Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Saints go marching to the brink of Oblivion

Paul promised you some reflections on sport in the first HDEO post. And now's as good a time as any to take our minds of the porcine flu that's grabbing the headlines.

There comes a point in most boys' lives, and many girls', when we choose our football team. To a great extent, our lives are defined by that decision. See Nick Hornby and countless others for lyrical waxings on the topic. My team, Southampton FC, the Saints, may soon be extinct. Football clubs with big ambitions need big money, and we just don't have it.
For many, particularly in Ireland, and definitely in Dublin, there's no choice in the matter. You follow the team that your dad, or your older brother supports. With few exceptions, that means Liverpool or Man U. There's a sprinkling of Arsenals and Evertons, and of course everyone checks the "Sallick" results (particularly, or exclusively in the Glasgow Old Firm games). You might even come across a Man City or Spurs fan if you walk into a pub showing Sky Sports on a Tuesday, but in general, it's Reds or Red Devils. Oh, and for the newcomers, Chelsea.
I started out liking Leeds, when they won the FA Cup against Arsenal in 1972. Sniffer Clarke and his one-hand salute! I was still liking Leeds a year later when Sunderland popped in a goal to stun them in the '73 final.
They say a boy should never change his team, but I realised that by following Leeds I was (to my own mind only, I stress) only following success. So I flirted a bit with Liverpool, and then realised that I had nothing to talk to anyone about because they were all Liverpool fans too. It's really, really boring when conversations run "who do you support?" "Liverpool." "Me too".
I have no clue why, but I wanted a team to be mine, mine only. So I came up with the idea of supporting someone no-one in Ireland supported, as far as I knew. Southampton. I'd spent many summers on the sea in Lymington with my wonderful maternal grandfather, and I was delighted when they beat the hated Man U(re) in the FA Cup (again 1-0 proving decisive).
I stuck with the Saints through thick and thin (and in the 80s and 90s it was pretty thick - almost always qualifying for Europe, attracting the likes of Kevin Keegan and Peter Shilton and Mick Mills and Jimmy Case to play with us), and a second-place finish in the old First Division, with the great Lawrie McMenemy in charge, and Mick Channon's wonderful wing mirror locks flapping in the Solent sunshine. Matt Le Tisser, the Enigma. And a bevy of Irish talent, from north and south.
A lovely county Hampshire. Like in Hertfordshere and Herefordshire, Hurricanes Hardly Happen. "'Ampshire born and 'ampshire bred, strong of arm and thick of head. But I can drive a traaactor".
Almost like Cork, only English. Wonderful coastline, great pub grub, a soft and lazy accent, and most of all the New Forest, which surely inspired Tolkien to invent Lothlorien. OK, Southampton city is a complete shit hole, but the little villages I remember form my childhood, glorious: Brockenhurst, Boulder, Pennington, Milford. The Irish priest who said Mass every sunny summer Sunday... and finally, my last time in Hampshire, the only time I remember it raining, watching them pack the rich earth down on top of Grandpa Bernard (a Hampshire man but proud of his Waterford blood, and a Spurs fan, now I think of it.)
And then the Saints went through thin in the last six years. From defeat in the cup final (in the rain, in Cardiff, under the roof, but 1-0 again, the script of my life in FA Cup finals), the crappy luck drawing Steau Bucharest in the Uefa rather than some Albanian nobodies, to the move from the lovely Dell, the snuggest premiership ground, to the atmosphere-less St Mary's, through a suck-session of managers whose names I barely recall, but I know its something like 25 since Lawrie left the big chair. Some brilliant, like Hoddle, Strachan and Burley, some disasters like sabbo Redknapp and Denis "anything but" Wise.
So here we are, four days from oblivion. A couple of  years back it seemed that a big cheese from Microsoft wanted to buy into the Saints. Now, with the train-wreck of mismanagement led by Rupert Lowe (Rupert! Call that a football name?) and others we are on the brink. A victim of the big money game, we punched above our weight for years, but now, the lower we fall, the harder the punches and kicks rain down.
Paul's been here before with Leeds, more than once. And Leeds have survived. Just, only just. And if all things pan out and the SCUM survive (oh yes, we are the original Scum, the South Community Union Members) then we'll be watching League One footie together, Paul and I, in 2009/10. If not, then I'm going to have to do that thing that no boy should have to do. Change his team. And you know, shouting for Leeds mightn't be the worst thing - after all, I did it way back when. And it'd be a good gesture to that passionate Leeds fan who passed away too soon, John "Hoppy" Flanagan. Although I can imagine the comment: "Feck you, who needs ya! Shure your club has to go bust before you'd shout for Leeds!"
In closing, I have to recommend that readers check out how our rivals, 20 miles down the coast, Portsmouth, got their name, the Skaters. Google Portsmouth and Skates, that should do it.


1 comment:

  1. Ah... Bobby Stokes, a real cup hero, bless him. David Peach - what kind of a name was that for a full-back?
    We were all supporting the Saints that day, Joe. Let's hope the Scummers survive and get back to where they belong... ideally without Rupert Lowe-profile