Photo: Southampton’s Sékou Mara, left, during the Premier League match between Saints and Everton on Saturday 1st October 2022, at St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton, England. Picture: Chris Moorhouse/Southampton FC.
words by Nick Mabey.
It has been a while since I posted. The football has taken a depressing turn and the manager situation seems so unstable that, to be honest, I’ve lacked inspiration. All of which got me thinking of why I became a Southampton fan in the first place.
I started supporting Arsenal in 1971 when, at the tender age of seven, I watched them win the FA Cup, beating Liverpool 2-1, to complete the double having already secured the league title. I saw the game on TV, mesmerised by the whole thing; particularly long-haired Charlie George, his winning goal and the iconic celebration that followed it. Like many youngsters then, and now, my head was turned by a successful team, regardless of where they were from. My hero was Bob Wilson and my dream was to be a goalkeeper like him. I cried inconsolably when they lost in the 72 final, 1-0 to Leeds.
My Dad took me to my first game on 23rd April 1973; finally a chance to see my beloved Gunners in the flesh. They were playing away to Southampton, my local side, who I knew nothing about apart from that they weren’t very good. On a bright sunny day he treated us to seats in the East Stand (I later learnt this was not the place to be but my mum had insisted I needed protecting). My memories now of the detail have gone but the feelings I felt – of the roar of the crowd and the sheer physicality of the action – live fresh in my mind now. I remember the result finished 2-2 and Charlie George scored, but that was it from the action.
On the way home my Dad asked me if I had enjoyed myself. As if it wasn’t obvious! He then gave me a choice that changed everything. I could keep supporting Arsenal and see one game a season or I could start supporting Southampton and go every other week. Not known as a man of wisdom, my Dad played a blinder that day and I was set. I started going the following season on a regular basis and, although my love of Arsenal took time to fade away, I was soon Southampton through and through. Born in the General, christened at St. Marks next door to the Dell, my worshipping could begin (Saints historians amongst you will know that my first year supporting the team resulted in our relegation – I tried not to blame myself).
Thanks to the good old internet I was able to look up this match. What surprised me most was how similar the Arsenal team was to the one that had lifted the cup two years earlier. Nine players by my count, including Bob Wilson (still my hero) and of course Charlie George. One of the two new faces was an actual World Cup winner, Alan Ball, recently signed from Everton, who would go on to become a Saints legend, both on the pitch and as manager.
The Saints side that day is less familiar to me; a sign I was not yet a fan. Four players would go on to achieve hero status by getting an FA cup winners medal, Jim Steele, Hugh Fisher (though he was an unused substitute in 76), Paul Gilchrist and Bobby Stokes. The rest were names I knew but have no real association with, except of course Terry Paine, who I would quickly learn was the only player of ours that anyone outside the club had heard of.
This trip down memory lane provided two salutary lessons, in case I needed reminding. Firstly, that it has almost always been the case that an unknown, unfancied Southampton side has sought to stand toe to toe with far more illustrious opponents despite glaring differences in resources. And secondly, for me personally, I did not choose the team for the promise of glory, rather because of the way it makes me feel to be a fan. Both are lessons worth hanging on to at this time of current doom and gloom.
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