On This Day In History 1st May 1976 The Best Day Of Our Footballing Lives
Friday, 1st May 2020 09:23
May 1st 1976 a date that holds special memories for every Saints supporter over 50 , all of whom will have special memories of that weekend, including the Queen who has never attended a Cup Final since.
The summer of 1975 not even a year earlier had been a bad one for Saints supporters, the team had failed to get anywhere near the promotion spots and the fan base was openly up in arms against manager Lawrie McMenemy, star player Mike Channon had publicly asked for a transfer on a TV documentary, that would luckily for him be subsequently refused when he put it in a more conventional way, as club's could do back then.
Nine players would leave the club as we trimmed the wage bill including legendary keeper Eric Martin and long server Bob McCarthy as well as Bill Beaney & Mick Earls and several other fringe players.
Saints also let it be known they were open to offers to first team regulars Jim Steele, Paul Bennett , Gerry O'Brien & Bobby Stokes, all four of whom would play in the FA Cup run.
Coming into the club was only one player 32 year old Peter Rodrigues on a free transfer from Sheffield Wednesday, it is fair to say the supporters were not very happy and if the team didn't get off to a good start Lawrie McMenemy would be taking his walk of hate down the Dell touchline again as he made his way to the bench.
Little did we know what the next year would hold and that Rodrigues would perhaps be the most photographed player in the club's histor.y
The day was very much like now back then, dry but without the warmth that would come later in the summer and 25,000 people were preparing to leave Southampton and head to North London to a stadium that their team had never played in, indeed for many it would be their first ever visit to the twin towers.
The only problem was that Manchester United would be taking four times as many supporters and if the press reports were believed than number included many without tickets who would resort to anything to get hold of one.
The big fear of most Saint fans heading to Wembley was getting their ticket snatched at the turnstile or worse still being robbed with violence.
For this game I was going on the train, not the special trains laid on, but the ordinary service, I cannot remember what time train we got up but I suspect it was around 9.am and when it pulled into Waterloo there was much worry that there would be hordes of Cockney Reds lying in wait to relieve us of our tickets.
I had my red & white bar scarf on with a black line on it, also Manchester United colours, but I had worn this scarf to virtually every game that season and at every cup game, so I was not going to stop wearing it now, under my jumper I had a yellow T Shirt with an image of Mick Channon the front and also had a Yellow & blue silk scarf tucked away in my pocket, I also had my ticket there, but I knew countless others who taped theirs to their legs or other parts of their body in case of being accosted.
Getting on the tube was quiet, we had decided to get to Wembley early and take in the atmosphere, however when the tube went through the station with a connection to Euston suddenly you heard a mighty roar and the platform was packed with United who piled on the train.
As per the trip to Bradford, this didn't phase me i looked no different to them and the other Saints fans on the train had quickly hidden any colours, apart from several chants of "If you havent got a ticket clap your hands " there was no bother, I and those with me just kept our heads down and let them get on with it.
It must have been about 11am when we got off at Wembley Central, Wembley Way was buzzing the only problem is that Saints fans were in short supply at this stage, we saw the odd one or two but literally no others, the ones we spoke to said they were going to get the tube back a couple of stops and come back in a couple of hours.
That is what we did, a couple of the older lads went into an off licence and we spent the next hour of so sat on a wall drinking warm lager.
Then it was back to Wembley for the gates opening at 1pm, by now there were more people there but t was all red & white not yellow & blue, United had a terrible reputation for violence back then and mob violence not just the odd scuffle, over the past couple of years they had been infamous for major riots and this looked to be another of those days.
I think most Saints fans did as we did, get into Wembley quietly hoping that there would be respite in there.
No such luck though, at the old Wembley you could walk right round it underneath on the concourse, but the main issue was that we had the entire upper tier and what should have been neutral in the bottom tier in front of us was almost entirely Manchester United fans.
Getting on the terracing meant at last we and many other Saints fans could pull out our colours, although downstairs on the concourse if you wanted to use the bars or toilets it was mixed, the only thing stopping a major kick off was that most fans on both sides did not want to get chucked out before a cup final and miss the match.
Finally kick off approached, by 2.45pm everyone was in their place and sang Abide With Me and I think the National Anthem as the Queen arrived dressed in a blue outfit a sure sign that she was a Saints supporter.
Then the teams came out and I don't think I have heard such noise, Saints won the first battle though by releasing thousands of yellow & blue balloons a trick stolen from Aston Villa in the 3rd round.
This was a spectacular sight and had never been done on such a scale before, Saints support might only have been around a third of the stadium, but it was brightly coloured and it made a lot of noise.
The game was awful to start with, tension was high and even from the terraces you could see that Ian Turner was nervy, but we saw out the initial bluster and got into the game, indeed the best chance of the half fell to Mick Channon who shot straight at Stepney, mind you if we had scored that early it would just have annoyed them.
The second half saw United come out blazing again, but we kept them at bay and when they hit the bar you suddenly felt the luck was with us and by the silence on the United terraces they did as well.
Then came perhaps the most iconic chant I have ever heard at a Saints game, out of nowhere came a variation on the old come on you reds/blues chant used by everyone, it was low it was different and it was effective, Come On You Yellllowsssss, the emphasis was on the "Yelllowssss" and it was one of those occasions when supporters chip in and inspire the team.
When we scored it was again pandemonium the concrete terraces had nothing underneath them and used to bounce and they were like a trampoline as 25,000 Saints fans jumped up and down, in front of us was silence as the United hordes were stunned.
People looked at their watches, how long was left ? the answer was 7 minutes but in those days before digital clocks and games being timed, no one really knew.
Time seemed to have stopped, United made an effort to get back into it but we stood firm, then all of a sudden out of nowhere referee Clive Thomas blew the final whistle and we had won the cup, cue much hugging, grown men crying and celebration.
There was a wait for the Cup to be presented then all of a sudden there was peter Rodriguez climbing those steps and there in front of hi was the FA Cup and the Queen handed it to him. he turned and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck now as I type just thinking about it and they stood up back then as well.
A lap of honour with plenty of singing and celebration, then the team were down the tunnel.
At that moment it was a strange feeling, people suddenly stopped and realised the enormity of what we had just watched Southampton FC against all odds had just won the greatest trophy in World Football, at least club football anyway.
Then thoughts turned to how we were going to get out of the ground and back to Waterloo and eventually Southampton, there was the little matter of 70,000 or so raging Manchester United fans outside, there would be no dancing up Wembley Way in ecstasy for Saints supporters, but more of that in part 2.
The Saints Wembley Squad at St Mary's 2006
Photo: Action Images
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