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Paul Bennett gives an exclusive interview to St. Mary's Musings!

Former Saints defender Paul Bennett speaks to us ahead of the 40th anniversary of the club's one and only FA Cup victory, which came against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in 1976.

Paul Bennett was a defender and came through the youth system at Southampton Football Club, representing the club 137 times before moving on to sign for Reading, and later, Aldershot Town.

He signed professional terms with Saints in 1969, making his debut against Tottenham Hotspur in April 1972 at the age of 20 - man-marking Martin Chivers, formerly of Southampton.

He ultimately left the club in the summer of 1976 after Lawrie McMenemy chose to launch a rebuild of his Saints side, signing for Reading for a fee in the region of £8,000.

After a career in professional football, Paul moved into education. Working first at Oaklands School and later at Southampton Solent University, where he still lectures on business in The Lawrie McMenemy Centre for Football Research. <!-- ######## START FLOATED VIDEO SNIPPET ######## -->

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Paul was a member of the squad as Saints lifted the 1976 FA Cup with a 1-0 victory over First Division giants Manchester United on May the 1st, and attended the Mayoral Reception at Southampton Guildhall last Friday, at the request of McMenemy.

We were fortunate to get an extensive interview with Paul - talking about the club at present, as well as reflecting on the success of 1976 and Paul's departure from the club, as well as much more.

Below is the transcript of the interview with Paul, which is the penultimate part of our 1976 series.


Paul, can you believe it'll be 40 years since Southampton won the FA Cup next year?

In a word, no.

It's quite surprising, because it's always in the back of your mind.

I had a call from Lawrie to suggest I come along to this, because it's 40 years next year. Oh God! I'm getting old.

Does being a Southampton lad make it more special, that even 40 years on, people want to remember it?

Yes. Along with Nick [Holmes], the fact we came up through the ranks made it an absolutely incredible day. The final itself was some day, but the day afterwards when everybody was around the town was special.

People will hopefully go onto YouTube and just see what it meant to the people, because I can always remember coming up New Road, turning left and turning right and coming up the High Street - you couldn't move! Because of the people, there were just thousands upon thousands of people.

Does that show how much the FA Cup means to the city?

I don't know, really. Over time, the FA Cup seems to have lost a little bit of its gloss, which I think is a real shame. It is important and it's a good route into Europe. The clubs should value that as much as they do in the league.

With it being 40 years next year, would you like to see the current squad win the FA Cup next year?

You always want Southampton to win the cup! You want them to win every game.

It's a shame it didn't happen back in 2003 with Gordon Strachan, but no, it's great. It is an amazing item for the city to be proud of.

If you could pick one member of the current squad to play alongside, who would that be?


The team play around him. I think, probably like Lawrie, that the personalities are being wiped out of football. It's all about data. You're seeing the work universities are doing in sport science with the recordings they're doing, and helping different clubs. That's fine, but that doesn't take account of anybody's personality. If you look back over the years, would you have those players, playing now, with the way football is moving now?

You've got squads, you've got groups, you've got teams, but the individuals are few and far between.

Would you also say that apart from the athletic side of the game, the biggest change is the divide between the players and the fans growing further every year?

Yes, and I think it's a great shame. When we were at The Dell, lunchtimes, we'd be up the coffee shops on the London Road. When will you see one of these players in the coffee shops, anywhere? That's a shame and I think it's very sad. You get the impression, at times, that players are almost treated as Gods. They're human beings, and normal human beings. There's nothing special about them. That's the one thing with footballers, they are not super-intelligent people.

They have skills and other things that make them very good football, but they're humans. It actually does help. All of these players, you ask any of them to go to an event and talk to people, that happens. They're brilliant at it. It does surprise you that they're almost cocooned nowadays. What's special about them? They just play football.

It's a skill, I'm amazed with some of these computer programmers - they're incredible people. Yes, they've got it, but yes, that's the way football is - and it's sad.

Is it lovely that you can still commemorate it in this fashion?

Oh, yes. Whether it was the first time that Saints had won it or not, even if they had won it more often, then every year you are the top club in that competition. The FA Cup isn't just the four leagues, it's all clubs. It does make it special. It's a trip to Wembley, that's never going to be forgotten. The trip back to Southampton, that'll never be forgotten.

You mention the day at Wembley and the trip back to Southampton, does it devalue the competition, having the semi-finals at Wembley?

I don't know. It's interesting that it is happening, but I think the reason why it is happening is because The FA doesn't have the money for it - I think that's the reason for the sponsor. That's the world nowadays. It doesn't matter which sport you're in, businesses will sponsor it. What I hope happens is that the money is used sensibly.

Wembley is, in many ways, a superb place. But, it's not the stadium they should've built. It doesn't have that sparkle, but neither does it have a roof. If you spend a billion pounds on a stadium, you expect it to have a roof and be the top stadium. Yet in this country we seem to be very lax on that kind of thing.

You look at what's in Wales, the Millennium Stadium. It's got a roof and it opens and closes. That's the way that everything is moving these days. Yet Wembley is going to be there, come November, what events can you hold there?

Wembley as a place, yeah, that's special.

But the facility that we've got there? I think it is quite a let down.

We asked Hugh for his memories of playing for Lawrie - what do you remember of him as a manager? He said strict!

Yeah, he was very different to Ted Bates - that's who I grew up with. Lawrie had some very fixed ideas, he was obviously much younger as well. Football was going to be played the way that Lawrie wanted to play it.

My thing was, I would've liked to have stayed at Southampton, but no.

Lawrie was very different to how Ted was. What has to be remembered is that, in those days and for a long time afterwards, the managers, they managed the club. It wasn't just the football.

Whereas nowadays you'll have Head Coaches or whatever they might be called, but their job now is just the football. Back in those days, they were responsible for everything. It was a very different way to how it is nowadays.

Moving from past to present, what do you make of the rebuilding job that Ronald Koeman had to take on this summer?

I think he's done very well. I think they were lucky to keep hold of Schneiderlin, because I think he was key to this season. People have to accept the fact that if somebody says to you: ‘I'm going to double your salary!', or whatever it might be - you're going to move, because that's what you're entitled to do.

Liverpool have always been seen as a good club. I think what's happening with the players who left for Liverpool and what's gone on there recently is a nightmare, but that's their decision.

But, Southampton were able to keep Schneiderlin and that enabled them to give a person they could play around.

I went and saw a game against Stoke earlier this season, and I was mightily impressed by the way they pressured people, which Pochettino was very good for.

They've grown and they've kept it, one of the good things has been the way the Liebherr family have basically financed it, but have then said ‘We'll leave the football to the people who know football - we'll do our job, they'll do their job'.

So long as that happens, they'll continue to be successful.

You see an emphasis in the paper and in the news about keeping players, but what they've got to look at is, how long are they going to keep Koeman? That's going to be the interesting one.

Talking about Schneiderlin and how important it was to keep him last summer, do you think that'll prove too difficult this summer and how difficult will it be to replace him?

I think it's already agreed.

I think the way that contracts are seen nowadays, irrespective of what's said - I think Schneiderlin will move.

That's probably what was agreed last year, but against that you have got some very good players coming through and similarly, there is money available that will enable them to buy players - but he's going to be very difficult to replace.

St. Mary's Musings would like to thank Paul for his time.