The Three Year Swing….

28th November 2009.

Portsmouth were 20th in the Premier League.

Southampton were 20th in League One.

43 teams separated these great rivals.

28th November 2012.

Southampton are 18th in the Premier League.

Portsmouth are 20th in League One.

45 teams separate these great rivals.

A role reversal of immense proportions as their fortunes almost mirror each other perfectly. What does the future hold? Who knows.

Of that 2009 Premier League table, Birmingham City, Burnley, Blackburn, Hull, Bolton and Wolves are also now absent (is it me or does the league look a hell of a lot stronger now?).

Things can change so fast in football! That is why you must always take advantage of the ascendancies! I noticed some of the teams that now sit between us that were of particular interest:-

Chris

As featured on NewsNow: Southampton FC news

All Over Bar The Shouting…..

Well that was that then.

After a long and highly anticipated wait the now ridiculously pre-titled “El Clasicoast” left much to be desired on the pitch.

But the atmosphere and for want of a better word “banter” off the pitch, coupled with a successful (I know it was frustrating for many) police operation made it still the most nerve wracking and tense game of the season without making the usual violent headlines.

It is of course sod’s law that having prided ourselves on the pretty and effective football we play all season, that with the country watching live on BBC1, we were 50% responsible for one of the scrappiest and least pretty games of football you will ever see. It isn’t uncommon for derby games to be lacking in quality, no one wants to lose these games, so often style is replaced by substance, and nothing could be truer about this game.

The atmosphere was as expected. Electric. Both sets of fans coming through loud and clear on the television coverage (I was, after failed attempts at getting press access on the edge of my living room seat). Pompey pride themselves on their support, and I would never argue that when they are in full flow they are very loud, but equally the travelling Saints support were making themselves heard.

It is difficult to describe the feelings that you go through watching such a match. No matter how confident you are that you are supporting the “better” team, as is so often the case, derbies pay little respect to either the league table or the formbook, and frankly after our last two derby experiences  and the recent turn in form for both clubs I was more than a little apprehensive.

Michael Appleton, who I personally thought was a very intelligent appointment for Pompey at the time got his tactics spot on. Saints were reverted very early to playing a rushed and less precise game than they are used to. While the Pompey fans I know were disappointed to see only one up front, their packed midfield did a good job of stifling Saints creativity and George Thorne particularly impressed.

I think if he was honest, Appleton’s gameplan was to secure a point, with anything else a bonus. If you take the derby emotions out of it, it is a league game, and a point off of the league leaders and extending the unbeaten revival is nothing to scoff at.

When Saints did play some football though, the reasons for the gap in league position became clear. Lallana in particular showing his ability on the ball as he helped himself to a portion of roasted skate on the wing, but in reality both sides rarely looked like troubling the keepers.

As the cameras panned the Fratton End, I was briefly worried that the wife had sneakily flicked over to “Big Fat Gypsy Weddings” and as both sides resorted to sending the ball long at every given opportunity, the legend that was the South Coast derby was being created in the stands.

In the second half I felt we started to edge the game, unlocking the Pompey back four more often, though still not as often as we would like, and it was almost inevitable that the man with more goals than all the other forwards on the pitch put together would be the one to bring the game as a spectacle alive. Rickie Lambert’s header past the stationary Henderson from Fox’s perfectly weighted free kick was satisfying to say the least. Not only did it make this grown man jump around his own living room screaming and fist pumping, with only a bemused wife and petrified cat looking on, but perhaps even more pleasurable was the ensuing twenty one minutes of silence from the home crowd.

Lambert does it again....

Did anybodies nerves settle when Lambert notched his second derby goal in as many games? No of course not, in fact part of me was sure it was setting us up for a fall, but the next period actually saw Saints as in control as anybody could be in such a game, in fact Guly should have sealed it, Henderson making up for his earlier static goalkeeping to deny him bravely.

This period of control meant that Pompey’s equaliser was even more of a sickener. Saints lacklustre defending at the eighty fourth minute corner meant that the ball dropped between a Brazilian forward and a local boy in front of the Fratton end. Desire won the moment and the spoils would be shared.

A draw was probably the fairest result. Neither team covered themselves in glory in terms of how they played, with some stand out performers being Lallana, Hooiveld and Lambert for Saints and Thorne, Mattock and Rocha for Pompey. Both teams will play much better than that and neither will play much worse, but most importantly the spirit of the derby was as fierce as ever without the need for violence. An honourable mention should go to Mark Halsey too, so often criticised it is a nice change to highlight a highly accomplished refereeing performance, on the other hand it also highlighted how bad some of the usual Football League officials are in comparison to this Premier League man.

I love the South Coast derby. I know I am biased but you don’t see the vitriol in any other derby in this country that you do in this one. For that ninety minutes the healthy rivalry of people from two nearby cities turns to unbridled hatred. I have friends who are Pompey fans, but during this game I don’t want to be in their presence. Before and after? Fine. I like to think I can take and dish out the required level of “banter” off the back of victory or defeat and come Monday I think no more or less of them than I did before. Nobody is perfect, some of them were even inflicted by support of Pompey from their parents, not choice. A sad tale in itself. It seems crazy that in our recent outings against Bournemouth and Brighton people had even dared suggest that they were derby games. Not even close.

Saints and Pompey. Scummers and Skates. Cats and Dogs. Tories and Labourites. Yin and Yang. Capulets and Montagues……

I leave you with two messages. Have a Happy Christmas, and please don’t die. We need this.

Roll on April…..

Chris

Crossing The Divide: Bobby Stokes

“Whoever it was really shouldn’t have thrown that coin at Mark Dennis.”  – Steve Moran talking about his last gasp winner at Fratton Park in 1984. Time had been added on because of treatment to Dennis who had been hit by a coin from the Pompey crowd.

Bobby Stokes

30th January 1951, a hospital in Paulsgrove on the Portsmouth to Southampton Road, a boy is born who would have unwanted fame heaped upon him as the unlikely hero of a famous cup upset.

Robert William Thomas Stokes was a talent at school and county level in Hampshire (he scored fifty three goals in one season for Hillside Junior School and played seven times for England Youth) and it was fully expected that he would sign for his boyhood heroes at Fratton Park. Legend has it though that he failed a trial with Pompey and was forced to look elsewhere, others believe he chose Saints over Pompey because of their youth team (or lack thereof) at the time.

Either way, Stokes would start his career with the arch rivals of his hometown team. He had a modest start to his life at the Dell, but did score on his first team debut against Burnley in 1969. He wouldn’t become a regular until the 1971/72 season and was considered an important member of the team from then on. Despite never being a prolific goalscorer and being relegated with the club in 1974, he will always be regarded as a Southampton hero. @MiltonRoadEnd was a fan “Underrated, probably because he was playing alongside the likes of Davies, Channon, Paine & Osgood. Always gave 100%.”

When he struck gold for Saints in the eighty second minute of the 1976 FA Cup final,  it was to be both the highlight of his career and perhaps the beginning of the end of it. Famously a shy man, Stokes would never need buy a drink again, and the spotlight that he was suddenly in was not suited to him. The reward for scoring the first goal in the final was a car, and legend has it, that Bobby who couldn’t drive booked lessons for after the final just in case.

Stokes struggled for form in the subsequent season after cup success and made just eleven appearances for the first team, scoring just one goal.

Stokes and the Cup!

Upon leaving the Dell Stokes would find himself in familiar surroundings, back in his hometown. Stokes would make twenty nine appearances for Pompey and score three goals (though by now he was playing more in midfield) as the blues ended a shocking season bottom of Division Three.

Stokes Pompey career was over almost as soon as it started with the Fratton crowd not taking to the man who had left their town and performed heroics for “scum”. Pompeydiehard remembers “Bobby was a great shy lad ,we grew up together played in the same school side and at Hants level. He went to Saints instead of Pompey as they never had a youth policy in those distant days. I spoke to him when he joined Pompey in the seventies, he said Dickinson came in for him and his own club didn’t seem to want him to stay. Think he couldn’t really settle at the Park after being at yours for so long. Never really worked out for him here.”

Stokes the Blue.

Stokes left Fratton Park the following summer and joined a growing list of European players who headed to the United States and the evolving North American Soccer League. He signed for Washington Diplomats and became a team mate of Johan Cruyff’s. He played four seasons in Washington before heading back to Hampshire and signing for Waterlooville. He would further play for Cheltenham Town and Chichester City before calling it a day in 1981.

1980 Washington Diplomats

Stokes ran a pub in Portsmouth before working in the Harbour View cafe. He was often tracked down by journalists, usually around cup final time, and despite his modest earnings, never charged a penny for his time. A regular in the stands at both the Dell and Fratton Park he was granted a testimonial year with Saints in 1994, but after a lengthy battle with drink Stokes passed away in 1995 of bronchial pneumonia aged just 44.

“I don’t wear my medal around my neck but I’ll happily recall every detail of the match with anyone who has 90 minutes to spare. It was the best day of my life.” – Bobby Stokes February 1995.

R.I.P. Bobby Stokes
Pompey boy, Saints star.
1951 – 1995

Chris

A Saint Amongst Them: Coventry City

Saints head to the Ricoh Arena tomorrow to face struggling Coventry City.

The midlands side find themselves in the relegation zone, and Saints will be looking to avenge the last time they travelled to the Ricoh which resulted in a 4-1 defeat in October 2008. Ex-Saint Leon Best was the chief tormenter that day and netted the third Sky Blues goal, getting on the end of current Saint Danny Fox’s cross.

Hoping to be fit to face his old club this time round will be Best’s former Saints teammate Martin Cranie, although having suffered a rib injury against Barnsley at the start of October he hasn’t featured for the Sky Blues in the last five games.

Cranie. A young Saint.

Martin Cranie

Cranie never set the world alight in his brief spell in the first team at St. Mary’s, but he could be considered an unfortunate victim of circumstance.

The Somerset youngster joined the Saints Academy in 2003, and was part of the successful youth team that reached the 2005 FA Youth Cup Final but it couldn’t have been a worse time to get your chance with the first team…

Cranie had already had a disastrous start to his first team life at St. Mary’s, putting through his own net in a 4-0 defeat at Chelsea in 2004, but worse experiences were to come for the defender in the 2004/05 season. Having initially been loaned to Bournemouth the youngster was given a chance at Saints under new boss Harry Redknapp, but as Redknapp’s side meandered hopelessly towards Premier League relegation Cranie looked lightweight and out of his depth.

It may be harsh to judge the likes of Cranie, Best and Dexter Blackstock on that terrible season, young players very much thrown in at the worst possible time.

Things didn’t get much better for Cranie, as Saints started life in the Championship, Cranie was used sparingly in 2005/06 and then in the 2006/07 season he spent two spells on loan at hometown club Yeovil.

On the expiry of his contract in the summer of 2007, the eyebrows of most Saints fans were raised when he was signed by former boss Redknapp for Premier League Portsmouth.

Cranie never quite made the grade with the blue few either, and spent most of his time at Fratton Park on loan with Championship side QPR, and then in League One with Charlton Athletic before settling at the Ricoh in 2009 and becoming a regular in the Coventry side.

Cranie. Now shooting for Saints.

Chris

Championship Preview Part 4…

The Fourth and final instalment of the 2011/12 Championship season preview by the fans. Following on from parts one, two and three, the final six Championship fans give their opinion on how their clubs will fare…

Peterborough United:-

Name:- Steve Thorpe

Club:- Peterborough United

Twitter:- @Freekicks

Website:-  Freekicks Foundation

What can we expect from your club this season? Goals galore!! probably at both ends to be honest. Even with CMS gone we still have Boyd, Tomlin and McCann who all got double figures last season. Add to that Nicky Ajose who comes with a big reputation, we should score plenty. In pre season we have conceded an average of 2 a game, we do need to tighten up at the back! There is a great team spirit among the lads, hopefully that will pull us through!

Who is your most important player? Grant McCann the skipper and set piece king, his quality and experience is something we didn’t have at this level last time. Not just the goals he scores but he also got 13 assists last season, goals from set pieces will be very important I think.

Your predicted finishing position? 15th…we will flirt with relegation but save ourselves in February/March.

Who might win the Championship? I don’t think you can see past Leicester really, they seem to be getting quality in all over, if they can gel together as a team early on in the season, they could runaway with it.

Who definitely won’t? MK Dons (If you want a serious answer to this let me know).

Most anticipated fixture? Really looking forward to West Ham away, feels like one of those days similar to Newcastle two seasons ago when loads of Posh fans turnout. Although I hope it’s not the same result and fallout as that game!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Brighton v Hull….the Mac Attack on the same pitch again although on opposite sides. Both are great lads and deserve success and still loved by Posh fans.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Mackail-Smith! He is irreplaceable not just for the goals but mostly for his work rate and turning lost causes into chances.

You find yourself stuck in Sixfields. How do you escape unnoticed? Easy! Sneak one of those implements that kids use to split their lego up with and take out a few of the lego bricks from the main stand and Bob’s your Uncle, back on the A45 home!

Portsmouth:-

Name:- The Pompey Pages

Club:- Portsmouth

Twitter:- @pompey_pages

Website:- The Pompey Pages

What can we expect from your club this season? A promotion push is obviously the aim, but it all depends on how Steve Cotterill does in the transfer window between now and the start of the season as we’ve still got a tiny squad.

Who is your most important player? We had a number of key figures last season like Liam Lawrence, Hayden Mullins and Joel Ward and with David Norris, Luke Varney, Jason Pearce and Stephen Henderson all added to the ranks it could be any of them, but our money’s on Varney to light up the Championship next season.

Your predicted finishing position? Top 10 would be ideal however there are a lot of big and strong sides in the Championship next season so a promotion push will be tough. 

Who might win the Championship? Leicester have spent big and West Ham have got a lot of quality experienced players so I think it’s a two horse race to be honest.

Who definitely won’t? Southampton 😉

Most anticipated fixture? It has to be the South Coast derby home and away doesn’t it? The Pompey v Southampton rivalry is back on this season and with some big 4-1 victories over Southampton the last two games, both teams and both sets of fans will be well up for it!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I think Leicester v West Ham will be a big one. As I said, I think they’ll both be fighting for promotion and they’ve got some quality players.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Scott Parker’s still at West Ham isn’t he? He’d be pretty useful. Mind you we’re a bit desperate for another striker at the moment. I’d be quite keen on Charlie Austin or Jay Bothroyd to link up with Kitson and Varney. 

You find yourself stuck in St Mary’s. How do you escape unnoticed? That’s a tough one! To be fair I don’t think anyone caught in a Pompey shirt in St Mary’s is gonna be welcomed with open arms. Maybe use Joel Ward and his new found strength (following his conditioning trip to USA) as a bodyguard.

Liam Lawrence. Making a fist of it at Portsmouth.

Reading:-

Name:- Dan Wimbush

Club:- Reading

Twitter:- @thetilehurstend

Website:- The Tilehurst End

What can we expect from your club this season? I think we’ll be pretty solid this season, as we’ve (at the time of writing) retained the core of the side that did so well last season. A lot depends on whether Shane Long goes (and if so how much for) but I’m confident we’ll be in and around the play-offs again. 

Who is your most important player? Again depends if he’s still here but right now it’s Shane Long. The striker’s second half form turned us from a mid-table side to being 90 minutes from the Premier League and his goals will again be crucial. If he goes it’ll be up to Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff to provide some magic from the wings.

Your predicted finishing position? Right now I’ll say 8th.

Who might win the Championship? Hard to look past West Ham or Leicester right now. Big Sam’s bought wisely and is exactly the type of manager the club needs, while Sven’s been spending cash like mad (including our captain Matt Mills).

Who definitely won’t? Peterborough will struggle. The last time they were in this league they were so far off the pace and even last year they conceded goals for fun. Losing Mackail-Smith is a killer for them and it’s hard to see them surviving.

Most anticipated fixture? Trips to St Mary’s and the AMEX have been looked forward too most of the summer, while our games with West Ham usually entertain. 

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Some real grudge matches in the league this year, Southampton v Portsmouth, Millwall v Leeds, Brighton v Palace, this division isn’t for the faint of heart this season!

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Kevin Nolan. Nolan was fantastic as Newcastle walked the league two years ago and while not the most likeable player out there he’s a  terrific player.

You find yourself stuck in the Kassam Stadium. How do you escape unnoticed?  Quietly make my way to the end without a stand and sneak over the fence!

Southampton:-

Name:- Chris Rann

Club:- Southampton

Twitter:- @crstig

Website:- georgeweahscousin.com

What can we expect from your club this season? Attacking, free flowing, attractive football, quality soundbites from Nigel Adkins and a team on the ascendancy as opposed to the last time we were in this division. 

Who is your most important player? Adam Lallana. Since January all the focus has been on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but on the other wing we have a young player who is far more accomplished and far more important to the team. Lallana is a class act, and is liable to tear holes in your defence at the drop of a hat. When Lallana ticks we can beat anybody. Honourable mention for David Connolly too, IF he can stay fit, he is still a fantastic goalscorer at this level.

Your predicted finishing position? 10th. I think we are a couple more players away from being a real contender. So I might be a little bit more optimistic if the expected “two more signings” happen.

Who might win the Championship? The obvious answers are West Ham and Leicester, but I have got a sneaking feeling for Ipswich Town.

Who definitely won’t? I fear that Coventry City are going to be the next of the ex-Prem clubs to drop into the third tier.

Most anticipated fixture? Hmmm. Tough one, but I think I will have to say the two games against our poor relations down the road. They have trounced us the last two times we have played them, but this time we are on a level footing and the blue few have no longer got a team built on other peoples money.

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I am quite interested to see what Nathan Tyson will do if he scores the winner against Forest…

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Nicky Maynard from Bristol City. Fantastic striker, who I think would score bagfuls playing off of Rickie Lambert.

You find yourself stuck in Fratton Park. How do you escape unnoticed? I would open two packets of Scampi fries and put them in my pockets, draw an anchor on each forearm in biro, speak in a fake cockney accent and talk about nothing but “scummers”. This should see me blend in with the locals. Failing that, I will dress like the sheik from Cannonball Run and walk about with a bag labelled “swag”, the Fratton faithful will be so busy putting up “Welcome to Portsmouth” banners on the flyovers of the M27, I will be able to walk out unnoticed…

He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Adam Lallana, makes Messi look sh**e...

Watford:-

Name:- Mike Parkin

Club:- Watford

Twitter:- @rookerymike

Website:- From the Rookery End

What can we expect from your club this season? A low average age! As a result of the club’s precarious financial state, we were forced to field more of our younger players last year than we perhaps would have liked. We’ve made a few additions to the squad over the summer, noticably Chris Iwelumo, but we’ll still be relying on our array of Harefield Academy graduates. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – they performed admirably last year, but the Championship seems incredibly competitive this year, big teams entering the division from both the Premier League and Division One, so they will need to deliver for us again. Whatever happens, a team managed by Sean Dyche is always going to give 100% so I’d be surprised if we didn’t provide a tough challenge for the majority of teams in this league.

Who is your most important player? Having said we’re largely dependent on youth, we do have a couple of experienced players. Cult hero Lloyd Doyley is entering his testimonial year, whilst fellow defender Martin Taylor is a vital part of our defensive unit. Our most important player is another man with experience – our captain John Eustace. Eustace is a born leader, barking orders on the pitch whilst crunching into tackles, breaking up play and kick-starting many of our attacking moves. The sort of player you hate playing against, but adore when he’s one of yours. The news that John Eustace had signed a contract extension was without doubt the best news of the summer.

Your predicted finishing position? If you’ve ever listened to me on the ‘From the Rookery End’ podcast, you’ll know that I’m not the most optimistic of souls! I do however think it’s fair to say that our single aim for this season is safety. If we can avoid relegation, it will have been a successful year and so anything above 21st will be god news as far as I’m concerned. We certainly have the talent to survive, but a good start to the season will be vital – especially with Sean Dyche entering his first season in management.

Who might win the Championship? Leicester City have been attracting a lot of attention with their eye catching activity in the transfer market, so I’d imagine they will be short odds. Will all the new signings gel though? I’m not sure. Their fans will expect a lot after all the investment, so their will be definite pressure on Sven and his team. Of the relegated sides I think West Ham United will be challenging, whilst Division One champions Brighton will be full of confidence after demolishing their opponents last year. I’d be surprised if they won it, but I can certainly see them making the play-offs. If you were to give me a fiver to back a winner, I’d go for Nottingham Forest. I think they have pulled off a master stroke in getting Steve McLaren on board, he has a wealth of experience and in getting rid of the permanently angry Billy Davies, I imagine the City Ground is already a more pleasant place to be. They get big crowds and have a decent squad – I’m going with Nottingham Forest.

Who definitely won’t? Birmingham City. Things are unravelling at an alarming pace at St Andrews and their fans will be hoping they can simply survive the season. They are losing players left right and centre and have seemingly have no funds with which to bring in replacements. It’s looking bleak for the blues.

Most anticipated fixture? Over the summer, most of our key players and staff departed for Wales. Danny Graham went to Swansea, whilst what felt like every one else followed Malky Mackay to Cardiff City. There was a lot of good will towards Malky after what he achieved in his time as boss at Vicarage Road, but this evaporated when he used his knowledge of contract situations at Watford to pinch Don Cowie, our influential midfielder, on a free. I think a lot of fans will be looking forward to the games with Cardiff and praying that we can prove to those that left they made a mistake. From a personal point of view I’m looking forward to visiting Brighton’s shiny new stadium and finding out first hand if they make good on their promise of lighting the away end in the colour of the visiting team. Intriguing!

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? I always enjoy watching the joys of the South Coast derby unfold – ideally from a very safe distance. With the Saints back in the Championship, I am looking forward to watching Southampton and Portsmouth do their thing. South coast neighbours Brighton also have their eyes on a tasty derby with long time rivals Crystal Palace, so that will be good fun to watch.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? He’s actually got a lot to prove at Championship level, but he’s a local lad and is rumoured to be a Watford supporter, showing him to be of impeccable taste. He needs a haircut, but I reckon Craig Mackail-Smith would be a decent addition to any Championship side. It will be interesting to see how CMS does at this level.

You find yourself stuck in Kenilworth Road. How do you escape unnoticed? Very simple. I would simply explain that I am an official from the Football League and am therefore obviously very lost. I probably wouldn’t even need to explain; they have been non league for so long now, they simply wouldn’t recognise a supporter from a football league club! Bless their cotton socks.

West Ham United:-

Name:- Iain Dale

Club:- West Ham

Twitter:- @iaindalewestham

Website:- West Ham til I die

What can we expect from your club this season? A top two finish. Hopefully!

Who is your most important player? Kevin Nolan. If he can score his usual amount of goals then we can be very hopeful of promotion at the first attempt.

Your predicted finishing position? 1 or 2.

Who might win the Championship? Us!

Who definitely won’t? The others!

Most anticipated fixture? It’s certainly not Millwall. Maybe v Leeds?

Most anticipated fixture that doesn’t involve your club? Southampton v Portsmouth.

If you could take one player from someone else’s club (Championship only), who would it be? Shane Long.

You find yourself stuck in the Den. How do you escape unnoticed? Quickly get some extra tattoos…

Kevin Nolan is many people's pick to star this season.

Well that wraps up the 2011/12 Championship preview by the top club bloggers and tweeters. All there is to do now, is sit back watch the season unfold and see our optimism and predictions die before our eyes…

Chris