“The hype around the game was incredible, anyone who didn’t understand the rivalry certainly did afterwards. They’re very competitive and to say they don’t like each other is an understatement.” – Neil Shipperley speaking about the January 1996 South Coast Derby.
With now just twelve days left until the South Coast’s two top clubs renew hostilities at Fratton Park, the next installment in our feature looking at players who dared the wrath of both sets of supporters looks at a man who spent three years with both….
Born in Northern Ireland, Clarke made his name for himself as a regular goalscorer in the fourth division for both Peterborough United and Tranmere Rovers before heading to the third division at South Coast AFC Bournemouth. He continued to impress at the higher level, catching the eye of countryman Chris Nicholl, heading to Hampshire from Dorset in the summer of 1986.
Clarke was an instant hit at the Dell, helping himself to twenty league goals in his first season as a top flight player. The start of the 1987-88 season couldn’t have started any better for him either. In the first South Coast derby for three and a half years, Clarke netted twice for Saints at Fratton Park in a 2-2 draw, Clarke also featured in the 0-2 defeat at the Dell in the return game of January 1988.
Clarke finished that season with another sixteen first division goals, and seemingly the future was bright, but the following campaign saw the goals dry up, and Clarke was kept out of the side by new boy Paul Rideout. A loan spell back at Bournemouth was followed by Clarke’s permanent departure to first division rivals QPR.
Saints fans remember the striker fondly, “Fat, round, worth a million pounds.” said @mgbarrett. @JJHislop was also a fan “Always described as Saints’ ”bustling” centre forward. I liked him.”
It was only a short break from Hampshire for the forward though, as he struggled to hit form at Loftus Road. In the summer of 1990 Clarke was signed by then Pompey boss Frank Burrows for a fee of £500k. Clarke was obviously pleased to be back amongst the South Coast air, and had a fruitful opening season at Fratton Park. Scoring seventeen goals for the blues, impressive in a side that had struggled for form.
Unfortunately for Clarke and the Pompey fans, goals would be harder to come by the following season, but the Northern Irishman would play a part in the Pompey side that got to within a whisker of the 1992 FA Cup final, losing out to Liverpool only on penalties after a replay and extra time.
Clarke stayed at Fratton Park until the end of the 1992/93 season when he decided to hang up his boots aged just thirty one due to a recurring knee injury.
Since his retirement Clarke focused his energy on coaching, and has been in management in the USA since 1998. He recently relinquished his role as the manager of the Puerto Rican national team, a position he had held since 2007. He is currently the manager of the Puerto Rico Islanders.
Saints head to the Keepmoat stadium this Saturday to face struggling Doncaster Rovers.
A likely starter for Rovers will be a former Saints midfielder…
Oxford born Gillett signed for Saints on a youth contract before turning pro in 2005, making his debut off the bench against Leicester in the FA Cup that season.
Gillett struggled to establish himself at St. Mary’s and went on a series of loan moves with Wallsall, Blackpool, Bournemouth and Yeovil Town, and was part of the Blackpool side that won the 2007 League One play off final.
Gillet started the 2009/10 season on loan at Doncaster Rovers before returning after two months. Despite rarely featuring for the first team he did make a substitute appearance in Saints 2010 Johnstones Paint Trophy final success at Wembley.
Gillett was released in the summer of 2010 and joined the South Yorkshire side permanently.
Not a player that ever won me over, lightweight and muscled off the ball too easily, Gillett struggled to impose himself on games, not something you want from a central midfielder.
Lewis Ward from Doncaster Rovers site Vikingsboggen gave us his thoughts on Gillett:-
“Rovers’ fans have had plenty of time to get used to Gillett, following his two month loan spell in 2009 and his signing in 2010. He has featured in the first team during most of his time here, slotting into O’Driscoll’s style of play perfectly. Last season he had a spell on the sidelines, along with many other players, and when he returned, fans realised how much of a difference his presence made.
He has scored 2 cracking goals so far this season, one of which came against Portsmouth, and has managed to keep his spot in the team despite Saunders’ new style of play.
Some fans think that Gillett is ‘lightweight’ and not good enough for the side but, despite making the odd mistake, I think he still does a job for the side and if he scores more goals like he has in the past, we will all be happy!”
“For a small minority, it is pure hatred, even in friendlies, I remember one game at Havant’s ground when our goalkeeper Alan Blayney hung his towel through the back of his net only to turn round a few minutes later and find someone had set fire to it. The team coach had bricks thrown at it on the way home and that was just a reserve game.” – Matt Le Tissier
As we get closer to the first South Coast derby of the season, the next in our look at those that have headed to the wrong end of the M27 is a man who failed to set the Premier League alight in Pompey blue, but found himself somewhat of a cult hero in the Championship at St. Mary’s.
Colombian international Viafara was signed by then Pompey boss Alain Perrin in the summer of 2005 having recently helped his side Once Caldas to Copa Libertadores glory, scoring against Argentinian giants Boca Juniors in the final.
Initially the South American midfielder featured regularly for Perrin’s side, but Pompey’s poor form saw them send an S.O.S. call to former boss (and then Saints boss) Harry Redknapp in December that year. Viafara featured in just three more games for Pompey after the arrival of Redknapp and was even squarely blamed by his manager for a heavy defeat at Arsenal. With his career at Fratton Park already over Viafara went on loan to Spanish side Real Sociedad for the rest of the season.
Pompey fans were never impressed by Viafara, @MikeJSpeak remembers “He would do a job, but never really stood out, bit of a benchwarmer really.” while @MarwellDeZeeuw thought even less of him “Great name. Average to poor player.”.
On his return to Fratton after Sociedad declined the option to buy him (Viafara’s two sending offs in eleven appearances not helping), the Colombian made the move across Hampshire directly.
For a fee believed to be around £750k, George Burley took a chance on him in the hope that he would be suited to Championship football. He hoped right.
Viafara soon became a fan’s favourite at St. Mary’s with his energetic box to box displays in midfield as Saints headed to the Championship play offs. Having trailed the semi final 2-1 on aggregate after defeat to Derby at home, it was Viafara who gave Saints the chance to turn it round at Pride Park. Firstly, hitting a side footed first time effort over the stranded keeper from thirty yards, before smashing in a second and levelling the tie, famously revealing a t-shirt saying “I Sorry I Ruined The Party”. Sadly Saints would go on to lose the tie on penalties, but the away leg is still regarded as one of the best away trips ever by many Saints fans.
Viafara continued to be a regular for Saints in his second season, but as the Championship frontrunners soon became relegation battlers, and things weren’t quite as rosy at St. Mary’s. Amongst the wage cutting at the start of the next season Viafara was offloaded for no fee to his former club Once Caldas and the Saints midfield was not better for it.
He left St. Mary’s hopefully with as fond memories as the fans had of him. @SamDobson1 said “I Liked him. Good energy in midfield, strong both defensively and going forward.” while @alexgbourne appreciated his work ethic “strong and energetic, but lacking class and finesse – one of the better players to cross the divide and show a bit of passion.”
After moving around a fair bit in South America, Viafara now plays for Deportivo Pereira.
“I didn’t realise quite the level of intensity and hatred there was there. It was the one derby I hadn’t done – because they hadn’t played for so long – and I didn’t realise it was going to be right up there with all the others. It’s palpable. You understand how much it means to both sets of fans to win the match.” – Referee Graham Poll after the 2nd December 2003 derby at St. Mary’s.
In the build up to the next South Coast Derby on December 18th, I decided to have a look at the players who crossed the divide and turned out in Pompey blue and Southampton Red & White.
The second in this series looks at a man who unites the fans in their opinions of his abilities as a player and who fittingly made his last appearance as a South Coast player in a derby.
A South Coast derby will be hostile occasion for the away side at the best of times, but on the 7th January 1996, it was a particularly nerve wracking experience for one of the visiting Pompey players to the Dell.
For Jon Gittens, it was a case of returning to his old stomping ground as well as a matter of local pride.
Midlands born Gittens was a trainee Tailor while playing for local non-league side Paget Rangers when he was snapped up by Saints in 1985. The twenty one year old central defender made his first team debut in April the following year and initially looked like he was going to become a regular in the first division sides lineup. Gittens found it difficult to get games ahead of the relied upon Mark Wright and Kevin Bond though and having already gained a reputation for being rough and ready Gittens was offloaded to Swindon Town by Chris Nicholl for a fee of £40k.
Nicholl would pay ten times that to bring Gittens back to the Dell just four seasons later. Gittens second spell proved to be as fruitless as the first, playing second fiddle to the likes of Neil Ruddock and Richard Hall in the Premier League, and he was soon loaned to first division Middlesbrough.
While Gittens will never be remembered as one of the clubs best players, Saints fans will always look upon Gittens as a trier and a tough player, but one that “Never looked like cutting it at Saints” according to @ThePhilReed. “Gittens was flipping hard!” was the verdict from Saints fan @alexgbourne “He was rock solid and gave his all.”
After helping Middlesbrough gain promotion to the Premier League, Gittens made his move to the North East permanent but found himself back on the South Coast and in the first division again with Portsmouth just a year later.
His first two seasons at Fratton saw Gittens establish himself as a regular under Jim Smith and then Terry Fenwick. Still renowned for his love of getting stuck in, Pompey fan @simmouae remembers him as a “booking a game man” as his no-nonsense approach made him a regular in front of the officials. Gittens had seemingly found his level in the First division, although Pompey were struggling, @Lord_Palmerston recalls “Gittens was strong but had the turning circle of an oil tanker. On his way downhill before he joined PFC but reasonable at our level”.
Gittens would find first team games more difficult to come by in the 1995/96 season and his trip back to the Dell in January 1996 in the FA Cup third round would prove to be his ninety ninth and last appearance for Portsmouth.
Gittens headed west to play for another set of rivals in Torquay United and Exeter City respectively before heading to non-league football.
After management spells with Fareham Town and Blackfield & Langley the UEFA A licensed coach is now training other coaches for the Football Association.
“I was surprised how fierce the rivalry was when I first came down to Hampshire in the late 1970s. I’ve been involved in three other local rivalries – the Merseyside and north London derbies as a player and in Manchester as a manager – and the feeling is as high here as anywhere.” – Alan Ball 2004
With the next chapter in the South Coast saga just twenty four days away, I thought I would take a look at the men who have braved the wrath of the supporters of both clubs by crossing the Hampshire divide. Surprisingly, many have done it, and many have done it without becoming hate figures, notable twitching cockney managers apart.
Much will be made of the passion and sadly the hatred that encompasses the clash between Hampshire’s finest in the lead up to the Fratton Park fixture, but hopefully these profiles will stir nice memories for the supporters of both clubs.
First up is a man who captured the true spirit of what a rivalry is all about and managed to see the lighter side of it.
14th May 2002, Matthew Le Tissier’s Testimonial at St. Mary’s. Le Tissier’s former Saints teammate Dave Beasant is in goal for the England XI in the second half, having recently completed a season playing for Pompey.
The crowd at St. Mary’s are deep into a rendition of a Saints terrace classic “When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother, what should I be, Should I be Pompey, Should I be Saints, Here’s what she said to me, Wash your mouth out son, Go get your fathers gun, and shoot the Pompey scum and support the Saints…..”
Beasant turns to the crowd behind his goal, holds his heart like he has been shot and then dramatically falls to the ground and plays dead.
Lurch, as he is affectionately known has always been a character, and perhaps it takes that level of humour to play for both these fierce rivals, and Beasant had experienced the nastier side of the derby first hand. Beasant was Saints keeper in two derby games, firstly in May 1994 when Saints went to Fratton Park for Alan Knight’s testimonial and then in January 1996 at the Dell for an FA cup tie.
Beasant commented on the 1994 visit to Fratton afterwards ‘The intensity of the fans was something else. It just wasn’t like a testimonial. All sorts of things were going on outside. It was like a mini-riot.”
Beasant joined Saints in November 1993 after Tim Flowers had departed for high flying Blackburn Rovers. Coming armed with a calamitous reputation from his time at Chelsea, and a career very much on the decline after his 1988 FA Cup final high, which had peaked with two England caps in 1989 and travelling to the 1990 world cup to replace David Seaman.
His move to Saints proved to be a good one though, despite a shaky start Beasant became a reliable first team keeper for a Saints side that became rejuvenated under Alan Ball. Still liable to the odd concentration lapse, Beasant was soon forgiven due to his likeable nature and the odd camera save.
Beasant made eighty eight appearances for Saints before dropping down the pecking order behind Paul Jones and Maik Taylor. In the summer of 1997 the veteran keeper headed to Nottingham Forest on loan before making the move permanent.
After four seasons with Forest it was under difficult circumstances that Beasant found himself Hampshire bound again.
Pompey had tragically lost keeper and former Saints youth player Aaron Flahavan in a car crash in the summer of 2001 and Beasant was brought in to take his place.
In a difficult season for the blues, Beasant was a steady and reliable performer under Graham Rix, but the Redknapp revolution was just around the corner and Beasant was surplus to requirements, oddly heading to Spurs and back to the Premier League aged 39.
Pompey fan @BileysMullet gave me his thoughts on Beasant’s time at Fratton:-
“Beasant was one of the few ex-scummers accepted, as a result of some age defying performances and the fact he took the banter so well..”
Beasant would go on to further play for Wigan Athletic, Bradford City, Brighton and Fulham before retiring in 2004, he is now a senior coach at the Glenn Hoddle academy.
Saints currently have six players trying to prove themselves at other clubs. Forwards Jonathan Forte and Sam Hoskins are with Phil Brown’s Preston North End, Goalkeepers Tommy Forecast and Jack Dovey are paying their dues in non-league football with Bromley Town and local club Eastleigh respectively. Black sheep Jason Puncheon is back in the Premier League with new boys Queens Park Rangers and promising defender Jack Saville has gone to Underhill to help League Two strugglers Barnet.
I thought it would be interesting to have a look at their progress with these clubs, with reports from the people who are getting behind them and watching every week.
The most high profile of the Saints loanees is of course Puncheon, who headed to Loftus Road in the summer with the all too public falling out at Saints behind him. The glamour of the Premier League may have been too much to turn down, but Puncheon has been little more than a bit part player with the R’s, making just two league appearances off of the bench.
Jonathon Forte might not have made the impact he would have liked at St. Mary’s after arriving from Scunthorpe last season, but his goals against MK Dons were extremely important as Saints headed for promotion. Often harshly treated by Saints fans for me, Forte and youngster Hoskins headed to Lancashire to play for North End.
Forte has started twice for the Deepdale club, both against Rochdale, playing the full ninety minutes in both games. We caught up with John Kelly from the Preston Supporters Group to give us his thoughts on Forte:-
“North End are having a bit of a nightmare at the moment, with a complete lack of investment from our new owner Trevor Hemmings. Forte started up-front alongside our young striker Juvel Tsumo, who was soon replaced with Neil Mellor.
Forte struggled to get into the game, and despite running around alot seemed a little out of his depth and offered little. It would be un-fair to judge him on this game alone, however I honestly can not see his loan being much of a success for any party involved. He is unavailable to play tomorrow and even if he was, as soon as Iain Hume or Jamie Proctor returns he will be left out anyway. Most PNE fans fined both loans very strange and not what we need. Mainly due to their lack of experience and age.
Maybe if he had come into a winning side things would be different, but I would expect him to be back at your place soon without either PNE or Southampton being any the wiser on his ability. As for Hoskins I really can not understand this loan at all.”
Hoskins is yet to feature for PNE.
After arriving from Chelsea, young defender Jack Saville came with much promise, the performances of the current Saints defence though makes first team time hard to come by. Jack headed back to London at the start of the month to spend some time on loan with League Two side Barnet. He made his debut off the bench in the FA cup win at Southport before making his first start in the 2-0 victory over Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium, Barnet’s first league win in five. Eric from Barnet site Downhill Second Half gave us his take on the young defender:-
“I’ve only got one full 90 to go on so far, but his showing at Bristol Rovers was excellent.
It’s no mean feat for a lad of 20 to settle straight in to an almost entirely new defensive unit. Owing to injury, we had three loanees in the back four for yesterday’s second half, so for them to work so well together was a strong statement.
For me, Jack was the pick of the three. For a start, he was playing out of position at left back and faced two quick wingers all afternoon. His no nonsense approach was key in us soaking up a lot of pressure in the second half and he put himself on the line several times with some brilliant blocks.
As we were under the cosh for plenty of the second period, we didn’t see much of Jack going forward. However, I cannot imagine that Lawrie Sanchez will change much after this showing, so we should get to see more in the coming weeks, starting with a home match against Macclesfield on Friday night (that’ll get the crowds in…!)”
Jack Dovey has been at Eastleigh FC since the end of October and made an impressive start for the Blue Square South club. Making his debut at Thurrock Town, Dovey saved a penalty to immediatly shine, and the Spitfires haven’t lost in the four games he has played.
Blue Square South rivals Bromley is where Dovey’s fellow keeper Tommy Forecast has been since late September. Forecast has been a fixture for the Kent club and we caught up with Jeff Hutton, club development officer for Bromley FC to see how he has been doing:-
“Tommy Forecast was drafted in by Bromley manager Mark Goldberg for a three month loan spell on 23rd September. Since then Tommy has made eleven starts for the Lillywhites and has featured in every one of Bromley’s FA Cup fixtures which cumulated in a first round proper appearance at Brisbane Road against Leyton Orient. Tommy has failed to keep a clean sheet in any of his starts but this will come as no surprise to any Bromley supporter as we have failed to keep a clean sheet in any fixture since the start of September. Despite the score line Saturday, we lost 6-1 at Chelmsford City, Tommy pulled of a number of high quality saves and could do very little about the six goals conceded. People like to pick fault with keepers at any level but League sides send out keepers to our level to gain experience and that is Tommy is gaining valuable experience with every game he plays.”
Thanks to everyone that entered the Savile Rogue competition, the response was brilliant!
The correct answer to the question “Saints defender Jack Saville went on loan to Barnet this week, but from which club did Saints originally sign him?” was of course Chelsea.
I am delighted to announce that the winner was Mark Bull, and he will soon be receiving one of these luxury 100% woven cashmere Savile Rogue scarves in Saints colours!
But don’t worry…..
…..we are all winners here, and Savile Rogue have rewarded you all for your interest with a special georgeweahscousin.com discount code. Just use the promotional code “WEAH” at checkout to receive a £5 discount at their online store. This code is valid until the 13th December.
Thanks again for all your entries, hopefully we can run another competition soon….
“Well, if they can keep with us, maybe.” – Nigel Adkins 23rd November 2010, having been asked if Saints and Brighton would be battling it out for promotion come the end of the season.
Brighton were eight points clear of Saints at the time.
“They play the same kind of football as Dagenham and Redbridge. The only difference is they’ve got (Rickie) Lambert. If you gave Dagenham and Redbridge (Lee) Barnard and Lambert they would be in the top six.” – Gus Poyet speaking on the 23rd April 2011 after Saints 2-1 victory at the Withdean ended Brighton’s undefeated home run.
Southampton were being praised from all corners of the media and opposition fans for their attractive flowing football under Adkins.
Last season something funny happened between the respective prides of Hampshire and Sussex. Almost as a sub-plot to the season, a rivalry (many fans will insist that it wasn’t a rivalry , but it was) developed between two of League One’s South coast clubs. Saints fans had never really cared about Brighton (and vice-versa I am sure), in fact I’ve always kind of liked them, but the events of last season brought about a new outlook on each other, that was fuelled mainly by the quoted comments above.
The great thing about rivalries is that they are the added to spice to any season, and last season’s campaign saw both teams without games against their real rivals. In fact both had been starved of regular derby games for a few years, so when a side reasonably local becomes your main promotion challenger things are likely to hot up. Add to that a sprinkling of former Brighton players now turning out for Saints and there was already enough reasons to see some full blooded encounters between the two.
The fanning of the flames though, didn’t come from the terraces, but from the clubs respective managers.
Nigel Adkins comments, following the 0-0 draw at St. Mary’s were unwise to say the least. Perhaps said tongue in cheek, as we all know Adkins likes a little joke with interviewers, but when you are eight points behind, it was enough ammunition to make the Saints boss a figure of hate for the Seagulls faithful. The disdain from the Saints fans point of view came from events on the pitch in that game. I was never a fan of Poyet as a player, and what I saw that night was a team very much influenced by their manager. Time wasting, play acting and imaginary card waving seemed to be the order of the day from the team in blue and white and incensed the Saints fans.
So the scene was set for the rest of the season.
The build up to the return match at the Withdean was almost comical, mainly because despite the months of ‘banter’ between the two sets of fans, both claimed to not really care about the other. The banners made especially for Nigel Adkins by the Brighton fans and the wild celebrations of the Saints fan after Jose Fonte’s winner would suggest nothing could be further from the truth. Another incident surrounding this match, that was blown out of proportion was the non-guard of honour. A contentious issue no doubt, but one that was spoken about far more because of the bad blood that had already built up between the clubs. Brighton were deserved champions, and under any other circumstances I am sure that Saints would have obliged, but I backed Adkins decision then, and I do now. Guards of honour are usually provided by teams with nothing left to play for in a season, and when the game means nothing to either side. That certainly wasn’t the case for a Saints team still chasing automatic promotion and the game clearly did mean a lot to both teams, managers and fans.
If Saints fans had cringed in November when Adkins had made his vocal faux pas, it was time for the Brighton fans to put their fingers in their ears, as a clearly disappointed Poyet came out with his uninformed and factually incorrect rant after the game. A man who had also claimed that the game wasn’t important to him, but had withdrew the ball boys with twenty minutes to go when 1-0 up, Poyet’s South American passion had clearly got the better of him.
The comments may have been fair had they been aimed at Saints under Alan Pardew, who did like to go the direct route often, but it was now a weapon that was used only rarely by Adkins, albeit effectively to seal a last minute winner at the Withdean. The most insulting thing about it though was the disrespect to the Saints squad, dismissed as pawns for Lambert by Poyet. Many Saints fans (myself included) have since take glee from the reports of opposition fans in Brighton’s last few games, which suggest that since the signing of Billy Paynter, Poyet himself has mixed it up a bit with some punts to the big man, style is one thing, adapting to situations is another…..
So where does it leave us this season? As Saints and Brighton prepare to face off for the first time in the new campaign, things have very much died down. Brighton have found the step up slightly tougher than Saints, but neither has looked out of their depth. We both have our ‘real’ rivals to worry about now.
Saturday will have some needle though, there is no doubt about that. Poyet won the war last year, but didn’t win any battles and that will hurt him. Nigel Adkins and the Saints players will be fuelled by the Dagenham and Redbridge comments, and both sides will be looking at a possible reverse of the unbeaten home record situation.
It will be a good game, of that I am sure, and a little bit of rivalry and friendly banter never hurt anybody. We will rib Gus, and the Seagulls fans will rib Nigel, but I expect it will all be done with an undertone of begrudging respect for the fantastic jobs both men have done.
Both teams play nice football, and there are some great players in both sides. The additions to Brighton’s squad this season, particularly Mackail-Smith and Vicente are impressive and this could be Saints toughest home game so far. Let’s hope that the talking points all come from the pitch though, and not the post match interviews.
I for one can say honestly, that I have enjoyed the online battle of wills with the Brighton fans, and found it to be humour filled and fun, and long may it continue. Can you keep up?
Spare a thought for poor old Dagenham & Redbridge though. Staring non-league football in the face, but for a Rickie Lambert they would be on the brink of the Premier League….
The other night I was thinking about that most contentious of issues. The underrated player.
Mainly because, somebody who I have been hailing for some time now is seemingly getting the recognition that he deserves. That man is Richard Chaplow whose performances of late have showed why his £50k price tag and place in Preston’s reserves seems even more ludicrous now than it did at the time when we signed him.
I am a sucker for an underrated player. Those that some just don’t seem to get. I recently wrote a piece on Guly along the same lines, who has since put in a match winning performance at Coventry, yet I still saw comments from fans that other than score and have a hand in the other three goals, didn’t really do a lot…
I put the question to the Saints Twitter faithful on who was Saints most underrated player, and of course the opinions were varied. Suggestions ranged from Perry Groves to Agustin Delgado to Franny Benali to Jo Tessem and current players Ryan Dickson and Danny Butterfield also got mentions. The player that got the most votes was Chris Marsden, but as Sam Dobson pointed out and I am inclined to agree, Marsden is actually pretty highly regarded amongst Saints fans.
One player that didn’t register a single mention, but one that I always felt was sometimes misjudged by fans is likely to line up at Wembley against England on Tuesday for his 122nd or 123rd international cap.
Anders Svensson joined Saints in the summer of 2001 from Elfsborg for a fee of £750k by then caretaker manager Stuart Gray, the 24 year old Swede came in as a relative unknown to the fans, but already had sixteen international caps to his name.
Initially signed as an attacking midfielder to replace the outgoing Hassan Kachloul, Gray expected big things of the Swede “Anders can play off the front man or in midfield. He’s not an out-and-out striker but is certainly a forward-thinking midfield player who pops up in that area.”
Svensson was brought in to liven up a goal-shy Saints midfield that had netted just three goals between them in the previous season, and he provided that outlet with some success. Svensson got six goals in his first season, but more notably provided some much needed creativity that saw Marian Pahars race to fourteen goals for the season. As Saints turned their early season poor form around under new boss Gordon Strachan, Svensson was rapidly becoming a key player in the side. Mostly used in central midfield but sometimes on the left Svensson was never really used in his favoured position playing off of a front man, but nonetheless his contributions were notable.
He starred at that summers world cup, famously scoring the free kick that knocked Argentina out!
The 2002/03 season is one that will be forever engrained on every Saints fans mind. Anders played a key role in the side that finished 8th in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup final. Although he started less games than he had the previous season, his starring role and brilliant individual goal against Spurs in the 3rd round of the cup was his stand out performance in a Saints shirt.
Often accused of inconsistency, he was regularly accused of not trying, and the 2003/04 season proved to be the beginning of the end for Anders in a Saints shirt. Gordon Strachan left in February 2004, and Paul Sturrock came in March. If anyone in the squad wasn’t a Sturrock type of player it was Svensson and he ended the season having played almost as many games from the bench as he had started. He didn’t find the net once.
2004/05 was another season that will never be forgotten, but for very different reasons. Under messrs Wigley and Redknapp, Svensson was used more frequently but as Saints bimbled to a sorry end to the season and relegation it was clear that the Swede’s future lie elsewhere.
It was strongly rumoured that Svensson was offered a new contract by Saints, but he was a better player than the Championship, so it was no surprise to me that he decided to move on. What did shock me was his destination, returning to his former club Elfsborg on a free transfer.
That move hasn’t hindered him at all from an international point of view, though I can’t help thinking there is a certain amount of wasted potential in Svensson. His move to Saints started promisingly but perhaps we, or at least the managers and coaches of the club are as guilty for that as anybody. I think that perhaps we had a very talented footballer at our disposal but weren’t prepared to change our formation or style to maximise his impact.
Now aged 35, he is still with Elfsborg and still playing a key role for his country. He is the Swedish vice-captain to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and second only to the great Thomas Ravelli in caps, ahead of such notable players as Olof Mellberg and Henrik Larsson.
He was part of the Sweden side that secured qualification for Euro 2012 with a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands last month and can hopefully look forward to appearing at a fifth major championship.
So look out for Anders at Wembley on Tueday night and wonder what might have been. Perhaps his time to arrive in the English game was a little too soon, and with the wrong managers…
p.s. Saints fans, don’t forget to check out our competition!
Savile Rogue scarves give a nod to football terraces of yesteryear, shunning in-your-face logos and cheap nylon in favour of a traditional bar design and the comfort, quality and warmth of top grade wool.
It’s the sort of scarf you would be happy to wear even when you’re not at the match.