Tag Archives: Premier League

Lundekvam or Svensson or Ostenstad or Ekelund?

“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.

The nominees:-

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.

The other category was a lot more popular than I had anticipated. Many finding it strange that Anders Svensson didn’t make the final four, other votes that came in were for Jo Tessem and Alexander ‘Jesus’ Ostlund, but none in the volume that would actually see them as one of the top four choices. There were even a couple of votes for Stig Johansen, but I am not sure how serious those people were taking it. Strangely neither Andreas Jakobsson (The Swedish Callum Davenport © Phil Reed) or Mickael Nilsson (The Swedish Lee Todd) registered a single vote…

So do you agree with the Twitter voters? Anyone else that didn’t get a mention at all? Let me know!

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Nottingham Forest

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…

Paul Smith

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.

Smith struggled for form at Saints.

Opposition’s view:-

Forest fan NFFCBlogger from the NFFC Blog give his thoughts on Smith:-

“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.”

David McGoldrick

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.

McGoldrick never quite lived up to his billing.

Opposition’s view:-

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.”

Dexter Blackstock

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.

Blackstock celebrates securing free drinks in Southampton for life.

Opposition’s view:-

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.”

Chris

The Difficult Second Podcast…

I was lucky enough to be asked back to be a guest on the It’s Round and It’s White podcast this week.

This time, Graham, Jamie and I discussed the start to the Premier League and Championship seasons (including Saints great start), the transfer window and Premier League legends.

Listen to me shamelessly advertise the availability of Jason Puncheon, celebrate the brilliance of Nigel Adkins and mention Gianfranco Zola’s massive face here

Zola. Premier League Legend. Massive Face.

Chris

Dedication’s what you need…..

…if you want to be a record breaker.

That is what Nigel Adkins is, on more than one occasion, and at a startlingly regular occurrence. Since taking the helm at Southampton, the history writers and record keepers have had their work cut out.

Currently on a run of ten consecutive league victories, dropping just four points from the last possible fifty seven, Saints under his leadership have won their first four league games for the first time in their football league history, and he simultaneously became the quickest Saints manager to reach one hundred points. He is currently on a 70% win ratio from his fifty games in charge, a staggeringly high number. So why when Adkins was appointed last year were Saints fans sceptical and underwhelmed?

Well, Adkins wasn’t and perhaps still isn’t a “name” and often us Saints fans can be guilty of thinking we are still a Premier League club who should be bringing in someone big, but also, Adkins footballing background lacks glamour, or for that matter much credentials. In terms of education, Adkins would seem well equipped, holding a degree in Sports Psychology from Salford University, but in football, rather ignorantly, bits of paper are often disregarded in favour of playing reputation.

Adkins, has a little known playing reputation. A goalkeeper for his local club Tranmere Rovers from 1983 to 1986 and then at Wigan Athletic until 1993, apart from a solitary season in the second division, he spent his entire football league career in the bottom two divisions. In 93, he moved on to Bangor City and the Welsh league, and was soon given the position of player/manager. Adkins led Bangor to two Welsh titles before changing tact in his career and pursuing his physiotherapy qualifications.

Adkins took the role of Physio at Scunthorpe United before eventually becoming their manager and the rest as they say is history. So why the scepticism from Saints fans, he has already proved it to be premature and won the Saints faithful round, but actually a look at some other managers should have taught us that football playing pedigree isn’t necessarily a key requirement to be a good manager.

A young Nigel Adkins heading for a bright managerial career. Picture courtesy of Tranmere Rovers Football Club.

In fact, we as Saints fans should feel pretty silly about our snobbery, as the manager who brought us the only major trophy in our history, Lawrie McMenemy had an even less remarkable playing career.

There is an argument that actually the top managers have come from the back of less successful playing careers. To be a good coach, you don’t need to have the the physical ability, but the ability to convey ideas, tactics and strategy. Whether you can play a ball to the right place at the right time, doesn’t mean you can’t instruct someone who does have that skill to do so. Some fantastic players have also had disastrous managerial stints, Bryan Robson, a great example. Of course there is no set rule to what makes a good manager and what doesn’t, but it is of course easier to get a head start in management after a high profile playing career, so for me it is, far more of an achievement for somebody that has to work their way up to be successful than someone who is handed a top job on a plate because of their playing days.

The most recent example of someone with big success in the coaching arena is Jose Mourinho, who along with the two other managers that have dominated the English Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, don’t have an international cap between them. The self titled “Special One” worked as an interpretor and backroom coach for years before bursting on to the scene with Porto.

Vanderlei Luxemburgo is widely regarded as the most successful coach in Brazilian football, and even found himself the manager of the national team, whom he led to Copa America triumph in 1999 and later as boss of Real Madrid, all this despite a non-eventful playing career.

Franz Beckenbaur and Mario Zagallo are in the minority amongst the World Cup winning managers, having also achieved such a feat as players. Take these two out of the World Cup winning alumni though, and the rest have less than one hundred international playing caps between them.

So why do some of the less successful players make such good coaches? Perhaps it is an added drive to succeed after not reaching the heights they might have liked in their playing days. There is definitely a case, that someone who has done everything they could as a player may have less hunger when that career ends, but like I said earlier, there is no set rule. Some players, successful or otherwise, just become students of the game, while others, no matter how well they can play it, don’t.

In Nigel Adkins, we very much have someone who became a student of the game, and now it is paying dividends, perhaps the next time we look to appoint a less glamourous named manager we will think twice before doubting them…

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Leicester City…

Saints head to the King Power Stadium this Saturday to take on high spending Sven Goran Eriksson’s Leicester City.

The former England manager has made nice use of the summer transfer window, bringing a virtually whole new team in, a clear statement of intent from the Swede, that promotion is the Foxes only goal this season.

Amongst the plethora of talent that Eriksson has assembled, two former Saints with differing fortunes on the South Coast could be in line to face their old club.

Matthew Oakley

A product of the Southampton Academy, Oakley is fondly remembered at St. Mary’s. The central midfielder made his debut for the Saints aged just eighteen in 1995 and went on to play over three hundred times for the club.

In his career highlight, Oakley was named in Gordon Strachan’s starting lineup for the 2003 FA Cup final, somewhere we might never have been had it not been for his Extra Time winner at the Den in a Fifth Round Replay. During this period of his career he was also touted for an England chance by many (of course it was Sven who didn’t pick him).

Having established himself over the years as a first choice and dependable midfielder, comfortable at playing the holding role as well as getting forward and creating attacks, it is no surprise to me that Southampton’s Premier League demise coincided with long term injury woes for Oakley, he played just seven times in the 2004/05 relegation season.

Oakley’s twelve year service at the club ended in 2006 after he rejected a new contract before signing for Derby County. It has always been a mystery to me why Oakley was never granted a testimonial with the club, although, it was rumoured that he was to have one in the 2006/07 season had he not moved on.

Oakley went on to captain the Rams in their promotion season, before heading off to Leicester City in January 2008, exchanging a Premier League relegation battle for a Championship one. The Foxes lost that battle, dropping to League One amongst the final day drama that saw Saints survive.

Oakley was named captain for the following season as Leicester romped their way to the League One title and remained a regular in the side during last season’s campaign. Whether or not he can fight off Sven’s new guard and retain it this season remains to be seen…

Oakley - a true Saint.

Opposition’s View:-

Leicester City fan Mike McCarthy from Foxblogger gives his thoughts on Oakley:-

“Some Leicester fans have just never got on with Matt Oakley. He’s never been the most exciting player but on his day he can still pull the strings in midfield (although one Guardian reporter’s description of him as ‘the Xavi of the Championship’ was perhaps overdoing it).

Oakley’s first team appearances have been limited to the Carling Cup so far this season, and with the wealth of midfield talent in the Leicester ranks it’s difficult to see how the former Saint will be able to force his way back into Sven’s plans. With one year remaining on his contract, we can expect Matt to be looking for another club next summer.”

Matt Mills

In contrast to Matt Oakley’s Saints career his namesake Mills spent very little time on the South Coast. Another product of the Academy, centre half Mills showed massive potential in loan spells at Coventry City and Bournemouth, and also in the few Championship appearances he made for the club. On the verge of establishing himself in the Saints first team, Mills’ head was turned by Manchester City in January 2006, former Saints boss Steve Wigley, alerting his new club to the young defender.

Having played for the Southampton first team just six times, the youngster headed off to Eastlands and the Premier League. Mills found first team appearances hard to come by with City though, and had to settle for loan spells at Colchester United and Doncaster Rovers (ironically dropping to a level below Saints) to get games. He eventually joined the Yorkshire club permanently in 2008 after securing promotion to the Championship.

He was to spend just one more season with Rovers though, before signing for Reading in the summer of 2009. This is where Mills really started to catch the eye, establishing himself as a solid central defender, and playing a major role in the Royals campaign last season that saw them reach the playoff final.

Sven was impressed enough with Mills to part with £5.5 million for him this summer.

Matt Mills showing his potential at Saints.

Opposition’s View:-

Mike gives us his thoughts on Mills:-

“It’s fair to say the jury is still out on Matt Mills. The huge fee Leicester payed Reading for the centre-half was beginning to look like an albatross around his neck. An (unfortunate) own goal against Rotherham in the League Cup and a poor performance against his former employers led Sven to drop his new captain to the bench after just two league games. A more assured display at Nottingham Forest, coupled with much less erratic distribution has calmed some fans nerves and hopefully Mills’ own.

Mills is part of a back five in which only Sol Bamba has survived the summer unscathed, so uncertainty at this stage of the season is understandable. Eventually Mills will need to take command and cajole his new colleagues into keeping more clean sheets, something Leicester have only managed against a toothless Coventry City so far. But if results don’t improve in the medium term expect a few reactionaries to point to his price tag and wonder why the defence isn’t producing the goods.”

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

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

Le Tiss, not in the coaching biz….

Southampton football genius turned Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday telly pundit Matt Le Tissier admits that he’d rather talk nonsense than be a manager!

Being a Sky Sports pundit looks like a giggle…

“It’s brilliant. How can you not enjoy watching football matches with your mates? Jeff Stelling has a great sense of humour and I get on famously with Thommo [Phil Thompson], Charlie [Nicholas] and all the lads.”

There’s a fair bit of mickey-taking…

“And therein lies the fun! We usually meet up on a Friday night in the hotel, get drunk and talk all sorts of nonsense. Then we just carry that over to the show on a Saturday afternoon.”

Ever said anything on air you later regretted then?

“I did say that the referee was c**p once and producer said in my headphones: ‘I think the word you were looking for was rubbish.’ (laughs). It’s all part of the fun though and we enjoy stitching each other up.”

Tell us more…

“We tease each other about our accents, especially the Scottish lads. Charlie Nicholas pronounced the Wigan goalkeeper [John] Filan as feeling and said once” ‘It’s a yellow for feeling.’ I said: ‘I thought you only got a yellow for pushing and shoving Charlie.’ It tickled me anyway!”

As an ex-player do you tread softly when someone has a nightmare?

“A player knows if he’s had a shocker so there’s no need to rub it in. I usually say he’s had a miserable game but I’m sure he’ll be better next week. Some pundits can cross the line and turn their assessment into a character assassination. I’ll always give an honest opinion so if anyone doesn’t like it – tough.”

Le Tissier in his prime.

Reckon you could be England manager then?

“Ha ha. I thought about management briefly when Harry Redknapp left Southampton but I didn’t have any coaching qualifications. You need all that stuff now but I find it a load of bull.

“I got three quarters of the way through level two coaching but it seemed pointless. It goes against everything I believe in – playing naturally and off the cuff.  A guy who had never played the game was showing me how to pass the ball ten yards with the outside of the boot – but I’d been doing that on the pitch for 20 years. I was pulling my hair out…”

Are you annoyed that players put cash before their club now?

“I don’t blame them for that. If a player is going to get offered twice his salary to move clubs of course he’s going to consider it. It’s just a reflection of society in general.”

What about Chelsea’s millions?

“Their wealth inflates the whole transfer market and it makes players get greedy. I can’t quite comprehend why you have to negotiate a contract at Chelsea. When there’s that much money involved why argue the toss over £90,000 and £100,000. Not being funny, but how much can you spend?”

Do you miss your playing days?

“I don’t miss training one bit, especially pre-season. I miss walking out to a full stadium at five to three on a Saturday afternoon and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up with excitement. I can cope without it though.”

With Gareth Bale following Theo Walcott, are Saints becoming a conveyor belt for potential England stars?

“I trained alongside Theo a couple of years ago and thought: ‘This lad can play’. He left Southampton too early though and lost his way by not playing competitively. Gareth may be a defender but can really influence attacks with his set-pieces and foraging runs. I think he’s got every attribute to be a world-class full-back and I’d be very surprised if he didn’t go right to the top of the tree.”

This interview first appeared in Shoot Magazine and appears with permission of the publishers. You can now catch Shoot on line at www.shoot.co.uk

Killer Instinct….

Everybody loves a trier, someone who simply won’t quit.

We have been blessed with a few of these over years at the Dell and St. Mary’s, and one that particularly stands out for me is Michael Svensson. I was shocked to see this week that the towering Swede is about to embark on a playing comeback, two and a half years since he last took to the field. This is remarkable anyway, but even more so, when you realise, it isn’t the first time Svensson has done it.

The powerful centre half arrived at St. Mary’s in the summer of 2002, a relative unknown quantity, from French side Troyes. “Killer”, as he was soon to be nicknamed took to the Premier League like the proverbial “duck to water” continuing a strong tradition of Scandinavian success in the English arena. Strong, uncompromising in the air, and fierce in the tackle Svensson became the scourge of many a striker as he played an integral part in Gordon Strachan’s successful 2003 side. Andy Cole was famously on the end of Svensson’s fierce intensity, in a 2-0 Southampton defeat of Blackburn Rovers in 2005. Svensson declaring to the assembled guests in the Mick Channon suite afterwards in true Scandinavian deadpan “Cole was annoying me throughout the game. So I hit him”.

Svensson became a cult hero with Saints, and the downturn in form of the club’s performances on the pitch coincided with his knee problems. Killer missed the entire 2004-05 relegation season, his replacements, the like of Andreas Jakobsson and Callum Davenport were never going to fill the gap. Svensson went on to play just a handful more games for Saints until the club, with heavy hearts released him in 2007, and seemingly a great career had been cut short……

Svensson - Still coming out fighting.

……in August 2008 Michael Svensson, aged 32 and having not been with a club for over a year, re-signed for Southampton and was installed as Captain. People were naturally sceptical, but “Killer” completed the full 90 minutes in the opening game of the 2008/09 season, some twenty-one months since his last competitive game. Sadly, it wasn’t to last, and he played just three more full games before joining Mark Wotte’s backroom team, and surely now this was the end of Svensson’s playing career.

But. Perhaps not. Svensson headed back to Sweden and former club Halmstads BK as assistant manager in 2009, having seemingly officially retired, but now he has his sights firmly set on leaving the technical area and getting back amongst it again.

I doubt there is a Saints fan around that won’t be hoping this latest attempt at a return goes to plan for Killer, I for one will be looking out for Halmstads team lineups from now on. Just one glimpse of the red haired man with the ice cold stare doing what he does best and scathing down(ball first) an onrushing attacker could get the blood pumping and the crowd going. What would we give for a “Killer” now?

Chris