Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Recent events at Southampton have meant that the onset of another Premier League season in just three weeks time is being looked at with something of a jaundiced view. Now as a Saints fan since my Dad first took me to The Dell in 1946 you would think that I had grown used to the ups and downs (literally,) the slings and arrows, the false dawns and the perennial bewilderment that comes with the territory, but the selling of most of last year`s successful team, along with the mysteries of the boardroom, have raised new questions about what seems to be a one-way street of loyalty between the football club and its fans.

My suspicion is that the real culprit here is the Premier League itself. Rather than being a reasonable contest between teams playing football, it has instead become a contest between those with the biggest cheque books.  It has become a contest between financial egos (Abramovich, Sheik Mansour, the Glazers et al) and when Southampton were bought by the late Markus Liebherr there was the fleeting notion that we might sup at the same table.   A whimsical notion indeed, as Southampton is not part of some sprawling conurbation, St. Mary`s Stadium holds a mere 32,000 and our place in the food chain has always seen our talented academy graduates being gobbled up by the wolf gang higher up the ladder (Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bale, Shaw, Lallana and so on.)

So it is with a shrug of inevitability that I face the new season with mixed feelings - last season we had the impertinence to reach our glass ceiling and next season brings once again the prospect of a struggle for survival with a hugely depleted squad, an accidental owner in the late Markus`s daughter quite probably looking to sell the club to the highest bidder and a boardroom headed by an ice hockey coach.   

Part of me wants the Saints to survive and prosper, especially after all these years of sticking by them, but another part of me almost wishes (and I know I should be careful what I wish for) that we could get back to where the hopes and expectations are reduced and where competition is that elusive but reasonable contest between teams playing football.   As for the Premier League ("The best league in the world (tm)") it reminds me more and more of food retailing - it has become the Waitrose of football, catering for an affluent niche customer base, where quality and price may be of less concern than the cache of being seen in there, whereas those like me who remember flat caps and rattles might prefer the unpretentious surroundings of the nearest Aldi.

High up on the Hampshire Downs above the Meon Valley lies the village of Hambledon, once, in the 1760s and 1770s, the home of the most successful village cricket team in the land.  On Broadhalfpenny Down`s fabled pitch, Hambledon took on and beat all comers - even the All England team.   In 1908, when cricket returned to the village after a 116-year absence, a celebratory match was arranged when Hambledon again beat an All England side.   Even then, The Times was lamenting the change in the way cricket was played and organised: "from an occasional pastime, marked by geniality and rapture, into a more or less mechanical trade."

And so today, as the Premier League is gearing up for the next ten predictable months of the Super Sundays, Magic Mondays and Midweek Specials of its more or less mechanical trade, my heart sinks a little, not just for Southampton`s prospects but also for the long ago passing of geniality and rapture.

Oh dear!

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