A lot was made of Manchester United’s 6-1 reverse to their arch rivals City at the weekend, and it was the first time the Premier League giants had conceded six goals in a game in fifteen years.
Fifteen years to this very day in fact.
Then Saints manager Graeme Souness had had an indifferent start to the 1996/97 season, but headed into the game on the back of two straight home wins against Middlesbrough and Sunderland. These were the only victories of the season so far though. Both had been impressive, Saints scoring four and three goals against their North East opponents respectively without reply. The new look attacking lineup of Eyal Berkovic, Le Tiss and Egil Ostenstad proving potent.
The visit of the champions was likely to be a different prospect. United themselves came to the Dell having lost their last league game 5-0 at St. James Park, though they did have a midweek victory over Swindon Town inbetween.
Many feared a backlash from United, and the thought of Beckham, Scholes, Cantona et al taking on the likes of Richard Dryden and Alan Neilsen at the back, not to mention unproven new boy Claus Lundekvam was not one for the feint hearted.
Souness made his selections with the attacking prowess of the champions in mind, Jason Dodd, Ulrich Van Gobbel and Simon Charlton, all recognised defenders joined the aforementioned trio in the starting lineup, Matthew Oakley and Berkovic played in the middle, with Le Tissier supporting Ostenstad up front.
Alex Ferguson also named an interesting side, with Cantona the only recognised out and out forward in his lineup.
Having witnessed the 3-1 victory the previous season, I don’t think for a second it crossed my mind that we could win again, let alone what was about to unfold.
It will truly go down as one of the defining moments of the Premier League, and certainly one of the best ever games.
Amongst the furore of the aftermath of the City result at the weekend, it is worth noting, that United went on to retain the title in 1996/97 and by a clear seven points. It also interesting that the only player who could have played in both games fifteen years apart, United talisman Ryan Giggs played in neither.
It wasn’t the first, or last time Saints were a thorn in Ferguson’s side, let’s hope there is more to come….
Southampton:- Beasant, Dodd, Neilson, Dryden, Lundekvam, Van Gobbel, Charlton, Berkovic, Oakley, Le Tissier, Ostenstad Unused Subs:- Potter, Magilton, Watson
Man Utd:- Schmeichel, G. Neville, P. Neville, May, Pallister (Irwin), Keane, Butt (McClair), Scholes, Beckham, Cruyff (Solskjaer), Cantona
Saints travel to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday for the Championship 17:20 kickoff, and will be looking to push on with their recent good form having established a five point gap the the top of the table.
The Berkshire club had an inconsistent start to this season but are now unbeaten in their last six games and will be looking to push on.
The Reading squad is a strong one, and in my opinion should be at least play off challengers this season. Amongst their squad, they boast three ex-Saints, two regulars who enjoyed first team football and one who, well didn’t…
‘Fish’ has he was affectionately know at St. Mary’s followed his brother Matt through the Southampton Academy, and is seemingly mirroring his older sibling’s career path.
Breaking into the first team in the 2008/09 season, Mills struggled to establish himself regularly, the likes of Andrew Surman, Rudi Skacel and latterly Lee Molyneux keeping the youngster out in Saints ill fated Championship relegation season. This eventually saw him head off to Scunthorpe United on loan, playing regularly under Nigel Adkins.
The drop to League One looked like it might have been the perfect tonic for a young left-back trying to establish himself, having already shown glimpses of what he could do. Sadly it was not to be, new signing Dan Harding came in and made an immediate impact leaving Mills to remain a bit part player in the 2009/10 campaign. He did make a surprise start at right-back in the Johnstones Paint Trophy final though, as Saints raised the cup with a 4-1 win over Carlisle at Wembley.
Mills found himself further down the pecking order at St. Mary’s in 2010/11 with Saints adding Ryan Dickson to their squad in the summer. Barely used, he was off on loan again, returning to the Championship with Doncaster Rovers. Mills proved himself a quality player at the Keepmoat which saw Reading convinced enough to make a move for him in the summer.
Mills was in the unfortunate position of never being a bad player in a Saints shirt, but always competing with someone better than him, always sharp going forward, I think it were some defensive frailties that saw four consecutive Saints managers not be willing to give him an extended run. At least he left Saints on friendlier terms than his brother!
“The jury’s still out on Mills at the moment, with the left-back having only joined the club at the back end of the transfer window for a nominal fee from yourselves. Ian Harte struggled through the first few games this season and Reading fans were clamouring for someone with a bit of pace to come in and Mills certainly ticked that box with agility that’s been lacking since Ryan Bertrand left after a loan spell in 2009/10.
Mills certainly offers something going forward, as his crosses have been quite good and he’s even managed a few efforts on goal during his brief time in the team. Unfortunately his passing, set pieces and defensive positioning have failed to impress Royals fans. Already some are calling for Harte’s return to the starting XI and the Irishman was on the bench for our recent games with Boro & Burnley.
Still Mills has been part of a defence that’s gone four unbeaten so I can’t see a change happening in the short term but given McDermott’s preference for experienced players I wouldn’t be shocked to see a change if we have a dodgy result or two.
Long term he’s got a long way to go to fill the boots of Nicky Shorey, Chris Armstrong, Ryan Bertrand and Harte last season.”
The Scotsman joined Saints on loan from Championship rivals Reading in 2008 as we looked to shore up our leaky defence. In a rare occurrence for a centre half Pearce scored on his debut as Saints came from behind to beat Preston 3-2, but sadly that was the highlight of his St. Mary’s stay. Saints would win just one other game during his loan spell, ironically against Reading when Pearce was ineligible to play. Saints kept two clean sheets in that spell, both 0-0 draws, both when Pearce was left out.
A player that always looked like an attacking danger from corners, but never looked convincing at the defensive job he was actually employed to do, Pearce returned to Reading at the end of 2008 and went on to establish himself as a first choice player at the Madesjski.
This season has seen more of the same. Initially he seemed to struggle alongside Tottenham loanee Bongani Khumalo but the acquisition of Kaspars Gorkss has seen him improve and he’s looking back to the form that won him a lot of fans last season. There will always be concerns about his pace and agility but if John Terry can get away with it, I’ve no reason to doubt that Pearce can establish himself as a good Championship defender, especially if complimented with the right partner.”
The giant striker (height is between 6’3″ and 6’5″ depending on where you read it) came through the Southampton youth system and made his first and last apperance for the first team in the 2007/08 season against Ipswich Town, coming on for the last minute and not touching the ball once.
Baseya had previously made his professional debut during a loan spell at Crewe Alexandra and was released by Saints in 2009. He joined French Ligue One side Lille before heading to Le Harve on loan and then to AS Cherbourg.
Reading signed him last month and he his yet to make a first team performance, though he will be eager to impress having so far never scored in his professional career, an odd record for a forward.
Dan gave us his thoughts on Baseya:-
“We’ve not seen the Frenchman anywhere near the first team but that hasn’t stopped there being an 18 page thread on him on the popular Hob Nob Anyone? message boards! He hasn’t got a stellar scoring record… well he hasn’t scored at all, but Reading have worked wonders with cast-offs in the past and he’s managed a couple of goals in the reserves already, so some reasons to be optimistic.”
Recently I was invited amongst other bloggers to attend a training day with Ray Wilkins courtesy of Nivea for Men and the Great Football Experiment.
Unfortunately I couldn’t make it, but England and Chelsea legend, and brother of Saints coach Dean had a message for the readers of this site.
Ray, former England and Liverpool keeper Ray Clemence, Ex-England manager Terry Venables and other professional FA coaches have spent the summer with Brentwood Sunday League First Division side Ivory FC from Billericay in Essex. The experiment aims to see if, with access to the right coaching, nutritional and fitness advice, an average Sunday league team can be turned into table toppers.
Catch up with the latest episode of the Nivea for Men Great Football Experiment where Ivory FC take on potential title challengers Lawns Park Rangers in the opening game of the league season.
Will star striker “Goggles” make it before kick off?
Follow the Great Football Experiment, and see how much proper coaching and professional expertise really helps…
“If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.” – Brian Clough
Saints head to Pride Park this weekend to face Derby County in a top of the table clash which has already attracted a crowd of thirty thousand people.
Nigel Adkins will be pitting his wits against Nigel Clough. Both have had fantastic records so far this season, and have their teams playing the way football should be played. One stark difference for them though, is that for Clough, he will always be compared to “Old Big ‘Ead” himself, father Brian.
Clough Snr will always be regarded as one of the greatest managers this country has ever produced, bringing attention to himself, first with Saturday’s opponents Derby, before huge success with arch rivals Nottingham Forest, and it was in his Forest days that Clough Snr, proved to be somewhat of a spoilsport for Saints. Twice, the great man denied us in cup finals, some thirteen years apart.
Firstly, in 1979 Southampton found themselves the underdogs for another Wembley final in the League Cup, taking on league champions and holders Nottingham Forest. Despite taking an early lead, Saints were eventually bossed by the class of Clough’s men. A valiant effort from the team in yellow though saw the final score at 3-2 in favour of the champions, with Saints goals coming from Nick Holmes and David Peach. Archie Gemmill the architect for Forest. Strike one to Clough.
1992 saw Saints and Forest meet again in the capital, this time for the Zenith Data Systems Cup final, Clough’s side may not have been the force they were thirteen years previously, but they were going well in the league, and had been in the previous season’s FA Cup final. Amongst their team were two sons of note, Nigel making a name for himself up front, and Scott the offspring of 1979’s chief tormenter Archie. Saints came back from a 2-0 deficit to take the game to extra time, Kevin Moore and Matthew Le Tissier getting the goals, but it was to be a Gemmill again that would have a definitive say in the outcome. Adding to his fifteenth minute opener, Gemmill won the match in the second period of extra time, for another 3-2 Forest victory. Strike two to Clough.
Son Nigel has followed a similar career path to his Dad so far, starting in the lower echelons of English Football with Burton Albion, and now overseeing things at Derby County. He hasn’t quite emulated Brian’s successes just yet (Clough Snr won the second division in his second season at the Baseball Ground), but signs this season are that he has what it takes to make the Rams Championship challengers.
What does look certain, is that the battle of the Nigel’s, could be both a fantastic spectacle and a meeting of two of this countries top up and coming managers. Saints will be hoping, that the Clough factor is a thing of the past, and that 2007 Pride Park playoff semi final memories can be banished forever. With no chance of Leon Best or Inigo Idiakez being on penalties, Saints will have more than a chance, but away performances haven’t been spectacular recently, and Derby smarting from a a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester last time out will be looking to bounce back.
It is no surprise that this seems to be the Championship “Game of the Week” for many of the countries media outlets. First against third, Let’s hope it lives up to it.
“If we make sure we can get Rickie in the right areas and give the right supply to him then he will put the ball in the back of the net, his career shows you that.” – Nigel Adkins, September 2011.
“He stands just over six foot three Rickie, Rickie…”
When Rickie Lambert signed for Saints in August 2009 for a price of around £1 million, it raised a few eyebrows amongst the other League One clubs as a big amount of money to be spending on a player, so soon after the club had been in severe financial trouble.
It certainly signalled the intent of Markus Liebherr and the new regime, that they would outlay that amount on a player that had never played higher than the third tier. Was it a risk? Perhaps it was at the time, although Lambert’s record speaks for itself at that level. Hindsight of course shows us that it certainly wasn’t, and actually a million pounds would represent a significant bargain. Who could put a price on Lambert’s worth to Saints now?
Lambert completed his one hundredth league game for Saints last Saturday, where his brace of penalties against Watford took him to fifty nine league goals and a record of over a goal every other league game. There were some question marks over whether Lambert could make the step up in his first season at this level, and eight goals in the first ten games would suggest that he can.
Lambert is every bit a goalscorer, proving so everywhere he has been, certainly the Bristol Rovers fans thought they let him go too cheaply in 2009, and still haven’t got a bad word to say about him.
Actually Lambert is one of those players who has improved drastically with age, and bettered his goalscoring record with every transfer and move up. Proving that sometimes, playing in and around players of a higher quality and working with better facilities can bring out the best in those that are willing to work.
Having begun his career at Blackpool, things didn’t take off for the young scouser at Bloomfield Road, and his stuttering professional career could have almost ended before it started, when he struggled to get a new club after being released by the Tangerines. Thankfully, Macclesfield Town took a chance on him, and it was a signing that paid off for the Silkmen. Having scored ten goals for the club in the 2001/02 season Lambert had caught the eye of near neighbours Stockport County and ex -Saint Carlton Palmer, prompting them to pay three hundred thousand pounds for the striker, tripling the Cheshire side’s record transfer income.
Success on the pitch were in short supply at the County Ground, the club faltering under Palmer and then Sammy McIlroy, but Rickie showed his resolve, still netting twelve times as the club battled relegation in 2003/04. Despite this personal success, Lambert was faced with dropping a division in 2005, heading to Spotland.
Rochdale proved to be a good move for Lambert, as he hit his first twenty goal season in 2005/06 even though the club proved to be inconsistent, finishing mid-table in League Two, and he was soon on the move again. This time Rickie would venture outside of the North West for the first time, joining Bristol Rovers for two hundred thousand pound in the summer of 2006.
‘In all his time at Rochdale we always knew that we were lucky to have Rickie Lambert and that one day he’d go onto bigger and better things; we were just happy to have him for as long as we could. The fact that he played alongside Grant Holt too made it even more special – we were the envy of the majority of clubs in our league with probably the best attacking duo. We signed him from Stockport where surprisingly he’d failed to make that much of an impression as far as I can remember.
In the 05/06 season (his second at Rochdale) I believe he played every game and ended the season as the league’s top scorer. Anyone who knows Lambert’s style of play will know about his free-kicks and they became pretty much expected every game; it almost a dead cert that if we got a free-kick outside the area then Lambert would calmly and cooly pop it into the back of the net.
We sold Rickie Lambert to Bristol Rovers in his third season with us for £200,000; it was a huge loss to the club, team and fans alike. We went on to make a further £25,000 from sell on clauses after he helped take Bristol Rovers to the play offs and eventually promotion.
I always look back at his time at Rochdale (especially playing alongside Grant Holt) and think “what if we’d never sold him”.’
It was at the Memorial Ground that Lambert really came to prominence. Despite a slow goalscoring start, he was to become a cult hero of the Gas fans, and it was soon a seemingly weekly occurrence in the 2008/09 season on Soccer Saturday that Jeff Stelling would be lauding him as having scored again. Lambert hit twenty nine league goals that season, an impressive feat in any team, even more so in one stuck in mid table.
Rovers fan Henry Burridge gives his lowdown on Lambert’s time by the Avon:-
“Having forked out £200,000 for Rickie Lambert, a fair wedge for any League 2 club, Bristol Rovers held high expectations of the Scouse forward. It took the big man a while to settle but upon his departure to Southampton there was more than a twinge of sadness amongst the average Gashead.
The fierce strike past Bristol City’s Adriano Basso that gave Rovers victory over ‘the dark side’ was enough to make him a part of Rovers folklore alone, but the goals didn’t stop there. A superlative 40 yard half volley against Swindon and a late header against Hartlepool lead Rovers to the play-offs, eventually winning promotion to League 1 after years in the doldrums.
While those who had shined in winning promotion for the Pirates failed to make the step up Lambert took to the third tier like a duck to water. 15 goals were scored in the league with another four in the FA Cup to boot, helping Rovers to the quarter finals of the prestigious competition, including a free kick against Southampton.
If what was seen in that season was potential then next season would be the blossoming. It seems odd to use such a dainty word when referring to a hefty man of 6’1” but the technique Lambert possessed was that of a class higher than League 1. Great in the air and on the floor, a cerebral footballing brain and two feet like sledgehammers, the only thing lacking from Lambert’s game was a yard or two of pace, though if he had that in his locker then there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been a Premier League player.
In his final season at Rovers Lambert flirted with the 30 goal mark, eventually falling one short, but the summer months would be torture for a set of fans that were just waiting for the inevitable bid to come in. You could not argue with the departure of Lambert to Southampton, going to a club with excellent facilities and getting a much increased wage. At the time the deal looked good, having seen the man go from strength to strength since his move the £1,000,000 fee seems a pittance.
There is still far more to come from Lambert, now making the same impact in the Championship, I live in hope that there is a weighty sell on clause upon his next transfer.” Read more from Henry at his site:- HJB Sports.
“He’ll take us to the Premier League, Rickie, Rickie…”
When Alan Pardew made him his first signing at Saints the following summer, some suggested he might have been overpriced, but Saints plan to sign players that could perform both at League One level and in the Championship showed faith in Lambert to make the grade. Saints started poorly in their first League One season but finished 7th despite a points deduction and Lambert hit thirty league goals, as well as three on route to winning the Johnstones Paint Trophy.
Renamed “Southampton’s Goal Machine” by the St. Mary’s faithful, Lambert represented all that was good about the new Saints positive outlook. His second season saw some doubt creep in though, as Lambert found himself a victim of his own success. A slow start to the season for both Lambert and the team saw frustration set in amongst the fans, and as Alan Pardew moved on, Lambert found his role in the side change under new gaffer Nigel Adkins. Having been very much the target man under the more direct Pardew, Lambert proved himself as a goalscorer, under the more possession based Adkins, Lambert proved himself as a footballer. Adapting his game to suit that of the new manager, Lambert’s ability as a provider and an all round player came to the fore, amazingly his perceived lack of goals led some to suggest he was having a poor season, he still scored twenty one league goals as Saints gained promotion to the Championship.
It has been well documented that Lambert has worked considerably on his fitness under Adkins, and has never looked so svelte. Finally Saints have a number seven befitting that figure, stunning goals (like the screamer against MK Dons), and an ability from a dead ball situation befitting the great man himself.
But could Rickie make the step up to a level he has never played at before? Eight goals in ten Championship games so far would suggest he could. What’s more there have been murmurs of interest from Premier League clubs, most notably Newcastle United, now managed by Pardew.
So has he been worth the £1 million spent in 2009? I think anyone would find it difficult to suggest he hasn’t. If he and the team carry on as they are, he could well get the chance to prove himself at the highest level, but having just missed out on the nPower Championship Player of the Month for September, Rickie Lambert has nothing left to prove. I would love to know what price Saints fans would put on him now, for me he is priceless, his role in our team and the way we play would be exceptionally difficult to replace. Perhaps even impossible.
Great in the air, a physical presence who will give any centre half a hard time, a finisher and a footballer. What we might have is the epitome of a great forward. What is for certain is that the resurgence of this football club has come on the back of a lot of Rickie Lambert goals, and you can’t put a price on that.
“He gets the ball he takes the piss, He wears the shirt of Matt Le Tiss, Rickie Lambert Southampton’s Goal Machine.”
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The last time we played Watford, it was very much a game of mixed emotions.
Saints under Mark Wotte were struggling, the end of our Championship life seemed nigh. A far cry from our days as a Premier League mainstay, this once great club stood a shadow of it’s former self the amongst the mist and the cold of Vicarage Road on a Tuesday night. Yet two thousand and thirty two hardy souls, me amongst them, had made the trip from the South Coast, still clinging to the hope that survival was possible.
Without a win in six, Wotte’s men were picking up draws, but not converting those points into vital wins. Saints were 23rd in the Championship and crying out for a saviour.
An unlikely one emerged in Hertfordshire. Dutchman Jan-Paul Saeijs.
The centre half had been signed on loan in the previous January by countryman Wotte, Saeijs had come with no reputation to speak of, unheard of by the Saints fans when he arrived from JC Roda, but he soon proved himself to be the kind of player you would want on your side in a dogfight. Strong and determined the Dutchman would get stuck in, and was good in the air, shame the same can’t be said for a lot of his teammates.
With the crowd in full voice, it was Saeijs who opened the scoring at Watford. Rising above Scott Loach in the home side’s goal, he nodded the ball into the back of the net for his first goal in English football. Sadly, as was commonplace with Saints at the time, the lead wasn’t to last long. Just eight minutes in fact.
Saints battled with their hosts, Ryan Smith, having his best game for the club as I recall it, but inevitably after spurning several chances themselves, they fell behind. Former and now born again Saint Jack Cork flicking the ball on for Tamas Priskin to give the away support that same sinking feeling they seemed to have every week.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and what followed I would usually not condone. In the dying seconds of the game, Saeijs made an uncharacteristic maizy run towards the Watford box, he was tackled, but went down pretty easily. The whistle blew, two thousand and thirty two mouths sighed collectively. There was no need for it, and the chance was gone. But wait. The referee had been suitably fooled. Freek kick Southampton. Proverbial last throw of the dice. Who would take it? Skacel? Lallana? Surman? Nope. The dutchman was dusting himself down and hovering over the ball. I don’t know what it was that made me feel so confident. Perhaps it was his confidence emanating on to me, perhaps it was nine months of emotional withdrawal and the final step into delusion, but I knew he would score.
The crowd bemoaned the ridiculousness of letting the centre back take it. Many were eyeing the exit, already, the quiet contemplation of the M25 in their minds. Another away trip, another defeat, another step closer to the dreaded trapdoor and third tier football. Saeijs kicked the ball. Silence. It sailed, bending majestically towards the top right corner. The keeper couldn’t get to it, I’m not sure he moved. I cared, neither then or indeed now. Goal. The cacophony and collective euphoria that accompanies a last minute goal will never be equalled by any moment watching any other sport. The embracing of strangers and the general outpouring of relief would be hard to explain to an alien.
We only had a point. In reality it wasn’t enough, but it still gave us hope. For that moment we were still alive, and still fighting.
Saeijs left the club in the summer and returned to Roda before becoming a teammate of Steve de Ridder’s at de Graafschap where he still plays. Saints face Watford again on Saturday. Top of the Championship.
“A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted.” – Andrew Bernstein
Without the likes of Matt Le Tissier we would have no history.
Without Nicola Cortese we would have no future.
Two men. Two passions. Both with a significant input into the fortunes of this football club, be it recently or in the past. Both deserving of respect from the Saints faithful.
Le Tissier will always be the hero. The maverick, who has put smiles on more Saints fans, more times than any of us could put a number on. His contribution to Southampton Football Club is well documented and indisputable. A man of unrivalled loyalty, choosing to stay at our relatively small club over fame and fortune at those more glamourous.
Cortese is still the new boy in town. The businessman overseeing a reversal in the fortunes of the club. His contribution to Southampton Football Club is recent, yet crucial. Without him we may not be here. The club has gone from deaths door to the prime of life, breaking on the pitch records on an almost weekly basis.
Yet, the two of them, and the personal issue that exists between them is causing unrest and bickering between fans, at a time when the club is sat at the top of the Championship and supporters should be enjoying a period of settled success and enjoyment.
Some fans have never warmed to the Chairman. Mainly because he has introduced financial policies, that mean, while the fans get a worse deal than they have in the past, the club is on a sound business footing. This never used to be the case for Le Tissier, he always had the fans on his side. All of them. The recent bickering with the chairman has seen that change though, with some fans questioning the great man, and his intentions. This is a sad state of affairs, and fans taking sides upsets me a lot.
I have no side in this argument. I back the Chairman, as his running of the club has impressed me greatly. At the same time, I am not going to turn my back on my footballing hero, a man whose signed photo sits proudly framed on my living room wall.
Le Tiss has never struck me as a man only in it for himself. His record as a player would suggest that not be the case, he clearly has a lot of friends in the game, and Mr. Cortese’s interview in The Sun newspaper even prompted Jeff Stelling to give a heart felt public defence of Matt on Soccer Saturday.
I have no first hand knowledge of whether Le Tissier, or for that matter any other ex-player have ever ‘expected’ freebies from the club. My opinion on the matter is that someone of his stature amongst the clubs history should always be treated as a guest of the club if he wants to attend a match, but at the same time shouldn’t be allowed to phone the club and ask for x number of tickets for friends.
Perhaps the bad blood is a hangover from Le Tissier’s involvement with a rival bidding consortium when Cortese was trying to buy the club. Perhaps it is some ticket confusion. Perhaps it is about an ex-players anniversary dinner. Perhaps it is because of comments by both men in the media. Perhaps we will never know.
It makes me wonder what might have been. Had Le Tissier not been involved with the Pinnacle consortium and was still in his ambassadorial role with the club, when Cortese and the Liebherr family took over, I wonder if we now be enjoying a united front from the two men. If only.
I just hope that one day we can see them watching a game together. No dispute is unresolvable, especially between two men whose ultimate goals for the football club should be of the same view. The chairman may need to accept that ex-players will always be spoken to about the club in the media, and are allowed to vent their opinion, and Le Tissier may need to accept that the chairman is in charge, he can run the club how he likes, and he is doing a good job. I would appeal to fans that to take sides isn’t necessary. To go against the Chairman, is to effectively go against the club and to go against Le Tissier is to stab a man who gave you everything in the back.
There is only one number I want to be in, the one we should all be in. When the Saints go marching in. Together.
“Never walk, away from home, ahead of your axe and sword. You can’t feel battle, in your bones, or foresee a fight.” – The Havamal (Book of Viking Wisdom)
In my time watching the Saints, we have had foreign players from all over the world don the famous Red & White stripes. One group in particular that have found themselves taken to the hearts of the fans so readily are the Scandinavians.
So following the succes of the keepers debate I decided to take a vote amongst the users of the #saintsfc hashtag on who has been the best of the many Scandinavian players in Saints history. I was worried that their might be some controversy with this, and as predicted, many did ask as to the non-inclusion of Antti Niemi, who could have been a contender for a second successive Twitter vote victory, but I did check, and had it confirmed to me by others, that Finland is not officially part of Scandinavia. Therefore only players from Denmark, Norway and Sweden could qualify for this highly unofficial title!
In keeping with the four player format, I picked the nominees based on the impact they had on my time watching Saints. Self indulgent? Of course. This is my site. I happily accepted votes in the “other” category though.
1. Claus Lundekvam. It is rare, especially these days, that a foreign player works his way to a testimonial with an English club, but captain Lundekvam did just that. Playing over three hundred and fifty times for Saints, Claus was there for the highs and the lows after joining in 1996. Premier League, Europe, FA Cup final, Relegation, in twelve years at the club, the one thing that was a constant positive were the performances of the centre half. Carried on the tradition of other Scandinavian Premier League stars Jan Molby and Peter Schmeichal, by adopting a local accent.
2. Michael Svensson. Killer was as solid as they come at the centre of defence. A quiet unassuming man off the pitch, but a warrior on it. It is no coincidence that the most successful period of Premier League life for Saints coincided with the Swede’s involvement and the 2004/05 relegation with his loss to injury. His cult hero status at the club would be confirmed a couple of seasons later though, as after being released, he defied his injury problems to return to the playing staff, sadly it wasn’t to be the comeback everyone was hoping for.
3. Egil Ostenstad. The Norweigan with an eye for goal joined Saints in 1996 and became a fan favourite with his slick finishing. He was the fans player of the season in 1996/97 and continued his good goalscoring form in a side struggling in the Premier League. Disappointingly moved on to Blackburn Rovers in a deal that saw Kevin Davies return to the club in 1999.
4. Ronnie Ekelund. In what must have been one of my most enjoyable periods watching Saints, the Dane (a gift from Johan Cruyff to friend Alan Ball) formed a sublime partnership with Matt Le Tissier as they terrorised Premier League defences in the 1994/95 season. His apparent refusal to have surgery on a back problem led to him not being signed permanently, a mistake on Saints part in my opinion. Still rated by Le Tissier as the best player he ever played with.
From over forty votes this was the final result:-
A close victory for the big Swede, it is telling that between them the quality defensive partnership of Svensson and Lundekvam dominated the voting, with most fans finding it difficult to choose between them.
22nd April 2005, approximately 21:58. Fifteen year old Edward Upson hits the ball first time from twenty five yards. Andrew McNeill is helpless in the Southampton net. Goal Ipswich Town.
A heartbreaking end to a memorable season for the Saints youngsters, losing the FA Youth Cup final with just two minutes of extra time left to be played.
The first leg had been played at St. Mary’s four days earlier, Saints leading through David McGoldrick before being pegged back by a double from Irishman Cathal Lordan, Leon Best netting the equaliser that kept the tie on a knife edge. The second leg had remained goalless despite Saints dominance, Ipswich thankful to keeper Shane Supple that it got to extra time. Seemingly heading for penalties, substitute Upson was the youngest player on the pitch when he stole the headlines, and the silverware for the Suffolk side.
For young lads with the world at their feet, it must have been difficult to take. For some it was to be their career highlight, for others, just the beginning. Football is a cruel world, and as is commonplace, despite being the cream of the crop as young players not all would be destined for the top.
Actually in this instance it was the losers who have fared better, the Saints squad boast four current Premier League players, the Ipswich squad none. While the Saints players have commanded massive transfer fees between them and gained many international caps, the Ipswich team have not. Having said that, not all of the Saints squad has achieved all of their footballing aims.
I decided to find out where they are now, and how different the careers of these players now hitting their peak age of 24/25 have fared.
Andrew McNeil – The Scottish keeper left Saints in January 2006, returning to his native Edinburgh with SPL side Hibernian, he forced his way into the first team at Easter Road, including playing in the 2007 League Cup final win. He was later replaced in the side and released in 2009. He spent a season in the third division with Montrose before signing for First Division Raith Rovers in 2010. He was released by Raith this summer and signed for Livingston where he is currently first choice.
Craig Richards – Local lad Richards was released by Saints in the summer of 2006. He was picked up by Conference side Salisbury City in 2007. Spells at Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Winchester City followed. He now plays for Whitehawk FC in the Ryman League Division One South.
Sebastian Wallis-Tayler – The frenchman left Saints the summer after the Cup Final and signed for Havant & Waterlooville before playing for Bognor Regis Town and Lewes. He is now back in his native France playing for non-league outfit CA Lisieux.
Sean Rudd – After being released by Saints, Rudd had an unsuccessful trial with former club Oxford United before sadly retiring through injury. Now works for a Sports Shoe company.
Martin Cranie – Had already played first team football on loan at Bournemouth and Premier League football for Saints at the time of the Youth Cup final. He played in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp, before finding chances limited under George Burley in the Championship. Cranie had two spells on loan at Yeovil Town before reuniting with Redknapp at Portsmouth for the 2007 season. Spent time at QPR and Charlton on loan before joining Coventry City in 2009 where he is still a regular for the Championship outfit. Has gained caps for England at U21 level.
Lloyd James – The Welsh utility man earned a professional contract with Saints in 2006, and made over seventy first team appearances in the Championship and League One before his somewhat surprise release (having been a regular in the team) in 2010. He soon signed for Colchester United and is now an established member of the U’s first team. A Welsh U21 international.
Tim Sparv – Finnish midfielder Sparv left Saints in 2007 to sign for Swedish club Halmstads BK, he is now playing in the Dutch first division with FC Groningen via a loan spell in his home country. He has been capped fifteen times by Finland.
Nathan Dyer – The tiny winger made his first team debut for Saints at the start of the season following the final. He was loaned to Burnley before coming back and getting more regular gametime at St. Mary’s. He went on loan again to Sheffield United in 2008, before really flourishing at Swansea City, firstly on loan before joining permanently in 2009 and he is now a regular in their Premier League side.
Theo Walcott – Made his first team debut at sixteen and was soon turning heads at a higher level. Chelsea had already shown an interest in him, but it was Arsenal who paid £5 million with a potential outcome of £12 million (although that is seemingly no longer the case) for him in 2006. He has now played over one hundred times for the Gunners. He became the youngest ever full England international in 2006 and was the surprise inclusion in Sven Goran Erikssons’s World Cup Squad of 2006. He has now played eighteen times for his country.
Leon Best – The Irish striker had already played in the Premier League for Saints by the time of the final, and also spent a period on loan with QPR. Further loans with Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Yeovil Town followed before he rejected a new contract with Saints in 2007 and joined Coventry City, the tribunal setting the fee at £650k. His performances for the Sky Blues were enough to persuade Newcastle United to move for him and is now a first team player with the Toon in the Premier League. He has represented Ireland at senior level.
David McGoldrick – McGoldrick was handed a first team debut in the September following the match at Portman Road, but it would take him another three years and loan spells at Notts County, Bournemouth and Port Vale before he would be considered a regular. He was an ever present in the Saints team that dropped out of the Championship, scoring twelve goals and left for Nottingham Forest for £1 million the following summer.
Kyle Critchell – Defender Critchell was hampered by a serious injury in 2005 and was eventually loaned out to Torquay United in 2006. He was released the following summer and joined Chesterfield. He joined Weymouth in June 2007 before signing for Wrexham the following season, injuries again stunted his progression and he was loaned to York City before rejoining the Terras. He currently plays for hometown club Dorchester Town in the Blue Square South division who he signed for in 2009.
Ashlee Jones – Sub keeper Jones was released in the summer of 2005 and signed for Rushden & Diamonds, he has played for an array of clubs since and eventually made his football league debut for Darlington in 2009, he now plays for Braintree Town in the Blue Square Premier division.
Adam Lallana – The only member of the squad still at St. Mary’s, the creative midfielder is now a lynchpin in Nigel Adkins side and has made one hundred and thirty appearances for the club, now catching the eye of Premier League suitors he has been capped at U21 level by England.
Feliciano Condesso – Portuguese midfielder Condesso left Saints in 2007 without playing for the first team, somewhat surprisingly he joined La Liga side Villarreal but couldn’t break into the first team setup there either. He played for their ‘B’ side in the Spanish third tier before joining UD Logrones and now plays for Ontinyent CF.
Gareth Bale – The youngest member of the Saints squad, aged fifteen, Bale made his first team debut in 2006 and played forty times that season as Saints made it to the Championship play offs. Hot property, the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United were said to be interested, but it was Spurs who signed the Welshman for an initial fee of £5 million that rose to £7 million and Tommy Forescast. Bale struggled to make an impact at White Hart Lane to start with, but is now considered one of the best players in the world. A notable hat trick in the Champions League against Inter at the San Siro propelling him to super stardom. He has played thirty times for Wales.
Josh Dutton-Black – Winger Dutton-Black left Saints in 2007 and signed for AFC Totton. He has since had spells at Salisbury, Kidderminster, Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Didcot Town. He now plays for North Leigh in the Southern League Division One South & West.
Shane Supple – Retired. Now a Gaelic Football player.
Michael Synott – Released by League of Ireland side Dundalk in the summer of 2010.
James Krause – Now playing for Cambridge City in the Southern League Premier division.
Chris Casement – Now playing for Linfield in the IFA Premiership. Capped by Northern Ireland.
Aidan Collins – Now playing for the University of London FC.
Sammy Moore – Now playing for AFC Wimbledon in League Two.
Cathal Lordan – Now playing for Cork City in the League of Ireland First division.
Liam Trotter – Now playing for Millwall in the Championship.
Owen Garvan – Now playing for Crystal Palace in the Championship. Eire U21 international.
Liam Craig – Now playing for St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League.
Daryl Knights – Now playing for Newport County in the Blue Square Premier League.
Danny Haynes – Now playing for Barnsley in the Championship.
Blair Hammond – Now playing for Ipswich Wanderers in the Eastern Counties League division one.
Charlie Sheringham – Now playing for Dartford in the Blue Square South.
Ed Upson – Now playing for Yeovil Town in League One.
Andy Reynolds – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.
Stuart Ainsley – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.
It is clear to see that the losing Saints squad have, on the whole fared better than their Ipswich counterparts. Although it is staggering to see that of the thirty four players involved, fifteen of them are now playing at non-league level.
This isn’t a fate exclusive to these young finalists either, of the 2007 Liverpool winning side, only two players have since played for the first team, and only one (Jay Spearing) is still on the fringe. Their defeated opponents that day Manchester United fielded Danny Welbeck who has now become a first team player, the rest of the names are less familiar. In fact if you were to go through the lineups of all the previous finals, you would find only a handful of players plying their trade at the top of the footballing tree. Another case of foreigners ruining the English game? Hardly. These days half the youth teams are foreign players as clubs look to invest abroad as early as possible, all hoping to discover the next Lionel Messi. The fact is the standard required gets higher every season and more are likely to fall by the wayside with every intake. Also, I always wonder how much difference in ability there is between some players playing non-league and those in the lower echelons of the professional game. Not that much I would wager, and in reality we could probably fill another four divisions of professional clubs if it were possible.
Either way, the differing fortunes of some of these young players is a harsh reminder that the career of a footballer is a privilege to be treasured.