We Manafonistas are united in our love of music and football. We tend to write about music more than football, but there are times when you just have to get the old quill out and, as a committed scrivener, (or perhaps one who should be committed!) vent your spleen. To summarise the story as succinctly as possible; Southampton, the team I support, were in administration after years of mismanagement and in-fighting (having been known historically to be a well run ‘family’ club fighting at its own weight or possibly slightly overachieving (it’s subjective)). Then, on the brink of ceasing to exist as an entity, we were rescued by the Swiss Businessman, Markus Liebherr (who sadly died only a year or so later) and his friend and business associate Nicola Cortese. Saints were then in League 1 and, after in their first season under the new owners almost gaining immediate promotion despite a 10 point deduction, at the start of the next season, with the team near the foot of the table, the then manager – Alan Pardew, was sacked and replaced by Nigel Adkins – a relative unknown, but who had achieved success with Scunthorpe in the lower leagues. This sacking seemed harsh to some, but nothing compared to what we have just experienced.
Under his leadership we experienced two consecutive promotions playing bright, attractive football and bringing players from our excellent academy into the first team. Now of course, we mustn’t forget that a huge amount of the credit for this success is due to the vision (and financial backing – or access to it via the Liebherr family) of Nicola Cortese, for whom, we must remember, we must be grateful for having the insight and courage to notice and employ Nigel Adkins in the first place. However, it needed a great manager to realise Cortese’s vision of getting Saints into the Premier League, which Adkins did within two seasons (rather than 5, which was the original plan). He did so with intelligence, decency, humility, humour, unrelenting positivity, generosity, magnanimity and a sense of wanting to bring together the community (of fans, players, staff) in pursuit of a common goal or purpose – success for the football club. His catch phrase – often repeated, was ‘together as one’. In fact, from the position of misery experienced in my own work setting, I looked on with envy at the joy that must have been experienced by the players and staff who worked under such a man.
At first the team struggled – conceding goals by the hatful – despite scoring quite freely and often taking the lead against our opponents (all of them, somewhat aleatorically, from the top half of the table), but then losing. We we ensconced (given our history, that is the ‘mot juste’) in the bottom three and Nigel was favourite for the sack… and then we gradually began to find our feet… winning 4-1 against Aston Villa at home; getting our first away win at QPR – 3-1 and drawing games when we might previously have lost. Throughout this period, the fans were resolute in their support of their Manager. Even when he was odds-on favourite for the sack, such as immediately after a depressing 2-0 away defeat to West Brom there were constant chants of ‘there’ only one Nigel Adkins!’
In recent weeks we have only lost 2 matches out of 12 and in his last game in charge came from 2-0 down to draw against the European champions, Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge – to sit in 15th place – and some three points away from the bottom three. Then, on Friday, the dream ended and he was sacked.
The response has been enlightening: a poll in the local newspaper showed that 6% of respondents were in favour of his dismissal and 94% against! A website that was set up to show fans’ appreciation of his contribution to our club has so far attracted over 600 (extremely eloquent) posts – testifying to the human qualities he possesses. Perhaps the most heart-warming story to emerge is the message he left for the players (presumably at the training ground) which, when some might have felt resentment, anger and bitterness, reflects the kind of person he is and why so many feel so sad about his dismissal:
What is the price of success? If Southampton are European Champion’s league winners in three years time, will it have been worth it? I would have to say ‘No.’ The fact of the matter is that the joy of supporting a football club is the joy of being part of a community – and I would say that most people would wish to be part of a community that values the highest ideals which most would (probably) value - just look at Chelsea supporters’ disgust at the treatment of Roberto di Matteo, who more than any manager at Chelsea, deserved to be allowed to continue in his job, having gained what his owner coveted above all else.
I will, of course, continue to support the team (it would be ridiculous not to, given that Akins’ appointment also involved a premature (?) sacking) – and will support the new manager – he will probably be very good. I won’t even be overly critical of Nicola Cortese – only in the constructive sense of pointing out that success is an amalgam of disparate factors, and that one of the factors that has greater weighting than any other is the intangible, ubiquitous, essential quality (often elusive) of spirit (call it what you will) that we look for in music, in sport, in creativity and in every aspect of life. We all know what it is – but might struggle to give it a name. In time, this will all be chalked up as one relatively minor chapter in the history of a relatively minor club in the greater scheme of things, but for now, it does feel as though oer vaulting ambition (to reference the Scottish Play – and no allusion intended to another former Saint’s manager’s new charges) has kicked Mr Generosity of Spirit in the proverbials!
But that’s football!