Malcolm Dawson writes…..Sam Dobson* is a real football fan. By that I mean he watches his team in the flesh, rather than via television and dodgy internet streams. That’s not to say that I think those who have no alternative but to follow from afar aren’t just as passionate, devoted and genuine as the ones you’ll find in the ground, but the observations of a fan who sees his or her team week in, week out (not to mention the youth and reserve sides) reflect the aspects of the game that can only be seen first hand. I suspect many Sunderland fans will identify with Sam, until that is they read his views on club colours and simulation. Sam’s answers to M Salut’s comprehensive questionnaire reveals a die hard Saint who will make the long trip from the South Coast for a 12.45 Kick Off.
(** MD: As you will all have realised this WAY was posted just hours before Nicola Cortese announced that he was leaving the club.)
Everyone outside Southampton, and a few within, seemed outraged by the sacking of Nigel Adkins but Nicola Cortese has probably proved his point. Agreed?
Absolutely. I’ve always been a fan of Cortese’s, so I was willing to see how it panned out when the decision was first made, even if I was somewhat sceptical. It did come as a shock, and I said at the time it was a massive gamble, but as with so many other big decisions, Cortese has been proven right. Adkins was improving, and he would have probably kept us up, but Pochettino is a level above. The team has a much clearer identity now.
But doing away with red and white stripes – there’d be a riot if Sunderland did that. Was it hard to take?
I certainly don’t speak for everyone here, but it didn’t bother me that much. Technically it is still a red and white kit, so it’s not quite on the level of what Cardiff have done. I think the design of this kit and the previous one was ugly and unimaginative. If it were up to me we’d be playing in stripes, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. It’s not something that I feel particularly strongly about, but I can understand those that do. It hasn’t really been met with much resistance. A lot of the same people that spent all summer moaning about the shirt went out and bought it anyway.
Tell us what it has been like to watch the transformation of your club so that “established” and “”Premier” and “club” no longer seem a far-fetched set of words to string together.
It’s been an incredible ride. It shows what can be done with sensible decision making and a long-term vision. Having a fair bit of money to spend has obviously helped too, but the club is run exceptionally well these days.
Are you too young to have enjoyed past, pre-St Mary’s glories and the extraordinary parade of great players who have turned out for you?
I’ve been following Saints since the late 1990s, so I saw the 2003 FA Cup run, but obviously missed the great sides of the 1980s and the 1976 FA Cup final win.
However you answered that, who have been the finest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d seen – in Saints colours (any variety) and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
I saw Matt Le Tissier in what was probably his last good season (1997/98), but it would have been nice to see him a few years earlier when he was really in his prime. Most of my favourites are playing right now, people like Morgan Schneiderlin and Adam Lallana.
I’m reluctant to single out any individual players for criticism. I try to be supportive and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I pretty much love everyone in the current squad, and can’t think of any former-players that I really despise. Most of the really bad ones don’t last very long. If we’re talking managers then Harry Redknapp is the obvious choice.
And who most impresses you from the current squad?
It really has been such a team effort this season. All the regulars have played their part, but Schneiderlin is still crucial. He’s pretty much got everything – passing, tackling, energy, skill, vision, shooting and so much more. He’s looked good since we signed him in 2008, but has added something different every season and is now one of the most complete players in the league. I honestly believe he wouldn’t look out of place at any club in Europe. The same could be said for right-back Nathaniel Clyne. He’s ridiculously consistent, and rarely lets anything get past him. His crossing ability is superb too. Lallana is a club legend, who has stepped it up even further this season. Rickie Lambert has had his ups and downs recently, but will always be a hero to Saints fans. Steven Davis, Jay Rodriguez, Dejan Lovren and Luke Shaw have been impressive too, as have many others.
Links between us include McMenemy (good for you, disastrous for us), Kevin Phillips (wonderful for us, less so for you) and Kenwyne Jones (pretty frustrating for both). Any thoughts of these or other people with ties to both SAFC and Saints?
Lawrie McMenemy had his day long before I was born, but obviously he is our greatest manager ever (in terms of results at least). He had a spell as Director of Football in the 1990s and also did some ambassadorial work, but didn’t appear to contribute a hell of a lot in either role. He occasionally pops up with the odd inane remark in the media, but I think the game passed him by long ago.
I always liked Kevin Phillips as a Saints player. He scored a cracker on his debut at Leicester, but then went on a bit of a drought. Nevertheless his performances were usually good, and by the second half of the season he regained his scoring touch. He did pretty well in 2004/05 too, even though we got relegated. I think there was a fall-out with him and a few others at the club, which led to him being dropped at the end of the season. He said he wasn’t happy with how things went at the club, which was understandable given the state it was in at the time, but I think a lot of fans took that the wrong way. For years afterwards he was booed whenever he came up against Saints. He actually got a fairly decent reception when he played for Palace at St Mary’s earlier this season after being very complimentary about Saints in an interview. I’ve never really had a problem with him to be honest. How could you hate someone who scored a winner against Portsmouth?
Kenwyne Jones’ departure was pretty acrimonious, and I don’t think he or the club covered themselves in glory. I think we were happy to cash-in on him, despite publicly declaring that he was not for sale. It was pretty obvious that the club was trying to make themselves look as good as possible with the fans, and make the player look bad by forcing his hand. Jones certainly did that by threatening to go on strike. He definitely could have handled it better. As a player I think he was developing quite well with us. I remember in his final appearance at Norwich in 2007 he was such a handful, but I’m not quite sure he’s quite fulfilled his potential since then.
Have you been surprised at how badly Sunderland have fared this season and did you see trouble ahead with PDC?
Yes, but even without him I think you might have struggled. I don’t follow Sunderland that closely, but they seem to have been lacking direction for a while now. I suspect the problems go deeper than Di Canio, as crazy as he was.
It seems hardly close enough to make it a tribal issue, but is Gus Poyet disliked with any great intensity at Southampton because of his Brighton connection?
For me that’s all in the past now. Poyet said some stupid things about us when he was Brighton manager, but that brief rivalry ended long-ago. I thought some of his comments about Luis Suarez were utterly moronic too, but apart from that I don’t have too much of a problem with him anymore. He seems like a fairly competent manager, and I do kind of respect some of the things he’s accomplished. He’ll get some stick at the game for sure, but I expect the ill-feeling to gradually die-down over the next few years, if it hasn’t already.
What will be this season’s top four in order, who – don’t spare our feelings – is going down and where will our clubs finish if not already listed?
I said Manchester City would win the league at the start of the season, and I’m sticking to that. They’ve had plenty of off days on the road, but I think they’ve got the most talented squad. Chelsea have impressed me in recent weeks, and I’d expect them to push City close. I’m not a fan of everything Jose Mourinho says or does, but he has something about him. I don’t think Arsenal will last the pace unfortunately, but they’ll still finish 3rd comfortably. I’ve got a gut feeling Man United will just sneak the 4th spot. I keep changing my mind about who will go down. There are probably about five teams that deserve to drop; it could be any from the bottom 10. Despite recent improvements under Pulis I think Palace still have the most limited squad in the league. Fulham don’t seem to have much about them at the moment. I would have said Sunderland were certainties a few weeks back, but I’m not so sure now. I would love West Ham to go down, but have a feeling Norwich might be the third team.
Earlier in the season I thought we could finish 6th or 7th and nick a Europa League spot, but I don’t see that happening now. I’d be surprised if we finish any lower than we are right now (9th) either. We’ll probably just pip Newcastle to 8th.
What have been you highs and lows as a Saints supporter?
Nearly everything since the 2009 takeover has been great. The 2012 promotion was probably the highlight, the culmination of a miraculous three-year turnaround. The football we played at the start of that Championship season was incredible. We really took the division by storm. Beating Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea at St Mary’s last season was pretty special. As was the win at Anfield last September. League 1 was so much fun too, especially the late comeback at Brighton in 2011. Going back further, the run to the 2003 FA Cup final was an absolute blast.
Growing up I thought we were immune from relegation, so dropping to the second-tier for the first time in my lifetime in 2004/05 was hard to take. Heavy defeats at Watford and Portsmouth were particularly embarrassing. The club was a complete shambles between 2005-2009, even when we sneaked into the play-offs in 2006/07. The 2009 relegation to League One and the uncertainty that followed was pretty much as low as it got, but that also inadvertently led to the success we are now enjoying.
As a much-travelled supporter who sees reserves and youth football as well as first team, which level of football gives you most pleasure and why?
For me it’s not really all about winning or losing. Obviously you enjoy the good results more, but I can’t say I get too upset about the bad ones anymore. I nearly always enjoy it, no matter what the score (unless it’s really really bad). If it was all about winning I would go to Chelsea or Man City. I love that we have a great side now, but I still loved it back when we were crap. It’s about being a part of it all, the highs and the lows.
It’s a completely different vibe at youth/development games. The atmosphere is generally a lot more family friendly and relaxed, which is a nice contrast to the vitriol which can sometimes be generated at senior level. Youth football is obviously particularly relevant at our club. You know that some of the players you are watching will at least get a chance in the first team. It’s kind of cool to be able to say you saw Gareth Bale or Alex Chamberlain before they became stars. They always encourage good football above anything else at that level, which makes it fun to watch. That said, nothing beats the feeling of watching the first team.
Which aspect of the modern game most inspires you and which makes you furious?
I think most of this “Against Modern Football” stuff is a load of rubbish. A lot of the things that people moan about today have always existed, and there’s a lot that’s better today compared to the past. I think the standard of football is as good as it’s ever been right now, due to improved conditioning, dieting and coaching. It’s great that there is so much football available to watch these days, and stadiums are much safer places, even if the atmosphere has been somewhat diluted. Not too much gets me angry, but obviously I find racism and corruption of any kind deplorable. Important issues, not stuff like diving or waving an imaginary card, which really don’t matter as much as many people think.
Brazil 2014 – no Theo to rekindle memories and reflected pride but are you excited, or too much of a club football fan to care about the forthcoming World Cup?
Definitely too much of a club fan to care. I lost interest in England a long time ago. While it has been nice to see Saints represented recently, I’ll never have the same connection with the national team that I do with my club.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
Yeah, I’ll be setting off ridiculously early on Saturday morning. Provided there are no more major injury setbacks I fancy us to edge it 2-1.
* Sam Dobson on himself:
The first match I attended was in August 1997 when I was 9, a 1-0 defeat to Bolton at the Dell. It was probably a terrible game, but I loved everything about it and was instantly hooked. I went to plenty of games over the next few years, but didn’t get a season ticket until we moved to St Mary’s in 2001. The first away game I attended was a 7-2 defeat at White Hart Lane in the 1999/2000 season, but I didn’t start travelling regularly until about 2005. I picked up the away-day bug pretty quickly. The last Saints game I missed was on 15th April 2006 at Stoke. Prior to the 2006/07 season I was planning to pick and choose about 12-15 away games to go to, but just couldn’t resist any of them in the end, and I still can’t. I also watch the development/academy sides whenever possible, and have even attended several U21 away fixtures. I write about Saints for my site http://thesaintshub.com/