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Dan Jarvis: How following Saints has helped me build a bond with my blind father

Dan Jarvis and his father, who is registered blind, travel the country together to support Saints. Through a combination of radios and his finest John Motson impression (minus the sheepskin coat) Dan relates the action to his dad. In a wonderfully personal and honest introductory column, Dan talks about his father’s motorcycle accident which rendered him blind and how they used this positively to form a strong relationship. From Oldham to Milan, via a coma, a recorded message from Big Lawrie Mac, and Dave Armstrong’s gleaming dome, Dan outlines a great story of overcoming adversity and not always perfect family dynamics through a shared love of the world’s greatest football team…

It’s a cliche used all too often but for myself, Southampton Football Club is my life, it always has been and it always will be. From the moment I attended my first game at The Dell as a six-year-old (incidentally a 1-0 loss to Villa,thanks to a goal by former Saint Andy Townsend), entering the ground, hand clasped in my Dad’s, it was love at first sight.

My Dad is registered blind and for as long as I can remember I’ve acted as his visual companion, attending Saints matches week after week. Growing up it wasn’t easy, we argued often but on reflection I think this was born out of the frustration caused by the fact we were limited in what we could do together when compared to typical father-son relationships. That being said, Saints have acted as a bond and whenever at matches together, all problems drift away as we are united by the love for our football team.

Before Dad’s motorcycle accident in the mid 1980s, he passionately travelled the length and breadth of the country in order to support the team but sadly his disability prohibited this. With this in mind, I made it my goal to pass my driving test as soon as possible in order to make this a possibility once more, a feat I accomplished a good 10 years ago. From our initial adventure together, a loss at lowly Swindon Town, we’re still at it strong as ever. We’ve travelled to Prague and Milan for the cause and we’ll of course be taking in trips to Liverpool and Wolves in the coming weeks.

Dad’s had his struggles, we all have as a family, but Saints have always been the one constant throughout, keeping us strong. Dad’s never happier than when amongst our crowd, he gets a real buzz from vocally backing the side and starting off chants at away games and the interaction via Twitter makes him feel part of the Saints family more than ever. The ability to communicate with the hundreds of amazing supporters we’ve encountered over the years who share the same passion and devotion to our beloved team can only be described as a thing of beauty.

Despite being Bournemouth born and bred, Dad stated that if Saints triumphed over Manchester United in the 1976 Cup Final, that would be his team. Who would have thought it? A glory supporting Saints fan, if that were ever a thing!

Following his motorcycle accident he was in a coma for 12 weeks. My Mum (my parents had only been togther for a matter of weeks at this point), reached out to the club and (then-manager) Lawrie McMenemy personally recorded and sent a tape to Dad, in the hope of sparking some life in him. Once out of the coma, one of the first things Dad asked was how Saints were getting on and the second he was physically able, the Club invited him down to the training ground to meet his heroes. Dad’s contribution to the occasion? Picking out the glean from Dave Armstrong’s bald head on a summer’s day, much to the amusement of his teammates.

From nervously guiding Dad alone for the first time at an away game as a 12-year-old (03 cup final); returning home in the early hours from away days at Rochdale, Carlisle and Hartlepool to name but a few; to personally commentating on games when loaned-out radios have failed—nothing’s too much for the Saintly cause and we will always go above and beyond for the Club. I’m genuinely forever grateful for the bond it’s created between us and the exemplary way they’ve always treated my Dad.

These efforts have lead to endless magical moments: Delap’s bicycle kick winner vs Spurs, Pahars’ pearler vs the Skates, Mane’s breathtaking record-breaking hat-trick, not to mention the unbelievable feeling of securing a long awaited victory at Old Trafford or the hysteria of winning at Anfield to reach a cup final. This lead to absolute carnage, passion like I’ve never witnessed before, embracing fellow fans you know only by face in the sheer adulation of the moment, united by the love for Saints.

More personal experiences have included mingling with the players as they arrived at Griffin Park, (Brentford’s ground) meeting Prowsey, Franny, and Le Tiss at a club disability day, pushing Dad forward in order to shake Berty’s hand  in January at Fulham (the fact Ryan went out of his way to do so meant the world) and bumping into Lee Holmes for an incredible conversation having knocked AFCB out of the League Cup. In the delight of netting the clincher, my over-exuberant celebration lead to me dropping my car keys, not to find this out until the moment we arrived back at the car. Having been granted access to search an empty St. Mary’s, Lee couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming to Dad’s presence and it’s moments like these that make football so much more than a game.

I recall upon relegation to League One, fearing the worst, but in actual fact that was personally my favourite period of being a Saints fan. So many memories, endless new places visited shared among those that stuck by the club through thick and thin. The rise from Boundary Park to the San Siro was remarkable and so much more rewarding having been present every step of the way.

Southampton Football Club is everything, a way of life, and my love for its family feel and everything it stands for  strengthens each year. I’m so grateful that Dad introduced me all those years ago, passing down the fascination. And one thing’s for sure, as long as we walk this Earth we’ll do everything in our power to continue to support the team come rain or shine.

Come On You Reds!

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