El Clasicoast: The Southampton view

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Southampton fan and writer Chris Cox tells the recent history of the South Coast derby from his side...

The windows are being boarded up, the police are creating their own version of the Berlin wall and two south coast cities have gone absolutely mental. It can only be Portsmouth vs. Southampton, the south coast derby.

For me, it’s probably the best game in the Championship this season. Millwall and West Ham fans might argue otherwise, as I’m sure Brighton and Crystal Palace fans will too. Or maybe Coventry and Leicester supporters. But who cares? They’ll have their turns again this season but right now it’s all about the royal blue against the red and white.

It’s never dull when this occasion is around the corner. Prior to one tie in 2005, there was a huge banner on the Redbridge roundabout that read ‘Skates – please leave your caravans at the park and ride’. In another clash I’ve seen a single grown man, seemingly possessed, in a fit of incredible rage try to smash past his own fans to have a go at Portsmouth’s mob in the away end – all because they were calling our goalkeeper fat. I wonder what will happen this time…

Matters on the pitch ought to be just as feisty - Portsmouth have had 33 yellow and two red cards at Fratton Park this season. The last ten derbies have featured 31 goals. Sometimes there’s more action than a Die Hard box set.

Saints celebrate victory in 2005, but they would still end up relegated

Personally I’ll never forget my first south coast derby. It was the F.A Cup Fourth Round in the 2004/05 season. I even remember where I was when I found out the result of the draw. It was GCSE History and I was sat on the back row trying to ignore the invention of penicillin and the medicinal uses of boiling tar.

A friend of mine, on an early internet-enabled mobile phone, had managed to load the draw on the FA’s official website. It only took about 20 minutes. His phone’s screen was probably the size of a one pence piece, but squinting, I could just make out the all-important words ‘SOUTHAMPTON v PORTSMOUTH’.

We won that game 2–1, but it was the rare highlight of a terrible campaign. Having beaten the blue few in the cup, on the day of my 16th birthday I watched us get hammered 4-0 at home by Manchester United at the quarter-final stage. A couple of months later we then got relegated. It’s the hope that kills you, one television pundit remarked, and how right he was.

Looking back, it comes as no surprise to me that we ended up finishing bottom of the table, down and out after 27 years of the top flight. I remember hearing some time ago that there are statistics explaining that success is directly related to the number of players a club uses. In that season, from memory, we used about 40. The back of the match day programme was barely big enough.

Just look at where some of those players are now. David Prutton, who got himself a ten-match ban for pushing a linesman against Arsenal, spent time with Swindon and Colchester, and Paul Telfer, despite somehow playing in the Champions League and having had more comebacks than a prog rock band, is at Sutton United.

That’s one end of the scale though I suppose. Peter Crouch, having relaunched his career with us, now has a formidable goal scoring record at international level (if against relative minnows like Andorra and Jamaica) and appeared in a Champions League final. Anders Svensson is the all time record appearance holder for Sweden and Antti Niemi was one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League at the time.

It all appears to be going right for Southampton now, though. I no longer feel as if I’m watching a team held together with paper clips, sticking plasters and chewing gum. It feels like a solid squad with the potential to be in the Premier League next season, and one that might actually win enough matches in the league we’re currently in. Although there have been blips – Doncaster and Bristol City away most notably.

So it’s with a sense of excitement and expectation that I go into the game at Fratton Park. We’ve lost 4–1 in our last two encounters, one which was totally unacceptable and shambolic, the other a League One team recovering from being deducted ten points against a side who had recently won the F.A Cup – and would go on to the final that year too.

While we were rotting away and slowly heading for oblivion between 2007 and 2010, I dreaded the thought of visiting Fratton Park, as Portsmouth spent vast sums of money (which as it turned out, didn’t do them any favours in the long run) and went from strength to strength. Now, it’s two Championship teams playing for the three points and pride. There is no massive gulf between the two teams, their league table positions aside, so perhaps this is the first proper derby for a long time.

So this clash marks the end of perhaps the worst period in Southampton’s history and the start of something special. For me at least, it’s personal too. I don’t want to celebrate Christmas with stockings, trees and baubles this year. Give me a good game, three points and bragging rights.

El Clasicoast: The Portsmouth view