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On This Opening Day 23rd August 1986
Monday, 24th Aug 2020 09:41

Back in the 1980's the season seemed to start a lot later than it does now, here we look back at a time when we used to actually win our first game of the season and in 1986/87 it was a cracker.

Chris Nicholl's first season after taking over from Lawrie McMenemy had been solid, but the summer transfer window had perhaps pointed that one era was now over and a new one was about to begin.

Indeed although we had had a clear out of a lot of the fringe players in the squad there was only one signing Colin Clarke from nearby Bournemouth and although he had been one of Northern Ireland's stars in the 86 World Cup this was hardly a big name proven striker, all of his football had been played in the Fourth Division aside from his one year at Dean Court in the Third.

This was also a season where the First Division was going to embark on a two year programme to trim it down from 22 clubs to 20, the bottom 3 would be relegated and the club 4th from bottom would go into a play off to decide whether the 3rd place club in the Second Division would come up or stay down at the expense of the 19th place club.

Saints had finished 14th in 85/86 but where only 4 points off 19th, nerves where jangling.

But we still had the likes of Peter Shilton, Mark Wright and Danny Wallace so there was hope.

The visitors were Queens Park Rangers, they had finished a place above us the previous term, but there was a six point gap.

The crowd was disappointing the 14,711 being around 1,700 less than the opening game the previous season, but they did not have long to wait to have something to cheer, on 10 minutes Nick Holmes converted a Danny Wallace cross to give us the lead and that was doubled on 5 minutes when Wallace himself scored this time from a cross by the new man Colin Clarke.

On 35 minutes the game was all but over and it was debutant Clarke who scored with a header, after the break the Irishman got his second and he completed his hat trick on 68 minutes.

The crowd was now baying for blood but they didn't get it and the foot was taken off the gas with the only other goal coming a couple of minutes after Clarke's 3rd and that going to the visitors.

The season would be one of inconsistency in some games we would beat the top sides and in others we would lose to poor teams as in the defeat to bottom side Aston Villa.

But aside from a dip in the New Year which saw us drop to 18th at one point, we stayed solidly mid table and were beaten only twice after February although out of those 14 games too many were draws, but our 12th place was still 8 points above 19th and that was what mattered.

Villa, Manchester City and Leicester were relegated and Charlton took 19th spot but managed to win their play off and stayed in the 21 team division for the following season.

Crowds were starting to drop, 5 of our away games were played before less than 10,000 and that included the trip to Leicester City, even the visit to eventual Champions Everton saw only 26,564 and that in March when they were closing in on the title.

Our gates hovered around the 13 -15,000 mark and it should be noted that the 12,709 that saw play Chelsea at the Dell was still around 1,200 more than watched the return game at Stamford Bridge, the visit of Liverpool drew 20,452.

But the end of the season saw big changes, Peter Shilton, Mark Wright, David Armstrong, Nick Holmes & Mark Dennis had all played their last games for the club, the latter after falling out with Chris Nicholl and despite fans protests he left for QPR.

But there was hope a young man called Matt Le Tissier made his debut at Norwich City in the 3rd game of the season, I wonder what happened to him !

Photo: Action Images

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Sanguin added 09:52 - Aug 24
I heard that Le Tissier guy went on to become a fairly prominent conspiracy theorist?

Crispinmumbles added 13:37 - Aug 24
Two great players and Ray.

ItchenNorth added 15:08 - Aug 24
Chris Nicholls 424 system made for some entertaining games; plenty of goals at both ends !

mattthelegend added 18:49 - Aug 24
Remember the Echo headlines when we signed Clarke, something along the lines of Saints sign World Cup hero/star

A1079 added 20:12 - Aug 24
I was at this game and recall it well. Chris Nicholl was not a bad manager actually and the style of football was generally good to watch, though our results were very mixed. The problem was he followed Lawrie McMenemy and that was always going to be a hard follow for any manager.

After Nicholl came Branfoot and then our problems really did start.

felly1 added 21:02 - Aug 24
I was 16 and stood at the back of the Milton Rd with the hard boys 😉. Happy memories of that game.
I recently watched on YouTube the 1987 derby clash with Pompey at Fratton park when we drew 2-2. I managed to see a brief glimpse of my 17 year old self jumping up and down when we scored. What stands out is the terrible quality of football!!
It was all long ball hoofs upfield and a lots of scrapping for the loose ball played at a snail's pace. At least the players had proper names like Glenn, Derek , Kevin and Gerry. No room for fancy Dan foreigners then!

SanMarco added 22:25 - Aug 24
"Sell Clarke" - one of the shorter and easier remembered of away end chants. I think he got a bit chubby if my memory serves me right.

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