Opening Day Of The Season 1976 - Carlisle United
Wednesday, 11th Jul 2012 09:32
What a difference a year makes, 12 months on from a powderkeg Dell ready to blow, Saints fans were in celebratory mood.
A year previously Lawrie McMenemy had strode along the touchline to his seat in the dug out in front of a crowd who if he had lost the game where ready to turn on him with venom for the previous two seasons, yet now he was the most popular man in Southampton and his bname and that of his team were now the talk of football and all because of 90 minutes played at Wembley Stadium a little over three months earlier.
But although Saints were now firm favourites for promotion, McMenemy knew that he had to rebuild his team, that for all their cup fighting exploits they were not equipped for the rigours of a 42 game season and the need to grind out results at the likes of the opening day visitors Carlisle, on a cold winters day, but first he had to let the euphoria of the Cup Final die down.
A week earlier Saints had been running out at Wembley again, this time against Liverpool in the charity shield, around 35,000 Saints fans had gone to that game, but there were only around half that number in the Dell for Carlisle, 18,695 to be exact, only 3,000 more than had attended the season opener against West Brom a year earlier, Saints fans were euphoric, but as McMenemy once famously quoted, it seemed they were doing their celebrating at home in their kitchens and not on the terraces of the Dell.
Saints ran out in their new Admiral home strip debuted at Wembley a week earlier, the side was almost identical to the one that had played at Wembley in the cup final, the only change being Malcolm Waldron in for the injured Mel Blyth, but that cup final side had played its last game already for Saints in the Charity Shield, although there had been no incoming transfers in the summer change was about to get underway, but first McMenemy had to give the chance to the players who won him the cup to show they could take the club to promotion.
However the bubble was about to be well and truly burst, Carlisle had only just escaped relegation the previous year and indeed they would go down at the end of this season, but on this bright sunny August day they would get their first win of the season, one of only eleven they would eventually manage.
It was clear that Saints were still suffering the hangover not just from the cup final and the Charity Sheld but frm a number of prestigious pre season games and it was no surprise when Bill Rafferty opened the scoring for the visitors just after the half hour, in the second half Saints rallied and a good bit of play saw a great Channon cross headed home by Peter Osgood and you hoped that the cobwebs had been blown away and that Saints could swing into that promotion winning form, it was not to be though, within a few minutes Rafferty had restored the visitors lead and that is how it woul remain till the final whistle.
McMenemy picked his words carefully afterwards, "We lost because of two mistakes, not because we played badly" he told the press afterwards, but the truth was the side needed to take Saints up was not the one that lost to Carlisle, of the 12 on duty at Wembley, 3 would have played their last game for the club by the turn of the year and they would be followed by another 4 before the end of the season, and they would be joined by Channon departing for Man City, although as we know he would return.
The opening day loss was perhaps needed for Saints, it burst the bubble and was the catalyst for the rebuilding programme needed.
Photo: Action Images
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