I remember each occasion clearly. The palpable fear that built up in me as I walked over the bridge, towards the stadium. It was a fear matched only by the excitement I was feeling. I was only young, but the tension in the air, and the promise of a stadium full of people baying for blood, and the aggression between home and away, was exhilarating. The first time I experienced it just left me wanting more. It was an experience unlike any other in football. Football is a sport built on rivalries, and the Southampton vs Portsmouth rivalry is one of the most visceral and passionate rivalries in the sport (it’s also, apparently, the most one-sided in all of British football, so any Skates reading should have a think about that).
I’ll never forget watching Portsmouth hammer the most painful nail in our Premiership coffin, when they ruined us with a 4-1 victory at Fratton Park. Or our victories over them in the 03/04 season. I definitely won’t be forgetting the humiliation of a last minute screamer at St Marys Stadium in 2012, when I was the embodiment of a topless, drunken yob, flailing around celebrating, only to be reminded of the game as a boomer went soaring in to ruin our day. I find it hard to believe I’ll ever look back on tonight’s fixture the same way. Bournemouth, despite efforts from the media (and from Bournemouth fans themselves), are not our rivals.
It’s been an interesting development, Portsmouth languishing in the lower leagues, whilst Bournemouth join Southampton in the Premier League, and now we’re being told that our rivals are Bournemouth and the hallowed ‘derby’ tag starts getting thrown around, without any sign of animosity or rivalry. I guess it sells tickets, and it gets people tuning in on a Tuesday night, but I find it hard to stomach the idea that we should be rivals because Sky told us so.
As it happens, I’ve been looking forward to this game more than any other this season. But not because I’m expecting fireworks and a ruckus. I like Bournemouth, and the thought of Southampton playing Bournemouth, at their tiny tin pot shack, in the Premier League, puts a smile on my face. They were never meant to be this good. They were the little club over the road, by the seaside, with a tiny fanbase to fit their tiny stadium. This is a real novelty, and I’ve been enjoying it all season long. And therein lies the reason that Bournemouth, much more than Southampton, view this rivalry as very real.
This is a sibling rivalry. Southampton are the older brother. We find our little brother, Bournemouth, endearing, and whilst we constantly give them stick, we want them to do well. We’d love for them to stay in the top flight and survive, but we certainly don’t see them as a threat, because they’re the little brother. And what more do little brothers hate than their older brother? The patronising, irritating sibling that always seems to be looking down on you, acting like you’re nothing, and never giving you the credit or respect that you feel you deserve. As a younger brother myself, I remember those feelings of inadequacy, and I remember my response being to strike out in resentment and try and beat my older brother. It never worked, of course, and unlike my sibling rivalry, Bournemouth aren’t likely to outgrow their older brother and have the chance to crush him like a scene out of Highlander.
So tonight, as the two sides take to the pitch, and one set of fans feel a sense of animosity, and the other feels a sense of pride as the tiny little minnows have only gone and done it, Southampton and Bournemouth will play for much more than just three points, they’ll play for the family bragging rights. We’re still the older brother, and we’re still going to keep on acting like Bournemouth aren’t a real professional club, with a stadium, and millions of pounds, and a chance to actually stay in the top flight for an extended period. But Bournemouth will keep playing the little brother, they’ll play up this rivalry like it matters, and they’ll really mean it.
Maybe one day they’ll get their wish? Maybe they’ll become competitive enough in the long-term that they actually become a threat. I know I did with my older brother. I’m bigger than him now, and I’m handy in a fight. I also beat him at peanuts a few times a couple years ago. Maybe that’ll settle this? Southampton vs Bournemouth – Peanuts edition.