View from the Kingsland: Into the Unknown

View from the Kingsland: Into the Unknown

By Saints columnist Nick Mabey

The new season is suddenly upon us – how did that happen? One minute I’m lapping up the Ashes in between so-called summer showers, next moment I’m switching my attention from weather maps to the Saints website, the Echo and various supporter Facebook groups. I’m not ready yet, I just hope the team is.

We kick off on a Friday night away to League 1 play-off winners, Sheffield Wednesday.  The once-mighty four-time league champions are typical of the opponents we will face this year.  Famous club, big history, lofty ambitions and a fanbase that probably believes they belong in the big time. The same could be said of Southampton (not so big a history admittedly but plenty of years in the top-flight) but I’m finding myself a bit disoriented.

Why? I hear you ask. Go on, humour me and ask why.

Well since you asked… firstly it feels really early to be kicking off.  I’m still waiting for summer to start.  June may have been hot, and the rest of the world on fire, but in this part of Hampshire the suntan lotion has stayed resolutely in the bottle. 

Secondly, remind me what division are we in? Friday night football, razzle dazzle adverts on Sky, increased season ticket sales, away day sell-outs.  The Championship was meant to be a return to prosaic Saturday 3pm kick-offs but only three of the first eight take place then.  The Championship I remember (and Division 2 long before that) was never like this.

Thirdly, and here it feels most like a step into the unknown, who is going to play in the team?  And connected, who is going to stay at the club? I support the club, and whoever wears the shirt will always be cheered on wholeheartedly, but usually at this moment in time I have a pretty clear picture of who that actually is.  In my last article, when I speculated about this, it was with the expectation that by now – two days from kick-off – most of the big decisions would be either made or in the pipeline.  But as things stand, four have left and two have arrived, at least half of the squad have been linked with moves elsewhere and everyone is getting minutes on the pitch in pre-season.

I really feel for the new manager, Russell Martin, in the situation the Saints find themselves in.  He’s had to plan for multiple eventualities and manage through a period of ambiguity and uncertainty. He’s admitted there will be players participating in the first few games who will be gone by the end of the month and others who won’t make early match day squads but who will be important figures come September.  I’m not sure if it’s always like this for clubs relegated to the Championship, or whether it’s unique to us.

The good news is also disorientating.  Pundits seem pretty united in the view that we are a very well-run club, who are extremely likely to get promoted straight away.  Our manager seems to be calm, competent and confident. And our owners are not caving in on player sales and seem keen to invest in the squad as much as recoup last year’s extravagant expenditure.  This is Southampton – I’m just not used to writing things like this.  Help!

With four league fixtures, a Carabao cup match scheduled for August and a transfer window slamming shut on 31st, this step into the unknown won’t last long.  Pretty soon we’ll know who we’re cheering and whether joy and hope or sadness and despair are likely to be the season’s dominating emotions. 

This year I’m making no predictions what with last year’s being spectacularly poor and me being temporarily lost.


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