Posts Tagged ‘Southampton FC’

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.

Save

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. 

combined managers

UPDATE Voting is now CLOSED. 7.6% of people correctly predicted 1-1. Well done! Great game, too!

Fascinating game this weekend. Man United find themselves uncharacteristically half way down the table after a turbulent time with Moyes coming in as manager. Saints find themselves riding uncharacteristically high, currently placed fourth after a dream start under Mauricio Pochettino.

Last season Sir Alex Ferguson said Southampton were the best team to play at Old Trafford. Saints have already beaten Liverpool away this season.

So what will be the result this weekend? Can Saints do it again and keep their run going? Will United finally find some killer form with their awesome players. Will the two sides cancel each other out?

You predict! No prizes, just fun.

By the way, Artur Boruc should be fit in goal for Saints, as should young left back Luke Shaw.

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!

So there’s this young guy in London called Mark Powell who creates the most astonishing drawings on the backs of envelopes using a common-or-garden ballpoint (biro) pen made by a company called Bic. Like this:

Un-f**king-believable. What talent.

I don’t know why he chose that medium. But I do know genius when I see it.

All done with the cheapest of implements and a huge amount of patience.

When you see what passes for art nowadays, I sincerely hope this guy is making squillions. But I bet he isn’t: well, yet, anyway.

Anyhow, take 5 minutes and see more here http://markpowellartist.com/ Seriously, do it now, it’s worth it.

I also note that the originals are about three hundred quid each, although prints are available too. Now I am not exactly flush with funds, Dear Reader, but I reckon three ton to be a snip when you look at the time and care involved, and I am going to get one. Maybe two.

See: I think this guy’s work might go viral – and they’ll be going for a lot more than three hundred in the near future. You heard it here first. So don’t blame me if you miss out.

Remember, I am the guy who said, on the first hearing of “Roxanne”, that Police (then utterly unknown) would be the next super-uber-band. And who on seeing Keira Knightley in “Bend it like Beckham” opined “She’s going to be the next huge acting star from the UK”.

See, I can pick winners. Oh, want to know who the next world’s biggest soccer star is going to be? A young lad called Adam Lallana, playing for Southampton. He’s going to set the English premiership alight next season, no matter how Saints themselves go. Just remember who told you.

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”.

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

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.

One can but dream …

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