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On This Day In History - The Day We Thought We Had Promotion.
Thursday, 2nd Apr 2020 11:00

They say never count your chickens before they are hatched and after the game played on April 2nd 1949, Saints supporters and indeed all those who were interested in football, were sure that Saints were destined for top flight football.

It was estimated that 15,000 Saints supporters were in a 60,000 crowd that packed into White Hart Lane to watch the promotion clash between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton in the old Division Two with Saints vying for promotion to Division One for the first time in their history.

Back then only two went up and Saints started the day 6 points clear of Fulham in 2nd place, 7 ahead of West Brom and 8 clear of Spurs.

Saints had Charlie Wayman firing them to the top, the 1949 version of Rickie Lambert, going into this game he had already scored 36 goals in 34 games.

But disaster would strike, Wayman pulled a thigh muscle in the 2nd half, but back then there were no substitutes, no real understanding of injuries by a trainer who just had the magic wet sponge to repair any damage.

Today it would be simple, the sub would have come on, but instead Wayman limped back on and made up the numbers, he could barely run, but this was an important game better to keep him on.

With 12 minutes left that looked a good call, Ted Bates ran at the heart of the Spurs defence, whether Wayman sensed something we don't know, but he ignored the pain and suddenly found a turn of speed and got into the box to support Bates who had run into traffic, he saw Wayman and laid the ball across the goal.

Wayman could barely stand on his injured leg so he used his good one to do that and swung the other injured one, he made some contact but not perfect and Ted Ditchburn in the Spurs goal could only parry, Wayman had the ball in front of him switched legs and connected with his good right foot to fire home.

15,000 Saints fans went crazy, Wayman was smothered by his team mates, which probably didn't do his thigh much good either.

But the game was won and now Saints looked unstoppable for promotion, with only 7 games left to play, they were 8 points clear of both Fulham & West Brom and although they had 1 & 2 games respectively in hand, with only two points for a win back then, this was surely a lead that even one of them could now make up, for two of them to do it was seen as impossible.

But leaving Charlie Wayman on the field might not have been as good an idea as it seemed at the time, if he had come off the damage would have been limited, but staying on and especially the exertions in scoring the goal all had taken their toll on his thigh.

Initially the prognosis was good a few days rest and back in a fortnight, but that was based on normal damage and Wayman had done more than normal with the decision to keep him on.

After scoring 67 goals in 35 games, we would now score only 2 in the remaining 7, winning only once and drawing twice, we were far from a one man team, but without our talisman the confidence drained.

The crunch came in the penultimate game of the season, promotion rivals West Brom at the Dell, a win in this game would have seen us 5 points clear of the then nicknamed Throstles and although they would still have 3 games to play themselves we would have been virtually home.

A then record attendance of 30,826 packed into the Dell, West Brom scored with half an hour to go, but then on 87 minutes Saints equalised through Eric Day, had they managed to snatch not only this game back from disaster but the season ?

They had to win their final game at Chesterfield, Saints fans again travelled in great numbers, Wayman was put back in as a final throw of the dice but he was far from 100% fit, Ted Bates saw what looked a perfectly good goal ruled out by the linesman's flag and that travesty was compounded when the referee awarded what was the only goal of the game after a long consultation with the linesman.

So Saints ended the final day of the season in 2nd, but they were not yet promoted, Fulham had a game left and were already above them on goal average, West Brom were a point behind with two games to play but inferior goal average.

There was still hope, but West Brom did not prolong the agony winning the first of those games in hand to jump above Saints and now it was definitely 3rd for Saints.

Some Saints fans would blame bad luck, some would blame poor linesman bizarrely when a linesman had to go off injured at Bury with four games to go, a Bury fan stepped out of the crowd to replace him and ruled out what all agreed was a perfectly good goal by Ted Bates on 56 minutes, with Saints players still protesting to the ref, Bury raced up field for the only goal of the game, if we had got that point then it would have been us and not West Brom promoted as we still had the better goal average.

With Thanks to David Bull & Bob Brunskell's excellent book Match Of The Millennium I recommend that if you don't have a copy then you buy one.

Photo: Action Images

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underweststand added 19:19 - Apr 2
My late father was a keen Saints fan in the post war days and often re-told the sad story that Nick outlined above.
It felt bad to read all this today and so must it have been for my father and all the fans at the time- at least to the point that he never had the heart to tell me the whole sad story.

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