It was with much anticipation that I first heard of Mark Sanderson and his upcoming biography of ’76 hero Bobby Stokes.
Aptly titled ‘The man from Portsmouth who scored Southampton’s most famous goal’, there is an air of mysticism about Stokes and how he bridged a gap between two cities so often at each other’s throats.
I asked Mark about whether anyone these days could become a hero in red and white stripes, but also maintain the respect and love of his rival home town?
MS ‘Bobby Stokes is one of several Pompey lads who have gone on to play for Saints – from Steve Mills to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Ward-Prowse. Far fewer have done the opposite. Perhaps the most notable example was Bitterne Park schoolboy Darren Anderton, who was part of the Pompey side that lost to Liverpool on penalties in the 1992 FA Cup semi-final. Although none of these players have had as much impact for either club as Bobby’s winning goal for Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup Final. Bobby remained a Pompey lad, but he had a special relationship with Southampton – his funeral was in Porchester, but his ashes were scattered at The Dell. ‘
If like me you spent your formative years in the early 1990’s you will be familiar with an incredibly funny duo whose collection of comic characters and sketches are fondly remembered by us all.
You will have swung your pants with The Singing Corner, wondered which hapless celebrity was going to enrage barbers Ken and Eddie Kennedy and enjoyed some Pot Fish sponsored rave nights all from the comfort of your living room on a Saturday morning. Though you may have watched them religiously every week like I did, you may, as I was be ignorant to the fact that Trevor Neal of ‘Trevor & Simon’ fame is a Saint just like us.
I read an article Trevor had written for the Huffington Post in which he spoke of meeting Paul Weller in Debenhams in the city during the 70’s and I wondered then if he might be red an white, this was later confirmed when I saw some tweets of his in which he mentioned Saints.
I was lucky enough to catch some time with Trevor and talk about his life as a Saint.
When did you know you were a Saints fan?
TN ‘I grew up in Southampton and lived there until I was 18 – it was the natural way of things to support The Saints (although before I was old enough to know better in 1972, aged 9 years old, I have to confess that I owned a Leeds United kit (sorry!) – but I think that was only because I liked the sock tabs with numbers on!). My dad was a police dog handler in Southampton and he was occasionally on duty at The Dell (ask your grandparents, kids!) so when I was very young he used to bring home team autographs, which was always very exciting. When I was about 12 years old I went to see the Saints play at the Dell with some school mates and we loved it. We started going regularly after that and used to go and stand in what they called “the chocolate boxes” because as I remember, that’s where families and younger supporters would watch the games. Later we joined the Milton Road end terrace where the main singing and chanting happened. I remember it being really good fun – but this was the 1970s – so being quite young and small it was a bit scary at times too. I remember things getting a bit “lively” at times – particularly when Man United visited.’
Who have been your favourite characters involved with the club over the years? Any you’d think would make good comedy performers?
TN ‘I have to admit I had a bit of a break following football from about 1977, when I discovered Punk Rock and girls, until about the year 2000 when a mate encouraged me to join a Fantasy Football league – so it would be dishonest to pretend I was anything but a part-time supporter really! Anyway I won the Fantasy Football League that season with my team – (which was called Treverton – nothing to do with Everton – just a daft pun) and my star striker was Marians Pahars. I also had Wayne Bridge in defence. The prize money for winning the league was £50 – but I never received it – otherwise I would definitely owe it all to those key Saints players! When I was a kid, players like Ron Davies, Terry Paine and Mick Channon were favourites. In 1976, following the FA cup win, I lined the streets of Southampton to congratulate the team with everyone else, holding a banner which I’d made out of an old bed sheet, proudly aloft which read “Laurie’s Miracle Men”. I think some other fans were a bit miffed that I was suggesting the win was a “miracle” and not through sheer skill and determination – which it obviously was as well – but I still think there was a hint of the miracle about the whole occasion! Bobby Stokes will always be a favourite for that reason. During that season I remember me and my mates used to think the substitute Hugh Fisher was a bit of a comedy performer – but we were just cheeky teenagers and I’m sure it was completely unfair!’
Having performed all over the country, has football and supporting Saints got you into any trouble on stage?
TN ‘Football has never really got me into any trouble at all – I’ve never taken it that seriously – but whenever I have performed in and around the Portsmouth area – I know how to wind up the audience!’
Do you get to St. Mary’s much?
TN ‘I’m ashamed to say that I have never visited St Mary’s. I live in Broadstairs now in East Kent, which is nearer to Belgium than Southampton, so I don’t visit my old home often these days. My son is an Arsenal supporter (don’t blame me!) so a friend arranged for me to take him to watch Saints play Arsenal at the Emirates a few seasons ago – it was a difficult day for me. I was surrounded by Gunners cheering and celebrating as they beat Saints 6-1. My son thought it was the best day ever.’
Do you think Saints can achieve European Football this season?
TN ‘Why not? They were more closely in the running a few months back maybe but I’d like to think it could still happen. Doesn’t look like anyone’s going to catch Chelsea but there’s still room for a bit of change below them. It would be fantastic if they can do it – like 1976. If they do I’ll pull the sheet off my bed and make another banner – “Ronald’s Miracle Men”’
I think Simon is a Manchester City fan, not many bragging rights for you at the moment, but both clubs have had some ups and downs over the years, did you console each other trough it or take the mick?
TN ‘We’re both similar in that we’ve come back to football late in life. Simon was a childhood City fan in the days of Mike Summerbee. He’s very passionate about City now but neither of us take it seriously enough to worry about any rivalry. We gently tease each other sometimes and occasionally we even back each other’s side but only when they’re playing against Chelsea or United!’
What would Ken and Eddie have made of Kevin Keegan’s haircut?
TN ‘When Roger Daltrey visited Ken and Eddie’s barber shop they were offended when he asked for a perm in reverse because of course they “don’t do perms” backwards or forwards – but I think a Reverse Perm is what Kevin would need.’
‘Kevin Keegan had the ultimate “footballer’s haircut” – his hair was shaped like a football.’
Trev & Simon, along with Sophie Aldred (Ace in Dr Who), are launching a new comedy sci-fi audio podcast called Strangeness in Space – full details at www.strangenessinspace.com, check it out!
“Whoever it was really shouldn’t have thrown that coin at Mark Dennis.” – Steve Moran talking about his last gasp winner at Fratton Park in 1984. Time had been added on because of treatment to Dennis who had been hit by a coin from the Pompey crowd.
30th January 1951, a hospital in Paulsgrove on the Portsmouth to Southampton Road, a boy is born who would have unwanted fame heaped upon him as the unlikely hero of a famous cup upset.
Robert William Thomas Stokes was a talent at school and county level in Hampshire (he scored fifty three goals in one season for Hillside Junior School and played seven times for England Youth) and it was fully expected that he would sign for his boyhood heroes at Fratton Park. Legend has it though that he failed a trial with Pompey and was forced to look elsewhere, others believe he chose Saints over Pompey because of their youth team (or lack thereof) at the time.
Either way, Stokes would start his career with the arch rivals of his hometown team. He had a modest start to his life at the Dell, but did score on his first team debut against Burnley in 1969. He wouldn’t become a regular until the 1971/72 season and was considered an important member of the team from then on. Despite never being a prolific goalscorer and being relegated with the club in 1974, he will always be regarded as a Southampton hero. @MiltonRoadEnd was a fan “Underrated, probably because he was playing alongside the likes of Davies, Channon, Paine & Osgood. Always gave 100%.”
When he struck gold for Saints in the eighty second minute of the 1976 FA Cup final, it was to be both the highlight of his career and perhaps the beginning of the end of it. Famously a shy man, Stokes would never need buy a drink again, and the spotlight that he was suddenly in was not suited to him. The reward for scoring the first goal in the final was a car, and legend has it, that Bobby who couldn’t drive booked lessons for after the final just in case.
Stokes struggled for form in the subsequent season after cup success and made just eleven appearances for the first team, scoring just one goal.
Upon leaving the Dell Stokes would find himself in familiar surroundings, back in his hometown. Stokes would make twenty nine appearances for Pompey and score three goals (though by now he was playing more in midfield) as the blues ended a shocking season bottom of Division Three.
Stokes Pompey career was over almost as soon as it started with the Fratton crowd not taking to the man who had left their town and performed heroics for “scum”. Pompeydiehard remembers “Bobby was a great shy lad ,we grew up together played in the same school side and at Hants level. He went to Saints instead of Pompey as they never had a youth policy in those distant days. I spoke to him when he joined Pompey in the seventies, he said Dickinson came in for him and his own club didn’t seem to want him to stay. Think he couldn’t really settle at the Park after being at yours for so long. Never really worked out for him here.”
Stokes left Fratton Park the following summer and joined a growing list of European players who headed to the United States and the evolving North American Soccer League. He signed for Washington Diplomats and became a team mate of Johan Cruyff’s. He played four seasons in Washington before heading back to Hampshire and signing for Waterlooville. He would further play for Cheltenham Town and Chichester City before calling it a day in 1981.
Stokes ran a pub in Portsmouth before working in the Harbour View cafe. He was often tracked down by journalists, usually around cup final time, and despite his modest earnings, never charged a penny for his time. A regular in the stands at both the Dell and Fratton Park he was granted a testimonial year with Saints in 1994, but after a lengthy battle with drink Stokes passed away in 1995 of bronchial pneumonia aged just 44.
“I don’t wear my medal around my neck but I’ll happily recall every detail of the match with anyone who has 90 minutes to spare. It was the best day of my life.” – Bobby Stokes February 1995.
R.I.P. Bobby Stokes
Pompey boy, Saints star.
1951 – 1995