|From The Spot - A Life in Football (Part 3)|
Mon 01st Nov 2010 09:19 by Spot51
From 1973 onwards my brother, his flatmates and I began watching Saints.
We weren’t real supporters in those days, we just went along to watch 1st Division games. I don’t remember a great deal about that season but I’ve kept every programme I ever bought. Later on I’ll dig out my archives and write about some matches and players from those early days.
My clearest memory from that first season was a 2-2 draw with QPR. One of their defenders rose majestically to meet a corner and planted an unstoppable header into the roof of the net. Unfortunately for him it was a Saints corner and his O.G. secured the draw for Saints.
‘73/74 was, of course, the first season Lawrie McMenemy was Saints manager. Ted Bates had moved upstairs and the “former Guardsman” was brought in from Grimsby. Ted had been in charge for donkey’s years and established Saints in the top flight, so when the team began to struggle under Lawrie the crowd began baying for blood. Gary Glitter’s “Hello, Hello I‘m back again“ was quickly adapted on the Milton terracing to “Hello, Hello, Lawrie must go!”
To be fair, most of the barracking was largely good humoured without the vitriol engendered by Branfoot in later years. Despite poor results Saints were always a good watch and their buccaneering approach suggested they had it in them to beat the drop.
Unfortunately ‘74 was the year that “3 up 3 down” was introduced. Despite taking it to the very last day, winning their final away game 3-0 and finishing above Norwich and Manchester United - Saints were relegated.
I’m a mug though. I’ve always had a soft spot for underdogs and can’t watch a side regularly without developing some affection for them. It was probably relegation that rubber stamped me as a Saints fan. Watching them became a habit which continued in Div 2.
Living just a stones throw from the ground, my brother did more games than me. One night he went to watch Millwall with his mate, a trainee accountant, who turned up in a suit. Andy was in denims and a Saints scarf. Walking to the Milton behind the West Stand they met a large body of Millwall being shepherded (badly) towards the Archers. A few of skinheads pushed passed the guy in the suit and had Andy on the deck, putting the boot in, till the coppers at the back moved them on.
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My dad spent most of his working life in the booze industry. When he left school in the 30s a lot of homes had no electricity and were still lit by gas. Folk wanting to listen to radios relied on those great big lead-acid accumulators. Dad’s first job was cycling round Sandown and Brading delivering these batteries and taking the others back to be recharged.
Then he went to work for the island brewers, WB Mew Langton, initially in their Sandown off-licence. After the war he worked in Ryde before being trained as a book-keeper at head office in Newport. As I grew up he was a stock taker, often travelling to Mew’s depots on the mainland and getting home late.
When he was promoted to Area Manager for half the IOW, his job seemed to involve drinking in pubs and talking to landlords. There was of course more to it but we all thought it sounded a doddle. By then Mews had been taken over by Strongs of Romsey and then the Whitbread Group.
This brought dad into contact with Basil Bowyer who was a director of both Whitbreads and SFC. Once Basil knew we watched Saints, he kept handing dad complimentary tickets. Tickets for seats, I tells yer! Of course, we still stood on the Milton if we were paying ourselves.
1976 was a seminal year for Saints although I can’t remember much (else) about that season without consulting progs. Living on the IOW (and working in Portsmouth) meant there was never much chance of getting tickets for the final. In fact, we’d booked a family holiday for the first week of May and paid for it well before Saints’ cup run reached its dramatic conclusion.
So while hoards of you were heading for Wembley, we were driving like fiends to our holiday cottage on the cliffs overlooking Tintagel Castle. We arrived at 2:45 and by looping the indoor aerial over the lounge door managed to get a picture on the dodgy B&W portable TV. I don’t need to tell you about the next couple of hours.
That evening we went into Tintagel for a steak dinner at the Warnecliffe Arms. There were not many diners but was a guy in a suit and dickie bow playing a piano. When he asked for requests we asked for “OWTSGMI”. After a couple of verses, 3 blokes at the bar got up and walked out. See, even in those days Cornwall was full of United fans.
We weren’t to know then, that Saints were entering their “Golden Decade.” Promotion was achieved in ’78 and another Wembley appearance the following year. In 1980 Saints signed the current European Footballer of the Year and throughout the early ‘80s regularly qualified for the UEFA Cup.
I’ll be revisiting this period a number of times in future articles but it is worth mentioning that my over-riding memory of those days is of a team that played with no fear; a team that loved to attack and was rather less good at defending; a team that was happy to take on all-comers and outscore them. We loved watching football “the Saints way”. That is why we’ve continued to follow them ever since.
Nick has provided me with the opportunity to share memories of watching football over six different decades. I hope to jog some memories and perhaps start some arguments. That of course is “the Ugly way“.