Southampton FC have missed out on the signing of one of our defensive lynchpins last season: Toby Alderweireld.
It’s disappointing. In fact, that’s probably an understatement. The facts that there may be legal ramifications for Atletico Madrid as a result of this, and that maybe (possibly) we may be morally in the right over the terms of the deal we signed, are both moot at this point. We may get a bit of compensation, but we won’t get our man.
It’s galling that he’s going to Spurs given our rocky relationship with them in the past, but I can understand his reasoning behind the move. Firstly, he will be amongst a core of Belgian internationals currently plying their trade at The Lane, and secondly, London is a huge pull for many professional footballers, with its great transport links back to Toby’s native Belgium. Also, when Marc Wilmots or his scouts head over to check up on the Premier League’s Belgian contingent, he’s much more likely to go and view a number of players in one team, than heading to London, Southampton and Manchester in one trip.
In footballing terms, sadly to many we are still viewed as plucky upstarts from a backwater city in Hampshire, and we are missing out on targets, and losing players because of it.
FFP, the historical success of larger clubs and the obvious favour the top six are given from the Premier League will always see things ending this way for us.
But it doesn’t need to be such a galling experience.
What makes being a Southampton FC supporter special? For me, it’s the fact that it provides a tangible link between me and the city that I grew up in, no matter how far away I am from it. I am currently living in London at the moment (Tottenham to be precise, ten minutes walk from White Hart Lane), and I previously lived in Manchester, but despite the relative distances I’ve lived away from the club, I’ve felt every moment and kicked every ball.
At one point in 2009, I didn’t think that we’d have a club to support any more. The team than my great-uncle had played for, the club that my dad grew up watching, the club that I had shed blood, sweat and tears over, would be gone for good.
But then, something only a little bit short of a miracle occurred. The Liebherr family found us, took us over, and drove us up through the leagues, and changed the shape of our football club as we know it.
We are now one of the best set-ups in world football. We are now the place young footballers want to come if they want to get the best tutelage and development that football can offer. We play in one way – The Southampton Way, and that’s a philosophy that runs through the club like a stick of rock.
We should all be proud of that.
But do you want to know what I’m most proud of?
I’m proud of the fact that the top six clubs are so dismissive of us. It tells me that they’re scared of us. Okay, we might never match their levels of success, but we should be, and regularly are, the team that dishes out bloody noses to them. We’re the unfashionable club that dares to match them. That takes a look at their cosy little cabal at the top of the league and says ‘we want that,’ and gives them all a scare.
We should be proud that we’re not part of the Big Six. We should be proud of the fact that we’re outsiders to them. What would you rather be? The gobby upstarts, or the smug, moneyed tossers at the top of the pile? Give the former every day of the week – it gives us something to fight for.
And we should continue that fight. We should be agressively pursuing these clubs, we should be laughing at how bent out of shape they get when we challenge them.
For me, one of my favourite recent moments of being a Southampton FC supporter was being at the Manchester City game in 2012, our first back in the Premiership. The moment in the 59th minute when Rickie Lambert controlled the ball, and smashed it past Joe Hart to equalise for us, was the moment that told me that we were a club that gave no fucks whatsoever about our supposed ‘betters’. Surging down to the front of the stand to celebrate with fellow supporters, feeling the blood pulsing through my veins – that meant more to me than any FA Cup win, or generic European competition. Success is relative, and for teams of our size, we have to snatch those moments whenever we get our hands on them.
So let’s rediscover that ‘Spirit of Southampton’. Let’s continue to be gobby upstarts – the Bobby Stokes, the ‘underachieving’ Matthew Le Tissiers, the Rickie Lamberts, the punks, the outsiders, the kids egging the windows of the big houses down the end of the road.
As fans, we should embody that spirit, and not whine about life being unfair, but accepting that it is unfair, and doing our best within those confines.
We will be back, and the bloody noses will continue. You can be rest assured of that.