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On This Day In History -1982 The Day The Dream Died
Friday, 10th Apr 2020 09:40

At the time most Saints fans didn't know it, but the defeat to Aston Villa had led to a dressing room bust up that would change the destiny of the club during the summer.

Southampton was in the World news in early 1982, firstly Southampton FC had lead the old First Division for two months with Kevin Keegan leading the line and then the port of Southampton hit the headlines as Ocean Liners like the QE2 & Canberra were requisitioned as troop ships and left the docks packed with Soldiers heading to the Falklands to take on the Argentinian army.

By 10th April though, Saints grip on the top of the table had lessened and they were now in 3rd place 4 points behind leaders Liverpool, the problem though was that they had played two games more than some clubs.

Aston Villa arrived in 14th place, nearer the bottom three than the top three, although they had the distraction of a European Cup run that would see them win the trophy a month or so after their visit to the Dell, they were a very good side on their day but their league form had been patchy.

Mind you so had Saints form gone downhill, only one win in the last six games had seen us slip from the top spot to third, we were never favourites for the title, but by the end of February we were serious contenders and if Liverpool were not going to storm through and win it then we were the next favourite with the bookies.

But the fans didn't know what was going on behind the scenes, the senior players like Ball, Keegan & Channon had been urging Lawrie McMenemy to make a key signing maybe two as they felt that we needed a striker to deputise for Steve Moran injured in a nightclub attack in Portsmouth where a Pompey youth reserve team player had cowardly kicked him in the back when he was punched to the floor, a central defender as well would be a help. Kevin Keegan said in his biography that he felt a goalkeeper should have been a priority and that we should have signed Peter Shilton in the winter not the following summer.

Indeed when Tscheu La Ling of Ajax scored twice in a friendly against Gothenburg in February at the Dell, Keegan intimates that he and those senior players were told that La Ling would be signed and this would be the catalyst for further signings.

So there were issues in the squad and they were not seen to be addressed when the only two signings made where from Oxford United when Keith Cassells and Mark Wright arrived, Cassells although a good lower league striker was not seen as the class needed and 18 year old Mark Wright hadn't even got into double figures in appearances yet, although he would prove to be an inspired signing, no one would know that at the time.

So McMenemy seemed interested in making these signings so why did they not happen ? one can only guess and perhaps point the finger at a board that did not want to gamble.

So the visit of Villa was seen as a good chance to get three points and if not win us the title then certainly a UEFA Cup place for the next season.

At half time it was 0-0 and all to play for but then when Chris Nicholl put through his own goal just after the break, instead of stirring the side it cracked them and then on 69 minutes McNaught scored for the visitors and we were in disarray and the third by Tony Morley in the final minute was deserved and reflective of the way we had collapsed as a team.

But it would be the bust up in the dressing room afterwards that would have serious ramifications not just for the rest of the season, but for the following season and indeed the history of the club.

McMenemy had pulled no punches in the dressing room after the game and launched into the entire team, perhaps staying with the old adage that a team wins together and loses together and not singling out individuals.

But when he accused the team of cheating it riled one player, Kevin Keegan who refused to accept that he had done that, it was unthinkable for him as a player.

"He could have said that I had a bad game or that I was a rubbish player, but no one could ever accuse me of cheating on a football field" said Keegan in a later biography and he had a point in that by his own admission he was a player who made up for a lack of some skills on a football field with sheer work rate and passion.

" I knew it was time to move on" he would also say in his autobiography.

So it seems in reflection that Keegan took umbrage at comments made in the heat of the moment, dressing room bollockings are handed out at all levels and in the professional game 99% of the time the players know that it is heat of the moment stuff and much of the words said by both players and manager are nothing but letting off steam.

Perhaps McMenemy's choice of words was not the best, but it was hardly anything that hadn't been thrown at squads across the football league all season, but McMeney a man who prided himself on his man management had inadvertently hit a nerve with Keegan.

Should Keegan though have just accepted that it was just harsh words said in the aftermath of a poor performance ? The answer is yes, surely he had been in dressing rooms before where the manager had used the word aimed at his team or even individuals, if Keegan or indeed any footballer was to take umbrage and demand to leave every time they were called a name or two then few squads in professional football would end the season with half the squad they started it with.

So the accusation could also be levelled at Keegan that as a man who prided himself as a team player that deep down he saw himself as above the team itself and as a special case would only accept criticism he agreed with.

What should have happened is that all parties would have gone home after the game, tempers would subside and at training on Monday they would get on with the job as professionals.

Kevin Keegan though could not do that, his pride had been hurt and he could not go back, he was now not on speaking terms with his manager at least certainly not anywhere near the friendly level they had been before.

Initially this was not public knowledge and by the summer although the fans were disappointed the title challenge had fallen short, the club was in Europe and Peter Shilton had signed, we looked like we might move on to the next level.

But then came the bombshell that Keegan wanted to leave and subsequently moved to Newcastle then in the second division, some fans were angry at the club and accused them of hushing the fact that Keegan was going till after season tickets had been sold, some felt that Keegan had been tapped up and was going for the money.

The thing that everyone had though was surprise at where he was going, Newcastle had languished in the mid table of Division Two since being relegated four years earlier, it was seen not as a good move for Keegan's footballing career, indeed at 31 he was heading into the twilight of his career, but in leaving Saints he had played his last top flight game and would never play for England again.

The following season Newcastle would again fall well short of promotion, but would achieve it in 1983/84 Keegan's last season as a player.

So why did Keegan throw away the chance of a last piece of glory to join Newcastle, initially it seemed to have no reason other than money, later Keegan who up till then had professed to be a supporter of his home town team Doncaster Rovers had never mentioned Newcastle or any sort of affinity, although now he was saying he joined them as his father supported them and made a big thing of the family connections.

Perhaps that is the case, but for a player like Keegan it was a little early to effectively finis your career at the top level.

So perhaps we will never know the real truth about what went wrong for Saints in 1982, all we know is that the following season could have been so different and what might we have done if we had had Keegan in our squad in 1983/84, perhaps he was past his best then, but he would still have contributed and we also know that on 10th April 1982 Saints destiny suddenly took a different path than expected, or perhaps not after all the club's history is littered with events like this both before and after Keegan.

Photo: Action Images

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saintmark1976 added 10:40 - Apr 10
A really good post Nick,thanks.

It brought back a lot of memories.

If we had purchased Shilton for that season we would have won the league at a canter, the outfield players just needed a keeper worth five to ten points on his own.

Reference Keegan. He is an always was a " toys out of the pram " merchant in my opinion.Wonderful player though.

Ball,Keegan and Channon, what would they have been like on today's pitches?


highfield49 added 11:55 - Apr 10
I have no idea what it cost the club to get Keegan on the books, but it can't have been cheap, and I would guess that there wasn't a lot of cash sloshing around for new signings? Hard to remember those years before transfer windows virtually negated mid season player movement. Those of us fortunate enough to have seen Ball, Keegan and Channon in Saints shirts can still smile at the memories. Happy days.

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