Tag Archives: Football

Athletic Bilbao Take First Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup…

In what a was a first of its kind in terms of format, Southampton Football Club paid tribute to their late saviour Markus Liebherr by playing in a triangular tournament of forty five minute games against some of the cream of European football.

Athletic Bilbao and Werder Bremen would provide some stern tests for Nigel Adkins men. The Spaniards whose red & white striped shirts, legend has it were inspired by the Saints own, came armed with World cup winners Llorente and Martinez, while the Germans came fresh off the back of some impressive Champions League performances last season.

It was the Germans that got things under way against the hosts (sporting their return to stripes), and were taken by surprise by the underdogs. Goals from Connolly, Guly and Lallana saw the Saints get a shock opening win in the tournament, the Grün-Weißen (Green & Whites) looked shell shocked as the home side passed the ball round neatly and took control of the game.

Saints: Bialkowski, Butterfield, Fonte, Seaborne, Harding, Chamberlain, Hammond, Cork, Lallana, Guly, Connolly.

Werder Bremen: Mielitz, Wolf, Schmitz, Schoppenhauer, Wesley, Marin, Hunt, Trybull, Wagner, Schindler, Thy.

The ever impressive Adam Lallana battles Brazilian defender Wesley.

There was no respite for the Bundesliga side, after a short break they were back on the St. Mary’s pitch to face their Spanish counterparts. It was a better showing from Werder, but Athletic’s class shone through. A thirty yard freekick by Gabilondo and a tap in from Toquero were scored either side of Bargfrede’s volley.

Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz, Gurpegui, Castillo, San Jose, Amorebieta, Orbaiz, Lopez, Herrera, Llorente, Toquero, Gabilondo.

Werder Bremen: Wiese, Trybull, Arnautovic, Fritz, Rosenberg, Schmitz, Hunt, Papastathopoulos, Trinks, Balogun, Bargfrede.

So it meant that the final game between Saints and Athletic would be a “winner takes all” encounter. Southampton emerged from the tunnel in their new Brazil colours away strip but couldn’t find any samba inspiration. Igor Martinez put Los Leones (the lions) in front and the Spanish side never looked back. Susaeta hit a wonder strike to suit any occasion in the dying seconds to ensure Bilbao were the first name on the Markus Liebherr trophy.

Saints: Davis, Richardson, Martin, Jaidi, Dickson, Holmes, Schneiderlin, Chaplow, Forte, Doble, Barnard.

Athletic Bilbao: Fernandez, Iraola, Ustaritz, San Jose, Ocio, Iturrapse, Susaeta, DeMarcos (De Galarreta 43), Martinez, Saborit, Gomez.

Morgan Schneiderlin fights for the ball.

A fitting end to a nice day, personally I am more of a fan of permanent physical tributes than friendly matches, but Saints also had this covered opening the new “Markus Liebherr Lounge” at the tournament. One thing that was guaranteed was the wonderful impression our club gave to the visiting fans and players from Spain and Germany.

I was lucky enough to catch up with German football journalist Tim Röhn, editor for top German newspaper Bild who was at the tournament. Here is what he had to say about his St. Mary’s experience:-

“Just an insignificant tournament. I did not have big expectations when I took my flight to London to watch the “Memorial Cup” in Southampton. I am an editor for Germany’s biggest newspaper BILD and most of the time I write about Werder Bremen. So it was me that was chosen to see the club in the UK.

When I arrived at St. Mary’s Stadium, ninety minutes before the first match I was really surprised. What an awesome ground! The stands so close to the pitch, no fences – it is not like as it is in the German Bundesliga. There were not many supporters at this time, but when the Saints started against Werder there were probably around 9000 people. And they made noise like there were three times that many!

It was amazing. They supported the team like many German second division teams could only dream of being supported even in championship games. The whole stadium (the part that was crowded) was singing after the first goal. I really liked the atmosphere – and the way the Saints play as well. So fast from the defence to the attack. Great! The 3:0 win was well-deserved.

I talked to some spectators after the first match. Nice guys! Emotional guys! Fair guys! Even after I told them that I was German ;). Red and white are the perfect colours for football clubs – I am biased though because I am a big fan of Fortuna Düsseldorf (2nd division, Germany) and they wear the same colours.

I am thinking about coming back to see Southampton in the Championship. I want more – undoubtedly!”

Athletic Bilbao - 2011 Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup Winners.

Chris

Design For Life…..

Amongst the humdrum of pre-season gossip and speculation, Saints fans were able to concentrate their optimism on not only who might be coming in and out at St. Mary’s, but also on the design of the new strip.

After taking a break from the traditional Red & White striped offerings of previous years for last seasons 125th anniversary celebrations, the “sash” was released to very mixed reviews, and the anticipation of a striped return reached fever pitch over the summer.

This got me thinking. How important is kit design? We took a notable scalp in one of the Premier Leagues most infamous games, when we defeated Manchester United in 1996. Sir Alex Ferguson blamed the sides grey change strip for their first half hammering and made them change into Blue & White in the second half. Which they won 1-0.

Are stripes a particularly successful kit design? On the face of it no. There are notable exceptions of course. AC Milan and Juventus have had some results in their time, and Barcelona look likely to reign in European football forever, yet Crystal Palace, who adorn the same stripe design as the Catalan club aren’t likely to danger Manchester United in a Champions League semi final any time soon.

Argentina have twice been crowned world champions in stripes (although they were in their plain blue change strip for one final victory), and of course, they cheat.

Saints new shirt - Return of the Stripes. Image courtesy of @MrGlennJones

Domestically, it is a tale of woe for the striped teams. In the FA Cup you have to go all the way back to 1987 for a striped winner, when underdogs Coventry City shocked Spurs, a staggering five teams in stripes (though Saints wore their away yellow) have been runners up in that time. In fact, unless I am mistaken, there have only been twenty one FA Cup winners who play in stripes, many of which are the same club several times, and many of which may not have played in stripes in the final. There have been twenty seven runners up.

In the League Cup it isn’t much better. Sheffield Wednesday were the last stripe wearing winners in 1991, and only they again have since made the final, runners up in 1993. Actually, and I am hoping someone will prove me wrong on this, but it seems there have only ever been two striped winners. Wednesday of course, and Stoke in 1972. There have been six runners up.

There have been one hundred and twelve seasons of the football league. Striped winners? Nineteen. As famously taken this May, Manchester United have this many on their own.

So are stripes a hinderance? Are they simply bad luck?

From Saints personal viewpoint, there have been some differing results, which give some disappointing outcomes for the stripe lover. We had our highest ever league finish in 1983/84 wearing a “thirds” of white surrounded by red sleeves. We won our solitary FA cup in solid yellow, and of course last season we secured promotion in the sash.

But what does all this mean? Well nothing. The fact is, less teams play in stripes, so less trophies is a given. Only one side outside the top four has won the FA Cup since 1995, and they did it with ill gotten gains. From a Saints perspective, and without looking to upset anyone, we aren’t exactly overrun with silverware anyway.

The likes of the aforementioned Juventus, Milan and Barca are trophy laden giants in Europe, even Saturday’s opponents Atletico Bilbao have had some success over the years, and they have done it using a red & white striped kit inspired by us! The nerve.

Had Roman Abramovich tipped up in 2003 and poured his billions into Sunderland instead of Chelsea, I am sure the FA Cup and League winners tallies would have a few more striped scores on them.

It is probably naïve to think that these days, clubs don’t have some sort of psychologist having an input on kit design, but then surely they would all come to the same conclusions, and clubs would all be changing to the same pattern?

The fact is you make your own fortune, and with the right personnel, tactics, coaches, finances, luck and fanbase any team can be a world beater and they can do it whatever kit they like.

To end this pointless yet informative piece , I can quote the Bill Murray film “Stripes”

“A hundred dollar shine on a three dollar pair of shoes”.

It’s about what is underneath the shirts not how they look.

Chris

Swiss Roll or Mountain to Climb for Saints….

The Saints players are once again in Switzerland for their pre-season preparations, and will be hoping for things to go slightly better this time…

Much was made of last years pre-season efforts, that were followed by a poor start to the season, injuries and accusations of bad practice. The likes of Rickie Lambert took a while to fire, and new boy Frazer Richardson was one of the high profile to suffer injury setbacks, as Saints “favourites” tag looked to be way off as they stuttered to 22nd place after the first five games. So how important are these pre-season trips?

Nigel Adkins says “Vital”. And I agree.

It isn’t just about fitness of course, the need to for any successful team to have a good spirit and camaraderie is as, if not more important. Nigel Adkins looks like he thinks the same, and black sheep Jason Puncheon hasn’t travelled with the squad, for fear of disruption.

So what did Alan Pardew do so wrong? And what will Adkins do differently? Well for a start do we actually know that Pardew did wrong? Let’s face it, had we gone unbeaten in the first five games last season, there would have been no questioning of Pardew’s methods. There were several comments in some of the early season defeats of lethargic looking players. Frazer Richardson was injured on the pre-season tour of 2010, as was Rickie Lambert, who uncharacteristically scored just two goals in the first twelve games, remarkable then that he would go on to be the clubs top scorer with twenty one by the end of the season. Fitness was clearly an issue, something Lambert has talked about himself since.

When Nigel Adkins took over, he was quick to mention fitness and the lack thereof after overseeing a drab 0-2 defeat at MK Dons, and by this point in the season, Saints were gaining a reputation for starting games well and taking control before succumbing to defeat. As Adkins influence became more apparent, the side became more resilient and control became victories.

Nigel Adkins - Controlling the controllables....

Adkins, comes from the opposite side of the coaching spectrum to Pardew, the “new breed” if you will, his previous employment as a Physiotherapist is well documented, and he is obsessed with sports psychology, so it is natural to assume that this time round the Swiss trip should produce fitter players, less injuries and even a squad that is better prepared mentally.

Saints will officially start their pre-season tomorrow evening in the Gurzelen Stadion to take on Swiss Challenge League (Championship equivalent) side FC Biel-Bienne, before heading to the AFG Arena to face recently relegated Super League side St. Gallen on Saturday. Returning new boy Jack Cork, somewhat of a coup signing will get his first run out back in a Saints shirt during these games, while it will also be a chance for returning loanees Ryan Doble and Joseph Mills to stake a claim.

The purpose of the Swiss tour and games, may be more about physical shape, team building and even some commercial links than it is about results, but the squad will be truly tested on their return to the South coast. A week of training will be followed by the inaugral “Markus Liebherr Memorial Tournament” and two forty five minute games against European heavy weights Atletico Bilbao from La Liga and Werder Bremen from the Bundesliga. The squad will get to mix it up with World Cup winners and Champions League regulars in the round robin format and against that level of ability any fitness issues will be sorely punished. The technical ability of the likes of Javi Martinez will be difficult enough to deal with, without chasing their shadows.

West Brom and Yeovil Town will make up the rest of pre-season opposition for the first team before the season opens live on Sky (again) against Leeds United at St. Mary’s on the 6th August.

All we can hope is that the lessons of last season’s start have been learnt. We came from the back of the pack to secure promotion last season, despite the less than perfect preparations and the woeful opening run of results. The Championship will not be so forgiving. Every season this is a league that looks more difficult to get out of, and with the likes of Birmingham City and West Ham amongst the Premier League relegated, it is almost impossible to predict an outcome. A lack of preperation and a slow start could be disasterous, and missing out on promotion could be the least of of our worries…..

Chris

The Worst Manager England (Almost) Never Had…

The other night, I decided to run a little competition to get myself to 500 followers on twitter, the reward for being my 500th follower (other than a daily intake of my wittiest and fascinating 140 character world insights) was that I would write a piece on here that would revolve around the supported club of the new follower.

Unfortunately, rather like Chris Iwelumo on an international debut, I took my eye off the ball. This meant I wasn’t sure if Brighton fan @Mareschappie or Southend fan @CallumReavelll was number 500, so I sensibly did, the only thing I could do, I bravely declared that I would write a piece that involved both clubs. Now, I wanted this piece to have a positive spin for both clubs, otherwise, what kind of prize is that?

This proved to not be easy. The two clubs, while both rich with individual history don’t seem to have any mutual heroes, neither do they share any years where both achieved something of note. Then I hit upon somebody who achieved something with both clubs, and what’s more, a man who is well known throughout English football and in my opinion, the worst manager England never had….

You often hear Brian Clough described as “The greatest manager England never had”, his achievements in club football are as well known as they are remarkable, and the decision not to employ him as the boss of the national team after interviewing him in 1977 is one that often makes people wonder what might have been. Clough’s assistant Peter Taylor was also revered for the job he did with Derby County and could have followed “Ol big head” to Lancaster Gate had the FA seen differently. Another Peter Taylor came even closer to the three lions dugout, in fact he was in it once, but what now seems implausible, he was also interviewed for the England job full time in 2006, and not just as assistant.

Peter John Taylor started his career at Southend United, near to his home town of Rochford, Essex. A winger by trade, Taylor was a pivotal part of the Shrimpers side that won promotion from the fourth division in 1971/2, and was soon catching the eye of bigger clubs. Taylor went on to play for Crystal Palace and Spurs at the peak of his career and gained four England caps, the first of which he gained while still playing in the third division at Selhurst Park, but it is as a manager that Taylor is mainly remembered.

Peter Taylor as an England Player

Taylor did his managerial apprenticeship in non-league football with Dartford, where he spent four years with much success. Southern cup winners twice (denied a third in the 1990 final) and two Southern league championships saw Taylor sought after by his former club Southend. Taylor took the reigns at Roots Hall in 1993 and would last just sixty six games. He suffered that unfortunate turn of fortunes, going from fans favourite for his exploits on the pitch to hate figure for his fortunes off it. For further examples see Souness, Graeme and Gunn, Bryan. Taylor’s Southend tenure was described in the clubs own history records as “disastrous” and he was soon on his way back to the non-league with Dover Athletic.

In what must have been a bizarre turn of events for the Southend fans, Taylor was only with the Kent club for two months, before being appointed as manager of the England U21’s as part of Glenn Hoddle’s new staff. It was the subsequent period with Englands “young lions” that for me, Taylor’s reputation and all future job offers were based on. He carved a persona as good man manager who the players liked and had a decent record, losing just twice in nineteen competitive games during his time at the helm. The likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey were brought into the setup by Taylor, and became four of the eleven to make the step up to the full squad under his guidance. Actually his replacement by Howard Wilkinson in June 1999 was controversial at best, and for seemingly no reason other than moving Hoddle’s men out.

In what was now becoming a commonplace feature of Taylor’s managerial career he yo-yo’d all the way down to the second division with Gillingham, proving his England U21 succeses were no fluke, taking the Gills to playoff glory at the first attempt. Leicester City, hot from several years of success under Martin O’Neill, including a League Cup win and european football decided to appoint Taylor in 2000. For many people this is where he got found out. He started well, but soon the performances tailed off. Dressing room unrest amongst senior players Steve Walsh and Tony Cottee coupled with a poor start to the 2001/02 season and gaining a reputation with the Filbert Street faithful for poor transfer dealings (Taylor spent £23 million in his time at Leicester, including £5 million for Ade Akinbiyi, £3 million for James Scowcroft and £1.5 million for Trevor Benjamin) saw Taylor sacked and destined never to manage in the top flight again (to date).

During his spell at Leicester, Taylor did however have perhaps his finest hour. After the resignation of Kevin Keegan as England manager in October 2000, the FA needed someone to take the reigns for a friendly against Italy in Turin. Taylor didn’t mess around and decided to use his opportunity to put his own stamp on proceedings, turning to many of his U21 stalwarts, Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry, Jamie Carragher, Seth Johnson, Emile Heskey and Keiron Dyer. He also handed David Beckham the England captaincy for the first time. England lost the tie 1-0, but it would be the start of a long international career for many of those players and notably a renaissance for the newly crowned skipper.

For keeps....

Taylor, wounded from his experiences at Leicester, but also strangely bouyed by his chance with the national team, ended up on the South Coast with Brighton & Hove Albion. Here he proved again, that getting a club promoted from one of the lower divisions was not difficult for him, as he guided the Seagulls to top spot in the second division. This may have been the start of something special for Taylor, but he left at the end of the season, claiming “lack of financial resources” as his reason. He was soon back in football though, back in the basement division with Hull City. An attractive prospect for Taylor, soon to be moving into their new stadium and serious financial backing meant he could soon work his promotion magic, getting the Tigers from Division three to Division one in three seasons.

During his time at the KC stadium, the FA came calling again, and Taylor took on the U21’s as a part time role. It didn’t go quite as well in his second spell, though competitively results were good. James Milner was the young star, as England again came close in the European championships. Taylor’s achievements at Hull had been noted by his former club Crystal Palace and they took him on to lead them to promotion from the Championship and around the same time, Sven Goran Eriksson left his role as England manager. Taylor confirmed in an interview with the Independent that he had been interviewed for the vacant position and life must have seemed pretty rosy. Unfortunately for him, he did not get the job, and the shake up meant he was relieved of his duties with the young lions too. If that wasn’t a bad enough chain of events, form at Palace dipped dramatically and with the possibility of relegation a very real one, Taylor was sacked.

Unsuccessful spells at conference side Stevenage Borough and League Two Bradford City sandwiched another lower league promotion with Wycombe Wanderers.

So is Taylor the worst manager England never had? Despite being the one of the most qualified coaches in the country, his managerial record is up and down. Somewhat of an expert at getting sides promoted from the lower divisions, quite what the FA saw in him as a top level manager is beyond me. A man manager? His 96-99 U21 side would say yes, his 2000 Leicester side would beg to differ. A tactician? Supporters of his lower league promotion sides would say so, those of his higher level clubs would not.

Luckily for us, the FA chose not to employ the Englishman with no great success record behind him, and opted for Steve McClaren, and we all know how that turned out….

Swings & Roundabouts?

Chris

Saints in our lives…

When you talk about contentious issues, the best or worst eleven players for any club is probably number one. I was recently asked to write an article on my best Saints Premier League eleven for Shoot magazine and after a fair amount of wrestling and changes I settled on a team. I was lucky in one respect, I only had a window of fifteen years to toy with. My Saints experience started in the Premier League and I am guilty of vainly believing it would always reside there.

Actually after careful consideration, my best Saints Premier League eleven, is my best eleven full stop. It is drawn from a period where we competed with the best, and it is no coincidence that many of those selected made up our 2002/03 side.

The compiling of that team got me thinking, how difficult must it be to pick a side with a much bigger window of players to choose from? My colleague Dan and I couldn’t agree and our time watching Saints is of the same period.

I also thought about my worst eleven. Sadly, as a Saints fan this is much more difficult a prospect. Even in the twenty years of my support, we have been inundated with, for want of a better word. Crap.

So when in need of sensible opinion, broad knowledge and perhaps even an entertaining turn of phrase, I turned to the only resource where all three are commonplace. Twitter. I sought out the best and worst elevens of someone in their 50’s, 40’s and 20’s (Dan and I cover the 30’s), and I got some pretty entertaining responses. No doubt you won’t all agree with them, and as a collective we welcome comment. Opinion makes football what it is.

The rules were simple. You must have seen a player in the flesh to select them and state when you first started attending matches, and that was pretty much it! Everyone has taken their own approach, some have picked best individuals, others have tried to pick the best to fit a system or compliment each other.

My Best and Worst Saints XI by Chris O’Bee age 55

Twitter:- @cobee33

“I started following Saints at the start of the 1965/66 season. Remembering my 1st game is simply impossible! However, one of my very early games was the 9-3 drubbing of Wolves which did come early in 1965/66.  I have always remembered it was 2-2 after about 5 minutes and that remarkably after we scored on the hour to make it 9-3 there were no more goals. Chivers scored 4, Paine 2, Sydenham 2 and George O’Brien also scored. I think that game probably meant I was hooked for life!”

Best:-

Peter Shilton – “Genuine world class. Only Niemi comes close.”

Ivan Golac –  “The first overseas signing we made I believe. The best attacking full back I have seen.”

Steve Mills –  “Class personified, career sadly cut short or I believe he would have played for England.”

Mark Wright  – “Took a little while to settle at the Dell, even played at right back. But developed into a top central defender.”

Dave Watson –  “Already a seasoned International when he signed, another great Lawrie Mac signing and just ahead of some other top quality centre halves.”

Matthew Le Tissier  – “Don’t need to say much, the most skilful player I have seen for us, legend is the right word.”

Alan Ball   – “Another player who doesn’t require many words. A true legend of the game, vital in our 1977/78 promotion- another LM master stroke and simply world class.”

Steve Williams  – “Oozed quality and formed in Division 2 a partnership with Bally that was exceptional. 1st saw him v Pompey in 1976 on his debut, looked class even then.”

David Armstrong  – “Great left sided midfield player who scored a lot of vital goals, in many ways the front 2 are determined by his inclusion ahead of the wing wizard John Sydenham.”

Mick Channon  – “Impossible to omit, our leading goalscorer ever, genuine nice guy and of course part of our FA Cup success in 1976. Another who deserves the term legend.”

Marian Pahars  – “This was the most difficult decision but Marian is included as I feel he would have combined well with Channon. Keegan was not here long enough I don’t feel, Ron Davies is a super, super sub who could be introduced along with Sydenham and Terry Paine if needs be. Cannot believe strikers like Moran, Boyer and Osgood don’t even make the bench!”

Subs : Antti  Niemi, Mark Dennis, Ron Davies, Kevin Keegan, Terry Paine, John Sydenham, Michael Svennson

Worst:-

(gwc – There was a refusal at this point by Chris to justify his selections in this team. They were simply that bad.)

Phil Kite

Lee Todd

Jon Gittens

Bill Beaney

Barry Venison

Mark Draper

Lew Chatterley

John Crabbe

Kevin Dawtry

Ali Dia

David Speedie

Subs : Sandy Davie,  Mark Walters, Tommy Widdrington, Oshor Williams, Tony Pulis

(gwc – No idea who Beaney, Crabbe and Dawtry are? Me either!)

Shilts. Saints top keeper?

My Best and Worst Saints XI by Andy Grace age 49

Twitter:- @wurzel62 Website:- Wurzel’s Web

“1968 (I think) Went to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang . Never got in (cinemas had queues and sell outs in those days) Dad took me to see Saints v Coventry instead. Overriding memory – pitch was green, crowd was in colour (had only seen football on b&w tv before that) 0-0 draw (again, I think), at least I don’t remember a goal, or anything else exciting come to that, but I was hooked.

Best:-

GK Peter Shilton – “Didn’t have to do a lot, he was so dominant the defence was scared to make a mistake. When they did he was like another one man defensive line all on his own. Still England’s record cap holder (125) should have been much higher but for a job-share arrangement with Ray Clemence. Booze, birds but still simply the best. Crap on Strictly Come Dancing.”

RB Ivan Golac – “First of the modern day foreign imports after we finally got round work permit problems, and possibly still the best value for money foreigner to this day. Took no prisoners in defence, and was even better going forwards . Scored a thunderbolt against WBA from at least 75 yards that their keeper never even saw. Used feigned lack of English to keep himself out of trouble with the ref, was the first foreigner to play in a Wembley final.”

CH Mark Wright – “A very good youngster who got better and better thanks to being paired with and learning from some experienced greats. Looked too frail to be a centre half but had great positional play and perfect timing. Reminiscent of Bobby Moore as, with head up, he would bring the ball out of defence and always look to pass, never hoof . Can still hear the sound his (frail looking) leg made as it snapped in the 86 semi final. Sadly ginger.”

LB Steve Mills – “England international in the making (he played for the Under 23s), it was clear we had unearthed a new star before his career was cruelly cut short after only 60 appearances first by injuries sustained in a car crash and then later developing (and sadly passing away from) leukaemia. Fast, tough tackling, intelligent passer and capable of a quick overlap and getting back again in no time. For younger fans imagine Wayne Bridge but twice as good. Maybe three times.”

LBRBCHRMLMCMRWLWCFS Nick Holmes – “I’d play him just in front of the CH behind the Midfield, put as the positional initials show he played virtually every position for Saints except keeper and never ever let us down. Never received the international recognition he deserved, possibly due to his beard. Seemed a quiet character on the pitch, he simply got on with his job and done it well, very well. It was often said that you only really noticed him if, through injury, he wasn’t there, and you’d be looking for the three players we seemed to be missing. For me this jack-of-all-trades-master-of-all would be the first on every team sheet.”

RW Terry Paine – “Still holds the record for most appearances for the club. Tirelessly hogging the touchline, one of, if not the best crosser of a ball I’ve ever seen. Played in the 66 World Cup squad but picked up an injury so never made the final. Unlike most modern wingers, not afraid to stick a boot, or elbow, in when needed, dropped back into a deeper midfield role as age and differing tactics caught up with him.”

CM Kevin Keegan –  “The signing that shocked the football world, it came as big a shock as if we signed Messi today. He didn’t stay long (a couple of seasons) but gave 110% every minute he was on the pitch. Total live-wire, his amazing enthusiasm rubbed off on other players who wouldn’t or couldn’t let their standards drop in his presence. He always struck me as a short player who was a giant on the pitch (the afro may have helped there) Scored the world’s best ever disallowed goal (search YouTube for it) not to mention the goal that took Saints to the top of the league – not our division, THE league. Hard to believe nowadays with not just Saints but football changing so much since then but yes, with him in our team we really were the best side in the country for a while.”

CM David Armstrong – “Just 3 England caps for a player that would walk into today’s national team, he was unfortunate to play in an era when our country had a dearth of mid-fielders. Fantastic box to box player, great at bringing others into the game, making goal after goal for our forwards whilst contributing better than 1 goal in every 4 games himself (a ratio many forwards would be proud of). Added bonus of his head dazzling the opposition under floodlights.”

LW Danny Wallace – “To be fair not a winger as such but was always prepared to hang out wide before bursting inside on a run and terrifying defenders who never knew if he would take the ball past them to their right, left or through their legs. Often utilised in Chris Nicols (unheard of nowadays) 4-2-4 formation he scored a MotD goal of the season with an overhead kick against Liverpool, which I missed, still the one and only time I’ve been for a pee during a game. Added advantage of being able to swap him for brothers Rodney or Ray if he gets tired and no-one will notice.”

CF Ron Davies –  “The best header of a ball. Ever. Anywhere. Any time. Benefited from the accuracy of Paine’s crosses but I’m sure he would still have got his head to most balls if it had been my Gran crossing them for him. He scored four headed goals away at Old Trafford. I don’t mean in his career I mean in ONE game and ended up as top scorer in the top division. He, like Ryan Giggs, had the footballing misfortune of being Welsh, depriving him of what would have been a well deserved place on the world stage.”

S Mike Channon –  “A striker capable of scoring from anywhere, whether playing through the middle or starting out on the wing* and cutting in. An England regular he played the game with a smile, not least as he “stumbled” over a defenders leg to gain yet another penalty. Scorer of the Greatest Goal Ever® (search YouTube for Greatest Goal Ever®) when against Liverpool he finished off a move consisting of over a thousand passes without them touching the ball before wheeling away giving his trademark windmill arm goal celebration. *Wing positions were often taken up in order to get the racing results , another advantage of the Dell crowds close proximity to the pitch.”

Sub: Matthew Le Tissier –  “Famed for his one club loyalty he has probably more individual talent than any of the above but in my opinion all of the above are better team players. Capable of scoring from virtually anywhere in the opponents half, lethal with free kicks and penalties, but starts on the bench as he was prone to disappear for long spells (sometimes as long as 90 minutes especially if it was cold and raining) Selection as sub possibly clouded by my love of being controversial but hey, this is MY team.”

Holmes. Held back by facial hair?

Worst:-

“I refuse to pick a worst XI. After all, good bad or indifferent, they are all Saints and therefore worthy of our support and respect.

Except for David Speedie &Kerry Dixon. They were s***e.”

Special mention for the partners in crime…

My Best and Worst Saints XI by Phil Reed age 42

Twitter:- @Philreed10

Best:-

Tim Flowers – “Best Keeper in England 91-96 unlucky not to get more caps ahead of “Spunky”Seaman. Consistently good for Saints his best performance ,possibly, being in the 92 ZDS Cup Final at Wembley when Saints should have been about 8 down at half time and would have been had it not been for Timmy.”

Ivan Golac – “Quality attacking Right Back who was mysteriously binned for “Oh No” Mick Mills.”

Mark Dennis – “A mental tough tackling left back whose footballing ability would surely have gained England honours had he been the full ticket. Famously lamped by Chris Nicholl at half time and also offered to put all of us up after midweek away games when p****d at an IW supporters dinner.”

Steve Williams – “Classiest Central Midfielder I have witnessed in a Saints shirt. Was that important to the team that they hastily arranged a league game on the Monday before the 84 cup game against Pompey so he could serve a suspension.”

Mark Wright  – “Elegant Centre half and token Ginger in my team.”

Micheal Svensson – “Killer was all you wanted in a Centre half,committed, brave and crazy. Massive shame his career was curtailed by injury and it speaks volumes about the man’s character the way he kept trying to come back. Would have been the token Ginger had I not already had one.”

Matthew Le Tissier – “Most skillful footballer I have ever seen.Would have been the laziest had David McGoldrick not turned up some seasons ago. The man is a genius.”

Jimmy Case – “Hardest player I have seen play for Saints and never tried to make a career out of it like some others did (Terry Hurlock). Could also play a bit too and it was funny to watch him steam in every time we played Everton.”

Steve Moran – “Prolific homegrown scorer. Scored 89th minute winner at Fratton in 1984. Say no more.”

David Armstrong -“Put the ball in for the aforemetioned Moran goal. Cultured left foot and token baldy in my team.”

Danny Wallace – “Energetic skillful 3 foot 2 inch winger who was electric on the wing. Scored a magnificent overhead kick against Liverpool but I like to remember his second goal in that game when he out jumped that over critical sour faced Sweaty Hansen to head home at the far stick.”

Worst:-

Dave Beasant – “I haven’t seen many poor Keepers at Saints, Jones had his moments, but “Lurch” gets my vote for general dodginess and that howler when from the corner flag he side footed it straight to John Barnes who couldn’t believe his luck as he stroked the ball into an empty net just hard enough so hapless Dave sprawled into the net after it.”

Lloyd James – “Never saw him have a good game for Saints and at the end of his Saints career was a broken man who regularly passed the ball out of play.”

Olivier Bernard – “A Redknapp signing. Say no more. French, crap.”

Paul Wotton – “Professional footballer my arse. Defensive Midfielder with a complete inability to defend.”

Richard Dryden – “Struggled to get a game in the lower leagues with Bristol City so signed by Saints and played in the Premiership with sadly inevitable results. Remembered for being one of 3 Centre Halves in a defensive line up in a live game @ Newcastle when Saints were 4-0 down inside 15 mins”

Alan Bennett – “Quite simply the slowest and worst Centre Half in the history of the club. Endured the worst Saints debut (home to Palace) since the infamous George Weah’s cousin”

Jermaine Wright – “Inside his head he was a majestic skillful player who could pick a pass from anywhere. To the rest of us he was an overpaid waste of skin who ended up where he belonged playing for Croydon.”

Luis Boa Morte – “More wasted finances on a player who never did it for Saints. Makes my team for trying to beat a man in the 94th minute with Saints 3-2 up against Derby at The Dell. He lost it and no prizes for guessing what happened next. That error cost me a door to my front room after I deposited my right foot through it. And my children were scared of me for weeks afterwards.”

Paul Moody – “I was going to have Dowie in my team before I was reminded of Moody, a Dowie clone but even worse! Unbelievable but true.”

Craig Maskell – “Had 2 spells at Saints, how I don’t know.I can only imagine that he put on a disguise when signing for the second time. Remembered for scoring in the snowy 4-2 win against Liverpool but I defy anybody who remembers another goal scored by him.”

Perry Groves – “Ginger Gooner P**shead who came to Saints for an easy payday. Pulled his shorts up to ridiculous heights. Crap for Saints but his book is a good read.”

Doors everywhere beware….

My Best and Worst Saints XI by Chris Rann age 32

Twitter:- @crstig Website:- georgeweahscousin.com

“First went to the Dell in 1992. Saints v Arsenal. 2-0 home win. Ian Wright missed a penalty. The only way was up…Oh wait.”

Best:-

Antti Niemi – “Finland international Niemi, joined the club from Hearts in 2002 and soon established himself as one of the top keepers in the Premier League. Breathtaking shot stopping ability and an ice cool temperament, the flying Finn became a cult hero at St. Mary’s, even smashing a volley against the bar at Fulham.”

Wayne Bridge – “Local boy Bridge was a graduate of the famous Southampton academy, both a competent defender and potent attacker Bridge made his first team debut at 18 and never looked back. He made 151 appearances for Saints and soon broke into Sven Goran Errikkson’s England setup before a big money move to Chelsea.”

Jason Dodd – “Dodd played just shy of 400 games for Saints after signing from non-league Bath City in 1989, the ever dependable full back became part of the furniture in Southampton and is still part of the backroom staff.”

Dean Richards – “Big Deano joined Dave Jones Saints team in 1998 Wolves, the towering centre half was like a brick wall at the back and soon became a fans favourite, being voted as the supporters player of the year in his first season. Sadly passed away this year aged just 36.”

Michael Svensson – “Killer arrived in Southampton from French side Troyes for a fee of £800k in 2002. A fee that would turn out to be an absolute bargain, forming a formidable partnership with Claus Lundekvam (himself unlucky to not make this side) at the back. Svensson was so impressive in the cup final team of 2003 that he was linked with a move to Barcelona, before injury problems blighted his career.”

Chris Marsden – “Something of a journeyman, expectations from Saints fans were low when Marsden joined from Birmingham in 1999. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Marsden provided the engine for a successful Saints midfield, combative and creative, he went on to captain the 2003 cup final side and score a memorable Pele style goal at Ipswich.”

Matthew Le Tissier – “What more needs to be said? Le God as he is known on the South Coast wowed the Southampton faithful for 16 years, despite tempting offers from more glamourous clubs. Simply, the best we ever had. Majestic and mercurial, the man who could turn any game on it’s head in a matter of seconds.” 

Ronnie Ekelund – “An odd choice, based on his lack of games maybe, but the impact the Dane had in such a short time at the Dell was massive. A pre-season “gift” from then Barcelona boss Johan Cruyff to old friend Alan Ball in 1994, Ekelund formed an almost telepathic understanding with Le Tissier as Ball’s free flowing side scared many a defence.”

Hassan Kachloul – “Morrocan international Kachloul played 86 games for Saints between 1998 and 2001 after signing from FC Metz on a free transfer and was instrumental in Glenn Hoddle’s successful Saints side. A player that splits opinion among Saints fans, Kachloul was never short of a trick or turn.”

Marian Pahars – “The little Latvian took Saints to heart as much as the supporters did him. Another bargain signing at just £800k from Skonto Riga (where he is now manager), Pahars turned out 137 times for Saints between 1999 and 2006. His love for the club evident is his passionate celebration after a curled wonder strike against the blue few of Pompey, and his tear filled farewell lap of honour.”

James Beattie – “Saints fans may have been disappointed to lose striker Kevin Davies to Blackburn in 1998, but little did they know, that they were getting a much more potent striker as part of the deal. Beattie’s goalscoring exploits tended to come in fits and starts, but when he was hot, he was certainly hot. His partnership with Brett Ormerod, crucial in the 2003 cup run.”

Subs:- Claus Lundekvam, Francis Benali, Matthew Oakley, Carlton Palmer, Egil Ostenstad.

Worst:-

Dave Beasant – “I almost feel guilty, because he was clearly a character and nice bloke. Almost. Too many howlers.”

Olivier Barnard – “I was chuffed when we signed him, probably the biggest disappointment ever. Difficult to express how terrible he was, or indeed how little he cared as we limply dropped out of the top flight.”

Callum Davenport – “Somewhere out there, there is another bloke called Callum Davenport who is really good at football, but has somehow ended up doing a useless, clumsy, lanky blokes job”

Allan Bennett – “Irish international? Crazy. Terrible debut, and it didn’t get much better.”

Darren Kenton – “I literally can’t remember a single moment involving Kenton that wasn’t hapless”

Rory Delap – “Our record signing. We didn’t even utilise the long throw. A utility man. Equally bad in all positions.”

Mark Hughes – “Yeah, yeah, great for everyone else he played for. Poor for us. We were his career blip.”

Simon Gillett – “Couldn’t pass, tackle or shoot, and extremely lightweight. All the trappings of a terrible central midfielder.”

Neil McCann – “Nearly left him out because he attacked Lee Bowyer, but he simply wasn’t very good.”

Paul Moody – “Bloody Hell! Dowie is having shocker today. Wait a minute. That isn’t Dowie, it’s his slightly better looking, but even worse at football teammate”

Ali Dia – “How could I leave him out?”

Solid as a rock….

My Best and Worst Saints XI by Russell Masters age 20

Twitter:- @RussellSFC Website:- Northam Soul

“Started Supporting Saints in the late 90’s”

Best:-

Antti Niemi – “His legendary ability to somehow stop the most unreachable shots made him my first choice ‘keeper whenever I had to go in goal down the park.”

Gareth Bale – “I’ll always remember Bale’s attacking nature whilst playing at left-back for Saints, he was exciting and a hot prospect at the time. His set pieces weren’t too bad either.”

Claus Lundekvam – “Our Claus, in the middle of defence. Need I say more? Solid, long-serving defender, and a hero in my eyes.”

Michael Svensson – “Killer formed a cracking partnership at the back with Lundekvam which stopped some of the Premier League’s best attackers.”

Jason Dodd – “Seemed to be the only good Southampton right back whilst I was growing up, was always in the team and deservedly so.”

Chris Marsden – “Marsden is here purely for THAT goal versus Ipswich. Football genius.”

Matt Le Tissier – “Le God. 433 league appearances, 162 league goals. A Southampton legend, and I agree with Xavi when he said ‘for me, he was sensational’.”

Morgan Schneiderlin – “One of the best central midfielders I’ve seen, his composure and the way he plays is sublime. I was also there for his only Saints goal, away at Bristol Rovers.”

Adam Lallana – “Arguably our best current player, Lallana oozes talent, his skill on the ball is a class above and he is a joy to watch.”

Marian Pahars – “Probably one of my favourite players of all time, Pahars did the business on the highest stage, and his nickname of ‘Latvia’s Michael Owen’ is well deserved. He was fantastic.”

James Beattie – “He was sometimes hit and miss, but when he was hitting, he was top class.”

Worst:-

Tommy Forecast – “On the odd occasion I’ve seen him play, he has never, ever, impressed.” 

Lee Molyneux – “Did nothing aside from getting sent off after he joined, and has done nothing since leaving.”

Ollie Lancashire – “He tried, but just could not cut it in a Saints team where he looked increasingly out of his depth.”

Chris Makin – “Came to us at the end of his career and it showed.”

Lloyd James – “Like Lancashire, often looked out of his depth. Had a few good games, but was often poor.”

Luis Boa Morte – “The promising attacking midfielder pretty much flopped during his short spell at Saints.”

Ryan Smith – “He was supposed to be good, but wasn’t. Now plying his trade in the MLS.”

Nigel Quashie – “Four relegations with four different teams, including Saints.”

Leon Best – “Own goal and a missed penalty in a play off semi final is unforgivable.”

Ali Dia – “A couple of years before my time, but he has to be mentioned. Just awful. “

Agustin Delgado – “The £3.5m striker scored one goal in two starts over the course of three years. Then manager Gordon Strachan said there was a yoghurt in his fridge that was more important than Delgado.”

Lallana. Representing the new breed….

So there we have it, some recurring choices, but also some differences. Thankfully we didn’t have any players feature for a Best and Worst teams, which would have been embarrassing. I am sure some of you will be astounded at players that haven’t made best elevens, and some that have made the worst. Feel free to add your selections in the comments section. No opinion is wrong!

Chris.

The Odd Couple…

I love watching the MLS. The American pro “soccer” league is blossoming. A renaissance that started with the signing of David Beckham and continues to build with a somewhat rare mix. It is a league that gives opportunity to those who may be struggling in the more established professional leagues while at the same time attracts big name stars at the end of their careers.

This can lead to some interesting and somewhat unlikely team lineups. I was first fascinated by the LA Galaxy elevens containing both Beckham and former English lower league winger Chris Birchall, but this season the New York Red Bulls have produced an even unlikelier pairing.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau were the original odd couple, where the differing lifestyles of two friends are at constant loggerheads. In footballing terms, the contrasting lifestyles of the Red Bulls forward line is as drastic.

Thierry Henry is football royalty. The Frenchman is as popular a man as he is revered as a player, highly decorated and having played for some of the worlds biggest clubs, he can boast Lionel Messi as a former teammate and is a World Cup winner.

Luke Rodgers is football proletariat. The Englishman has earned a reputation as a troublemaker and a bad boy while plying his trade in the lower echelons of the English professional game. He can boast the likes of Lee Hughes as a former teammate and is a League Two winner.

There is a saying when something extraordinary happens Stateside “Only in America”, and only in the MLS could these two form a successful partnership.

Rodgers & Henry. Firing the Red Bulls to the top...

Henry’s career began in Monaco and the glamourous setting of the French Riviera in 1994. By 1997, it was already clear that his future lay away from Ligue 1, having already secured a league title and a French Young Footballer of the Year award. By January 1999, Henry was a World Cup winner with his country and a £10 million man, on his way to the Stadio Delle Alpi and Italy’s “Old Lady” Juventus. The summer before, Luke Rodgers was starting his career, with Shrewsbury Town in the English Third Division. His spell at the Shrews was successful on a personal front, goals coming with relative ease, but as a club the Gay Meadow side dropped into the conference and non-league football.

It wasn’t all rosy for Henry either. His spell in Italy lasted just seven months, unsuited to the Italian style of play he made an £11 million move to Arsenal and the English Premier League that summer. Henry’s eight seasons for the Gunners are well documented. Premier League titles and FA Cups were joined by unbeaten seasons and being named the PFA player of the year. Twice. Not to mention a European Championship title with his country. In the same time, Rodgers had a achieved a Conference play-off win and a move to League One with Crewe Alexandra.

In the summer of 2007, with heavy heart, Thierry left Arsenal and headed for the Nou Camp in a £20 million deal, in the previous January Port Vale had splashed out £30k for Rodgers services. Henry added the Champions League to his collection of honours in 2009, surrounded by two La Liga titles. While he celebrated the the second of those titles, Rodgers was celebrating his only career trophy, having won League Two with Notts County(the only club where the two shared a former teammate in Sol Campbell, all be it for only one game).

Henry headed to the MLS in July 2010, and was joined by Rodgers in January of this year, their careers couldn’t be more different, but actually in the land of opportunity, Rodgers is taking his. The pair have struck up a potent partnership, and the New York Red Bulls are currently top of the Eastern Conference. Rodgers career may not be glamourous, but he has always been a goalscorer, and one that gives the teams he plays for a good return. He already has five this term for the Red Bull arena side and several assists for his more cultured partner. Henry has seven himself and the New York side look like they will be certain play-off challengers with the combination of the traditional aggressive striker in Rodgers and the tricky ball player up front.

This doesn’t happen anywhere else, perhaps the AFL to a lesser extent, but just think what we could see from the MLS in years to come? Messi &  Dean Bowditch? Long may it continue.

Chris.

Silly season, only likely to get sillier…

The close season is boring. If there is no tournament that we can watch England showcase their spectacular level of mediocrity in, we have to rely on the snippets of transfer rumour for our summer injection of this football drug

Often referred to as silly season, mainly because the papers try and fill their sports pages with outrageous “done deals” and “likely to be finalised this week” stories, Manchester City having replaced Chelsea as the team that will be linked with every footballer that has kicked a ball with any degree of success last season.

High profile players will be linked with other clubs, they have no intention of moving too, engineered by their representative to get them a better deal at their current club(the Gerrard/Terry/Rooney model.)

It has always been like this. But it is getting worse.

Not just because of the stupid levels of money being spent on transfer fees and wages, but now because of technology too. Now we have Twitter. The rise in the usage of Twitter by professional footballers has seen the summer transfer rumour mill take a whole new direction. Gone are the days where I had to rely on Ceefax page 312 for a roundup of the days transfer stories(and I did check this every day, every summer), the frustrating wait as the pages changed, hoping that something was happening at Saints.

Contrary to Newsbiscuit's report the Isle of Wight did have Ceefax prior to 2009...

Now the fans can directly interact with the players on Twitter, and this should be openly encouraged in my opinion. You often hear people moan about the young millionaires who have lost touch with the fans, and Twitter is a brilliant way of them getting it back. The power of this interaction though increases the level of speculation, every club has fans who are “in the know” usually to be found on forums fuelling everybody’s desperate need for news, but now they are on Twitter too. An “in the know” fan of my club suggested earlier this week that we were in talks with Rohan Ricketts, a high twitter user. Rickett’s is clearly a clever cookie and  very good at interacting with people, so when on receipt of this rumour he had Saints fans asking him if it were true, he, rather obtusely replied with “I can’t say at the moment”.

We have also been linked by several papers with Jack Cork(as are several others). A player who had a successful loan spell with us last time we were in the Championship, Cork is also a “tweeter”. Cork has taken a differing approach to the questions now coming at him thick and fast, opting for a dignified silence. In my cynical opinion, this is probably because Cork does have offers on the table, whereas Ricketts is actively looking.

We can also look forward to the “such and such spotted in wherever” rumours, my personal favourites. The amount of managers and players that have been spotted at the De Vere hotel in Southampton would be enough to form a breakaway league.

The problem with transfer rumours is, that no matter how ridiculous, and no matter how sure you are that they aren’t true, you can’t help letting yourselves be taken in by them.

I don’t mind admitting that I have been taken in a couple of times. I knew how unlikely they were, but the majesty of them just made me hope. Firstly circa 1994, and the rumour was rife that Gary Lineker was to make a triumphant return to English football from Grampus Eight and lead Saints forward line. The “hope” involved in believing this one was fuelled by the previous season, having had to put up with the ridiculously bad Kerry Dixon and David Speedie, the thought of an English goalscoring legend coming to rescue us from our crap striker abyss was too much to ignore. Lineker was spotted in Ted’s fish and chip shop by the Dell and everything…..

Secondly, summer of 2001. Saints in their new stadium, and seemingly on the up, what better than a flagship signing? But German international superstar Oliver Bierhoff? Surely not. Correct. Not. We did sign an international goalscorer though. Agustin Delgado, so all’s well that ends well. Oh wait….

Bierhoff reacts badly to the news his move to Southampton has broken down...

So we can all look forward to another summer of speculation and hearsay. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are taken it by any involving your club. Football is all about hopes and dreams. And sometimes nightmares.

Chris

p.s. I have it on very good authority that Michael Owen will definitely not be signing for Southampton.

Isle of Wight Squad Named….

Manager Andy Sampson has named his squad for the 2011 Natwest Island Games Football Tournament.

A useful mix of youth and experience covering every position should provide a decent platform for the team to use home advantage as an assault on the medal positions.

While the majority of the squad is Island based, with several players coming from the successful Wessex League Premier campaigns of Brading Town and Newport, it is also bolstered with Islanders plying their trade with mainland teams.

Sampson will be looking to the experience of former pro Aaron Cook, now playing for Southern League Gosport Borough to lead the side. Former Portsmouth and Southampton Academy members Ryan Woodford and Tom Dunford respectively are also named, as is Thatcham Town’s Matt Bowler.

Aaron Cook

The potent Brading forward line of Giancovich, Levrier and Jones will renew acquaintances for the representative side as will the impressive Newport midfield duo of Seabrook and Smeeton.

Squad in Full:-

Goalkeepers:- Gary Streeter (Newport IW), Jamie Bray (Blackfield & Langley)

Defenders:- Matt  Bowler (Thatcham Town), Aiden Bryan (Cowes Sports), Aaron Cook (Gosport Borough), Ollie Fleming (Brading Town), Alex Przespolewski (Brading Town), Scott Sampson (Newport IW/Royal Navy), Ryan Woodford (Havant & Waterlooville).  

Midfielders:- Tom Dunford (Winchester City), John McKie (Newport IW), Iain Seabrook (Newport IW), Tom Scovell (Newport IW), Charlie Smeeton (Newport IW), Myles Taylor (Cowes Sports), Jamie White (Brockenhurst).

Forwards:- Giancarlo Giancovich (Brading Town),  Danny Hatcher (Shanklin), Scott Jones (Brading Town), Kyle Levrier (Brading Town), Tom McInnes (Newport IW).

Tom Dunford in his Southampton days.

The Island side kick off their Island Games campaign against Ynys Mon on Sunday 26th June at St. Georges Park, Seven thirty kick off. For a full list of fixtures click here.

For full squad list and pen pics, see the IOWFA page:- IOW Squad

Chris

Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1988……

AFC Wimbledon and Luton Town travel up to Manchester today for a face off that sees the victors claim that most valuable of prizes. A place in the Football League.

The clash at Manchester City’s Eastlands stadium will see two great clubs try to get back to where they feel that they belong, as both have suffered differing but equally drastic circumstances that sees them fighting it out in the nether regions of English Football.

AFC Wimbledon is of course the Phoenix that rose from the ashes after the original Wimbledon made the controversial 2003 move to Milton Keynes, leaving their South London supporters distraught. It was their commitment and perseverance though that sees their new form on the brink of the League again.

1988. The "Crazy Gang" after conquering Liverpool.

Luton Town were relegated from the Football League in 2008/09 after receiving a thirty point penalty for financial irregularities, a punishment that most believed to be too harsh. They had already received a points deduction the season before and the new owners and long suffering supporters had to live with the repercussions of the previous regimes misdemeanors.

For the supporters of these clubs, 1988 must seem like a long time ago, but staggeringly on April 9th of that year, they met at White Hart Lane to contest the FA Cup Semi Final. 23 years ago, the fortunes of both were very different. Both sides were in the top flight, Luton had already won that season’s League Cup and would finish 9th, Wimbledon would go on to win one of the most famous upsets in FA cup final history and take 7th spot.

1988. The Hatters after downing Arsenal at Wembley.

For the neutral’s both clubs will find plenty of support, as both have had the sympathy of other fans over their years of decline, so whatever happens today, come Six o’clock, the football league will be welcoming back an old friend…

Good Luck to both AFC Wimbledon and Luton Town today!

Chris

Has it really been ten years?

Saturday 19th May 2001.

Approximately forty three minutes past four.

Paul Jones’ long free kick towards the Milton Road end dropped at the edge of  the Arsenal box, James Beattie won the ball in the air, knocking it down for substitute Matthew Le Tissier. Le Tisser took a touch, turned and smashed a thunderous half volley into the top corner, Alex Manninger dived in vain but the proverbial script had long been written and the Austrian was only in the supporting cast.

That was the last official goal at The Dell. It could only be Le Tissier that scored it, it could only be spectacular.

Le Tissier sends the old girl off....

Uwe Rosler scored the last actual goal seven days later in a special friendly against Brighton, but it is the Le Tissier goal that everyone still talks about. It hardly seems real that it was ten years ago. St. Mary’s still feels new to me, but actually, it has been our home for more than half my time as a Saint.

There really was something magical about The Dell, it might sound like a cliche, perhaps it is, but for all it’s flaws(and it had many), The Dell was special, and it was ours. For many years it embodied everything that typified Southampton, the plucky little club punching above it’s weight rubbing shoulders with Old Trafford and Anfield. The years of Premier League survival were miraculous anyway, but with a capacity of just over fifteen thousand, how Saints competed and sometimes bettered the likes of Spurs, Everton and Chelsea was often baffling.

It is often said that stadia have character, and The Dell was certainly not lacking in that department. From the odd shaped “chocolate box” two tiered terrace at the Milton Road, to it’s 1993 Right angled triangle all seater replacement. In the front row of the East Stand where I had my Season Ticket(£96, how is that for some football nostalgia?) you were so close to the players you could clearly hear their conversations and interact with them.

This closeness gave the home team an edge, they were safe, the opposition were not, and famously hated it, David Beckham the most notable to audibly complain about playing there. It was a weapon in our arsenal, we used it and we did well there, the top teams often succumbing to the pressures of the close knit ground and finding themselves turned over. In the 1998/99 season Saints finished bottom of the “Away” league table with just ten points, but stayed in the Premier  League by five.

The club was lucky enough to move on to our nice big, new stadium in 2001, which is essential in the current financial competitiveness of modern football, but we should never forget where we came from.

So come the new season, when you are enjoying the concourse facilities, or the nice view from your seat, or browsing the megastore, or even not struggling to get a ticket. Spare a thought for The Dell, she wasn’t pretty but she served us well.

The Dell. 1898 - 2001.

Chris