Category Archives: Football

How to have a Saintly Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, the tree is up, the turkey’s are fattening and Saints are having their now traditional spell of ropey form.

But how can you bring a smile back to the face of your Southampton supporting loved one this Christmas? I decided to compile the top 10 Saints related gifts. You’re welcome. So in no particular order….

10. 1982 Subbuteo Team

It doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone loves subbuteo, and what better way to spend Christmas morning than recreating the superb play of messrs Keegan, Channon and Wallace with the flick of a finger!

9. A Form & Glory Poster

This company is making some stylish posters/prints that would look great on any Saints’ fan’s wall.

8. The official 2017 Calendar

A great gift with two functions, firstly providing a nice Saints themed way of knowing what day it is and secondly providing handy dart board fodder come the Summer transfer window! (thanks to Eric for the gag!)

7. Entry into the exclusive ‘Fans who’ve got a clue’ Whatsapp group!

See @mrjamesgeorge for details!

😉

6. A luxury scarf from Savile Rogue

These scarves truly are luxurious. Made from cashmere you can exude terrace style in comfort and warmth while showing your support for the team.

5. Bobby Stokes: The Man from Portsmouth Who Scored Southampton’s Most Famous Goal by Mark Sanderson

If they’ve not read this yet, then it’s superb gift. A brilliantly written book about a brilliant story.

4. A Shot Dead in the Head mug

A lovely design, different from your usual footie mug. A personal favourite of mine.

3.  A Hallyink print

Keep an eye out for quirky new prints at this site. Not too many Saints ones at the moment, but has had some belters in the past!

2. Some #BenalionTour Stickers

What self respecting fan is leaving the house without some? Franny is now a household name amongst bewildered Milanese street cleaners!

  1. A genuine Retro shirt

There are some absolute classics in this collection. Stand out at St. Mary’s with something a little different!

So there you have it, some good gift ideas I hope you’ll agree!

Being a Saint

‘It’s always great when we have guest contributors on gwc.com, and especially so when it is someone as respected as Ben Stanfield. Here he has a rallying cry for everyone associated with the club after a difficult week! Over to you Ben!’ – Chris

Many of us never chose to be Saints fans. For the majority, it was already chosen for us before we could even put one step in front of the other. It was in our blood. The red blood cells and the white blood cells. Circulating all our bodies in a proud, striped formation.

Sure some decide, once they can walk, that they’d prefer to sit in an armchair and ‘support’ a team who play on TV each week, spend vast sums of money on any player they like and who often retain Premier League trophy after Premier League trophy. But that’s the easy option.

Being a Saints fan – and always remaining a Saints fan – is about a number of things. It’s certainly not about the easy option.

It’s about being able to successfully manage the emotional rollercoaster that you will sit on every week.

It’s about not getting too carried away when you win a game. It’s about not getting too despondent when you lose a game.

Its appreciating that, however well the Club are doing during a particular season, you simply won’t have a right to win every single game you play. You will definitely lose some. Unfortunately.

Its appreciating that, when it comes to managers, the Club aren’t a ‘hire them, fire them’ organisation. Managers will always get the time they deserve to try and deliver the best they can.

Its appreciating that, whether we like it or not, players will be sold. Players who can, and will, demand far higher wages from the top Clubs in Europe, compared to that which we will ever likely be able to offer.

It’s about appreciating the positive achievements that are made, and not purely focusing on the negatives.

It’s about appreciating that every season will throw up different challenges. Challenges that will test both you and your support.

But it’s certainly not just about us as fans. The Club have their own responsibilities as well.

They have a responsibility to inspire the next generations of fan.

They have a responsibility to make that next generation of fan want to visit St. Mary’s week in, week out.

They have a responsibility to make that next generation of fan want to wear their Saints shirt in public, with pride.

The Club have a responsibility to show the commitment to deliver as many of the hopes and expectations that fans have.

To employ staff, both on and off the pitch, who want to entertain. Who want to embrace ‘The Southampton Way’.

They also have a responsibility to achieve as much of the above whilst managing themselves, and their finances, astutely and accurately.

They most definitely have a responsibility to make sure that that next generation of fan doesn’t take the easy, armchair, option mentioned above.

But it’s not just about the Club. Or the fans. It’s about the manager too.

The manager has a duty to get results.

The manager has a duty to motivate and inspire his players.

The manager has a duty to adapt formations. Tactics. Personnel.

The manager has a duty to inspire the next generation of fans as well. To play a brand of football that is expected of Southampton. By pressing. By being exciting. By being fast-paced. By ultimately being rewarding.

But it’s not just about the manager. Or the Club. Or the fans. It’s about the players too.

As long as they are employed by Southampton Football Club, the players have a duty to put on that red and white shirt and give everything they have. Every week.

They have to be able to adapt to any formation/tactic any manager asks of them.

They have to each shoulder their own responsibility. Whether it’s being the first to take a shot. Make a tackle. Win a header. They should always have that mentality to want to be the first to do something. Not the last.

They have a duty to entertain. To inspire. To motivate. Both each other and their fans.

They have a duty to sign autographs. To have photographs taken. To smile.

They have a duty to remember that they have the best job in the world and, in many of our completely bias red and white opinions, the opportunity to play for the best team in the world.

If, as a fan, a Club, a manager and a player you can appreciate, cope with and deliver all of the above then that’s the true test of being a Saint!

Anyone can take the easy option. But not just anyone can be a Saint.

Jose Fonte: Are Saints fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted?

It’s the 7th December. We are still 25 days away from the opening of the transfer window, yet par for the course the papers are awash with talk of the ever widening St. Mary’s exit door.

Speculation on the whole surrounds the centre half pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte, and as usual it is causing disruption and unrest when we should be talking about a win or bust Europa League game on Thursday night.

In the case of van Dijk, his near immaculate performances since joining from Celtic in 2014 have seen him gather an army of admirers. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Dutchman is one of the best in the league at what he does, if not the best. To see him linked with the usual suspects at the top of the table should be, and isn’t, of no surprise. As usual we are the club that took the risk on a player, blooded him, improved him, and now the vultures are circling

Jose Fonte on the other hand is an altogether more curious case. His superb displays for 8 years at the club have largely gone under the radar. Fonte has quietly gone about his job, while a succession of partners seem to attract all the praise. Dejan Lovren, Toby Alderweireld and now van Dijk are lauded as the key member of the central defence club. While Jose is overlooked as the constant, the variables are enjoying the plaudits and so far managed to secure bigger contracts with ‘bigger’ clubs.

That might just have changed in the Summer though when Fonte was a key member of Portugal’s European Championship winning team. His profile was raised and rightly so, and with it came some wanted and unwanted attention. Speculation has been rife ever since, with Manchester United and Everton both supposedly keen to improve an area they are poor in. Unfortunately that speculation has led to fan unrest and now we have an unnecessary and unwanted public PR battle between club and player as talk of a ‘new’ contract has divided opinion.

Let’s look at it from both points of view.

Should Jose Fonte, returning from a hugely successful Summer, and having given the club eight successful years feel deserving of a contract extension? Sure, that doesn’t seem to much to ask.

Should Southampton FC feel obliged to extend the contract of a player who is 33 this month? Not at all, that is fully dependent on the long term plan of the club. As we know, for everyone at the club there is already a replacement in mind. If that replacement is already inbound, would it be financially prudent to extend Fonte’s contract?

What we don’t know is what the demands of a new contract are? With the likes of Jose Mourinho and Ronald Koeman interested and in charge of cash rich clubs, perhaps Fonte is looking for a considerably lucrative new deal. It would be naive to suggest ‘super’ agent Jorge Mendes wouldn’t be pushing for it, and will be using the interest of others as a deal breaker.

It is reported, and confirmed by Fonte himself that he was offered a pay rise in the Summer, but it didn’t come with an extension. Did the club do enough?

Given his age, and the fact that he is now entering the twilight of his career would anyone begrudge him a move to a Manchester United sized club? It would be hard to justify any anger in that situation, especially if Saints have no interest in extending his deal and were to get a decent fee. You could argue that this is all ‘perfect timing’ from a business point of view.

However, it would be a sad end to a journey that Jose Fonte has very much been a part of, and with the propaganda and the sniping that appears to be commonplace with such speculation, are fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted about departures? It’s football right, but the business model of the club, successful as it has been, brings with it a sense of anxiety when our players are seemingly hand picked by those we are competing with.

It feels like only a matter of time before Saints fans have somebody to boo in every fixture they play, and that level of negativity isn’t required.

If Jose Fonte leaves in January (and personally I hope he doesn’t) then his contribution over the years will be outweighing of any unpleasantness over the last six months. He should leave with our blessing and be given a Rickie Lambert-esque reception on his return.

The fact of the matter is, that none of us really know what has gone on behind closed doors and perhaps never will. As a Saints fans we have to roll with the punches. We should be used to it by now.

Keep the faith.

The League Cup is alive and well at St. Mary’s!

The lack of respect afforded to the League Cup over the more recent seasons has led to a decline in interest in what was once England’s secondary cup competition.

Sadly, the rise of the Champion’s League and it’s inclusion of four teams from the Premier League each season has seen league positioning overshadow it’s priority status in the eyes of the much maligned, much pressured first team manager. Even the ‘smaller’ clubs have followed their bigger colleagues in treating the competition with little more than a passing annoyance, with league survival and the lucrative financial benefits that come with it, to important to gamble with.

Many have suggested that the League Cup is dead.

Try telling that to some of the young faces at St. Mary’s on Wednesday night. Try telling that to Harrison Reed, who asserted himself in the middle of the park with the tenacity of somebody who knows he is working under a manager who will give him further opportunities. Try telling that to Jack Stephens who has patiently waited for a chance to shine in a seemingly impregnable back four. Try telling that to Lloyd Isgrove who will be fully aware he is suited to Claude Puel’s formation in a forward role. Try telling that to Olufela Olomola who greeted his 26th minute introduction by charging down a Sunderland defender like he only had seconds to have an influence.

Try telling that to the many young faces I saw in the St. Mary’s crowd who were there for the first time. The beneficiaries of the low pricing initiative that meant their parents could introduce them to the club in an affordable manner.

Try telling that to Sofiane Boufal.

For me personally it was nice just to be in the stadium. Given my residential location, being there in the flesh is a rare treat and despite it not being the most exciting game in the world it was a good way to assess the changes at the club under Puel.

Having had the pleasure of a fantastic time in Milan with my fellow Dubai Saints, catching up with friends and feeling very much part of a truly historic occasion it felt like a return to reality. The best part of 8,000 Saints fans blasting out ‘Oh when the Saints’ in the San Siro is one of those ‘I was there’ moments and the Inter fans after the game were truly in awe.

Sunderland at home was an altogether different prospect. The manager has faith in his squad, and the extended one he has at his disposal from the Academy. Right now that faith is paying off. I was apprehensive of course when I saw the lineup, but as a Southampton fan it is difficult to feel anything but pride when a team containing six Academy graduates (Jamess Ward-Prowse and Sam McQueen joining the aforementioned four) for the majority of the game looks comfortable against a Premier League opponent.

The crowd was better than most, including a certain tabloid rag and even the club were expecting and that showed by the fact people were queuing to get in once the game had kicked off, but it still felt that at £12 a ticket it could have been better. The 21k that did attend certainly got their money’s worth in the 66th minute. Sofiane Boufal has carried his price tag and the fact he arrived at the club injured with him since he joined, and there has been much hype and expectation of a player who was linked with the world’s best clubs in the Summer. His winning goal did not disappoint.

If Matt Le Tissier tweets to say that the other 89 minutes were worth siting through to see that goal,  then you know it was something special. The finish was ‘Le Tiss-esque’, the first touch ridiculous. A goal fitting of winning any game.

In contrast to most foreign managers, Claude Puel is far from bemoaning the amount of fixtures his squad is up against, in fact he is the complete opposite. In a recent interview with french newspaper L’Equipe, he states how playing one game a week in France ‘dragged’ and how he dreamed of playing three times in quick succession.

Puel trusts his squad, and the fans are starting to trust him. While many are trying to read the League Cup it’s last rites, they aren’t about to give up on it yet at St. Mary’s.

We march on.

Why do Arsenal insist on undoing Saints hard work?

As Claude Puel prepares to face his former boss in Arsene Wenger this weekend I wonder if he will cast his eye across his countryman’s squad and ponder on what might have been ?

For there will be three names on the list that are yet to live up to their potential after swapping St. Mary’s for North London.

As a man famed for nurturing and developing young talent in France, he must be bemused at the lack of progress made my Messrs. Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chambers.

Three players who all looked like they had the world at their feet when breaking on to the scene on the South Coast and now nothing more than bit part players and squad fodder at the Premier League’s champion also rans.

Theo Walcott is perhaps the best example.  He has completed 10 years as an Arsenal player and despite his only being 27 years old, looks jaded and much older having only played on average 16 complete games for the Gunners for the last seven seasons. Is this the return we as Saints fans expected when we saw this exciting young forward burst into the limelight in 2005?

For me Walcott has always been a striker, and it seems (I’m sure statistically this isn’t necessarily the case) whenever he is given the chance in that role for Arsenal or England he scores. Yet, perhaps a victim of the modern tactics and formations, he has been pigeon holed as a winger-cum-forward often pushed out wide. My point is, Walcott should have been a key striker for England, and Arsenal’s misuse of him has made him something of a joke.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain we still hold out hope for. A dynamic attacking midfielder and still only 23, Chamberlain is another whose abilities should have seen him as a key player in the international setup by now. Enter Arsene Wenger. The Ox scored more goals in his solitary season for Saints than he has so far in an Arsenal shirt (he is embarking on his sixth season at the Emirates), and would appear to be little more than a backup player.

Both AOC and Walcott have had their injury problems admittedly, but then who at Arsenal doesn’t? Perhaps there is something in their training regime there or are the medical/recovery facilities not up to Saints standard?

Last but not least, the one that is most recent in it’s frustration is Calum Chambers. A local Hampshire boy who shone at right back in the Premier League under Mauricio Pochettino at Saints, yet finds himself as fourth/fifth choice centre half under Wenger. So far down the pecking order that he has been loaned out to Middlesbrough, and to be honest that is the best thing for him. It was bamboozling to most Saints fans that given we struggle at times in the right full back position we didn’t make this move ourselves.

Now, I’m not telling Monsieur Wenger how to pick his team, far from it, though I think he might be confused at times about what his own policy is. Famed for annoying his own fans by not spending their wealth, you would think pushing the young players on would be his priority but apparently not.

It’s reasonably sad to see him invest in a centre half that didn’t make the grade at Everton (Mustafi) in the Premier League, while sending out a young English defender who did at Saints out on loan.

The Southampton Academy puts a lot of hard work into developing the best English young players, perhaps if you aren’t prepared to continue that development, don’t buy them?

Throwback – Saints Premier League Dream Team (2011)

Back in 2011, prior to Saints return to the top flight I was asked by Shoot magazine to compile my ‘Premier League Dream Team’.

I thought it would be good to look back at it now, 5 years later and with some impressive Premier League campaigns under our belt to see where I might now change that team.

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Goalkeeper (2011) – Antti Niemi

Goalkeeper (2016) – No change. The flying Finn was and still is the best keeper I’ve ever seen in a Saints shirt.

Left Back (2011) – Wayne Bridge

Left Back (2016) – No change. I was a big fan of Bridge, and though I think Luke Shaw might have stolen this had he stayed a bit longer and Ryan Bertrand is consistently immaculate, Bridge still gets the nod. Just.

Excuse the picture of Paul Telfer...
Excuse the picture of Paul Telfer…

Right Back (2011) – Jason Dodd

Right Back (2016) – Nathaniel Clyne. It’s not easy to drop Dodd who was such a fantastic servant to the club but Clyne’s performances in a Saints shirt were superb.

Centre Half (2011) – Dean Richards R.I.P.

Centre Half (2016) – Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman will go on to be know as one of Saints most impressive and important signings of all time in my opinion. Oozes class and is almost unbeatable in the air.

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Centre Half (2011) – Michael Svensson

Centre Half (2016) – Jose Fonte. Another difficult decision but Fonte’s impact in the Premier League as the constant amongst several partners and the defensive performances that have stemmed from them have to be rewarded.

Central Midfield (2011) – Chris Marsden

Central Midfield (2016) – Morgan Schneiderlin. An all round brilliant midfielder and arguably is yet to be replaced (though PEH looks a decent bet).

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Left Midfield (2011) – Hassan Kachloul

Left Midifeld (2016) – Adam Lallana. The homegrown Lallana may have left a sour taste in the mouths of many when he left, but his performances for Saints were a joy to watch.

Right Midfield (2011) – Ronnie Ekelund

Right Midfield (2016) – No change. Ekelund was at the club for such a short space of time that I feel sorry for those fans who didn’t get to see how good he was.

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Attacking Midfielder/Free Role (2011) – Matthew Le Tissier

Attacking Midfielder/Free Role (2016) – No change. Pretty sure I don’t have to justify this one.

Striker (2011) – Marian Pahars

Striker (2016) – No change. I can’t drop the little Latvian, I simply can’t. He provided too much joy to my younger Dell going self.

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Striker (2011) – James Beattie

Striker (2016) – Rickie Lambert. Very difficult to remove Beattie, but Lambert was much more than a brilliant striker, he was a superb footballer and a talisman too.

Subs (2011) – Lundekvam, Oakley, Ostenstad, Palmer, Benali

Subs (2016) – M. Svensson, Wanyama, Mane, Beattie, Benali

So that’s my updated team, but what is yours?

Chris

Some Moroccan Majesty back at St. Mary’s?

We love a Moroccan on the South Coast, so it was with some excitement that the news Saints were close to sealing the signing of Sofiane Boufal from Lille was met.

Boufal is some talent, and was linked with moves to Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Barcelona this Summer!

Sofiane Boufal
Sofiane Boufal

A Moroccan playmaker is just what we need, and the news took me back to watching Hassan Kachloul in a Saints shirt. Kachloul was one of my favourite players (in fact he made it into my Saints Premier League Dream Team) and in my opinion was vastly underrated by other fans. A maverick certainly, and hideous dress sense (leather trousers on Soccer AM and strange suede jacket on Cowes High Street while enjoying the international sailing regatta with countryman Mustapha Hadji), Kachloul was a creative player who could turn a game and made a huge contribution to the Saints team that finished 8th in the Premier League in 1999.

Hassan Kachloul
Hassan Kachloul

Kachloul wasn’t our only previous Moroccan though, Youssef Safri did an admirable job as a defensive midfielder in the Championship survival season that went to the wire in 2008….

Youssef Safri
Youssef Safri

…and who could forget centre half Tahar El Khalej (affectionately known as El Carnage by some fans), the man who kept Keiron Dyer (no loss) out of the 2002 world cup after a horror tackle on the final day of that Premier League Season.

Tahar battles with former teammate Kachloul!
Tahar battles with former teammate Kachloul!

We will all be hoping that Boufal has more of a Kachloul level of impact than a Tahar, and the signs are all there that he will surpass that of all his compatriots.

Exciting times at St. Mary’s again.

Keep the faith.

What do Saints fans really want?

Last Saturday Saints played out an uninspiring draw at home to Watford in what for many was an Anti-Climax to the exciting build up to the start of the season.

Despite a much improved second half it is fair to say that most were left a little deflated by the result and performance against Watford. In many cases feelings ran a little high. In fact, I was staggered to see the level of reaction by many, which frankly resembled a particularly spoiled hysterical child who hadn’t got their own way.

One game into the season and the new manager, the new players, the tactics, the board and anything else related to the club was written off as not good enough. This was less knee jerk, more collective full body spasm. It was ugly.

I watched the game as usual with the Dubai Saints, who I have to say, on the whole are as level headed as you will find [a few years around the block will do that for you eh fellas ;-)]. But even we found ourselves getting into a fairly heated ‘discussion’ about the level of player investment and ‘ambition’ at the club. I’ve grown to hate that word in all honesty. What exactly is ambition? Some would argue finishing in an automatic qualification place for Europe is as ambitious as Saints can realistically get, others would say that the sky is the limit. There is no rules as to what determines ‘ambition’ and only the people in the boardroom will know what they see as a realistic achievement.

High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.
High hopes for JWP to push on under Puel.

The centre of our well oiled debate in the ‘Francis Benali Stand’ of the Barasti Beach Bar was whether the club should stick with bringing kids through or spend big to improve the squad now.

It got me wondering what it  really is Saints fans want?

I’m yet to meet one who doesn’t take pride in the Academy at the club. When one of our ‘own’ turns out for England it gives us all a lift, and over the years we’ve all loved watching young players make their first team debut and go on to be stars in their own right. It’s something that sets us apart from other clubs. We know it and they know it. Parents are now trying to get their kids into Staplewood and not Carrington (Manchester United) and our facilities and coaching methods have become the blueprint for many of Europe’s top clubs. Ex-Southampton Academy graduates scoring 60% of the 7 goals in a much overhyped game between Arsenal and Liverpool at the weekend is the advertising that keeps the wheel turning!

We love this about our club. We love the fabled ‘pathway’. But at what cost?

Everybody likes to see their club sign players. These days it’s an obsession amongst fans, to the point where they aren’t even really bothered who it is, as long as there is a new face holding up their shirt. It’s all a little camp and kitsch, with the latest monstrosity coming from Manchester United when they announced Paul Pogba. With every passing season football becomes more like the X Factor, classless and lacking in any real substance whatsoever. This is heightened of course by massive fees, transfer deadline day and the hype that surrounds it. Has anyone in history not looked a dick in a yellow tie?

I rest my case.
I rest my case.

But still, we all like a new player through the door, and this Summer (and most Summers), Saints fans would have liked a few more. With exits in key positions again, most have been frustrated that like for like replacements have not been brought in.

But where do you draw the line? What is the right balance between keeping the ‘pathway’ and strengthening the squad.

Like it or not, and my impression is that most people do, Saints have positioned themselves in the market as a club that will accept first team players moving on for the right price, and might not necessarily replace them. Why? Because you cannot maintain the ‘pathway’ if you keep blocking it with big money foreign imports.

It’s a long term strategy and one not without it’s risks, but if Les Reed was to take an occasional glance at Saints supporting presences on the web (Hi Les!) he could be forgiven for placing his head in his hands when he sees the same people bemoaning Harrison Reed’s lack of playing time last season, crying over the club not replacing Wanyama this.

For the club to keep attracting the best players into the Academy at a young age there has to be continuous evidence that the club will give those kids a chance at the top level.  Logically, if you replace every player that leaves with a like for like copy those kids will be destined to never fulfil their potential at Saints, and eventually other kids will decide it’s not the place to be, especially as others catch up in terms of facilities and methodology.

My hunch is that the modern Southampton supporter would rather see big investment in players each Summer, some would still favour the pathway, while many will be honest enough to admit they aren’t bothered either way as long as the club keeps progressing.

The obvious answer, though there is no right one, is that the balance has to be correct. The club needs to find a workable solution where the kids get their chance, but the squad is strong enough to compete. I would say they had this pretty close under Mauricio Pochettino.

The blip in all this, was the reign of Ronald Koeman, and it didn’t surprise me when there was talk of the club not being overly disappointed that he was off. As good a job as he did, he took the organisation ‘off message’ and long term that wasn’t what the board wanted.

Claude Puel would appear to be the ‘anti-appointment’ to Koeman. A man with a track record of giving some pretty good players their first opportunities in France. Yes, the first game was a little underwhelming, but when have Saints’ opening day fixtures not been? Let’s give him a chance.

Tomorrow night, we take on Manchester United at Old Trafford. A huge money ‘name’ like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Paul Pogba could win the game for them, but then Matt Targett or James Ward-Prowse could win it for us. Which would be sweeter?

Keep the faith.

Zebrametrics Partnership!

We here at georgeweahscousin.com are delighted to announce that we have entered into partnership with Zebrametrics.

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Together we are going to bring you new interaction between gwc and you before, during and after matches!

An app is coming soon that will allow you to earn points by predicting lineups, rating players and other Saints related tasks. These points can be redeemed for goodies!

Your first taste of the action comes with this Saturday’s opening fixture against Watford!

You may have noticed a box in the bottom corner of the screen that looks like this:-

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This is your entry to having your say on how the players performed come 17:45. You will have 5 hours from the final whistle to submit your player ratings and compare them with your fellow fans! So get registered and have your say!

We look forward to bringing you more feature once the season is up and running!

Chris