“Whoever it was really shouldn’t have thrown that coin at Mark Dennis.” – Steve Moran talking about his last gasp winner at Fratton Park in 1984. Time had been added on because of treatment to Dennis who had been hit by a coin from the Pompey crowd.
30th January 1951, a hospital in Paulsgrove on the Portsmouth to Southampton Road, a boy is born who would have unwanted fame heaped upon him as the unlikely hero of a famous cup upset.
Robert William Thomas Stokes was a talent at school and county level in Hampshire (he scored fifty three goals in one season for Hillside Junior School and played seven times for England Youth) and it was fully expected that he would sign for his boyhood heroes at Fratton Park. Legend has it though that he failed a trial with Pompey and was forced to look elsewhere, others believe he chose Saints over Pompey because of their youth team (or lack thereof) at the time.
Either way, Stokes would start his career with the arch rivals of his hometown team. He had a modest start to his life at the Dell, but did score on his first team debut against Burnley in 1969. He wouldn’t become a regular until the 1971/72 season and was considered an important member of the team from then on. Despite never being a prolific goalscorer and being relegated with the club in 1974, he will always be regarded as a Southampton hero. @MiltonRoadEnd was a fan “Underrated, probably because he was playing alongside the likes of Davies, Channon, Paine & Osgood. Always gave 100%.”
When he struck gold for Saints in the eighty second minute of the 1976 FA Cup final, it was to be both the highlight of his career and perhaps the beginning of the end of it. Famously a shy man, Stokes would never need buy a drink again, and the spotlight that he was suddenly in was not suited to him. The reward for scoring the first goal in the final was a car, and legend has it, that Bobby who couldn’t drive booked lessons for after the final just in case.
Stokes struggled for form in the subsequent season after cup success and made just eleven appearances for the first team, scoring just one goal.
Upon leaving the Dell Stokes would find himself in familiar surroundings, back in his hometown. Stokes would make twenty nine appearances for Pompey and score three goals (though by now he was playing more in midfield) as the blues ended a shocking season bottom of Division Three.
Stokes Pompey career was over almost as soon as it started with the Fratton crowd not taking to the man who had left their town and performed heroics for “scum”. Pompeydiehard remembers “Bobby was a great shy lad ,we grew up together played in the same school side and at Hants level. He went to Saints instead of Pompey as they never had a youth policy in those distant days. I spoke to him when he joined Pompey in the seventies, he said Dickinson came in for him and his own club didn’t seem to want him to stay. Think he couldn’t really settle at the Park after being at yours for so long. Never really worked out for him here.”
Stokes left Fratton Park the following summer and joined a growing list of European players who headed to the United States and the evolving North American Soccer League. He signed for Washington Diplomats and became a team mate of Johan Cruyff’s. He played four seasons in Washington before heading back to Hampshire and signing for Waterlooville. He would further play for Cheltenham Town and Chichester City before calling it a day in 1981.
Stokes ran a pub in Portsmouth before working in the Harbour View cafe. He was often tracked down by journalists, usually around cup final time, and despite his modest earnings, never charged a penny for his time. A regular in the stands at both the Dell and Fratton Park he was granted a testimonial year with Saints in 1994, but after a lengthy battle with drink Stokes passed away in 1995 of bronchial pneumonia aged just 44.
“I don’t wear my medal around my neck but I’ll happily recall every detail of the match with anyone who has 90 minutes to spare. It was the best day of my life.” – Bobby Stokes February 1995.
R.I.P. Bobby Stokes
Pompey boy, Saints star.
1951 – 1995
Saints host the Seasiders this Saturday and will be looking for a repeat of last season’s FA cup tie. While Saints home form has been the definition of consistency, the Tangerines have struggled on the road, with only a notable 0-5 victory over Leeds at Elland Road and an opening day defeat of Hull City in the win column.
With a few changes of personnel from their Premier League adventure last season, Blackpool will come to St. Mary’s with some familiar faces on board…
Scottish international Crainey had a brief and unspectacular spell at St. Mary’s in 2004. Signed from Celtic by countryman Gordon Strachan shortly before the manager departed, the full back struggled to adapt to the Premier League. The full back made just five first team appearances in his time at St. Mary’s and left for Leeds on loan the following August which soon became a permanent arrangement.
Sadly, the lasting memory of Crainey for Saints fans will be his surprise selection (after Michael Svensson was injured during the warm up) and subsequent poor performance at Fratton Park in the March 2004 defeat.
Crainey joined Blackpool in the summer of 2007 and has been a regular at Bloomfield Road ever since.
Evergreen striker Phillips’ association with Saints goes as far back as the early nineties when he was a youth player with the club and cleaned future England strike partner Alan Shearer’s boots!
Phillips didn’t make the grade at the Dell though and was released by the club where he had been used as a right back in 1992. Eleven years later, it cost Saints £3.5 million for Gordon Strachan to bring him back to the club after impressive goalscoring spells at Watford and Sunderland respectively.
Despite not quite hitting the same form as he did with his previous clubs Phillips still weighed in with an impressive amount of goals, especially considering the unrest at the club during a turbulent period in Southampton’s history. As Saints headed for the relegation trapdoor in 2004/05 Phillips still managed ten league goals, but never quite won the St. Mary’s fans over. Alleged comments in the media about the club and city following his departure to Aston Villa that summer make him an unpopular figure with the Saints crowd.
Phillips signed for Blackpool in July this year via West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City and now aged thirty eight already has five league goals this term.
In stark contrast to fellow striker Phillips, Lancashire born Ormerod was never heavily amongst the goals in a Saints shirt, but was very much loved by the fans.
After an impressive goalscoring record in his first spell at Bloomfield Road, Gordon Strachan bought the energetic forward for £1.75 million in December 2001. After taking a little while to establish himself Ormerod started to form a lethal partnership with James Beattie, his tenacity and energy complimenting Beattie’s ability to be in the right place at the right time.
It was this partnership that was tantamount to the 2003 FA Cup run that saw Saints reach the final. Ormerod’s man of the match performance in the Semi Final against Watford was a memorable highlight for both player and fans.
The arrival of Phillips the following summer saw Ormerod’s chances with the first team limited and he ended up going to Leeds on loan in 2004, and seven months later had another loan spell, this time with Wigan Athletic. The club’s relegation to the Championship saw Ormerod back in favour, but with goals hard to come by he eventually left the club for Preston North End in January 2006.
The scruffy but uncomplicated striker names his time at Southampton as the best of his career and left the club with as many fond memories as he left the fans.
Ormerod returned to Bloomfield Road in 2009 and back to the Premier League with them last season.
“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.
“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 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….
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.
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.’
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
“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.
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.
When you talk about contentious issues, the best or worst eleven players for any club is probably number one. I was recently asked to write an article on my best Saints Premier League eleven for Shoot magazine and after a fair amount of wrestling and changes I settled on a team. I was lucky in one respect, I only had a window of fifteen years to toy with. My Saints experience started in the Premier League and I am guilty of vainly believing it would always reside there.
Actually after careful consideration, my best Saints Premier League eleven, is my best eleven full stop. It is drawn from a period where we competed with the best, and it is no coincidence that many of those selected made up our 2002/03 side.
The compiling of that team got me thinking, how difficult must it be to pick a side with a much bigger window of players to choose from? My colleague Dan and I couldn’t agree and our time watching Saints is of the same period.
I also thought about my worst eleven. Sadly, as a Saints fan this is much more difficult a prospect. Even in the twenty years of my support, we have been inundated with, for want of a better word. Crap.
So when in need of sensible opinion, broad knowledge and perhaps even an entertaining turn of phrase, I turned to the only resource where all three are commonplace. Twitter. I sought out the best and worst elevens of someone in their 50’s, 40’s and 20’s (Dan and I cover the 30’s), and I got some pretty entertaining responses. No doubt you won’t all agree with them, and as a collective we welcome comment. Opinion makes football what it is.
The rules were simple. You must have seen a player in the flesh to select them and state when you first started attending matches, and that was pretty much it! Everyone has taken their own approach, some have picked best individuals, others have tried to pick the best to fit a system or compliment each other.
“I started following Saints at the start of the 1965/66 season. Remembering my 1st game is simply impossible! However, one of my very early games was the 9-3 drubbing of Wolves which did come early in 1965/66. I have always remembered it was 2-2 after about 5 minutes and that remarkably after we scored on the hour to make it 9-3 there were no more goals. Chivers scored 4, Paine 2, Sydenham 2 and George O’Brien also scored. I think that game probably meant I was hooked for life!”
Peter Shilton – “Genuine world class. Only Niemi comes close.”
Ivan Golac – “The first overseas signing we made I believe. The best attacking full back I have seen.”
Steve Mills – “Class personified, career sadly cut short or I believe he would have played for England.”
Mark Wright – “Took a little while to settle at the Dell, even played at right back. But developed into a top central defender.”
Dave Watson – “Already a seasoned International when he signed, another great Lawrie Mac signing and just ahead of some other top quality centre halves.”
Matthew Le Tissier – “Don’t need to say much, the most skilful player I have seen for us, legend is the right word.”
Alan Ball – “Another player who doesn’t require many words. A true legend of the game, vital in our 1977/78 promotion- another LM master stroke and simply world class.”
Steve Williams – “Oozed quality and formed in Division 2 a partnership with Bally that was exceptional. 1st saw him v Pompey in 1976 on his debut, looked class even then.”
David Armstrong – “Great left sided midfield player who scored a lot of vital goals, in many ways the front 2 are determined by his inclusion ahead of the wing wizard John Sydenham.”
Mick Channon – “Impossible to omit, our leading goalscorer ever, genuine nice guy and of course part of our FA Cup success in 1976. Another who deserves the term legend.”
Marian Pahars – “This was the most difficult decision but Marian is included as I feel he would have combined well with Channon. Keegan was not here long enough I don’t feel, Ron Davies is a super, super sub who could be introduced along with Sydenham and Terry Paine if needs be. Cannot believe strikers like Moran, Boyer and Osgood don’t even make the bench!”
Subs : Antti Niemi, Mark Dennis, Ron Davies, Kevin Keegan, Terry Paine, John Sydenham, Michael Svennson
(gwc – There was a refusal at this point by Chris to justify his selections in this team. They were simply that bad.)
Subs : Sandy Davie, Mark Walters, Tommy Widdrington, Oshor Williams, Tony Pulis
(gwc – No idea who Beaney, Crabbe and Dawtry are? Me either!)
“1968 (I think) Went to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang . Never got in (cinemas had queues and sell outs in those days) Dad took me to see Saints v Coventry instead. Overriding memory – pitch was green, crowd was in colour (had only seen football on b&w tv before that) 0-0 draw (again, I think), at least I don’t remember a goal, or anything else exciting come to that, but I was hooked.”
GK Peter Shilton – “Didn’t have to do a lot, he was so dominant the defence was scared to make a mistake. When they did he was like another one man defensive line all on his own. Still England’s record cap holder (125) should have been much higher but for a job-share arrangement with Ray Clemence. Booze, birds but still simply the best. Crap on Strictly Come Dancing.”
RB Ivan Golac – “First of the modern day foreign imports after we finally got round work permit problems, and possibly still the best value for money foreigner to this day. Took no prisoners in defence, and was even better going forwards . Scored a thunderbolt against WBA from at least 75 yards that their keeper never even saw. Used feigned lack of English to keep himself out of trouble with the ref, was the first foreigner to play in a Wembley final.”
CH Mark Wright – “A very good youngster who got better and better thanks to being paired with and learning from some experienced greats. Looked too frail to be a centre half but had great positional play and perfect timing. Reminiscent of Bobby Moore as, with head up, he would bring the ball out of defence and always look to pass, never hoof . Can still hear the sound his (frail looking) leg made as it snapped in the 86 semi final. Sadly ginger.”
LB Steve Mills – “England international in the making (he played for the Under 23s), it was clear we had unearthed a new star before his career was cruelly cut short after only 60 appearances first by injuries sustained in a car crash and then later developing (and sadly passing away from) leukaemia. Fast, tough tackling, intelligent passer and capable of a quick overlap and getting back again in no time. For younger fans imagine Wayne Bridge but twice as good. Maybe three times.”
LBRBCHRMLMCMRWLWCFS Nick Holmes – “I’d play him just in front of the CH behind the Midfield, put as the positional initials show he played virtually every position for Saints except keeper and never ever let us down. Never received the international recognition he deserved, possibly due to his beard. Seemed a quiet character on the pitch, he simply got on with his job and done it well, very well. It was often said that you only really noticed him if, through injury, he wasn’t there, and you’d be looking for the three players we seemed to be missing. For me this jack-of-all-trades-master-of-all would be the first on every team sheet.”
RW Terry Paine – “Still holds the record for most appearances for the club. Tirelessly hogging the touchline, one of, if not the best crosser of a ball I’ve ever seen. Played in the 66 World Cup squad but picked up an injury so never made the final. Unlike most modern wingers, not afraid to stick a boot, or elbow, in when needed, dropped back into a deeper midfield role as age and differing tactics caught up with him.”
CM Kevin Keegan – “The signing that shocked the football world, it came as big a shock as if we signed Messi today. He didn’t stay long (a couple of seasons) but gave 110% every minute he was on the pitch. Total live-wire, his amazing enthusiasm rubbed off on other players who wouldn’t or couldn’t let their standards drop in his presence. He always struck me as a short player who was a giant on the pitch (the afro may have helped there) Scored the world’s best ever disallowed goal (search YouTube for it) not to mention the goal that took Saints to the top of the league – not our division, THE league. Hard to believe nowadays with not just Saints but football changing so much since then but yes, with him in our team we really were the best side in the country for a while.”
CM David Armstrong – “Just 3 England caps for a player that would walk into today’s national team, he was unfortunate to play in an era when our country had a dearth of mid-fielders. Fantastic box to box player, great at bringing others into the game, making goal after goal for our forwards whilst contributing better than 1 goal in every 4 games himself (a ratio many forwards would be proud of). Added bonus of his head dazzling the opposition under floodlights.”
LW Danny Wallace – “To be fair not a winger as such but was always prepared to hang out wide before bursting inside on a run and terrifying defenders who never knew if he would take the ball past them to their right, left or through their legs. Often utilised in Chris Nicols (unheard of nowadays) 4-2-4 formation he scored a MotD goal of the season with an overhead kick against Liverpool, which I missed, still the one and only time I’ve been for a pee during a game. Added advantage of being able to swap him for brothers Rodney or Ray if he gets tired and no-one will notice.”
CF Ron Davies – “The best header of a ball. Ever. Anywhere. Any time. Benefited from the accuracy of Paine’s crosses but I’m sure he would still have got his head to most balls if it had been my Gran crossing them for him. He scored four headed goals away at Old Trafford. I don’t mean in his career I mean in ONE game and ended up as top scorer in the top division. He, like Ryan Giggs, had the footballing misfortune of being Welsh, depriving him of what would have been a well deserved place on the world stage.”
S Mike Channon – “A striker capable of scoring from anywhere, whether playing through the middle or starting out on the wing* and cutting in. An England regular he played the game with a smile, not least as he “stumbled” over a defenders leg to gain yet another penalty. Scorer of the Greatest Goal Ever® (search YouTube for Greatest Goal Ever®) when against Liverpool he finished off a move consisting of over a thousand passes without them touching the ball before wheeling away giving his trademark windmill arm goal celebration. *Wing positions were often taken up in order to get the racing results , another advantage of the Dell crowds close proximity to the pitch.”
Sub: Matthew Le Tissier – “Famed for his one club loyalty he has probably more individual talent than any of the above but in my opinion all of the above are better team players. Capable of scoring from virtually anywhere in the opponents half, lethal with free kicks and penalties, but starts on the bench as he was prone to disappear for long spells (sometimes as long as 90 minutes especially if it was cold and raining) Selection as sub possibly clouded by my love of being controversial but hey, this is MY team.”
“I refuse to pick a worst XI. After all, good bad or indifferent, they are all Saints and therefore worthy of our support and respect.
Except for David Speedie &Kerry Dixon. They were s***e.”
Tim Flowers – “Best Keeper in England 91-96 unlucky not to get more caps ahead of “Spunky”Seaman. Consistently good for Saints his best performance ,possibly, being in the 92 ZDS Cup Final at Wembley when Saints should have been about 8 down at half time and would have been had it not been for Timmy.”
Ivan Golac – “Quality attacking Right Back who was mysteriously binned for “Oh No” Mick Mills.”
Mark Dennis – “A mental tough tackling left back whose footballing ability would surely have gained England honours had he been the full ticket. Famously lamped by Chris Nicholl at half time and also offered to put all of us up after midweek away games when p****d at an IW supporters dinner.”
Steve Williams – “Classiest Central Midfielder I have witnessed in a Saints shirt. Was that important to the team that they hastily arranged a league game on the Monday before the 84 cup game against Pompey so he could serve a suspension.”
Mark Wright – “Elegant Centre half and token Ginger in my team.”
Micheal Svensson – “Killer was all you wanted in a Centre half,committed, brave and crazy. Massive shame his career was curtailed by injury and it speaks volumes about the man’s character the way he kept trying to come back. Would have been the token Ginger had I not already had one.”
Matthew Le Tissier – “Most skillful footballer I have ever seen.Would have been the laziest had David McGoldrick not turned up some seasons ago. The man is a genius.”
Jimmy Case – “Hardest player I have seen play for Saints and never tried to make a career out of it like some others did (Terry Hurlock). Could also play a bit too and it was funny to watch him steam in every time we played Everton.”
Steve Moran – “Prolific homegrown scorer. Scored 89th minute winner at Fratton in 1984. Say no more.”
David Armstrong -“Put the ball in for the aforemetioned Moran goal. Cultured left foot and token baldy in my team.”
Danny Wallace – “Energetic skillful 3 foot 2 inch winger who was electric on the wing. Scored a magnificent overhead kick against Liverpool but I like to remember his second goal in that game when he out jumped that over critical sour faced Sweaty Hansen to head home at the far stick.”
Dave Beasant – “I haven’t seen many poor Keepers at Saints, Jones had his moments, but “Lurch” gets my vote for general dodginess and that howler when from the corner flag he side footed it straight to John Barnes who couldn’t believe his luck as he stroked the ball into an empty net just hard enough so hapless Dave sprawled into the net after it.”
Lloyd James – “Never saw him have a good game for Saints and at the end of his Saints career was a broken man who regularly passed the ball out of play.”
Olivier Bernard – “A Redknapp signing. Say no more. French, crap.”
Paul Wotton – “Professional footballer my arse. Defensive Midfielder with a complete inability to defend.”
Richard Dryden – “Struggled to get a game in the lower leagues with Bristol City so signed by Saints and played in the Premiership with sadly inevitable results. Remembered for being one of 3 Centre Halves in a defensive line up in a live game @ Newcastle when Saints were 4-0 down inside 15 mins”
Alan Bennett – “Quite simply the slowest and worst Centre Half in the history of the club. Endured the worst Saints debut (home to Palace) since the infamous George Weah’s cousin”
Jermaine Wright – “Inside his head he was a majestic skillful player who could pick a pass from anywhere. To the rest of us he was an overpaid waste of skin who ended up where he belonged playing for Croydon.”
Luis Boa Morte – “More wasted finances on a player who never did it for Saints. Makes my team for trying to beat a man in the 94th minute with Saints 3-2 up against Derby at The Dell. He lost it and no prizes for guessing what happened next. That error cost me a door to my front room after I deposited my right foot through it. And my children were scared of me for weeks afterwards.”
Paul Moody – “I was going to have Dowie in my team before I was reminded of Moody, a Dowie clone but even worse! Unbelievable but true.”
Craig Maskell – “Had 2 spells at Saints, how I don’t know.I can only imagine that he put on a disguise when signing for the second time. Remembered for scoring in the snowy 4-2 win against Liverpool but I defy anybody who remembers another goal scored by him.”
Perry Groves – “Ginger Gooner P**shead who came to Saints for an easy payday. Pulled his shorts up to ridiculous heights. Crap for Saints but his book is a good read.”
“First went to the Dell in 1992. Saints v Arsenal. 2-0 home win. Ian Wright missed a penalty. The only way was up…Oh wait.”
Antti Niemi – “Finland international Niemi, joined the club from Hearts in 2002 and soon established himself as one of the top keepers in the Premier League. Breathtaking shot stopping ability and an ice cool temperament, the flying Finn became a cult hero at St. Mary’s, even smashing a volley against the bar at Fulham.”
Wayne Bridge – “Local boy Bridge was a graduate of the famous Southampton academy, both a competent defender and potent attacker Bridge made his first team debut at 18 and never looked back. He made 151 appearances for Saints and soon broke into Sven Goran Errikkson’s England setup before a big money move to Chelsea.”
Jason Dodd – “Dodd played just shy of 400 games for Saints after signing from non-league Bath City in 1989, the ever dependable full back became part of the furniture in Southampton and is still part of the backroom staff.”
Dean Richards – “Big Deano joined Dave Jones Saints team in 1998 Wolves, the towering centre half was like a brick wall at the back and soon became a fans favourite, being voted as the supporters player of the year in his first season. Sadly passed away this year aged just 36.”
Michael Svensson – “Killer arrived in Southampton from French side Troyes for a fee of £800k in 2002. A fee that would turn out to be an absolute bargain, forming a formidable partnership with Claus Lundekvam (himself unlucky to not make this side) at the back. Svensson was so impressive in the cup final team of 2003 that he was linked with a move to Barcelona, before injury problems blighted his career.”
Chris Marsden – “Something of a journeyman, expectations from Saints fans were low when Marsden joined from Birmingham in 1999. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Marsden provided the engine for a successful Saints midfield, combative and creative, he went on to captain the 2003 cup final side and score a memorable Pele style goal at Ipswich.”
Matthew Le Tissier – “What more needs to be said? Le God as he is known on the South Coast wowed the Southampton faithful for 16 years, despite tempting offers from more glamourous clubs. Simply, the best we ever had. Majestic and mercurial, the man who could turn any game on it’s head in a matter of seconds.”
Ronnie Ekelund – “An odd choice, based on his lack of games maybe, but the impact the Dane had in such a short time at the Dell was massive. A pre-season “gift” from then Barcelona boss Johan Cruyff to old friend Alan Ball in 1994, Ekelund formed an almost telepathic understanding with Le Tissier as Ball’s free flowing side scared many a defence.”
Hassan Kachloul – “Morrocan international Kachloul played 86 games for Saints between 1998 and 2001 after signing from FC Metz on a free transfer and was instrumental in Glenn Hoddle’s successful Saints side. A player that splits opinion among Saints fans, Kachloul was never short of a trick or turn.”
Marian Pahars – “The little Latvian took Saints to heart as much as the supporters did him. Another bargain signing at just £800k from Skonto Riga (where he is now manager), Pahars turned out 137 times for Saints between 1999 and 2006. His love for the club evident is his passionate celebration after a curled wonder strike against the blue few of Pompey, and his tear filled farewell lap of honour.”
James Beattie – “Saints fans may have been disappointed to lose striker Kevin Davies to Blackburn in 1998, but little did they know, that they were getting a much more potent striker as part of the deal. Beattie’s goalscoring exploits tended to come in fits and starts, but when he was hot, he was certainly hot. His partnership with Brett Ormerod, crucial in the 2003 cup run.”
Subs:- Claus Lundekvam, Francis Benali, Matthew Oakley, Carlton Palmer, Egil Ostenstad.
Dave Beasant – “I almost feel guilty, because he was clearly a character and nice bloke. Almost. Too many howlers.”
Olivier Barnard – “I was chuffed when we signed him, probably the biggest disappointment ever. Difficult to express how terrible he was, or indeed how little he cared as we limply dropped out of the top flight.”
Callum Davenport – “Somewhere out there, there is another bloke called Callum Davenport who is really good at football, but has somehow ended up doing a useless, clumsy, lanky blokes job”
Allan Bennett – “Irish international? Crazy. Terrible debut, and it didn’t get much better.”
Darren Kenton – “I literally can’t remember a single moment involving Kenton that wasn’t hapless”
Rory Delap – “Our record signing. We didn’t even utilise the long throw. A utility man. Equally bad in all positions.”
Mark Hughes – “Yeah, yeah, great for everyone else he played for. Poor for us. We were his career blip.”
Simon Gillett – “Couldn’t pass, tackle or shoot, and extremely lightweight. All the trappings of a terrible central midfielder.”
Neil McCann – “Nearly left him out because he attacked Lee Bowyer, but he simply wasn’t very good.”
Paul Moody – “Bloody Hell! Dowie is having shocker today. Wait a minute. That isn’t Dowie, it’s his slightly better looking, but even worse at football teammate”
Ali Dia – “How could I leave him out?”
My Best and Worst Saints XI by Russell Masters age 20
Antti Niemi – “His legendary ability to somehow stop the most unreachable shots made him my first choice ‘keeper whenever I had to go in goal down the park.”
Gareth Bale – “I’ll always remember Bale’s attacking nature whilst playing at left-back for Saints, he was exciting and a hot prospect at the time. His set pieces weren’t too bad either.”
Claus Lundekvam – “Our Claus, in the middle of defence. Need I say more? Solid, long-serving defender, and a hero in my eyes.”
Michael Svensson – “Killer formed a cracking partnership at the back with Lundekvam which stopped some of the Premier League’s best attackers.”
Jason Dodd – “Seemed to be the only good Southampton right back whilst I was growing up, was always in the team and deservedly so.”
Chris Marsden – “Marsden is here purely for THAT goal versus Ipswich. Football genius.”
Matt Le Tissier – “Le God. 433 league appearances, 162 league goals. A Southampton legend, and I agree with Xavi when he said ‘for me, he was sensational’.”
Morgan Schneiderlin – “One of the best central midfielders I’ve seen, his composure and the way he plays is sublime. I was also there for his only Saints goal, away at Bristol Rovers.”
Adam Lallana – “Arguably our best current player, Lallana oozes talent, his skill on the ball is a class above and he is a joy to watch.”
Marian Pahars – “Probably one of my favourite players of all time, Pahars did the business on the highest stage, and his nickname of ‘Latvia’s Michael Owen’ is well deserved. He was fantastic.”
James Beattie – “He was sometimes hit and miss, but when he was hitting, he was top class.”
Tommy Forecast – “On the odd occasion I’ve seen him play, he has never, ever, impressed.”
Lee Molyneux – “Did nothing aside from getting sent off after he joined, and has done nothing since leaving.”
Ollie Lancashire – “He tried, but just could not cut it in a Saints team where he looked increasingly out of his depth.”
Chris Makin – “Came to us at the end of his career and it showed.”
Lloyd James – “Like Lancashire, often looked out of his depth. Had a few good games, but was often poor.”
Luis Boa Morte – “The promising attacking midfielder pretty much flopped during his short spell at Saints.”
Ryan Smith – “He was supposed to be good, but wasn’t. Now plying his trade in the MLS.”
Nigel Quashie – “Four relegations with four different teams, including Saints.”
Leon Best – “Own goal and a missed penalty in a play off semi final is unforgivable.”
Ali Dia – “A couple of years before my time, but he has to be mentioned. Just awful. “
Agustin Delgado – “The £3.5m striker scored one goal in two starts over the course of three years. Then manager Gordon Strachan said there was a yoghurt in his fridge that was more important than Delgado.”
So there we have it, some recurring choices, but also some differences. Thankfully we didn’t have any players feature for a Best and Worst teams, which would have been embarrassing. I am sure some of you will be astounded at players that haven’t made best elevens, and some that have made the worst. Feel free to add your selections in the comments section. No opinion is wrong!
The close season is boring. If there is no tournament that we can watch England showcase their spectacular level of mediocrity in, we have to rely on the snippets of transfer rumour for our summer injection of this football drug
Often referred to as silly season, mainly because the papers try and fill their sports pages with outrageous “done deals” and “likely to be finalised this week” stories, Manchester City having replaced Chelsea as the team that will be linked with every footballer that has kicked a ball with any degree of success last season.
High profile players will be linked with other clubs, they have no intention of moving too, engineered by their representative to get them a better deal at their current club(the Gerrard/Terry/Rooney model.)
It has always been like this. But it is getting worse.
Not just because of the stupid levels of money being spent on transfer fees and wages, but now because of technology too. Now we have Twitter. The rise in the usage of Twitter by professional footballers has seen the summer transfer rumour mill take a whole new direction. Gone are the days where I had to rely on Ceefax page 312 for a roundup of the days transfer stories(and I did check this every day, every summer), the frustrating wait as the pages changed, hoping that something was happening at Saints.
Now the fans can directly interact with the players on Twitter, and this should be openly encouraged in my opinion. You often hear people moan about the young millionaires who have lost touch with the fans, and Twitter is a brilliant way of them getting it back. The power of this interaction though increases the level of speculation, every club has fans who are “in the know” usually to be found on forums fuelling everybody’s desperate need for news, but now they are on Twitter too. An “in the know” fan of my club suggested earlier this week that we were in talks with Rohan Ricketts, a high twitter user. Rickett’s is clearly a clever cookie and very good at interacting with people, so when on receipt of this rumour he had Saints fans asking him if it were true, he, rather obtusely replied with “I can’t say at the moment”.
We have also been linked by several papers with Jack Cork(as are several others). A player who had a successful loan spell with us last time we were in the Championship, Cork is also a “tweeter”. Cork has taken a differing approach to the questions now coming at him thick and fast, opting for a dignified silence. In my cynical opinion, this is probably because Cork does have offers on the table, whereas Ricketts is actively looking.
We can also look forward to the “such and such spotted in wherever” rumours, my personal favourites. The amount of managers and players that have been spotted at the De Vere hotel in Southampton would be enough to form a breakaway league.
The problem with transfer rumours is, that no matter how ridiculous, and no matter how sure you are that they aren’t true, you can’t help letting yourselves be taken in by them.
I don’t mind admitting that I have been taken in a couple of times. I knew how unlikely they were, but the majesty of them just made me hope. Firstly circa 1994, and the rumour was rife that Gary Lineker was to make a triumphant return to English football from Grampus Eight and lead Saints forward line. The “hope” involved in believing this one was fuelled by the previous season, having had to put up with the ridiculously bad Kerry Dixon and David Speedie, the thought of an English goalscoring legend coming to rescue us from our crap striker abyss was too much to ignore. Lineker was spotted in Ted’s fish and chip shop by the Dell and everything…..
Secondly, summer of 2001. Saints in their new stadium, and seemingly on the up, what better than a flagship signing? But German international superstar Oliver Bierhoff? Surely not. Correct. Not. We did sign an international goalscorer though. Agustin Delgado, so all’s well that ends well. Oh wait….
So we can all look forward to another summer of speculation and hearsay. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you are taken it by any involving your club. Football is all about hopes and dreams. And sometimes nightmares.
p.s. I have it on very good authority that Michael Owen will definitely not be signing for Southampton.
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