Tag Archives: Saints

A Saint Amongst Them: Middlesbrough

Saints will be looking to make it eighteen straight home victories on Saturday when fellow high fliers Middlesbrough visit St. Mary’s.

Boro have looked an impressive outfit under returning local Tony Mowbray, playing nice flowing football and conceding goals has become a rare occurrence. Currently lying in third place, three points behind leaders Saints, the Teesside club have only lost once so far in the league, away at Nottingham Forest,

It is already looking like a key game, as both clubs will be hoping their good starts to the season will see them in the promotion shake up in May.

Amongst the visiting squad, will be one ex-Saint….

Scott McDonald

The Melbourne born forward started his career in his native Australia, playing for Gippsland Falcons and Cranbourne Comets before Saints snapped him up on a youth contract in 2000.

Despite some impressive performances at youth and reserve level, ‘Skippy’ struggled to force his way into the first team setup at the Dell. Battling with the likes of James Beattie, Kevin Davies, Brett Ormerod, Marian Pahars and errr Agustin Delgado, McDonald had to go out on loan to get regular football. Spells with Huddersfield Town and then AFC Bournemouth followed but he didn’t impress new Saints boss Gordon Strachan enough to retain him and he was released in the summer of 2003.

The tenacious frontman only made three appearances for the first team, and although he looked lively he lacked the quality required to sustain a Premier League place.

After Saints, he was ironically signed for his beloved Celtic by Strachan via spells with Wimbledon and Motherwell, and it was Strachan again who brought him to the North East. The Australian international was in impressive goalscoring form for Boro towards the end of last season, but has only scored once so far in this campaign at Barnsley in August.

Scott McDonald - Wizard of Oz

I was lucky enough to catch up with Scott Gordon, a former teammate of McDonald’s in the Saints Academy setup. Here is what Scott had to say about his namesake:-

‘I played alongside the ‘wizard from Oz’ about 10/11 years ago. Well when he was there I did. Scott Mc was a talent even at 17 when he first came to Saints, so more often than not he was jetting around the world playing for Australia in various Youth International games and tournaments.

Our first game was away to Charlton on a pitch hidden behind the corner of the Valley Stadium. We lost 1-0 and it was slim pickings that day for Maccers. 

Scott was and still is a fantastic player. Small but strong as a bull, he could hold off the biggest of defenders. A great first touch and lightning fast feet got him a few kicks from me in training. But as always he got up and on with it. He was never one for crying at the ref or taking a tumble at the slightest push. 

Around our digs he liked to show off his strong Scottish roots by proudly wearing his Celtic shirt. And maybe it was just me, but every now and then I could hear a wee Scottish brogue through his Aussie accent.

We could all tell he was going to make it, and along with Brian Howard and Chris Baird he went on to ‘bigger and better things’ away from St Marys. 

Every time he comes on the tv I do make a point of saying “I used to play alongside him you know”.’

Middlesbrough fan David McNally gave me his thoughts on the Antipodean striker:-

‘Scott could be a game and season changing player for Boro. Last seasons top scorer has hit a frustrating patch in front of goal but is still an important and hard working member of the team. 

Scott arrived with a big goal scoring reputation from SPL giants Celtic fleeing Tony Mowbray’s revolution to reunite with Gordon Strachan. Both managers failed and as Boro’s season nose dived so did Scott’s chances of making Australia’s world cup squad. Mowbray returned to Boro to rescue his home town club from relegation. Many assumed the players Mowbray had let go from Celtic and then inherited at Boro would be moved on again with Scott a prime candidate. 

This was not the case and Mowbray breathed new life in to the team and notably Scott.

Mowbray paired the rejuvenated Marvin Emnes with Scott McDonald. The pairing sparked as Boro destroyed Hull 4-2 away. As Leroy Lita departed Boro fans stayed calm and trusted in the pairs ability and as the start to the season proved the trust was repaid. Scott’s hard work, first touch and link up play has led to goals and chances for team mates while taking his focus off of goal scoring. He has earned himself a recall to the Australian squad since Mowbray’s arrival.’

Chris

15 years ago today…

A lot was made of Manchester United’s 6-1 reverse to their arch rivals City at the weekend, and it was the first time the Premier League giants had conceded six goals in a game in fifteen years.

Fifteen years to this very day in fact.

Then Saints manager Graeme Souness had had an indifferent start to the 1996/97 season, but headed into the game on the back of two straight home wins against Middlesbrough and Sunderland. These were the only victories of the season so far though. Both had been impressive, Saints scoring four and three goals against their North East opponents respectively without reply. The new look attacking lineup of Eyal Berkovic, Le Tiss and Egil Ostenstad proving potent.

The visit of the champions was likely to be a different prospect. United themselves came to the Dell having lost their last league game 5-0 at St. James Park, though they did have a midweek victory over Swindon Town inbetween.

Many feared a backlash from United, and the thought of Beckham, Scholes, Cantona et al taking on the likes of Richard Dryden and Alan Neilsen at the back, not to mention unproven new boy Claus Lundekvam was not one for the feint hearted.

Souness made his selections with the attacking prowess of the champions in mind, Jason Dodd, Ulrich Van Gobbel and Simon Charlton, all recognised defenders joined the aforementioned trio in the starting lineup, Matthew Oakley and Berkovic played in the middle, with Le Tissier supporting Ostenstad up front.

Alex Ferguson also named an interesting side, with Cantona the only recognised out and out forward in his lineup.

Having witnessed the 3-1 victory the previous season, I don’t think for a second it crossed my mind that we could win again, let alone what was about to unfold.

It will truly go down as one of the defining moments of the Premier League, and certainly one of the best ever games.

Amongst the furore of the aftermath of the City result at the weekend, it is worth noting, that United went on to retain the title in 1996/97 and by a clear seven points. It also interesting that the only player who could have played in both games fifteen years apart, United talisman Ryan Giggs played in neither.

It wasn’t the first, or last time Saints were a thorn in Ferguson’s side, let’s hope there is more to come….

Southampton:- Beasant, Dodd, Neilson, Dryden, Lundekvam, Van Gobbel, Charlton, Berkovic, Oakley, Le Tissier, Ostenstad Unused Subs:- Potter, Magilton, Watson

Man Utd:- Schmeichel, G. Neville, P. Neville, May, Pallister (Irwin), Keane, Butt (McClair), Scholes, Beckham, Cruyff (Solskjaer), Cantona

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Reading

Saints travel to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday for the Championship 17:20 kickoff, and will be looking to push on with their recent good form having established a five point gap the the top of the table.

The Berkshire club had an inconsistent start to this season but are now unbeaten in their last six games and will be looking to push on.

The Reading squad is a strong one, and in my opinion should be at least play off challengers this season. Amongst their squad, they boast three ex-Saints, two regulars who enjoyed first team football and one who, well didn’t…

Joseph Mills

‘Fish’ has he was affectionately know at St. Mary’s followed his brother Matt through the Southampton Academy, and is seemingly mirroring his older sibling’s career path.

Breaking into the first team in the 2008/09 season, Mills struggled to establish himself regularly, the likes of Andrew Surman, Rudi Skacel and latterly Lee Molyneux keeping the youngster out in Saints ill fated Championship relegation season. This eventually saw him head off to Scunthorpe United on loan, playing regularly under Nigel Adkins.

The drop to League One looked like it might have been the perfect tonic for a young left-back trying to establish himself, having already shown glimpses of what he could do. Sadly it was not to be, new signing Dan Harding came in and made an immediate impact leaving Mills to remain a bit part player in the 2009/10 campaign. He did make a surprise start at right-back in the Johnstones Paint Trophy final though, as Saints raised the cup with a 4-1 win over Carlisle at Wembley.

Mills found himself further down the pecking order at St. Mary’s in 2010/11 with Saints adding Ryan Dickson to their squad in the summer. Barely used, he was off on loan again, returning to the Championship with Doncaster Rovers. Mills proved himself a quality player at the Keepmoat which saw Reading convinced enough to make a move for him in the summer.

Mills was in the unfortunate position of never being a bad player in a Saints shirt, but always competing with someone better than him, always sharp going forward, I think it were some defensive frailties that saw four consecutive Saints managers not be willing to give him an extended run. At least he left Saints on friendlier terms than his brother!

Mills and Boon? Not that kind of Reading.

Opposition’s view:-

Dan from popular Reading blog The Tilehurst End gave his thoughts on Mills:-

“The jury’s still out on Mills at the moment, with the left-back having only joined the club at the back end of the transfer window for a nominal fee from yourselves. Ian Harte struggled through the first few games this season and Reading fans were clamouring for someone with a bit of pace to come in and Mills certainly ticked that box with agility that’s been lacking since Ryan Bertrand left after a loan spell in 2009/10. 

Mills certainly offers something going forward, as his crosses have been quite good and he’s even managed a few efforts on goal during his brief time in the team. Unfortunately his passing, set pieces and defensive positioning have failed to impress Royals fans. Already some are calling for Harte’s return to the starting XI and the Irishman was on the bench for our recent games with Boro & Burnley.

Still Mills has been part of a defence that’s gone four unbeaten so I can’t see a change happening in the short term but given McDermott’s preference for experienced players I wouldn’t be shocked to see a change if we have a dodgy result or two.

Long term he’s got a long way to go to fill the boots of Nicky Shorey, Chris Armstrong, Ryan Bertrand and Harte last season.”

Alex Pearce

The Scotsman joined Saints on loan from Championship rivals Reading in 2008 as we looked to shore up our leaky defence. In a rare occurrence for a centre half Pearce scored on his debut as Saints came from behind to beat Preston 3-2, but sadly that was the highlight of his St. Mary’s stay.  Saints would win just one other game during his loan spell, ironically against Reading when Pearce was ineligible to play. Saints kept two clean sheets in that spell, both 0-0 draws, both when Pearce was left out.

A player that always looked like an attacking danger from corners, but never looked convincing at the defensive job he was actually employed to do, Pearce returned to Reading at the end of 2008 and went on to establish himself as a first choice player at the Madesjski.

Pearce. Struggled to get ahead at St. Mary's.

Opposition’s view:-

Dan gave us his thoughts on Pearce:-

“Pearce is someone that still polarises opinion more than three years after making his debut for the first team. I’ve written a big piece about him here which covers most of his ups and downs at the club  http://thetilehurstend.co.uk/2011/07/18/the-ups-and-downs-of-alex-pearce/ 

This season has seen more of the same. Initially he seemed to struggle alongside Tottenham loanee Bongani Khumalo but the acquisition of Kaspars Gorkss has seen him improve and he’s looking back to the form that won him a lot of fans last season.  There will always be concerns about his pace and agility but if John Terry can get away with it, I’ve no reason to doubt that Pearce can establish himself as a good Championship defender, especially if complimented with the right partner.” 

Cedric Baseya

The giant striker (height is between 6’3″ and 6’5″ depending on where you read it) came through the Southampton youth system and made his first and last apperance for the first team in the 2007/08 season against Ipswich Town, coming on for the last minute and not touching the ball once.

Baseya had previously made his professional debut during a loan spell at Crewe Alexandra and was released by Saints in 2009. He joined French Ligue One side  Lille before heading to Le Harve on loan and then to AS Cherbourg.

Reading signed him last month and he his yet to make a first team performance, though he will be eager to impress having so far never scored in his professional career, an odd record for a forward.

Baseya. A tall order for goals?

Opposition’s view:-

Dan gave us his thoughts on Baseya:-

“We’ve not seen the Frenchman anywhere near the first team but that hasn’t stopped there being an 18 page thread on him on the popular Hob Nob Anyone? message boards! He hasn’t got a stellar scoring record… well he hasn’t scored at all, but Reading have worked wonders with cast-offs in the past and he’s managed a couple of goals in the reserves already, so some reasons to be optimistic.” 

Chris

A Message From Ray Wilkins…

Recently I was invited amongst other bloggers to attend a training day with Ray Wilkins courtesy of Nivea for Men and the Great Football Experiment.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it, but England and Chelsea legend, and brother of Saints coach Dean had a message for the readers of this site.

Ray, former England and Liverpool keeper Ray Clemence, Ex-England manager Terry Venables and other professional FA coaches have spent the summer with Brentwood Sunday League First Division side Ivory FC from Billericay in Essex. The experiment aims to see if, with access to the right coaching, nutritional and fitness advice, an average Sunday league team can be turned into table toppers.

Catch up with the latest episode of the Nivea for Men Great Football Experiment where Ivory FC take on potential title challengers Lawns Park Rangers in the opening game of the league season.

Will star striker “Goggles” make it before kick off?

Follow the Great Football Experiment, and see how much proper coaching and professional expertise really helps…

Chris

Just About Enough of Clough…

“If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.”  – Brian Clough

Saints head to Pride Park this weekend to face Derby County in a top of the table clash which has already attracted a crowd of thirty thousand people.

Nigel Adkins will be pitting his wits against Nigel Clough. Both have had fantastic records so far this season, and have their teams playing the way football should be played. One stark difference for them though, is that for Clough, he will always be compared to “Old Big ‘Ead” himself, father Brian.

Clough Snr will always be regarded as one of the greatest managers this country has ever produced, bringing attention to himself, first with Saturday’s opponents Derby, before huge success with arch rivals Nottingham Forest, and it was in his Forest days that Clough Snr, proved to be somewhat of a spoilsport for Saints. Twice, the great man denied us in cup finals, some thirteen years apart.

The Clough's. Winning Mentality.

Firstly, in 1979 Southampton found themselves the underdogs for another Wembley final in the League Cup, taking on league champions and holders Nottingham Forest. Despite taking an early lead, Saints were eventually bossed by the class of Clough’s men. A valiant effort from the team in yellow though saw the final score at 3-2  in favour of the champions, with Saints goals coming from Nick Holmes and David Peach. Archie Gemmill the architect for Forest. Strike one to Clough.

1992 saw Saints and Forest meet again in the capital, this time for the Zenith Data Systems Cup final, Clough’s side may not have been the force they were thirteen years previously, but they were going well in the league, and had been in the previous season’s FA Cup final. Amongst their team were two sons of note, Nigel making a name for himself up front, and Scott the offspring of 1979’s chief tormenter Archie. Saints came back from a 2-0 deficit to take the game to extra time, Kevin Moore and Matthew Le Tissier getting the goals, but it was to be a Gemmill again that would have a definitive say in the outcome. Adding to his fifteenth minute opener, Gemmill won the match in the second period of extra time, for another 3-2 Forest victory. Strike two to Clough.

Clough Jnr. Hoping to point Derby in the right direction.

Son Nigel has followed a similar career path to his Dad so far, starting in the lower echelons of English Football with Burton Albion, and now overseeing things at Derby County. He hasn’t quite emulated Brian’s successes just yet (Clough Snr won the second division in his second season at the Baseball Ground), but signs this season are that he has what it takes to make the Rams Championship challengers.

What does look certain, is that the battle of the Nigel’s, could be both a fantastic spectacle and a meeting of two of this countries top up and coming managers. Saints will be hoping, that the Clough factor is a thing of the past, and that 2007 Pride Park playoff semi final memories can be banished forever. With no chance of Leon Best or Inigo Idiakez being on penalties, Saints will have more than a chance, but away performances haven’t been spectacular recently, and Derby smarting from a a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester last time out will be looking to bounce back.

It is no surprise that this seems to be the Championship “Game of the Week” for many of the countries media outlets. First against third, Let’s hope it lives up to it.

COYR.

Chris

Best of the Bets…

I was recently approached by a new Sports betting and news site Best of the Bets about becoming their go to man for opinion on all things Saints.

As Saints look to defy the early season odds, by storming to the top of the table, I was interviewed by Championship correspondant  by Richard Greatorex about our fantastic start.

Check out the piece here:- http://bestofthebets.com/championship/features/saints-go-marching and see if you agree with my cautious optimism.

If you like a flutter, check out their comprehensive guide to the top bookies and betting advice, or simply logon for all the latest sports news.

Whether you are looking at a sure thing with thoroughbred’s like Saints or willing to take a chance on a knackered old nag like Pompey, Best of the Bets will be able to point you in the right direction! Check out their twitter feed:- @BestoftheBets for all the latest betting updates.

Chris

One Saeijs Hits All…

The last time we played Watford, it was very much a game of mixed emotions.

Saints under Mark Wotte were struggling, the end of our Championship life seemed nigh. A far cry from our days as a Premier League mainstay, this once great club stood a shadow of it’s former self the amongst the mist and the cold of Vicarage Road on a Tuesday night. Yet two thousand and thirty two hardy souls, me amongst them, had made the trip from the South Coast, still clinging to the hope that survival was possible.

Without a win in six, Wotte’s men were picking up draws, but not converting those points into vital wins. Saints were 23rd in the Championship and crying out for a saviour.

An unlikely one emerged in Hertfordshire. Dutchman Jan-Paul Saeijs.

The centre half had been signed on loan in the previous January by countryman Wotte, Saeijs had come with no reputation to speak of, unheard of by the Saints fans when he arrived from JC Roda, but he soon proved himself to be the kind of player you would want on your side in a dogfight. Strong and determined the Dutchman would get stuck in, and was good in the air, shame the same can’t be said for a lot of his teammates.

With the crowd in full voice, it was Saeijs who opened the scoring at Watford. Rising above Scott Loach in the home side’s goal, he nodded the ball into the back of the net for his first goal in English football. Sadly, as was commonplace with Saints at the time, the lead wasn’t to last long. Just eight minutes in fact.

Saints battled with their hosts, Ryan Smith, having his best game for the club as I recall it, but inevitably after spurning several chances themselves, they fell behind. Former and now born again Saint Jack Cork flicking the ball on for Tamas Priskin to give the away support that same sinking feeling they seemed to have every week.

Jan-Paul Saeijs celebrates his last minute free kick.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and what followed I would usually not condone. In the dying seconds of the game, Saeijs made an uncharacteristic maizy run towards the Watford box, he was tackled, but went down pretty easily. The whistle blew, two thousand and thirty two mouths sighed collectively. There was no need for it, and the chance was gone. But wait. The referee had been suitably fooled. Freek kick Southampton. Proverbial last throw of the dice. Who would take it? Skacel? Lallana? Surman? Nope. The dutchman was dusting himself down and hovering over the ball. I don’t know what it was that made me feel so confident. Perhaps it was his confidence emanating on to me, perhaps it was nine months of emotional withdrawal and the final step into delusion, but I knew he would score.

The crowd bemoaned the ridiculousness of letting the centre back take it. Many were eyeing the exit, already, the quiet contemplation of the M25 in their minds. Another away trip, another defeat, another step closer to the dreaded trapdoor and third tier football. Saeijs kicked the ball. Silence. It sailed, bending majestically towards the top right corner. The keeper couldn’t get to it, I’m not sure he moved. I cared, neither then or indeed now. Goal. The cacophony and collective euphoria that accompanies a last minute goal will never be equalled by any moment watching any other sport. The embracing of strangers and the general outpouring of relief would be hard to explain to an alien.

We only had a point. In reality it wasn’t enough, but it still gave us hope. For that moment we were still alive, and still fighting.

Saeijs left the club in the summer and returned to Roda before becoming a teammate of Steve de Ridder’s at de Graafschap where he still plays. Saints face Watford again on Saturday. Top of the Championship.

Chris

Split Loyalties. Can’t We All Just Get Along….

“A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted.” – Andrew Bernstein

Without the likes of Matt Le Tissier we would have no history.

Without Nicola Cortese we would have no future.

Two men. Two passions. Both with a significant input into the fortunes of this football club, be it recently or in the past. Both deserving of respect from the Saints faithful.

Le Tissier will always be the hero. The maverick, who has put smiles on more Saints fans, more times than any of us could put a number on. His contribution to Southampton Football Club is well documented and indisputable. A man of unrivalled loyalty, choosing to stay at our relatively small club over fame and fortune at those more glamourous.

Cortese is still the new boy in town. The businessman overseeing a reversal in the fortunes of the club. His contribution to Southampton Football Club is recent, yet crucial. Without him we may not be here. The club has gone from deaths door to the prime of life, breaking on the pitch records on an almost weekly basis.

Yet, the two of them, and the personal issue that exists between them is causing unrest and bickering between fans, at a time when the club is sat at the top of the Championship and supporters should be enjoying a period of settled success and enjoyment.

Some fans have never warmed to the Chairman. Mainly because he has introduced financial policies, that mean, while the fans get a worse deal than they have in the past, the club is on a sound business footing. This never used to be the case for Le Tissier, he always had the fans on his side. All of them. The recent bickering with the chairman has seen that change though, with some fans questioning the great man, and his intentions. This is a sad state of affairs, and fans taking sides upsets me a lot.

Le Tissier. True Saint.

I have no side in this argument. I back the Chairman, as his running of the club has impressed me greatly. At the same time, I am not going to turn my back on my footballing hero, a man whose signed photo sits proudly framed on my living room wall.

Le Tiss has never struck me as a man only in it for himself. His record as a player would suggest that not be the case, he clearly has a lot of friends in the game, and Mr. Cortese’s interview in The Sun newspaper even prompted Jeff Stelling to give a heart felt public defence of Matt on Soccer Saturday.

I have no first hand knowledge of whether Le Tissier, or for that matter any other ex-player have ever ‘expected’ freebies from the club. My opinion on the matter is that someone of his stature amongst the clubs history should always be treated as a guest of the club if he wants to attend a match, but at the same time shouldn’t be allowed to phone the club and ask for x number of tickets for friends.

Perhaps the bad blood is a hangover from Le Tissier’s involvement with a rival bidding consortium when Cortese was trying to buy the club. Perhaps it is some ticket confusion. Perhaps it is about an ex-players anniversary dinner. Perhaps it is because of comments by both men in the media. Perhaps we will never know.

It makes me wonder what might have been. Had Le Tissier not been involved with the Pinnacle consortium and was still in his ambassadorial role with the club, when Cortese and the Liebherr family took over, I wonder if we now be enjoying a united front from the two men. If only.

Nicola Cortese. New Saint.

I just hope that one day we can see them watching a game together. No dispute is unresolvable, especially between two men whose ultimate goals for the football club should be of the same view. The chairman may need to accept that ex-players will always be spoken to about the club in the media, and are allowed to vent their opinion, and Le Tissier may need to accept that the chairman is in charge, he can run the club how he likes, and he is doing a good job. I would appeal to fans that to take sides isn’t necessary. To go against the Chairman, is to effectively go against the club and to go against Le Tissier is to stab a man who gave you everything in the back.

There is only one number I want to be in, the one we should all be in. When the Saints go marching in. Together.

Chris.

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

The Class of 2005: Who were the real winners?

22nd April 2005, approximately 21:58. Fifteen year old Edward Upson hits the ball first time from twenty five yards. Andrew McNeill is helpless in the Southampton net. Goal Ipswich Town.

A heartbreaking end to a memorable season for the Saints youngsters, losing the FA Youth Cup final with just two minutes of extra time left to be played.

The first leg had been played at St. Mary’s four days earlier, Saints leading through David McGoldrick before being pegged back by a double from Irishman Cathal Lordan, Leon Best netting the equaliser that kept the tie on a knife edge. The second leg had remained goalless despite Saints dominance, Ipswich thankful to keeper Shane Supple that it got to extra time. Seemingly heading for penalties, substitute Upson was the youngest player on the pitch when he stole the headlines, and the silverware for the Suffolk side.

For young lads with the world at their feet, it must have been difficult to take.  For some it was to be their career highlight, for others, just the beginning. Football is a cruel world, and as is commonplace, despite being the cream of the crop as young players not all would be destined for the top.

Actually in this instance it was the losers who have fared better, the Saints squad boast four current Premier League players, the Ipswich squad none. While the Saints players have commanded massive transfer fees between them and gained many international caps, the Ipswich team have not. Having said that, not all of the Saints squad has achieved all of their footballing aims.

I decided to find out where they are now, and how different the careers of these players now hitting their peak age of 24/25 have fared.

Saints

Andrew McNeil – The Scottish keeper left Saints in January 2006, returning to his native Edinburgh with SPL side Hibernian, he forced his way into the first team at Easter Road, including playing in the 2007 League Cup final win. He was later replaced in the side and released in 2009. He spent a season in the third division with Montrose before signing for First Division Raith Rovers in 2010. He was released by Raith this summer and signed for Livingston where he is currently first choice.

Craig Richards – Local lad Richards was released by Saints in the summer of 2006. He was picked up by Conference side Salisbury City in 2007. Spells at Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Winchester City followed. He now plays for Whitehawk FC in the Ryman League Division One South.

Sebastian Wallis-Tayler – The frenchman left Saints the summer after the Cup Final and signed for Havant & Waterlooville before playing for Bognor Regis Town and Lewes. He is now back in his native France playing for non-league outfit CA Lisieux.

Sean Rudd – After being released by Saints, Rudd had an unsuccessful trial with former club Oxford United before sadly retiring through injury. Now works for a Sports Shoe company.

Martin Cranie – Had already played first team football on loan at Bournemouth and Premier League football for Saints at the time of the Youth Cup final. He played in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp, before finding chances limited under George Burley in the Championship. Cranie had two spells on loan at Yeovil Town before reuniting with Redknapp at Portsmouth for the 2007 season. Spent time at QPR and Charlton on loan before joining Coventry City in 2009 where he is still a regular for the Championship outfit. Has gained caps for England at U21 level.

Lloyd James – The Welsh utility man earned a professional contract with Saints in 2006, and made over seventy first team appearances in the Championship and League One before his somewhat surprise release (having been a regular in the team) in 2010. He soon signed for Colchester United and is now an established member of the U’s first team. A Welsh U21 international.

Tim Sparv – Finnish midfielder Sparv left Saints in 2007 to sign for Swedish club Halmstads BK, he is now playing in the Dutch first division with FC Groningen via a loan spell in his home country. He has been capped fifteen times by Finland.

Tim Sparv. Now in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Nathan Dyer – The tiny winger made his first team debut for Saints at the start of the season following the final. He was loaned to Burnley before coming back and getting more regular gametime at St. Mary’s. He went on loan again to Sheffield United in 2008, before really flourishing at Swansea City, firstly on loan before joining permanently in 2009 and he is now a regular in their Premier League side.

Theo Walcott – Made his first team debut at sixteen and was soon turning heads at a higher level. Chelsea had already shown an interest in him, but it was Arsenal who paid £5 million with a potential outcome of £12 million (although that is seemingly no longer the case) for him in 2006. He has now played over one hundred times for the Gunners. He became the youngest ever full England international in 2006 and was the surprise inclusion in Sven Goran Erikssons’s World Cup Squad of 2006. He has now played eighteen times for his country.

Leon Best – The Irish striker had already played in the Premier League for Saints by the time of the final, and also spent a period on loan with QPR. Further loans with Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Yeovil Town followed before he rejected a new contract with Saints in 2007 and joined Coventry City, the tribunal setting the fee at £650k. His performances for the Sky Blues were enough to persuade Newcastle United to move for him and is now a first team player with the Toon in the Premier League. He has represented Ireland at senior level.

Leon. Doing his Best for Newcastle in the Premier League.

David McGoldrick – McGoldrick was handed a first team debut in the September following the match at Portman Road, but it would take him another three years and loan spells at Notts County,  Bournemouth and Port Vale before he would be considered a regular. He was an ever present in the Saints team that dropped out of the Championship, scoring twelve goals and left for Nottingham Forest for £1 million the following summer.

Kyle Critchell – Defender Critchell was hampered by a serious injury in 2005 and was eventually loaned out to Torquay United in 2006. He was released the following summer and joined Chesterfield. He joined Weymouth in June 2007 before signing for Wrexham the following season, injuries again stunted his progression and he was loaned to York City before rejoining the Terras. He currently plays for hometown club Dorchester Town in the Blue Square South division who he signed for in 2009.

Ashlee Jones – Sub keeper Jones was released in the summer of 2005 and signed for Rushden & Diamonds, he has played for an array of clubs since and eventually made his football league debut for Darlington in 2009, he now plays for Braintree Town in the Blue Square Premier division.

Adam Lallana – The only member of the squad still at St. Mary’s, the creative midfielder is now a lynchpin in Nigel Adkins side and has made one hundred and thirty appearances for the club, now catching the eye of Premier League suitors he has been capped at U21 level by England.

Adam Lallana, still flying high with Saints.

Feliciano Condesso – Portuguese midfielder Condesso left Saints in 2007 without playing for the first team, somewhat surprisingly he joined La Liga side Villarreal but couldn’t break into the first team setup there either. He played for their ‘B’ side in the Spanish third tier before joining UD Logrones and now plays for Ontinyent CF.

Gareth Bale – The youngest member of the Saints squad, aged fifteen, Bale made his first team debut in 2006 and played forty times that season as Saints made it to the Championship play offs. Hot property, the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United were said to be interested, but it was Spurs who signed the Welshman for an initial fee of £5 million that rose to £7 million and Tommy Forescast. Bale struggled to make an impact at White Hart Lane to start with, but is now considered one of the best players in the world. A notable hat trick in the Champions League against Inter at the San Siro propelling him to super stardom. He has played thirty times for Wales.

Josh Dutton-Black – Winger Dutton-Black left Saints in 2007 and signed for AFC Totton. He has since had spells at Salisbury, Kidderminster, Eastleigh, Bognor Regis Town and Didcot Town. He now plays for North Leigh in the Southern League Division One South & West.

Ipswich Town

Shane Supple – Retired. Now a Gaelic Football player.

Michael Synott – Released by League of Ireland side Dundalk in the summer of 2010.

James Krause – Now playing for Cambridge City in the Southern League Premier division.

Chris Casement – Now playing for Linfield in the IFA Premiership. Capped by Northern Ireland.

Aidan Collins – Now playing for the University of London FC.

Sammy Moore – Now playing for AFC Wimbledon in League Two.

Cathal Lordan – Now playing for Cork City in the League of Ireland First division.

Liam Trotter – Now playing for Millwall in the Championship.

Owen Garvan – Now playing for Crystal Palace in the Championship. Eire U21 international.

Owen Garvan. Tipped for big things, now at Palace.

Liam Craig – Now playing for St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League.

Daryl Knights – Now playing for Newport County in the Blue Square Premier League.

Danny Haynes – Now playing for Barnsley in the Championship.

Blair Hammond – Now playing for Ipswich Wanderers in the Eastern Counties League division one.

Charlie Sheringham – Now playing for Dartford in the Blue Square South.

Ed Upson – Now playing for Yeovil Town in League One.

Andy Reynolds – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.

Stuart Ainsley – Now playing for Lowestoft Town in the Ryman Premier divsion.

It is clear to see that the losing Saints squad have, on the whole fared better than their Ipswich counterparts. Although it is staggering to see that of the thirty four players involved, fifteen of them are now playing at non-league level.

This isn’t a fate exclusive to these young finalists either, of the 2007 Liverpool winning side, only two players have since played for the first team, and only one (Jay Spearing) is still on the fringe. Their defeated opponents that day Manchester United fielded Danny Welbeck who has now become a first team player, the rest of the names are less familiar. In fact if you were to go through the lineups of all the previous finals, you would find only a handful of players plying their trade at the top of the footballing tree. Another case of foreigners ruining the English game? Hardly. These days half the youth teams are foreign players as clubs look to invest abroad as early as possible, all hoping to discover the next Lionel Messi. The fact is the standard required gets higher every season and more are likely to fall by the wayside with every intake. Also, I always wonder how much difference in ability there is between some players playing non-league and those in the lower echelons of the professional game. Not that much I would wager, and in reality we could probably fill another four divisions of professional clubs if it were possible.

Either way, the differing fortunes of some of these young players is a harsh reminder that the career of a footballer is a privilege to be treasured.

Chris

Thanks to Gordon Simpson (Daily Echo), Martin Brodetsky (Oxford United FC), David Seabourne (Bognor Regis Town FC Supporters Club), Graham Large (It’s Round & It’s White), Jon Dalton (Granley Rovers FC), Samuel Ridout.