Sunday, September 14, 2008


THE COMFORT ZONE

After yesterday`s televised defeat at the home of Queens Park Rangers, Southampton are back in the relegation zone following four defeats in their first five games of the new season. It seems strange, but there is a measure of comfort about that.

For the last few seasons, we have grown used to the constant struggle of surviving in the second tier of English football, to the extent that it now seems `out of place` for us to be anywhere else than in the lower echelons of the league.

Injuries to key players and bizarre team selection saw a very young team, with nine players aged 22 or under, take the field at Loftus Road, home of probably the world`s richest club. The game itself was fairly representative of Saints` fortunes so far this season. A goal needlessly conceded after just 37 seconds; the sending off of 19-years old debutant Oliver Lancashire for a mistimed tackle; a quite stunning equaliser by Adam Lallana only for the home team to take the lead again with a blatantly offside `goal`; the loss of influential midfielder Lee Holmes with a medial ligament injury likely to keep him out for some months; and the 10 men finally running out of legs in the last quarter of the game.

A `spirited performance` nonetheless, according to Saints` Dutch coach Jan Poortvliet, who seems to have two claims to fame - one being a member of the Dutch World Cup Final team that lost to Argentina in 1978 and the other being nutmegged by Archie Gemmell before he scored for Scotland in the same tournament. But it`s clear that youthful endeavour and spirited performances are insufficient in the face of the twin problems of inexperience and near insolvency.

The gap is getting wider. It`s bad enough in the Premiership, where the only hope for success seems to be via the uncertain medium of foreign billionaires, but it`s far, far worse in the lower reaches of the game. Saints are fighting a losing financial battle and can only hope to survive if they continue to sell their best players - Walcott, Bale, Baird, Kenwyne Jones, Crouch and a whole lot more make for a sad litany of inevitable departures. And the pick of our current crop of talented youngsters look likely to be sold off in the January transfer window. Already League One is calling. Things will get worse before they get better, which is something I`ve been saying for the last four years.

So what to do? Well, the club has been in my veins since I saw my first game at The Dell in 1946 and I have no intention of selling my soul or my meagre shareholding even though the price has plummetted. The gap between the footballing haves and have nots, between the princes and the paupers, the rich and the poor, continues to widen. But it`s a gap which has brought with it a final acceptance of mediocrity, the banishment of any remaining expectation and a curious comfort zone all of its own.

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