Last time I was in Southampton was for the happiest of occasions…and it had absolutely nothing to do with football; I say that, but football did try to ruin the trip. My brother Marc has lived in South Korea for a number of years (the South Korean football blog entries on this site, well that’s him) and whilst in South Korea he met Kathryn, the woman he’d eventually marry. With Kathryn being a Southampton local the wedding was to happen in the southern city. I was honoured to be asked to be Best Man by my brother and I couldn’t have been happier. The wedding was to take place on the Friday so the Harrison family (with a few Shanklands thrown in) plus Marc’s pals made the journey south from South Wales on the Thursday in a Gavin and Stacey style. Much of that Thursday afternoon was a nightmare. Just as we were disembarking for Wales, news came through that a love of mine was dumping me – I say me, I mean Swansea City, as the Messiah, my beloved, El Gaffer, Roberto Martinez was leaving Swansea for Wigan. The car journey was spent with me requesting 5Live in hope that the Spaniard would see sense and stick with the club he claimed he would “have to be kicked out of” – he never did. Fortunately, that Thursday evening we had a thumping pre-wedding night out in Southampton and I soon got over the Spaniard. My mother even showed the family that she is the family’s dancing queen as she threw some shapes on the dancefloor in Southampton’s branch of Flares. A brilliant two days was had by all. I was hoping for another top day on the south coast as Swansea took on Southampton in a Premier League clash at St. Mary’s (perhaps Roberto going was a blessing in disguise after all).
This would not actually be my first visit to St Marys. In 2004, with one of my aunties living in Portsmouth and after staying there for the weekend, my parents and a 14 year old me had visited Southampton’s still recently opened stadium for a Premier League fixture between Newcastle and the Saints. From what I can recall it was a great game, with Newcastle (playing with Shearer and Kluivert up front – wow!) coming out 2-1 victors thanks to a Stephen Carr wonder strike. Wonder goals or no wonder goals, I was just hoping that the away team would come out victorious once again today.
On this cold November morning my alarm rung at the ridiculously early time of 4.35am ready for me to catch the 6.10am train from Manchester to Southampton (changing in Tamworth en route). The first two and a bit hours of the train ride were uneventful, but things livened up when I became encircled by a rabble of English rugby fans boarding the train at Oxford en route to Twickenham. My Chariot-loving friends were all very friendly and even let me join them for a drink before they disembarked at Reading. Two Swansea fans, Phil and Owen, joined me at Reading for the rest of the journey to Southampton, where we arrived at 10.43am.
Owen and Phil were craving a pint before heading to their hotel so I thought I may as well join them as I was not meeting my gang until midday-ish. We were soon sitting in the Frog and Parrot in Southampton city centre and with it being 11am we were the only ones in there; the barman even stated “I should not have put a bet on the football today, but instead put a bet on the fact that Swansea fans would be the first in the pub today.” Owen and Phil were top lads and I had good start to the day in their company, but I was soon on my way to the allocated midday rendezvous point to meet my gang of Jacks: The Platform Pub opposite Red Ferry dock.
The Frog and Parrot was the other side of the town centre, so I began my saunter through the city centre towards the Platform. Southampton city centre is a pleasant city centre, although not exactly the biggest, with all the usual shops and amenities plus a plush looking West Quay shopping centre. I wasn’t here for shopping though so I breezed through, past the castle that sits in the city centre and down to the seafront where I found the purple clad Platform Tavern.
Inside I was greeted by my usual crowd of Swansea fans, including my now regular away day pals Medwyn and Iestyn, with a small portion of Saints fans thrown in for good measure as well. The Platform is not the biggest of pubs, but it is full of character, although the price of the beer wasn’t so great – £3.60 a pint! I handed over the money and told myself that this is how it is down South. I’d also invited along a guest of honour to come join the Jack Army for the afternoon. (WARNING: Shameless Plug Alert no.1) Some may know that I am also editor for another football website called “A Great Advert for the Game” (@AGAFTG on Twitter) and it is through this site that I came to know Harry, the creator of the AGAFTG. (WARNING: Shameless Plug Alert no.2) After bonding over a few games of FIFA on XBox Live we even came up with the idea of our own football podcast hosted by the two of us, which can be found here and on ITunes. Harry (@PutItInTheMixer on Twitter) is also responsible for the design and look of this very website as his web design skills are far superior to mine or my brother’s. Anyway, Harry had a ticket for the Saints v Swans game through his uncle’s Southampton season ticket, so he came along to the Platform to join us. Then my Treharris pals Lynsey and Kelly joined us and we were one big happy Jack family (and Harry). A merry time was had and much beer was drunk before we set off for St. Mary’s which Harry informed was 25 minutes walk away. With Harry’s friend Tim arriving, who was joining him in the home end for the game, we headed through the streets of Southampton towards St. Mary’s.
Unlike most newly built stadiums, it’s great to see a new ground so near the city centre and not a soulless industrial/retail estate on the outskirts of a city. However, despite it looking very tidy and crisp, it still is very similar to the other new builds you see up and down the country; in fact, it just looks like a bigger Liberty Stadium with a bit more red on it and admittedly slightly cleaner looking. Many Saints lament the loss of their former home the Dell, an old, crumbling stadium, but with a brilliant atmosphere – not many teams liked playing there. The grounds of a disused gas works near the city centre was chosen as the spot to build the new stadium in 1999 and the Saints were playing their first game at their new home by August 2001. Despite the love for the Dell that the fans had, the move to St. Mary’s was seen as a sort of homecoming for some at Southampton FC, as the club was actually formed by members of the St Mary’s Church located in an area near the new ground. The team’s name even began as St. Mary’s Church of England Young Men’s Association (try getting that into a chant),before becoming simply St. Mary’s FC and then Southampton St. Mary’s FC in 1887; a decade later the ‘St. Mary’s’ was dropped and the guise of Southampton FC has stuck ever since.
After the ticket scanning machine struggled to recognise my ticket, I eventually got through the turnstiles and on to the sizable concourse area for a prematch drink (bottle of Carling priced £3.60). After a quick chat with some fellow Jacks, as well as bumping into my new pals Owen and Phil again, I then headed up into the stand.
From the inside I found St. Mary’s much more impressive and despite the stadium looking quite empty on some games I’ve watched on TV this season, it certainly looked and sounded full today. All four stands are of equal height and the ground is a complete, unbroken oval like most modern stadiums. The ground also has two large TV screens on the scoreboard on top of each stand, which is always a good thing.
So, the game. The game was played at a good pace, but there was very little going on in front of goal for either side. Swansea’s midfield were playing some nice, tidy triangles, as always, (with Ki looking impressive once again) but they were not really getting anywhere in regards to attacking. As the half wore on, Southampton began to look the more likely to score and were playing far more direct with half chances for Lallana, Ramirez and a Jose Fonte header blocked by Ben Davies. Swansea’s only real chance was created by a piece of individual skill by Ki which opened up a shooting opportunity for the South Korean, only to be denied by the young Gazzaniga in the Saints goal.
Irritatingly, the stewards decided after about 20 minutes that they wanted Swansea fans to sit down; when they asked me I obliged, but then I asked them to kindly sit down the Southampton fans sitting on the other side of the barrier to us – they did not and could not really give me explanation as to why Swansea fans had to sit down but the Southampton fans were permitted to stand (as were the Swansea fans about 4 rows behind us and upwards I should add). More on the stewards later.
Half-time was spent on the concourse trying to get a drink, but the queues were huge so I gave up and headed back to the stands.
The second half kicked off and now Swansea were attacking towards their own fans in the away end. When Angel Rangel earned himself a throw in right in front of me; the linesman signalled for the throw in, yet the referee overruled the linesman and gave a freekick to Southampton. I shot out of my seat took a step forward and shouted what I thought of the ref’s decision; the stewards informed me to sit back down which I did and I even apologised for my use of a four letter expletive. Moments later I stood up again and took the smallest step into the aisle (I was sitting at the end of my row); my momentary stand up prompted the female steward to shout to me that if I persisted I would be thrown out! I felt rather outraged but I held it together, despite my behaviour being a long way off some of the things I have seen in football. My crime: one swear word, taking a momentary step into the aisle and about 5 seconds of standing up whilst others only 10 or so rows behind me were standing for the duration of the entire game, as were the Saints fans in the stand to my left less than 10 yards away from me.
Away from the stands, the game was much the same as the first half as Southampton appeared to be pushing for a goal, which finally came just after the hour. A ball to the far post by the 17 year old Luke Shaw was met by a looping header from Rickie Lambert; Morgan Schneiderlin controlled the high ball brilliantly on his chest before slotting a header past the on rushing Swans goalkeeper, Gerhard Tremmel. 1-0 to Southampton and it was deserved. Swansea looked devoid of ideas and I began to fear we would get nothing from the game at all. Fortunately, the young Southampton goalkeeper and Yoshida were to help us out. With Michu chasing down a back pass to Gazzaniga, the goalie played a crazy pass to Yoshida who had no time to think before substitute Nathan Dyer had taken the ball off him. Dyer was through on goal but still with a lot to do. From just inside the box Dyer fired in a shot that flew into the far corner of the goal via the post. I can go quite mad when Swansea score, but today I decided to make my celebrations far more passionate to rub it in the faces of the jobsworth stewards in front of me. Dyer ran over and delivered his famous salute to the Jack Army. Unfortunately for me, my crazy screams of elation were captured on Match of the Day and it’s safe to say I looked like a lunatic.
I thought this could have been the spur Swansea needed, but Swansea just did not get going at all and I began to think I’d be happy to take one point from the game. Fortunately for Swansea, Southampton were not looking particularly lethal either and there were only really two Rickie Lambert headers that came close to threatening Swansea’s goal. 1-1 it was to finish.
I exited the stadium and made my way around to meet Harry and Tim before making the short walk back to the city. With a long train journey ahead of me, I decided that one last trip to the Platform Tavern was required to appease me before my 4.5 hour train. Harry joined me in the Platform for postmatch analysis and drinks, before my podcast pal and I went our separate ways. Harry will probably make his second appearance on Lost Boyos in the new year as I’d arranged to tick Bournemouth’s Dean Court off my “Doing the 92” list with Harry being my guide to his hometown.
Southampton is a great city and every time I have visited I have enjoyed myself, it’s just a shame I did not have more of a wander this Saturday. St Mary’s is a great stadium, but this may come from it’s a location rather than anything else. The only real downside was the pedantic stewards I encountered although admittedly the steward who took the photo above was very friendly and even laughed when I told him of my issues with his colleagues. Overall a great day out and I do find myself hoping Southampton stay up this season.
Highlights: Nice city, The Platform Tavern, good home support, stadium near the city centre, meeting up with Harry, being captured by the MOTD cameras.
Low Points: Irritating stewards, not the greatest of games, long train journey, being captured by the MOTD cameras.