On This Day In History - 8th May 1999 Delhurst Park
Friday, 8th May 2020 09:30
21 years ago today one of the most famous away trips of all time as thousands upon thousands of Saints fans headed to South London for a do or die game that could pull us clear or see us with one foot in the grave.
Wimbledon were then playing at Selhurst Park and the gate of 24,068 officially contained, 9,000 Saints supporters, we had been given the whole of the big side stand where these days the away section is only around a third.
Normally for games against the less attractive sides they would draw a crowd of around 10-12 k, but of course that would also include a number of away fans.
This means usually the number of Saints fans present is estimated at 12,000, but the chances are it is bigger than even that.
Saints supporters were travelling to Selhurst Park to buy tickets in handfuls, this was just before the Internet truly burst into life, so there was no online sales and Wimbledon usually grateful for as many away supporters as they could get, hence the big allocation and their ambivalence towards selling tickets to anyone who wanted one.
When the teams came out one side of the ground was completely red & white, one end was definitely very hard to tell, there was a lot of red & in the other two stands, but only the centre of the main stand could be said to be mainly Wimbledon or was it.
It was a bizarre entrance for the teams, the day had been deemed Francis Benali day and that meant false moustaches, fez hats and kazoos, the moustaches were obvious, the Fez's due to the fact that Alan Shearer had once revealed in an Ugly Inside interview that Benali's nickname was Abdul/Mohammed ( I can't remember which it may even have been something else equally offensive) due to the fact that a home fan at an away game in the early 90's had once shouted at Franny as he went to get the ball for a throw in "Oy Mohammed i'll have a large Doner" this had provoked much mirth in the dressing room and the nickname had stuck.
God knows who had the idea for the Kazoo's
So the teams came out to the sound of 9,000 Kazoo's and a sea of red & white, it was clear there were more Saints fans there than Wimbledon.
I was sat in the directors box, a company I did work for had seats in the corporate hospitality and offered me one, it was perhaps a day to be in the away section, but I figured that if I went in the directors box the ticket I would have had could go to another Saints fans it was about getting as many of us in as possible.
The game was as you can imagine tense and nervous, Wimbledon were safe but only just but they fought like their lives depended on it, half time came and went, the tremendous Saints support keeping the team going.
Wimbledon almost scored in a goal mouth scramble, Francis Benali appeared to just throw himself at the ball to block it on the line with his testicles, he was not going to let it past him either three balls went into the net or none at all.
Then came the moment that changed the game on came Matt Le Tissier for possibly the most important and influential 20 minutes of his footballing life.
Within two minutes he had swung in a free kick perfectly placed on James Beattie's head and he made no mistake, three sides of the ground erupted, even in the directors box it seemed 75% of the corporate areas were Saints fans.
The atmosphere was now electric and when on 84 minutes Le Tiss took a corner which appeared to have gone straight in there was no pretence anywhere in the ground of being neutral, if you were a Saints fan whether it was in the directors box or anywhere you stood up and let the world know.
The goal was given as an OG, but truth is it was going in anyway so it was a Le God goal.
The final whistle provoked scenes of utter relief, excitement and exhilaration, you just cannot describe the feeling, let's just say it is the drug we all go to football to experience, why we sit through loads of poor dour disappointing performances for just one like this.
After the game you could feel it in the pubs around Selhurst Park, you could feel it on the train and even back in Southampton the people were buzzing in the pubs and clubs when we got back.
We were not yet quite safe, we still needed to beat Everton at the Dell to make sure, but the situation was now in our own hands, ironically I would hazard a guess, taking into account the away fans in the Dell on the final day that there were more Saints supporters in Delhurst park for this game than there were in the Dell the following week, highlighting just why we needed to move to a new stadium.
Photo: Action Images
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