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Southampton FC A Fan's Perspective
Friday, 5th Jan 2018 18:05 by Duncan Holley

Saints fans are split at the moment about what is going on at St Mary's , Club historian Duncan Holley is a man who knows Southampton Football Club as well as most, here he gives his view of the current situation.

Saints fans may all have differing views about what is going on at St Mary's some feel it is only a minor blip on the playing side of things, others feel it is more serious, For nearly 30 years now The Ugly Inside has prided itself on "Giving Saints Fans A Voice" We do that whether we agree with the writer or not, we believe in freedom of speech.

In that vein we are pleased to give Club Historian Duncan Holley an outlet for his views, we may or may not agree with some of it, but we believe in his right to hold those views and know that he like every other Saints fan has the club at heart.

Anyway over to Duncan !

When Marcus Liebherr finally purchased the ashes of Southampton FC in July 2009 there was a collective sigh of relief all around. It had been a close thing with the Matthew Le Tissier-backed Pinnacle consortium nearly turning us into the laughing stock that was, shortly afterwards, the fate instead of our fishy neighbours down the M27. Phew!

Although I was as delighted as the next fan the club had a future, I remember getting stick at the time for pointing out that although we had now been “rescued” by a bone fide and wealthy new owner, as fans we now had to accept our destiny would forever be out of our hands, or in other words, the new owner could do whatever he or she wanted without giving the supporters a second thought. Even Rupert Lowe had to consider the shareholders first and foremost, but now we were at the mercy of one man – Mr Marcus Liebherr.

Happily for us our new saviour appeared to be a man of integrity who, while undoubtedly chuffed to bits that he had acquired a bargain for around £15m, – a sum that looks a pittance today – he did actually look like he cared about the footballing side of things too.

Who can forget him and his camera at Wembley? Aided by Nicola Cortese who seemed to have liberal access to the Liebherr cheque book, it didn’t take long before we were proudly back in the big time. We are Southampton, we come from League One was belted out with gusto on many a Premier League ground.

Saints fans had not had it so good since the early 80s, the football was widely praised, the Academy was blossoming and, although Cortese upset many with his ruthlessness and disdain for our tradition, we could all live with it while results were positive and the football flowed. But then Marcus unexpectedly passed away. That truly was the day the music died.

At first it looked like, under daughter Katharina, things would continue in the same vein, but no that was, in hindsight, too much to hope for. It didn’t take long for her to realise that the singularly-driven Cortese was just a little bit too free and easy with the Liebherr family fortune and, while that was having the desired effect on the field with Pochettino and his players giving the top 6 a run for their money, her inheritance was taking a serious hit.

Not unreasonably she grabbed the reins, seized back control. Cortese left abruptly and acrimoniously, a signal to the ambitious manager and his leading players that the dream of Champions League football with Southampton at least was over. Cue Exodus. One by one they left, departing not a sinking ship exactly but one which had been full steam ahead one minute, only for a new captain to pull on the brakes and alter course for shallower waters. But there was yet hope, Ronald Koeman looked to be an inspired replacement and it was full steam ahead for a while, helped by the fact there were still many players left over from the Marcus/Nicola years who could still do a job ie the likes of Wanyama, Fonte, Rodrigues, Clyne, Schneiderlin and Davis.

But the driving ambition had gone along with access to serious cash. Les Reed (once Cortese’s underling but in the vacuum now given more power) and Koeman did not see eye to eye, with the former thinking he should have more involvement in team matters and the proud but haughty Dutchman wanting to do things his way. More players from the glory years left and, somewhere along the way, Katharina decided she too wanted out.

Cash rich, trustworthy and honourable owners do not grow on trees as Ms Liebherr was soon to find out and after several false dawns she eventually ended up selling 80% to a Chinese business man, Mr Gao who had a questionable enough background for the deal to pass before relevant authorities before it was finally allowed. No smoke without fire thought the vast majority of worried Sotonians.

Ms Liebherr was at pains to point out she would have only sold to people who would take Southampton onwards and upwards, but despite her well-meaning intentions she had little choice. She was well within her rights of course, it was her club to do as she pleased and as I point out in the first paragraph the fans simply had to accept it.

In the two years it took to finally sell Southampton, Les Reed, now in virtual sole control of footballing matters, made two poor-looking managerial choices, although the more Mauricio Pellegrino has struggled the higher his predecessor Claude Puel’s reputation has soared. Whatever, the truth remains under two mediocre managers, good players have left to be replaced by inferior ones. Under those circumstances decline has been inevitable.

The famed and much-vaunted Academy too seems to have dried up. Talk of Champions League football and five-year plans have melted away with the club content to rely on vacuous slogans like “we march on” to paper over the widening cracks and unfulfilled expectations that had unrealistically been encouraged to rise unchecked.

To be frank it was a miracle that the club managed to finish in the top 8, four seasons on the trot. That was some achievement, but even as last season drew to an end the writing had started to appear on the wall in a train of thought that we had peaked. That’s Ok Saints fans are not stupid, we had had several years of punching above our weight, but we would settle for mid-table now with perhaps a serious pot at a Cup while we regathered.

But now, as 2018 gets underway, the club seem unable to stop the decline and as fans we can only watch the likely forthcoming Armageddon with horror, unable to have any direct influence whatsoever. The Chairman’s interview this week has been a car crash in itself, with his continual references to us suddenly being “a small club” who are where we are because our best player demanded – and got - a transfer.

I’ve met Mr Krueger, he comes across a nice, decent man, but I’ve got to not mince my words here, he is clueless when it comes to communicating with the fan base. He seriously thinks the fans would be placated over the decline on the pitch with the knowledge our reputation in China is on the up. His corporate gobbledegook baffles, infuriates and insults the fans in equal measures. We are desperate not only for some sure-footed leadership but someone who can at least communicate and let us down gently in our own language.

It’s a sign of the times in modern-day football that Southampton fans and for that matter fans in general are now hostages to their own fate, mass protests will cut little ice anymore, non-attendance won’t ruffle any feathers in Peking or Shanghai, the truth is we lost our football club in July 2006 and our control or influence ain’t never coming back.

The only consolation I can think of is many other clubs are in similar situations. Unless you are fortunate to have a rich owner, a la the top 6, who really cares about what goes on pitch-side, then most of us will all forever be at the mercy of the quest for profit ahead of glory.

See you at Fulham!

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REEDYREEDOREEDZ added 18:27 - Jan 5
Can't argue with any of that. Well written.

AmericanSaint added 18:50 - Jan 5
Well written and the last paragraph is spot-on. Football is now all about money and not the fans/game itself.

Ali_Diarea added 19:45 - Jan 5
A great article. The dream is over!

I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that as fans we feel completely helpless to stop the rot as we watch the great work of the past 5 years unravel in front of us every Saturday. Fans are now taken for granted because the real money is elsewhere.

VancouverSaint added 20:06 - Jan 5
Well written. Money rules today. Enormous fortunes now control the Premier League and other leagues in other countries. I think in a few years we will be seeing the dawning of the new “Super League” in Europe. 75mill for VVD, now 140mill for Cortinuo....we can’t possibly meet these levels of spending. The top six will seek out greater fortunes, along with Barca, Ral Madrid, Juventus, PSG etc. We will have to settle for the PL also rans. Unfortunately the good talent will still carry on being poached away. Sorry state really, thank God I got to see the old fashioned game of years ago.

codge added 20:17 - Jan 5
Nothing more to be said, you are right on with your article very well thought out. Sad state of affairs that it has come to this with Southampton Fc but it is never going to be the same, RIP my beloved Saints.

saintjf added 20:39 - Jan 5
Very good article. Does that make me a supporter of business rather than a football club. i am not sure I am happy with that.

Arundel_Saint added 20:42 - Jan 5
Well written, I don't comment often, but as a supporter since 1958 I've seen it more than most with Saints. Supporting and loving the Club has always been a nerve wracking experience!

That said, we now have a foreign Chairman who cannot talk our language or make us warm to him;[perhaps because he talks a good job and certainly doesn't understand or care about us]; a new owner who doesn't appear able to speak English let alone talk to us. A foreign Manager whose public persona appears to be philosophic and who's words are incomprehensible to pragmatic supporters.

A squad of players who take it in turn to put their names to spin statements invented by a club management dedicated to misinformation.

Nothing ever happens for the good in adversity unless you challenge what is happening.

Wingeing and agreeing with each other as armchair critics on a website is not going to change anything...... It is a form of self gratification, exactly what the Club management appears to want but we'll all be able to say 'We told you so!'

When I find myself wronged I politely challenge the responsible person and ask for suitable action and satisfaction; if it is not forthcoming I go to the Chief Executive to try to correct the wrong and prevent it happening again. This has worked for me; at worst if I cannot make things right I did my best! If we are truly concerned about the club we support then TUI should get off their armchair seats and prepare an agenda from the supporters who read and participate in this website and do just that!

My starter questions in no particular order:
Why can't we field a consistent team?
Why do we have a manager who we cannot understand??
Why don't we appear to have any tactics that work consistently?
How can a failed England manager be allowed to easily tactically out think us?
Why are we supporters ignored?
Why did we not replace our main strikers when they were sold?
Where are our Cup winning youngsters?

What other, far better and constructive questions should be added to an agenda presented to the Chairman and Owners with a request to respond to us properly in a manner that we Southampton people can understand, without 'spin' or 'bulldust' [as it was when I was younger] we could all see a way forward......

I,for one, am happy to take our considered complaints and concerns to the Management of Southampton Football Club!

skiptonsaint added 22:48 - Jan 5
What a brilliantly written article

So many good points but it really sums up the fact the Saints are no longer ours

Will a couple of wins sort this out or a couple of big transfers ? Maybe it will soften the blow

We had that little window didn't we where it could of been it appears when you read that. Where the top 6 where iffy and we where on fire

Obviously though as Saints fans there will always be that bit of hope stariging with a 4 1 win tomorrow where Saints future stars Sims and Hesketh both score.


SanMarco added 00:05 - Jan 6
The article appears to assume that the new owner has no money to spend on the squad. If this is the case then we will swim with the dozen or so other clubs for whom 17th = success, 18th = disaster, and we will do so until we are, sooner or later, relegated. It sounds a bit depressing but its been that way for many of the years since my first match in 1967. I just hope the VVD money can be sensibly used to save us this season.

underweststand added 08:43 - Jan 6
to Arundel Saints ... as another person who started supporting Saints at tbhe same time as you apparantly did .. I found myself agreeing with you on quite afew Points, but I think your choice of..." questions to the Board " needs a bit of a re-think.
" Playing consistent team" sounds ideal, but very few Prem. clubs play the same side in every game, because many have deeper, stronger squads, and we have to choose from a squad where some are clearly out of form and others not 100% match fit.

Surely "tactics" do depend on the opposition? Do they play with big men up top, or have a strong midfield?. Some away games have been better than the result suggests. We did well against MU and came within seconds of getting a point at City.

Calling Roy Hodgson " a failed England manager " is to put him in the same category as everyone whose had the job sínce Alf Ramsey. Clearly he won with good tactical subbing.

All supporters are "ignored" in some way at some time, be it criticism of individual players ,( or managers)...or the taste of the pies and the price of a glass of weak beer.
Yes there are plenty of common complaints now, but those fans who booed and demanded Puel's sacking last season may have overplayed their hand when we come to look at the end of season table.

As for" replacing strikers" ...I'm still waiting for the club to find a replacement for Ron Davies, and Matt Le Tissier, (OK he was an attacking midfielder) but none has appeared yet. Sadly it maybe some time before we find another Mane or Pelle, but the fact that both those players left to go to clubs who could pay way above our salary scale surely speaks for itself. Saints are now paying for the price of their own success.
Part of the problem may well be our "international " squad. Some recent buys may be quite good, but its hard to imagine that tactical changes can be clearly understood by some newer players who can't even handle a simple interview in English.

I've been watching Academy games for the last few seasons and can see some good young prospects, but few who would be able to get on the first team bench at present, let alone play from the start. "Cup winning youngsters maybe good" - at that level, but many of them will disappear into L2 and National League - by the time they reach 21.
I'm as disappointed as I'm sure you are at the latest developments, but every club goes through transitions and right now it has to be said - few of your questions would get a satisfactory answer. We have to " bite the bullet " and hope the tide turns favourably.

SaintPaulVW added 09:34 - Jan 6
I agree my biggest concern is that Saints don't care what I think anymore as a fan. I think a large part of this is down to them, as with other foreign owned clubs, now just being effectively an investment vehicle to grab a share of TV money.

I think this could be resolved if the big 6 teams split off and join a European league. Teams like Saints thrive on their connection to their fans, which I feel is being lost, big 6 teams are national 'brands' with national fan bases.

Unless we are going to spend the money to be a national brand, which we plainly aren't. This is the only way that I can see a long term future that doesn't comprise endless mid table cup shot years, given that the majority of the TV money will up and follow the bigger teams. A more sustainable league filled with teams of a similar size seems a far better idea going forward.

Bettwsresident added 10:23 - Jan 6
A good article. I have supported saints since 86, and remember both the Le Tiss years and the disaster that was Rupert Lowe.

What really changed in the Liebherr years was that we grew from being outside the top 30 in the UK and the 100 in the world in terms of turnover to the 9th biggest in the EPL and the 21st in the world. The scary thing is how close turnover reflects league position, and this is what Kruger is on about. Our 'level' is West Ham, Newcastle, Everton, Leicester. For 3 years we exceeded expectations, last year was average and this year is below the moment.

We do have cash and the problem this season is we missed out on a load of winnable games in the first 12 games of the season, not through poor defence or creating chances, rather putting the ball in the net and killing teams off. We have £60m+ in the bank, we really someone up front that Manolo and CA can play off, who can score from crosses and has an eye for goal. Surely we can find that with £60m.
Then and only then we will 'punch above our weight' again. Provided MP2 can set the team up right!


Whiteknight added 10:57 - Jan 6
Great article. I've supported Saints since 1966 and feel as down about Saints now as I did in 2009. As things currently stand I don't see things improving anytime soon. I feel totally disconnected from the team and I don't want to be part of a global brand.

TeamCortese added 16:06 - Jan 7
Since we lost control why don't we do crowd-sourcing so that fans can have a stake in how the football club is managed. People are going to spend hundreds of pounds on season tickets anyway. Perhaps giving the fans a stake in the football clubs with better voting rights would keep people more accountable for what goes on pitch-side.

That is, the shares would only be valuable for footballing decisions. Chairman's, managers, scouts and other should be held to a vote for performance under some kind of yearly review.

Given that an 80% stake is worth £210 million if the fans (typically season ticket holders) all used their season ticket money to invest in the football club (assuming that half the stadium capacity are ST holders spend roughly £500 to £600) then the supporters could easily have a 30%-40% of the football club. Surely that would provide sufficient voting rights and hold management more accountable for their actions.

A_Saint_in_Stoke added 18:30 - Jan 7
Sorry, Bettwsresident - Do you really think that anything will get better under Pellegrino ? Quote from Pellegrino over last w/e - Sometimes we did well, sometimes we did bad but I will continue fighting for my ideas.

note - I will continue fighting for my ideas MY IDEA'S.

His idea's - the juggling of the team selections - all the negative substitutions - even now he doesn't even know his best side .... and many more of HIS IDEA'S I hope he will keep to himself --- and go away and try them out at another club PLEASE.

Nuff said !! He is out of his depth.

underweststand added 08:18 - Jan 8
To " A Saint in Stoke " seems it's not only Saints who have problems with managers, as one closer to (your) home has just been sacked. I wouldn't call Hughes " a bad manager", but like Saints (and others) he has a squad that have suffered injuries at a bad time, and strikers who can't score. Half of the Prem. clubs have changed managers in the last year and with everyone climbing over each other in the League everytime they manage to get a win, it's no surprise.
Sadly, impatience is a common reaction from Boardrooms and fans alike. Those Saints fans who demanded Clause Puel's sacking for the failure to get above 8th spot (and a good Cup Final appearance) finally got their way, but they may want to look in the mirror after complaining about Puel - when they see where Leicester finish this season.


Sadoldgit added 17:14 - Jan 10
The point I would make is that we never lost the club as it was never ours. When you support a club you do so in the knowledge that you have no say in who the manager is, which players the club buys, how the team is selected, the tactics etc. etc. We are just along for the ride. The notion of the club "belonging" to us is romantic nonsense.

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