Manchester United No Longer The Big Attraction To Saints Fans
Wednesday, 28th Aug 2019 10:20
For most of my lifetime the biggest game of the season was when Manchester United arrived in town to take on Saints, but it seems that this is no longer the case.
I remember my first ever Saints game very well, January 15th 1972 when Saints took on Manchester United in the 3rd round of the FA Cup and a packed Dell watched a United team packed with the likes of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law draw 1-1 and it was Charlton who scored the first ever goal I witnessed in professional football.
Our team wasn't too shabby either with Mick Channon, Terry Paine and Ron Davies in the line up, but it was Jimmy Gabriel who equalised that sent the game to a replay, which we lost 4-1 after extra time at Old Trafford.
Back in those days it was always United who drew the biggest crowd to the Dell, indeed the record attendance was the 31,044 who watched us lose 3-0 in October 1969, sadly I didn't need to look up the actual crowd figure just the date.
This pattern continued right up till 2001 when we left the Dell for St Mary's, it was always the game Saints fans looked forward to most, the team we wanted to beat and the supporters we most hated due to the numbers they brought down in the days when away teams got big allocations.
Back in the days when few games where all ticket, if there was one game a season that was it would be the visit of the Red Devils, in fact the only one I can recall that wasn't was ironically in 1974 when with both clubs battling for relegation thousand upon thousand of United fans turned up and got in the Milton Road early after queuing long before the gates opened. The attendance that day was only a couple of hundred or so below the record.
The FA Cup win at Wembley further cemented their place as the team we loved to beat and the biggest crowd of the season. Even when United where a laughing stock in the 1980's through to 1992, they were the team that drew the crowds at the Dell.
As the Dell got smaller, tickets became harder to get and in the 1990's, when the United tickets went on sale, some fans would often queue over night to ensure their place for the game in what was then a ground that held 15,200 or so.
For some reason or not the fixture had a kind of magic about it, there were some classic games, the 1981/82 Keegan era when David Armstrong scored a last minute winner after KK had a wonder goal chalked off a minute earlier, the 1986 League cup game where Matt Le Tissier buried them and the 4-1 defeat saw Ron Atkinson sacked and Alex Ferguson replace him, we were directly responsible for their revival !!!
In the 1990's who can forget the two games in 1996, the first in April saw us win 3-1 and United famously change their grey shirts at half time and the following season in the October saw that famous 6-3 victory with Eyal Berkovic and Le Tiss calling the shots, not to mention Egil Ostenstad's hat trick.
Perhaps the move to St Mary's killed a little of the magic, but the stadium was always packed and tickets sold out a couple of weeks before.
But the last few years have seen a change, it is no longer the hottest ticket in town, last season's game saw 2,000 empty seats, ok it was a televised game at teatime on a Saturday but that had never stopped a sell out before.
Over the past 5 years we seem to have changed our focus to Liverpool rather than Manchester United, something that never happened even in the 1980's when Liverpool where THE team.
So why the change, part of it of course could be the fact that United are no longer the team they where, but that didn't matter back in the 1980's, although it must be said that in modern football there is less emphasis on historical bias and more on who is the flavour of the moment, although in some ways that theory is challenged by the fact that Liverpool are now our biggest draw at St Mary's.
It could also be claimed that ticket prices are too high and whilst I have some agreement in that, it is the £65 tickets that have sold quicker than those far cheaper, in truth our pricing structure is not much different to any other club in the Premier League and indeed cheaper than most for our lowest priced ticket.
However I think the word perception pops up here, Saints have made too many PR gaffes this summer in not only the way they have dealt with the shirt issue, but the way they introduced a new ticketing policy, this has given many fans the perception that the club is not concerned about the fans, only in money.
This is perhaps far from the truth, but add in the Gasworks bar and trying to sell it as corporate hospitality when it has always been the nearest we have to a supporters club bar and you can see some of the fans points, but I digress.
But pricing was not a problem when Liverpool visited a fortnight ago when the game was sold out by this point in time, although I will accept that the timing of the game this coming Saturday will not help, but that has not been the case in the past when whatever time the kick off was, the game was sold out well in advance.
The writing was on the wall last season as previously mentioned and this morning with somewhere between 2,000 -2,500 tickets still available on the online ticketing system, the crowd could well be under 30,000 unless there is a late rush.
So why are Manchester United no longer such a big draw ?
I think one of the reasons is that football fans are just heartily sick to death of the Premier League culture and the part that United paid in building it, indeed their own fans thought that years ago when they formed FC United of Manchester, the fightback against everything their club had become.
Even United themselves are failing to sell out this season, their maximum at Old Trafford these days seems to be around 74,600, their two opening Premier League fixtures have seen around 1,000 less than that in the ground.
But for Saints fans this fixture just seems to have lost it's glamour, the 60's, 70's, 80's 90's & 00's not only all saw some great League encounters but also some great cup games, we always seemed to draw them in one cup or the other with some classic games, but we haven't drawn them in the Cup since 2011 the 2017 EFL Final aside and the league games don't seem to have the edge of old.
Perhaps back in the old days of the Dell we were always a thorn in their side, they seemed to raise their game, but since we went to St Mary's the games seem to have an air of inevitability about them.
Since our return to the Premier league in 2012 we are yet to beat them at home in 7 attempts and in the 4 before our relegation in 2005 we won only once, so that is 1 win and 3 draws in 11 attempts plus 2 defeats in the cup, perhaps people have just become blase to their visits these days.
But last season was one of those draws and ironically enough our 1 win came exactly 16 years ago to the exact day they arrive this season, a James Beattie last minute winner giving us a 1-0 win on August 31st 2003.
Sadly though it does not look like it will be a sell out on Saturday which is a shame, there was always something about taking on United at the Dell, but that feeling of rivalry seems to have long gone, it appears that to Saints fans it is now just another game.
Photo: Action Images
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