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AGE CONCERN-A SAINT IN EXILE


I’m drinking  a warm beer on the porch of my house.

For that reason I’ve just had to dish out $400 on a new fridge freezer because the one in the kitchen decided life was far easier if it behaved like a cupboard.

I’m on the right !

This is not a good thing because in Australia, in the build up to Christmas, everything is five degrees hotter than the surface of the sun. Still, only 14 hours to wait, I managed to get them to deliver the new fridge for free tomorrow.

I trust you detect a hint of grumpiness in that opening information and you may well even be asking yourself what this has to do with Southampton Football Club or the festive period.

The answer is – Nothing.

I just find myself spending much of my life moaning these days and, try as I might to temper these episodes of fist shaking at the sky, they are creeping more and more into my everyday existence. I’m getting old.

I’ve written next to nothing on football for a very long time now. I think the last time I did, it was for the superb Saints Forever website, and that was over twenty years ago.

Twenty years ago –so again, I come back to the passing of time and I wonder where it all went. Sure, much of it went by in a flurry of booze-filled matchdays and away trips watching Saints, whilst the stuff I wrote down after them mainly concerned my doubts, fears and fury as to what the f**k was going on for much of the time. Being a Saints fan then, you didn’t see the transition the club or society was about to go through, as the pace of life seemed to step up a gear.

Whatever happened to Clubcall for 24p a minute? I think Brian Truscott just answered and told you what he’d had for lunch half the time but I kept on calling. My mum used to go mental when she looked at the phonebill.

We didn’t know it then but society, its demands and the pace of our personal interaction with seemingly everyone, was about to increase at an amazing rate.My generation were used to stability. Until I was 16 years old we’d only had Ted,Lawrie & Chris.

Ted I’d only heard about as a football manager, although I knew him as a very kind man who I often bumped into on match days and half term holidays when I went to ‘work’ with my dad. SFC blazer, Saints tie, trousers immaculately pressed and well-buffed shoes. ‘Young Michael!’ was always his greeting. Immaculate, kind – ‘Ted’.

Lawrie was a big bloke to a six-year old boy and he’s still big now, even though I’m an inch taller. He’d ruffle my hair and tell me to behave myself.

Chris was the quiet bloke who sat at the other end of the dressing room to my dad,Alan and Kevin, separated by the thighs of Ivan Golac as they got dressed for training and exchanged banter laced with rude words that I was told I hadn’t heard. Chris seemed a bit boring in that dressing room back then though he would go on to delight and then disappoint my adolescent self as I began going along to watch Saintsas a paying customer and not a privileged family member of one of the players.

Myself & Kev

1989/90 was an absolute joy, whereas by the end of 90/91 Saturdays were a shambles. Chris Nicholl’s sides were always fun though.

And then came Ian Branfoot – the end of the Saints of my adolescence and the beginning of the Saints of my adult life. Looking back though (and this is an article based on looking back), it wasn’t just Saints, it was football that was changing. I’ve mellowed in my mood about Ian Branfoot now – I used to call him just ‘Branfoot’ back in the day, as I’m sure many of us did, but you mellow as the years flow by and let’s just give him this; If he worked as hard as his teams did, he more than deserves our respect. Saints were an incredibly hard working team under his watch, way more so it seemed than they ever were under Chris, although that might be something to do with the fact that they seldom seemed interested in keeping the ball.

They were a dogged team who worked, harried and harassed to the point of frenzied exhaustion to get the ball back and then they’d whack it up in theair again towards the opposition in order to do what they seemed tothink they did best: work, harry and harass.

And we’d given Jimmy Case away. He was 59 back then but could do everything needed –and pass a football. What a player.

The best deaf pensioner to ever ask a ref what he’d just been asked. Jimmy’s departure hurt me. To be honest, I stopped going. I couldn’t be arsed.

Ian’s way never really caught on as a spectacle, although the lad Shearer often benefitted from a few flick-ons before he reluctantly moved on to Blackburn.

The football wasn’t great, so we all revolted. The team certainly did but the fans kicked up a bigger stink by mounting protests. Placards even appeared. I’d never seen them before. Placards at the Dell! These were days laced with levels of outrage at the bottom of Hill Lane unseen since my Grandad Reg threatened to give up his season ticket after Keegan went to Newcastle. In the end he didn’t, he just took a thermos flask insisting that he wouldn’t buy any more tea in the upper West Stand in protest.

In my rose tinted mind’s eye, that’s how things were at the Dell. Uncomplicated times:‘ Tea, Coffee, Bovril, Sausage Roll, Wagon Wheel’.

The Upper West Stand Tea Bar. It had a sign that said ‘TEA BAR’. If you were in the Upper West Stand, you knew where the Tea Bar was.

Bovril please!

That was the menu of my childhood on a Saturday afternoon. I always plumped for the Bovril and a Wagon Wheel, although Grandma Avril always got me a sausage roll that she’d produce in the middle of the second half when it got dark, the floodlights came on and Ivan Golac and my Dad would hug the touchline below us. We were deadly back then – used to murder them and there always seemed to be a thrilling climax. By the end of the match, you could even pick up your Bovril.

I loved it and Saturdays couldn’t come around quick enough. Phil Boyer scored every week, then Keegan did with Steve Moran and it was that exciting that even the West Stand (average age 87) would sing along and stamp their feet. The noise and atmosphere was deafening when even the undead joined in with ‘Oh When The Saints’.

Do you want to read all of this? I’m not sure to be honest because I just got a message on Twitter from Robbie who asked me to write something and this is all I could come up with.

Tenerife 84′

In fact I just thought to myself, ‘You’ve just bought yourself a fridge freezer Michael’. So I started being grumpy and I started moaning and I started thinking about times when I didn’t have to buy myself a fridge freezer in late December because I was always hopeful of getting a new pair of Patrick boots and Kevin Keegan shin pads in the build up to Christmas. So I started writing- and this is what you’ve got. And I always did get Patrick boots and Kevin Keegan shin pads. I was a lucky little boy with very little interest in fridge freezers back then. How often did I get Patrick boots and Kevin Keegan shin pads? Probably only two or three times until they went bust but that’s my point: Back then, summer holidays lasted for ages – not six weeks. Sure, that’s what the calendar said it was but when you’re 6, 7, 8 & 9 summer holidays went on forever and Christmas took longer than evolution to occur.

Like summer holidays & Christmas though, as you get older and your brain tries its best to knock out all of the shit we’ve been through, years become months and months become days.

How many managers have we had since the Branfoot era? Here’s my completely un-researched lifetime chronological list of Saints managers that I recall, take into account memory loss and names I cannot spell:

Ted, Lawrie, Chris,Branfoot, Bally, Dave, Graeme, Wigley (guess), Hoddle, Gray (guess),WGS, Wigley again (guess), Blank, Blank, Blankety-Blank, Burley,Pearson, Portvielt (or something), Adkins, Potchetino (or something),Bloke who sounded like Potchetino, Another bloke who had an ‘O’after his name, Koeman, Puel, Another Bloke with an ‘O’ after his name, Sparky & now this bloke who got us the win against Arsenal.

I swear I missed a few out but that’s where I am right now in terms of my attention to detail.

Everything baffles me. I reluctantly joined Twitter because all I heard about it was that everyone abuses you on it but it seems nice enough unless you put forward an opinion for discussion. F**k that. But I’m here because Robbie stalked me on Twitter, I stupidly replied when I was on the piss and when I missed his initial deadline he threatened to tell my mum if I let him down again.

For a while I just sobbed and wished that Rickie could return and give my life some meaning again. But those type of messiahs only come around everythirty years. Well, the first thing I thought of when I got up for work at 3am on Monday morning (Sydney time) and saw the Arsenal result was my Grandad Reg. Charlie Austin had scored the winner in what looked like, on my Twitter feed, a pulsating and much needed victory under our new manager.

Why did I think of Reg? Well, because he loved his football and, like me, he loved a beer and he loved nostalgia. I could have thought of Charlie Austin who I used to play pub football with but no.

“On the head Charlie”

I thought of Reg Medcroft.

My last match with Reg

I started chuckling because I remembered his booming voice in the Upper West Stand in about 1981:

‘Up the middle for Charlie!’ Charlie George was side-lined at the time because he’d just cut a finger off mowing his garden and everyone was laughing at Reg’s terrace wit. Reg had more layers than an onion. He always harked back to the days of another Charlie – Charlie Wayman, his biggest Saints hero – a goal machine. They were apparently our tactics back then.

Charlie Wayman

‘Up The Middle For Charlie!’ And, like on Sunday,Charlie scored.

Reg & Ted

You can learn a lot from looking back.

And I’m only 44.

Have a good Christmas.

Michael. X

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