View from the Kingsland – Life at the bottom

View from the Kingsland – Life at the bottom

by Nick Mabey.

How does the joke go? We must be the strongest team in the league, we’re propping everyone else up. That’s how it’s been for Southampton since the season resumed on Boxing Day. Rock bottom. It’s been a while since we were stuck at the foot of the Premier League but that’s where we are right now and, like many teams who’ve occupied the position before, we look like we belong there.

I am writing this on the morning of 4th January, and we have a game this evening where a win would lift us from the bottom and potentially take us to the heady heights of 17th. It’s a proper ‘six-pointer’ as they say in football cliché land, as we are at home against fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest. So by the time you read this we may not even be in the basement. I want to write this today, before the match, partly because I’d really like to invoke Sod’s law and cause us to win by writing about us being bottom – it’s my job as a superstitious football fan to do my bit to help the team.  

The other reason for writing now is that it feels like a pivotal day. If we lose tonight it’s going to feel pretty hopeless. If we win tonight, the psychological lift will be huge and, in such a tight league this season, we will be able to dare to dream of brighter days ahead. It’s that sort of day. Only a draw will maintain the status quo of being bottom but not without hope.

Some have us down already. We’ve signed kids, they say, and now an unproven manager who is out of his depth in the Premier League. We’ve got no strikers who can score, a midfield that is not powerful enough and a leaky defence. The sure-fire recipe for relegation. Owners who are clueless and/or intent on destroying the club.  Spend any time looking for Saints opinion on social media and the end of the world appears nigh. Some of it is pure self-defence, a way of protecting the psyche from harm.  There’s anger, sadness and fear all bubbling away. And precious little hope.

Personally I’m feeling pretty sanguine about it, which surprises me.  I’m not convinced we’re as bad as everyone makes out. This season is a weird one, with the World Cup break and a much tighter division than usual. And mostly there seem to be much bigger problems in the world occupying my attention. Perhaps this is my safety mechanism?  Or a sign of some respite from my Saints addiction?

It’s certainly seems a very, very long time since my article of 28th July (Dream big, dream now) in which I’m embarrassed to say I dreamed of a top eight finish and a Wembley final.  To be fair we are still in both cup competitions, although a quarter final tie at home to Manchester City in the League Cup next week after a tricky 3rd round visit to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup should put pay to that dream.  Re-reading that article, the pre-season view of bookmakers was that we would end up 15th.  That is my new dream for the second half of the season, one I’m sure is shared by most Saints fans right now.

There is a strange psychology that can start to form among fans in the depths of despair, that can be quite galvanising. It’s a sense that we are all in it together, that the club needs the fans, that we stand together. I’ve seen but a few glimpses of it so far, and perhaps there is much more trauma to come before it truly appears. But it will appear at some point, I’m convinced of it.  We had it in the 90s when we were fighting relegation most seasons and it was there in spades as we dropped to League One. The night is darkest just before the dawn – or so the expression goes.  The question is, how much darker does it need to get before then?

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