Chris Bryant, the owner of Drive Personnel and a SaintsWorld sponsor, explains how his love affair with the Saints began…
My journey and love affair with Saints started on 16th August 1975 when my Dad took me to The Dell to watch Saints play West Brom in what was then Division Two. Saints ran out 3-0 winners that day with Nick Holmes soring once and my soon to be hero Mick Channon scoring twice! Whilst I remember the match clearly it was the whole adventure of the day that captivated me and got me hooked for ever more!
My Dad worked for British Rail so on the day we drove to Eastleigh in his Marina and parked in a railway car park underneath the railway bridge. My Dad had free rail travel, but being ‘careful!’ with money he couldn’t bring himself to pay the 10p fare for me, so after parking the car we walked under the railway bridge and crossed the railway line bringing us onto the end of the platform at Eastleigh – no hi-vis, no health and safety, but 10p saved!
As the train pulled into the station and we boarded all I could hear was this wall of noise with fans old and young singing ‘oh when the Saints’ and waving scarfs and swinging rattles around. I remember being scared initially as being seven it was all new to me, but my Dad reassured me that it would all be fine so I sat back and enjoyed listening to the singing and the banter.
As we got to Southampton Central we walked over the railway bridge, left the station and headed over to Hill Lane. Almost like a sea of ants fans seemed to come from everywhere, so much so that we walked up the road, dodging the traffic as we went.
Turning into Milton Road I got my first sight of the ground and I remember marvelling at how big it was! We bought a programme and as we queued for the turnstile I remember feeling slightly nervous as by now the noise for a seven-year-old was deafening. I can still recall the click of the turnstile as we made our way through and headed for the stand. My Dad had to hold my hand tightly amidst the jostling for position as he pushed me forward to the front of the crowd so that I was stood right in front of the wall behind the goal. Just as I was turning round to tell my Dad that I couldn’t see over the wall, he pulled out a fold-up wooden stood from his bag and promptly lifted me onto it. This was magic as I could see everything! All of sudden football players that I had only seen on the TV, or pretended to be in the garden, where right there in front of me!
The match was fairly one-sided with Saints new right back, Peter Rodrigues, making his debut. Every time Saints nearly scored, and then did score, I felt the swell of the crowd behind me, with my Dad doing all he could to stop me being crushed!
After the match we headed back down Hill Lane towards the station, with my Dad urging me to keep up as he wanted to follow a chap who had a radio and was listening to Sports Report!
As soon as we got home I headed straight into the garden to ‘recreate’ the match, kicking the ball into next doors garden multiple times, before having to go indoors for tea!
That season we went to every home game, including all cup games, and then of course at the end of that season we won the FA Cup – all of which left me thinking that every season following Saints would be the same! And there I was hooked!
Roll forward to 2018 and I have now supported the Saints for 43 years, following them both home and away my older son and now with my younger son. In those 43 years I have literally spent thousands of pounds travelling up and down the UK, across Europe, and even very occasionally beyond. The club has bought me copious amounts of tears, copious amounts of heartache, copious amounts of misery, BUT, more than anything it has bought me joy that is unmatched other than the birth of my children.
Today I own two recruitment companies in Southampton and I have been able to put something back into the club by supporting the Saints Foundation with sponsorship, as well as holding corporate and ‘normal’ season tickets, the same ‘normal’ tickets that I have held for 43 years and the same tickets that I will always hold, regardless of the league the club are in.