|Crossing the railway bridge towards St Mary's, home of Southampton FC.|
...well, go on, I'll try, but if it goes all snidey, please understand! A Saints fan writing about Pompey would find it just as hard to say nice things...
It's just the way of the world.
|St Mary's, as viewed from Northam Road.|
Southampton FC (2) 2 v 0 (0) Burnley FC
NPower Football League Championship
Saturday 11th February 2011
Admission: £29 (!!!)
Programme: £3 (generally a good read, although the manager's notes were of the vomit-inducing middle-management motivational skills variety: "We are healthy, we are strong, we are focused, we are positive" etc)
Club shop: Yes, a megastore.
Colours: Red and white stripes / Black / Red v All yellow
National Grid reference: SU4211 / SU4212
Video highlights: Yes, if you're quick, free on the BBC iPlayer!
|The statue of local legend Ted Bates, which no longer resembles Milan Mandaric!|
It wasn't always like this for the supporters of Hampshire's Big Two. My grandparents (and many others) travelled up from Portsmouth to welcome Saints home after they won the FA Cup in 1976. They bought me a celebratory golden flag, which I still have. If the triumph had been the other way round in '76, people would most certainly have taken the train from Southampton Central to cheer Pompey's returning heroes. I very much doubt if that happened in 2008 when Pompey brought the Cup home to Southsea Common.
It was normal for people to watch one team at home one week, the other the next. The residents of both cities are similar - working class, salt of the earth and all that. I know, I've lived in both. For those who diss supporters of the other club, they might as well be shouting at their own reflection in a mirror.
|The Northam End.|
Pompey were on the way down in the 1970s; Saints on an upward trajectory. There was jealousy from the blue half of the county; condescension from the red and white half. Unpleasantness ensued, and it's never really gone away. Southampton became Scummers; Pompey (after several years of being the unoriginal Pompey Scummers) morphed into Skates.
From experience, when Pompey fans and Saints fans meet up one-to-one, they get on just fine. A bit of teasing and ribbing, but no fisticuffs. It's when the other side are an anonymous mass, an abstract concept, that the mutual fear and loathing starts. Working long hours every weekday for next to no reward, desperate to let your frustrations out, it's healthy to scream and shout, no doubt about it, and the "other side" are a better target than people of another race or sexual orientation, etc. For Pompey and Saints fans to tease each other is fine (so long as it's a two-way process and it ain't bullying), fighting isn't. Most of us know this. Numpties don't.
|Spot the difference: The Chapel End.|
There's only one creaky old ground left, and it isn't in Southampton.
|Waiting patiently for the match to start.|
The ground has been built with monetary optimisation in mind. Any ideas of individuality were binned at the design stage (see also just about every other new ground built in the last quarter of a century). The customer experience here is passive. You might as well be sitting on the sofa at home eating a microwave meal on a tray in front of the TV for all the interactivity with the tattooed millionnaires way down on the pitch below. Russ Abbott wouldn't have liked it - he loved a party with a little atmosphere, of which St Mary's is lacking. Holding a seashell to your ear to hear the sea would be more deafening than listening to Saints fans singing in the new stadium. I've known church mice that make more noise.
They do try to sing and shout in the Northam End, but the sound is deadened to virtual non-existence by the time it reaches the Chapel End. You need a fellow using sign language for the deaf on the big screens to understand what they're trying to communicate.
Mustn't disturb the neighbours, eh?
|St Mary's rafters. Raised twice today.|
I noticed several Nigel Adkins lookalikes in the nearby seats, which raised an interesting question, similar to the old chestnut about owners looking like their dogs - do football fans come to resemble their club's manager, or does the manager model himself on the predominant look of the club's support? One to ponder as I shave my hair off later and tattoo my own arms, Michael Appleton-style.
Burnley and Saints both like to pass the ball around on the floor, with Saints being slightly more interested in penetrating the opposition defence. The away team, dressed all in yellow, were as pretty as parrots with their passing skills, but about as effective as eleven sleepy kittens when it came to the final third.
The home side scored twice in the first half. A looping header by the excellent Adam Lallana, and a bizarre shinner/possible own goal which took several minutes to cross the line as the Burnley defence stood around arguing amongst themselves about the architectural merits of the new Titanic museum in Southampton city centre. Both times I was forced to stand and clap. I never really understood the concept of gritted teeth before, but after spitting out a couple of mouthfuls of ground-down enamel on Saturday, it's not something I would recommend.
|Homeward bound after another satisfying home victory.|
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I'll be at another match on February 25th, weather and health permitting.