Remember 1976 We Are 90 Minutes From A Wembley Semi Final !
Friday, 19th Mar 2021 10:15
You wouldn't think it judging by some of the comments I read online, but Saints are 90 minute's away from an FA Cup semi final, once upon a time this would have been a time for hope optimism & rejoicing, now for some it's just a chance of another cheap snipe.
There is a tendency to look back at the past with rose tinted spectacles, back in 1976 as Saints roared to an FA Cup final at Wembley and a win over Manchester United, everything was positive right ?
Wrong ! When that season started the Saints fan base was in revolt, in the summer Mick Channon had asked for a transfer, Peter Osgood was seen as an expensive flop and Lawrie McMenemy had been booed on to the pitch in his second season at the club for finishing 13th in the second division after relegation in his first.
Indeed the signs were not good in the summer of 1975, 9 players were given free transfers, mostly reserves but keeper Eric Martin and Bob McCarthy had been stalwarts of the past few years and both were not yet 30.
Add to that Bobby Stokes, Jim Steele, Paul Bennett and Gerry O'Brien were put on the transfer list.
So if Saints fans were feeling that the club was lacking ambition, they were hardly placated when the only signing was a free transfer from Sheffield Wednesday a 31 year old full back called Peter Rodrigues.
But although the early pressure came off McMenemy with a burst of early wins, by November the crowd was very restless as we dropped as low as 12th and a promotion push looked far from achievable, a great run in December pulled us back to 4th, but January saw us drop further and the natives were getting restless again.
The FA Cup didn't look to offer much chance of joy when we drew Aston Villa at home although it was by far the biggest crowd of the season so far with 24,138 in the old Dell, although around 5,000 of them were Aston Villa fans who released thousands of Claret & Blue balloons when their team came out.
In the 89th minute it looked bleak, Saints fans were leaving early, when all of a sudden up popped Hugh Fisher and the rest as they say is history.
But history was not about to be changed just yet, Saints League form slumped, when Oldham visited on January 31st there were only 14,294 to see it, luckily I was one of them and got a voucher on the turnstile that little did we know it at the time meant I was guaranteed a Wembley ticket 3 months later.
As we all know the season progressed, but as the Cup run went on, the League form dipped after beating West Brom in February in the cup we won the next two League games, but then we would not win in the next 6 right up to the semi final against Crystal Palace, 2 draws out of 6 games and 4 defeats.
We were gambling our entire season on the FA Cup by now as promotion had fallen away.
What this all tells you is that Saints weren't a bad team, but they were one in transition and we are in a similar position now, Lawrie McMenemy had been manager for just a few months longer than Ralph Hasenhuttl at the moment, good teams are not built overnight, Lawrie McMenemy inherited a club that had problems and so has Ralph.
Back then supporters demanded instant success just as much as they do now, the difference is that the only place they could vent their anger was at the games, there was no social media, just the Echo letters page and graffiti on a wall, the real irony between then and now is it is now the polar opposite, the fans have plenty of outlets for their frustrations, but the one they haven't got is at the game itself.
The point is that we need to focus on what we should be able to achieve as a club, these are strange times anyway, every club is losing money hand over fist and is in debt, very few have money to spend as was witnessed in the January transfer window, yet still people are more concerned with telling the World on Facebook that Gao is strangling the club and have lost sight of what Southampton Football Club is all about, we are about having pride in our club, in our City and in our region, we are now about having a rich owner who splashes cash about and puts us in debt, we thought we had that in Michael Wilde and look where that got us.
The natives were restless in 75/76, but when they saw the chance of success they grasped it, they might have moaned in the pub about the team's results, but when the chance of glory arose we grasped it with both hands, suddenly everyone was the biggest Saints fan in the World.
Now we don't seem like that, we have too many people who have talked themselves into negativity, don't get me wrong these are not the majority, but they are the vocal minority, most of the Saints fans I know are positive, they see the situation for what it is, not what they would like it to be, but the vocal critics have talked us into negativity.
It loathes me to say this, but back in 1976 Pompey were not known for having a loyal fan base, quite the opposite, they were seen as a club who after having big crowds in the early 1950's saw attendances dwindle and by the 1970's they were playing to 10,000 people if they were lucky in front of 40,000 empty spaces , tumbleweed blew around Fratton Park for most games, what changed was they stopped being negative about themselves, they started telling everyone that they were a sleeping giant and that they were the best fans in the World and they started to believe it themselves.
Now I'm not saying that we should do that, but we could do with some positivity at the moment, in life if you surround yourself with negative people then it is hard to thrive, they will drag you down, whether it is in your own social circle or workplace, if the moaners are the most vocal then it is a hard place to prosper.
That is the case for Saints, in Ralph Hasenhuttl we have someone who like Lawrie McMenemy could become our greatest ever manager, that could yet be achieved this season and although some would have you otherwise, the number of seasons when we could win something by the end of March has been few and far between at least in my lifetime.
We are supporters of the club and sometimes we should remind ourselves what a supporter is, it is not about being a single type of supporters, in all the years that I have been going some of our best supporters have been elderly ladies and they have been what is termed nowadays as our "Risk Element" in 1976 they were boot boys and on the front pages of the Sun, these days they are called "Youth" or "Firm", support is done in many ways, I'm not condoning how people choose to support the club, I'm just saying support it.
As I write we are in the quarter finals of the FA Cup playing away to the lowest ranked club left in the competition, for older readers that should sound familiar, that was the case in 1976 and here we are 45 years later in the same boat.
If we can beat Bournemouth on Saturday it can be the catalyst for the League, certainly the win over Palace was back in 76, we won three games in a row after that one and we need to do more of the same now.
Judge Ralph Hasenhuttl in what he has achieved at the end of the season, those that say he has only won one and drawn one of the last couple of months, should look at Jurgen Klopp he hasn't done much better or Ancelotti at Everton who has spent £500 million on players in the past 5 seasons a situation some of us hunger for, but has it done them any good, like us it might just do this season, but is far from certain.
Again harking back to 1976, with respect to Hugh Fisher when he started the game against Aston Villa in the FA Cup 3rd round he could be said to be the player the crowd loved to get on the back of, a sort of prototype Nathan Redmond today, by the end of that day he had merely scored a goal that got us a replay we were likely to lose, but by the end of the season he was considered a club legend, history recognises just what he did during that cup run.
So could Nathan Redmond put himself into that category, some will be spitting feathers now, but truth is he has been there and done that with his goal in the League Cup semi final 1st leg back in 2017, Shane Long scored one of the greatest goals I have been present at in terms of joy in the 2nd leg, neither got the recognition they deserved, if we had won the final then perhaps they would have.
Lets get behind the team tomorrow and if we beat Bournemouth lets get behind them for the rest of the season.
For me Saints as a club at the moment are 14th in terms of stature and status, that is not negativity it is reality, there are 13 other clubs in this division who have bigger grounds and support and therefore more resources than us, that means we have to take them on the way we always have done, unearth those gems and keep repeating the process, that is the key.
Sadly unless we truly get the 2nd richest sheik in the United Arab Emirates we are not going to be able to compete with the top top clubs, but we can do what we did back in 2016 or back in 1976, we can challenge for Europe and perhaps a cup or two.
I'm a supporter of Southampton Football Club, I would love us to win the Premier League, but if we don't then I can live with that, what i find it hard to live with is those who seem to spend their lives on social media who call themselves Saints supporters but never have a good word to say about the club.
They are the minority and it is difficult to remember what it used to be like at games when the majority where the Saints supporting masses and not those looking to get a cheap laugh at the expense of the club .
The Bournemouth game is crucial, it will either sent the supporters into meltdown or it could like 1976 be the catalyst that sparks a golden period.
Photo: Action Images
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