clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Dealing With Success: The Trials of a Saint

It's been a turbulent decade for Southampton FC. Paul Johnson takes a look at the trials and tribulations of being a fan of a newly successful and respectable football club.

Alex Broadway/Getty Images

Being a Saints fan was never meant to be easy. It was certainly never meant to be fun. But here I am, watching Match of the Day on a Sunday morning, enjoying Saints beat West Ham in what can only be described as a non-event. It's another routine victory for a club that is now used to winning more games than they lose. In the last few weeks we've held Arsenal to a draw at The Emirates, we've cruised past West Brom, and claimed yet another victory at Old Trafford against Man Utd. It's all too easy being us.

It didn't used to be like this. I remember standing on Gillingham's scaffold-built stand that felt like it was going to crumble at any second, knowing that the alternative was being out in the streets of Gillingham and deciding I'd rather die in the rubble. Or our first game in the Championship after all those years of survival, thinking we'd waltz back into the Premiership, before being brought right back down to earth in the horrible confines of Luton's tiny, uninviting 'stadium'. I also  remember the glory days, when we were a middle-of-the-road Championship team, with players like Ricardo Fuller, Inigo Idiakez and Rudi Skacel. It wasn't always so glamorous being a Southampton fan.

If you go back a little further, there was the year-on-year relegation scrap, with the nervous last-minute goals from Parhars, or the consistent Le Tissier heroics. I was a little young for The Dell, but I remember my first game there, the highlight of the game was Francis Benali booting the ball out of the stadium. It didn't used to be about Europe and big money signings, it was all about getting just enough points to survive.

Fast-forward to the present day, with Southampton sitting pretty in 7th, with no danger of a relegation battle, and some chance of a fight for European football, how are we supposed to adapt to this new-look, slightly hipster, well-polished and much more successful football club?

I was in the stands for the West Brom game. It was an easy 3-0 victory. I'd taken my Texan girlfriend to her first Saints game, and it was pretty much all over as soon as Ward-Prowse curled a beautiful free-kick into the top corner in the opening few minutes. There was no tension, there was no excitement, we were just too good. She'll never understand what being a Saints fan really means. Isn't it all about turning up week-in, week-out expecting a drubbing from anyone and everyone?

I'm all for the influx of new fans, following the club from around the world, but they should be required to suffer a crash course of Southampton's history. Maybe they should have a one season buffer-period where they have to support Aston Villa?

If we're honest, it's pretty amazing being us. We win more games than we used to in the Premier League, and we're not travelling round the country to the ends of the earth to play teams like Scunthorpe or Blackpool. We get to go to Old Trafford and WIN, and mix it with the big boys and not look out of place. But there's still a bit of me that struggles to let go of what it really is to be a born-and-bred Southampton fan.

I was born with this club, I didn't have a choice. I wasn't perusing the Panini sticker album and picking the team with the coolest kit, or playing it cool and finding out who the best team were before sticking all my chips on them. I just had to support this calamity of a club because that's all I was given.

Forgive me for my rose-tinted nostalgia, but there was something a little bit enjoyable about following a club that played awful football and didn't deserve much more than administration and the occasional derogatory newspaper headline. We sucked, and I was comfortable with that. But I'm not looking to hand in my prawn sandwiches and armchair season ticket. We're on the TV once every few weeks, and everyone actually knows who we are. When I tell people I'm a Saints fan, they're impressed, instead of laughing at my misfortune. I wouldn't trade it in for anything (other than being a Leicester fan right now), but it takes some getting used to. It didn't used to be so easy.