View from the Kingsland – Que Sera, Sera…

View from the Kingsland – Que Sera, Sera…

By Nick Mabey.

…whatever will be will be, we’re going to Wembley, que sera sera.  Saints’ first ever play-off final awaits, for allegedly the richest game in football. To the winner a prize of multi-squillions of Premier League cash, to the loser well nothing. Could it feel much bigger?

It all started last Friday and the extraordinary atmosphere generated at St. Mary’s. I’ve been watching Southampton for many decades and am not given to hyperbole but the play-off semi-final second leg against West Brom is going to stay long in the memory for the colour, the noise, the buzz and the sheer craziness of it all. Oh and of course the football match, which was actually a routine one-sided win.

The club had asked fans to step up to the plate in the build-up to the game and boy did we respond. We were all asked to wear red, which for me meant hunting through boxes for an old Saints’ shirt, eventually stumbling on one of my son’s from the Koeman era that was rather small but did the job.  We were also asked to turn up early and let off flares when the players arrived (by coach would you believe? I’m not sure where they had come from but it certainly added to the theatre). Two hours before kick-off the streets around St. Mary’s were transformed into River Plate or Galatasaray, with a cacophony of sound in a fog of red.  It was a surprise no-one got run over.

In the stadium itself there was such a buzz, like everyone had been glugging gallons of Red Bull and munching pounds of Haribo. The contrast with Stoke at home on the last day of the regular season could not have been greater, helped of course by warm and sunny weather, which meant none of the thousands of ill-fitting football shirts needed covering with jumpers or coats.  Amazingly from this already high level, the atmosphere kept building and building, so that by kick-off we were all ready to explode.

The game itself slowly acted as something of a sedative, with West Brom camped out in their own half, not keen on taking any risks and Saints wary of conceding from a breakaway. Still the singing from multiple parts of the ground persisted was something to behold, and it was eventually rewarded when we took the lead just after half time.  The reaction to Will Smallbone’s beautifully struck goal was visceral, deafening and very un-Saints like.  Chaos reigned.  If anything, the second goal, another belter this time from Adam Armstrong, caused an even greater explosion of sound and joy. At that moment we knew we had won and the vibe flowed from anticipation to celebration.

Much has been written about the post-match pitch invasion. I’ll own up to eventually and reluctantly sauntering on to the pitch with my son and sheepishly standing around near the centre circle admiring the grass and smiling at the increasingly threatening signs on the screens imploring roughly 5000 people to leave the playing area. The irony for me was that the club played a leading role in revving the crowd up to fever pitch and was then grumpy at the consequences. On reflection it would have been better if it hadn’t happened and was a little premature and cringy. Of course those who used the opportunity to goad the West Brom tarnished things a little with some pretty indefensible behaviour. 

Within a few hours of the result  the magic ticket machine had kicked into life and we were all working out when we could buy and where we should go.  This process was always going to cause controversy; selling 36,000 tickets fairly and quickly is not a job I would have fancied.  My gripe was the cost, but it didn’t stop me shelling out for what I hope will be an even bigger experience than last Friday.  

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