Southampton are attempting to return to the top flight of English football, Ross Doyle writes.
On October 31, 2011
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND — In 2002-2003, Southampton were mixing it up with the biggest teams in English football and Southampton had reached the peak of its potential under the successful management of Gordon Strachan. A remarkable run in the FA Cup ending in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Arsenal in the final and an eighth-place finish in the Premiership capped a great year. However the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and they fell with a long, drawn-out thump, down into the gutter.
The Saints’ first involvement in top-flight football was in 1978, while they were also founding members of the Premier League — now the Premiership — in 1992-1993 season. Relegation for the first time in 27 years was difficult to deal with, and the increasing difficulty of the second tier in English football proved too much, resulting in a further nose-dive into League One, the country’s third tier.
Managers departed and players were forced out as money was sparse. Southampton encountered many problems mainly due to controversial decisions made by former chairman Rupert Lowe. Short spells in management for several managers — including Paul Sturrock and Steve Wigley, followed by the controversial appointment of Harry Redknapp from local rivals Portsmouth — caused plenty of anger and confusion amongst the fans. Then the strange hiring of Sir Clive Woodward — famous for leading England to World Cup glory … in Rugby Union — as technical director left Southampton like lambs to the slaughter. The media had a field day.
But things are now looking positive for Southampton.
Sitting handsomely at the top of the Championship is a privilege which is very difficult to achieve. It has been a long time coming, and there now seems to be a buzz about the city, the stadium. And the fans are talking. The return to the pinnacle of English, British, and considered by some, European football, is in their sights.
Manager Nigel Adkins, who previously lead Scunthorpe United into the Championship by winning League One in 2007, believes his team are the team to beat. This is the sort of confidence and arrogance which has been missing from Southampton: the belief that they are once again a team to support and believe in.
The problems faced by the team in the last few years were mainly caused by off-field troubles. High-profile talents such as Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale had to be sold just to attempt to finance their survival and escape from the eventually inevitable period in administration. However, it is here where the recovery began. While still spending more than other teams in the division as a result of a generous new owner in Marcus Liebherr — the German investor who pulled them away from the administrator — the team were able to claim their first prize since 1976, winning the Football League trophy in March 2010, beating Carlisle United 4-1 at Wembley Stadium in London.
After the sudden passing of their new investor in August 2010, fans were assured of the financial safety of their team, and contingency plans were already in place. And Adkins has just the kind of experience needed.
Now this season, Southampton are attempting to achieve success similar to Norwich City last season and chase back-to-back promotions from League One to the Premiership. Southampton are chasing a return to where they belong, back with big sides.
It has been a long road back, and there is still a long way to go this season, but the fans can be assured of this: Southampton are back competing again, and the players will be sure to at least give their all to help them return to where they were less than a decade ago.