Take a second and think about why you enjoy sports. Obviously winning is great. But unless you are one of a lucky few (or a massive bandwagoner…only judging a little), you can’t enjoy winning all the time. In American sports — the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB, only one team wins. In the English football ladder, it is a little more egalitarian: you get a league winner, multiple domestic competitions, continental competitions, and multiple promotion spots.
But the EFL pyramid is anything but egalitarian. Only a select few reach the top. Every so often there is a magical run, a Cinderella story of epic proportions a la Leicester City in 2016, the Boston Red Sox in 2004 (indulge this American writer and check it out it was incredible), and yes, Southampton in 1976. But those moments are once in a generation, and most of us struggle along watching our teams on the pitch reflect our struggles week in and week out.
And given that you are reading a Southampton FC blog, you, like me, probably don’t expect your team to win many games. So why do we watch? Why do we subject ourselves to the almost weekly disappointment? We watch to escape our day-to-day lives.
Southampton FC fans have seen it all
We watch to find a sense of belonging reflected in our heroes wearing our favorite colors. Not just that, our heroes are representing us as they go to battle on our behalf. We buy our team’s jerseys and wear them to the pub. We find a community of like-minded souls and become temporary best friends with people whose only bond is supporting 11 players on a field of grass kicking a ball. For those 90 minutes, we are united in our belief that our team is out there giving their all for us.
This is why supporting Southampton FC hasn’t been the easiest of rides these past few seasons. As a Saints fan, we don’t go into the weekend expecting our lads to win (on the men’s side, the women’s team has been incredible). Most of the time we don’t even expect the game to be close! But still, the Saints have found a way to let us down. More devastating than the 9-0 losses, the weekly drubbings, and the relegation, is the loss of belief. The belief in Southampton Football Club is starting to fade away.
Case in point — when Middlesbrough went up 2-1 in the 66th minute on Saturday, our first thought wasn’t: “Here we go lads, still 30-some-odd minutes left, we could nick this”, it was more like “Awww ****, here we go again”. And you could see it on the faces of the players. Heads started to droop, intensity continued to drop, and the light in the fans’ eyes went out.
Against Ipswich at St. Mary’s audible boos could be heard several times ringing down from the Southampton fans. And if I’m being totally honest, who could blame them? The belief is gone. And it didn’t happen overnight. Years of poor decisions, low investment, and structural stagnation from the top to the bottom got us here.
We rekindled the belief when Sport Republic bought the club, but relegation quickly put an end to that light. The fire again roared into life during the summer transfer window, but the inevitable rains of Southampton’s ineptitude quickly extinguished this batch of our hope.
And so here we are — a team of perennial losers. Like the ex-partner we just can’t get rid of we keep coming back, only to have the same hurts burn us week in and week out. Silly mistakes, poor effort, weird lineup choices, and tactical insufficiencies, have been part and parcel of being a Southampton fan since the departure of Ralph Hassenhüttl last fall.
Southampton needs a full reset. Not just on the playing side, but from the ground up. A losing culture is hard to shake, and the Saints need stable, competent leadership to take them out of this hole. The irony of this is we had stability with Ralph, but never gave him the investment he needed. Then we had an investment with Sport Republic, but never had stability, as we’ve had 4 managers in 12 months.
This is why, as much as 4 straight clueless losses hurt, we as fans have to go once more into the breach. We have to back Russell Martin. A 5th manager is not going to cure what ails us, a consistent culture will. For all his tactical flaws, his calm persona and outgoing demeanor for now are doing the club some good. As much hurt as we have endured in the past year, only by banding together and pushing the club forward will we get out of this mess.
Why do we continue to watch Southampton? We watch because they’re our ruddy team. They suck, but they’re ours. They make stupid mistakes, give away silly goals, and get battered by teams worse than them. But they do this wearing our colors. Wearing our jersey. We watch for legends past, Stokes, Liebherr, and Ward-Prowse. We listen to the Monday morning Total Saints Podcast on the car ride to work.
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We watch to hear Adam Blackmore screaming his lungs out at a Southampton goal. A day may come when the courage of the Saints fans fails when we break our bonds and forsake our club. But it is not this day. This day we come together and we get our lads over the finish line. Four straight losses is nothing — we’ve endured far worse. Not one but two 9-0 losses, constant relegation battles, losing our captain, Nathan Jones’ Welsh women, Janny B, we’ve seen it all and we ain’t leaving!
And hey, it could be worse, we could be Portsmouth fans.