Top of the table Saints head to West Yorkshire on Saturday to take on Leeds United in front of the cameras, and not only will there likely be a former Saints player on the Elland Road’s sides bench, but also a Saints fan….
The German born, Northen Ireland international goalkeeper Taylor started his semi-professional footballing career while still serving in the British Army. Stationed in Hampshire he represented Petersfield and Basingstoke Town’s respectively before joining Farnborough Town where he was part of the team that won the Southern League Premier Division in 1994.
It was while playing for the now defunct club that he was spotted by League Two Barnet and was given his first professional contract. His performances at Underhill soon meant he was destined for greater things, and just a season and a half later he was heading back to Hampshire and the Premier League.
Graeme Souness was the man who took the gamble on the lower league keeper, signing him in the January of 1997 for a fee of £500k. He replaced the ageing Dave Beasant and soon had the fans on his side with some impressive shot stopping, representing the club he had supported as a child. Saints fans finally felt like they had their replacement for Tim Flowers, albeit somewhat late.
Sadly for Taylor, Souness was to leave in the summer, and despite Taylor’s proficient displays the Scotsman’s replacement Dave Jones bought his namesake and number one from Stockport County with him.
Paul Jones was immediately installed as first choice and Taylor had to make do with a place on the bench, a victim of a rare season in Saints history where they had two good stoppers in one season! Taylor headed for Kevin Keegan’s Fulham on 17th November 1997 for £800k, surprisingly dropping to the second division. After nearly 200 appearances for the Cottagers and two league titles he moved on to Birmingham City. He also established himself as the first choice goalkeeper for Northen Ireland gaining 88 caps between 1999 and 2011.
He signed for Leeds United in Novemeber 2011 and recently had his contract extended to the end of the season, now aged 40.
Saints welcome Steve McClaren and his Nottingham Forest side to St. Mary’s this Saturday and will be looking to bounce back from their defeat to Leicester City. It hasn’t been the best of starts for the former England manager at the City Ground, with rumours of unrest on his part after not being able to bring the players he wanted in during the transfer window. Results haven’t gone well either, with just one league victory so far against struggling Doncaster Rovers.
McClaren has gone on record as saying he thinks his squad is in need of a major overhaul, but on paper it still looks strong to me, and what he does have at his disposal are three ex-Saints…
Keeper Smith joined Saints in the 2004 January transfer window. Coming armed with a growing reputation as a top young performer between the sticks at Brentford he was initially understudy to Antti Niemi. Due to injuries to the first choice Finn, he did end up making nine appearances for the first team including five starts in the Premier League, albeit in the ill fated run in to relegation.
Smith looked impressive in his forays into first team action leading Saints fans to believe they had a ready made replacement for Niemi who was increasingly likely to leave after demotion to the Championship. This is exactly what did happen in January 2006, and Smith had the chance to make the number one spot his own, unfortunately his confidence seemed to have deserted him and George Burley turned to new boy Bartosz Bialkowski and veteran free transfer Kevin Miller to take his place.
Smith was sold to League One Forest the following July.
“A real ‘hero to zero’ time in a Forest shirt. Once a staple part of our starting eleven, his perceived lack of confidence got the crowd on his back and seemed to heighten the already awful defending prevalent at the time. Firmly on the bench under Lee Camp now, and I think he would benefit from a move away from the City Ground. An excellent keeper who has lost his way and confidence here. I still think he’s technically a better goalkeeper than Camp, but without the overbearing confidence (or arrogance?) our current number one exhibits. He’s been made a bit of a scapegoat and unfortunately the moron element in our fan base make it impossible for him to flourish for Forest again.”
Nottingham lad McGoldrick started his career in his hometown with Notts County, making his first team debut at just sixteen years old. His talent was soon spotted by Saints and he was signed in the summer of 2004. He was a key member of the Southampton youth team that reached the Youth Cup final in 2005 and his performances earned him a first team debut in the League Cup in September 2005. He went back to Notts County on loan before coming back and having a prolific scoring season for the Saints reserve and youth sides.
This sharp shooting didn’t go unnoticed and George Burley handed him his first league start in April 2006. In and out of the first team for the next couple of seasons, McGoldrick went out for two spells on loan at Port Vale and an impressive tenure at Bournemouth where he scored six goals in twelve games.
In 2008/09 McGoldrick finally nailed down a place as a first team regular under Jan Poortvliet and then Mark Wotte, featuring in all forty six league games as Saints limped out of the Championship. Despite twelve league goals for the club, McGoldrick could have given a whole lot more in my opinion, and in a season where Saints needed all hands to the pump McGoldrick often looked like he wasn’t really trying (with flashes of brilliance thrown in). With a distinct hint of “Big I am” attitude it was a certain case of mixed feelings when McGoldrick made his million pound move to Forest.
NFFC Blogger gives his thoughts on McGoldrick:-
“It’s quite apt that the original request to me overlooked McGoldrick. As we saw with Paul Smith, Forest fans (or sections of them) love nothing better than a whipping boy. David is our current one. He’s referred to in such disparaging terms as McGoalDrought or worse – and whilst I dislike any player being singled out for abuse, I do have a little sigh if I see him starting. Injury, squad rotation, a nigh on zero-creative midfield at times and now a managerial change have all contributed to curtail his development as a Forest player. Is he a striker? If so, the likes of Findley, Miller and Derbyshire seem more dangerous options – and of course Dex when he’s fit. Tudgay and Garner also probably have as much credit as David. If he wants to play attacking midfield then he’d need to oust McGugan or Majewski… basically, were it not for the hefty fee we paid for his services I think we’d be looking to offload.”
Of the three ex-Saints amongst the Forest ranks Blackstock is the most fondly remembered amongst the St. Mary’s faithful. Partly for his decent performances and workman like approach to the game, but mainly for two particular events in his time as a Saint.
Signed from the Oxford United youth setup in 2003, it was a baptism of fire for the eighteen year old in the 2004/2005 season as Saints struggling in the Premier League had a front line injury crisis. The young Blackstock rose to the challenge scoring his first three goals in a Carling cup game against Colchester. He then scored his first league goal at the best possible time, equalising in the South Coast derby at St. Mary’s, Saints going on to beat Pompey 2-1.
Harry Redknapp arrived and Blackstock found himself out in the cold, spending the second half of the season on loan at Plymouth Argyle. After relegation to the Championship Blackstock might have hoped for more playing time, but Redknapp had other ideas. Another loan spell at Derby County followed before Arry headed back to ‘his spiritual home’ with his tail between his legs, George Burley replaced him and immediately recalled Blackstock and used him in the first team. The highlight of Dexter’s final season as a Saint came in the cup at Newcastle. All three substitutes used up, Saints keeper Bartosz Bialkowski went down injured, only for Blackstock to step up to the role, eleven minutes unbeaten in the sticks and two pieces of Southampton folklore secured.
Blackstock was sold to QPR in August of 2006.
NFFC Blogger gives his view on Blackstock:-
“Signed on loan from QPR when we were battling relegation back to League One, scored a crucial winning goal in a 3-2 win against Bristol City and we’ve loved him ever since. Bought for a bargain fee as his face didn’t seem to fit at Loftus Road, and has carved out a role as a real grafter in leading the line for us, and had made strides to build a dangerous partnership with Robbie Earnshaw, who of course has returned to Cardiff. Speaking of the Bluebirds, it was there last season he was sidelined when Cardiff City’s Olofinjana raked his studs down his shin whilst he was turning – ultimately leading to a cruciate injury that sees him still recovering. Needless to say no action was taken against the Cardiff midfielder. In the meantime we have signed a considerable amount of competition to our rank of strikers so he will need to work hard to get back into first team contention – which I’m sure he will, and Forest fans will be thrilled to see him take to the field again.”
“Football is a fertility festival. Eleven sperm trying to get into the egg. I feel sorry for the goalkeeper.” – Bjork
At Saints we have been pretty fortunate in goalkeeping terms, Peter Shilton was one of the top keepers in world football whilst playing at the Dell, Tim Flowers was often the hero during numerous Premier League relegation battles, Antti Niemi pulled off what looked like the impossible at times and Kelvin Davis continues to perform as the current number one.
But who is the top dog in the eyes of Saints fans?
Admittedly their is small amount of biased in the four I have chosen, based on the period I have been a Saints fan, so this is by no means an official decision, but as is the modern way, I thought the best way to decide this was to ask twitter.
I got a good response from the regular #saintsfc tweeters, including some suggestions that weren’t in my choice of four and I collated the answers. From fifty seven votes this was the final result:-
A victory for the ‘Flying Finn’ and my own choice. Niemi seemed capable of stopping anything, and was a key member of the 2003 cup run. As suggested by some of the older voters perhaps the use of a Social Networking site to collect the votes hindered Shilts somewhat, but I didn’t have the time to organise a postal vote, and as it happened it did end relatively closely.
Eleven per cent of the votes went to others, and some of the suggestions were an eye opener for me, Peter Wells was a popular choice with the over forties, Ivan Katalanic, Eric Martin and Paul Jones got a mention as did Kevin Miller for his seven game unbeaten run as keeper in 2006. Unfortunately not one person voted for Dexter Blackstock for his ten minute cameo against Newcastle in 2006.
So, in the eyes of the Saints tweeters, Antti Niemi is the true Southampton Number One. Do you agree? Should anyone else that played between the sticks have got a mention? Let me know.
Keep an eye out for more Twitter player votes in the near future!