My 50th Year Anniversary Of Watching Saints Today
Saturday, 15th Jan 2022 07:45
It's been a rollercoaster ride, but today is the 50th anniversary of my first ever Saints game when on 15th January 1972 I attended the Southampton V Manchester United FA Cup 3rd round tie at the Dell.
If you are going to go to your first professional football match at 10 years then you had better make it a big one and back in 1972 they didn't come any bigger than Manchester United.
Only 4 years earlier they had been the first English club to win the European Cup the forerunner of the Champions League under Matt Busby, although when they arrived at the Dell they had won nothing since that night at Wembley and they were a team in decline although they still had the likes of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law in the side.
Busby stepped down in 1969 to be replaced by Wilf McGuiness, but that had not been a success and Busby would step in again temporarily before the man who managed them on this day took over, Frank O'Farrell.
The game was a sell out, which in those days meant over 30,000, indeed United had beaten us 5-2 around 6 weeks earlier in the league at the Dell with 30,323 present, but heavy rain keeping people away and perhaps creative accountancy meant that the official sell out attendance for this one was 28,160.
I had a ticket for the terracing under the West Stand and i watched the game seated on the white wall that separated the West Stand terracing from the little raised bit of terracing under the scoreboard, those who went to the Dell pre 1980's will know what I mean, although that wall survived until the ground was demolished and at the farewell dinner on the pitch in 2001 I sat on it for the last time and the memories flooded back.
Saints of course wore perhaps one of their most iconic kits, the stripes with a round collar, black shorts and the red socks with the single white hoop.
The Saints team was
I can't be sure who the sub for us was, but it might have been Wayne Talkes
Manchester United played in Yellow shirts, Blue shorts & Yellow socks and it was a very bright kit to say the least, they lined up.
Sub Sammy McIllroy
Looking back it should have been another high scoring game, both sides were short on real quality at the back , there was no John McGrath, Dennis Hollywood or Joe Kirkup for Saints but we had the attacking prowess of Terry Paine, Ron Davies Mike Channon & Tommy Jenkins on the wing.
United's attack was the aforementioned Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law, plus Willie Morgan on their wing.
But the pitch was a quagmire, to me it looked like the lushest turf I'd ever seen with the grass glistening under the floodlights, but it was a bog and that probably meant that neither side really got their game going.
But the game didn't lack for excitement and both sides had chances, but it was united attacking the bulk of their fans on the Archers Road end who scored first and perhaps the disappointment of seeing my first ever goal being scored by an opponent was lessened by the fact that it was Bobby Charlton, perhaps the most famous living Englishman at the time thumping it past Eric Martin from 12 yards.
So at half time it was united in the lead, the rain continued to hammer down and the pitch got boggier, Saints attacking the Archers end got a free kick on 55 minutes and it would be a then classic Saints goal, Terry Paine took a free kick on the left given for a foul on Mike Channon, it was swung in to the far post, up went Big Ron Davies, towering above his marker, knocking the ball down for Mike Channon, but it wasn't Channon who it went down to it was Jimmy Gabriel who fired it home to bring the game level.
This would be the last goal of the game though, the pitch got muddier, the players started to tire, there weren't multiple substitutions back in those days for tired legs, you played through the mud and the pain.
United had the best chance late on but it was blocked, the final whistle went and I can still remember running down Hill Lane to jump on the football special buses that parked up in Hill Lane, the number 17 was always full up after a game with excited kids and also adults who always liked a good moan, some things never change lol.
The replay at Old Trafford saw Saints lead 1-0 at half time this time Mike Channon scoring, but it finished 1-1 again after 90 minutes, the Echo reports after the game complained about the ref, stating that in the press box one neutral manager present said it was the worst refereeing performance he had ever seen and that all agreed the ref favoured the home side, so clear evidence that this was not invented by Alex Ferguson, it was way before his time.
The ref gave a free kick that was clearly not and united took the lead after six minutes of extra time, they collapsed late on and the 4-1 scoreline didn't reflect the way that Saints had played for most of the game, thanks here to Duncan Holley and Gary Chalk for their book In That Number, I was obviously too young to go myself.
So on this day 50 years ago began a love affair to which I now celebrate my Golden Anniversary of being wedded to Southampton Football Club.
Its been a roller coaster ride, I was there at the dell 2 years later when a draw with Manchester United helped towards relegation and I was there on that day at Wembley in 1976 & again for the League cup final in 2017, the grey shirts game in 1996 and the 6-3 victory 6 months later, in fact over the years beating United has been the result I have most cherished whatever the competition of season, OK sometimes Pompey got in the way of that one to push them back to second place.
I'm not sure how many games I have actually been to at the Dell, 29 seasons of around 25 games a season including cup games and friendlies would push the total to approaching 750 first team games, but I also went to a lot of reserve and youth team games, especially when I was too young to go to away games, add those to the mix and I must have gone to over 800 -900 games at the old ground.
I have watched games from all 4 sides of the ground, with all the new stands built, I have watched from 3 different Milton Road stands, 3 different Archers Road stands, I have sat upstairs in both the East & West stands and both sat and stood under the East & West.
I graduated after that game to the Milton Road, decamped to the Archers road in 1975/76 and after spending a couple of years in the early 1980,s watched most of the last 20 years from Under the East Stand, firstly on the terracing by The Tap as we called it and then in the seated areas around the half way line till that final day in May 2001.
It's amazing to think that we have been in St Mary's for 21 years, for me all from the same seat, even Nicola Cortese wasn't clever enough to stop me sitting in it despite his best efforts.
It's home now, but the two grounds reflect life, most of us are lucky enough to have fond memories of our childhood home(s) and then we move on in adulthood to pastures anew that are bigger and better, but you always have a glow when you think of the old days.
So here i am 50 years on and it is perhaps fitting that I celebrate it doing what i have usually done most weekend's going to watch Southampton Football Club, although this time it is not at home but away at Wolves.
Photo: Action Images
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