Watching football fans watching the football
Journalist and Southampton fan Chris Cox explains how Southampton's surprising decision to axe Alan Pardew last August has boosted the Hampshire side...
It has been just over a year since football in the red and white part of Hampshire was turned well and truly on its head, and we’re not talking about Sholing FC’s Southern League Division One South & West play-off final loss to Frome Town.
Having beaten Bristol Rovers 4–0 at the Memorial Stadium, the Italian Stallion knocked out the Wimbledon Warrior. Southampton Chairman Nicola Cortese sacked Manager Alan Pardew in a move that caused a mixture of panic, confusion and shock.
Personally I was a bit miffed as it meant that our entire pre-season’s activity counted for more or less nothing. Pardew had brought in Fraser Richardson, Danny Butterfield, Ryan Dickson and ‘Guly’ do Prado, his own players to put his own stamp on the team.
Not only that, he had established his own backroom team, featuring Dean Wilkins, Wally Downes and Stuart Murdoch - the latter two followed Pardew out of the emergency exit. It made no sense to sack the man after a handful of games into the new season, ripping it up to start all over again. There was no guarantee that his successor would do any different, let alone any better…
The contenders for the post Pardew had vacated ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. I personally was guilty of mentioning that it was either Alan Shearer or the eventual winner Nigel Adkins, though on the plus side I gained a few new followers on Twitter for it. Martin O’Neill was said to be looking at a flat in nearby Winchester (which seems to be part of the vetting process for prospective new Southampton players and managers) and Eddie Howe was apparently interviewed three times.
My own personal choice was Sean O’Driscoll, then of Doncaster Rovers. He’d taken a team of also-rans, taught them how to play good football and put them in the Championship. What do I know though – he wasn’t even mentioned. Anyway, Nigel Adkins was certainly not a universal choice.
How wrong we were though, and what a decision by Nicola Cortese. An exciting brand of passing football was introduced, the talismanic Rickie Lambert returned to form after appearing to have had a bad pre-season and all was looking pretty damn rosy.
The league table spoke for itself and after a season visiting lovely destinations like Huish Park, The Victoria Ground and Spotland, Southampton had averaged more than two points per game. It’s incredible to think Huddersfield, in the full throes of their ongoing Football League unbeaten record, were forced to settle for the play-offs while the Saints marched into second place.
I’m of the belief that had Nigel Adkins been in place from the beginning of the season, Brighton would have had a serious challenge for the League One title. But according to Gus Poyet, we played like Dagenham & Redbridge and the fixture list was rigged in our favour. Never mind eh?
A few weeks ago I stood only a few feet away from Nigel as he conducted his post-match interview after a 4–1 mauling of Birmingham City. I know from a year of watching his work from afar that he wouldn’t be absolutely ecstatic about beating the freshly relegated Carling Cup holders. He was… Himself. Nigel Adkins is the manager that takes a unique approach to football and the rare breed that actually delivers with that unique approach.
He was asked how he felt about his 100th win in football management, or rather he was told about his 100th win in management, his answer to the question was that he was unaware of this achievement. Personally I’d question that statistic, as I assume it doesn’t involve his spells at Renbad Rovers and Bangor City. He then went on to talk about how good the stadium concourse is and how good a job the match day people at St. Mary’s do. Classic Nigel.
But the past 12 months have really been a tale of two men, and not just the endlessly positive and ever so chatty Nigel Adkins. Our chairman, Nicola Cortese, has contributed a lot.
For me personally, it became a matter of trust. Could I really put my faith into someone who had so ruthlessly swung the axe at the man who had won us our first trophy since 1976? The man who had reintroduced the concept of winning away games - and winning them well? The man who when all said and done, was perhaps a big fish in a small pond. A Premier League manager in the bottom half of League One. Almost ashamedly, I started doubting the man that had essentially guaranteed the club a future.
I, like many other Southampton fans, was in a state of shock when our owner, Markus Liebherr, tragically died last year. Well Markus, it looks as if your dream is living on.
Southampton sit top of the Championship, and deservedly so. Expectations for the season ranged from fighting to keep our heads above water due to concerns over our new transfer policy (i.e. keeping quiet about any deals and making sure they’re well thought out) to play-offs at best.
Few believed it was possible to go into this week’s international break and be clear by two points at the top. The real question is, will it last? Well, given the hope I have invested in me from the past year or two’s events, I am inclined to believe it can.
Keep an eye on Saints this month – with West Ham and Middlesbrough, both promotion rivals, among the teams they will face in the coming weeks…
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