125 years strong

As anyone knows who has wandered by Wellthisiswhatithink in the last couple of years, I am a fanatical, tragic, totally addicted, beyond help supporter of Southampton Football Club.

That’s why occasionally a post has no relevance whatsoever for anyone except my fellow football sufferers. This is one of those.

Now, if you didn’t vote for Saints to fill one of the three relegation positions … 18th-20th … then care to say who will fill them?

 

You have three votes in the second poll.

You have one week to vote in both polls!

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!

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, Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle 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

One can but dream …

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