Saturday, March 17, 2012

If Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins were the unknown future, very young and years away from stardom and if the really known Second Division players were actually from the past of the game, like Bobby Moore and Johnny Giles, Southampton was oddity. They were relegated together with Manchester United in 1974. Manchester United recovered at once and spent only one season in Second Division, but Southampton really sunk. They were 13th in 1975 and improved to 6th place in 1976.
The Saints appeared settling in Second Division for good, yet, their squad was impressive. Yet, their manager was ambitious. Yet, they were not like Chelsea, unable to break the spell of mediocrity; not like WBA building a meaningful team and aiming at future success; not like Fulham, hoping a few big but over the hill names to be able to lift up the club. Southampton was something else and it was hard to put a finger on it… they were recruiting big names, not too old, but somewhat fading away. It was like new club would bring to new life tired legs and sheer accumulation of such players will make the Saints really strong at last. Running a bit ahead in time, it must be said that the policy somewhat worked: 1975-76 was the first year of a very good period for the club, perhaps one of the best periods in its history, if not the greatest. Strange as they were, unimpressive in the Second Division, they soared in the FA Cup, reaching the final. And on May 1, 1976 they met Manchester United at the final. It was David vs Goliath: both clubs were relegated together in 1974. By May 1976 Manchester United was back on top, a contender for the title, while the Saints indifferently kicked the ball in the Second Division. There was no difference at Wembley between the finalists… the Saints managed to score and the Red Devils did not: 1-0. The FA Cup went to 2nd Division club just like in 1973.

Happy Saints – it was their first Cup. More than that – it was their first ever trophy. And so far – the only one in the history of the club. And because of that, 1975-76 is the most successful season of Sothampton. Go figure…

Back Row: Jim Clunie (coach) Nick Holmes, Jim Steele, Ian Turner, Peter Osgood, Paul Gilchrist, Mel Blyth.
Front Row: Mick Channon, Jim McCalliog, Peter Rodrigues (capt), Lawrie McMenemy - manager, Pat Earles, Bobby Stokes, David Peach.
Lawrie McMenemy became the legendary manager for the Saints, although his good work truly revealed itself in the following seasons. The team looked more 1st Division squad nevertheless – Mick Channon was still playing for England. Peter Rodrigues – for Wales. Jim McCalliog was way bellow his prime at Woolverhampton, but classy enough. Peter Osgood was supposed to bring the attack – and himself – to a new level. He was fading in Chelsea during the last few years, but everybody hoped he will recover his old form. It was a bit baffling such a team was dwelling in the Second Division. Or may be they were not so good? May be the whole English football was a notch down from what it had been? Whatever it was, it was great for the Saints and Bobby Stokes will be remembered forever in Southampton: his singular goal won the first and only trophy. It was a boost in retrospect – very strong period started in 1976.