Top of the league – having a laugh?

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It's not all fun leading the pack, says Southampton fan Chris Cox...

For the past few years I’ve looked on with a slight sense of envy as teams other than my own top various divisions.

I can remember watching Reading absolutely running away with the Championship a few seasons back whilst a depressing Southampton side struggled to run away with a point from Roots Hall. Then again, for every 5-0 loss at Hull on a foggy evening there was a 6-0 win at Wolves.

Eventually you find yourself jealous of sides like Chesterfield last year, despite the fact they’re in a league you wouldn’t dream of seeing your team playing in, purely because their fans are watching a lot of winning football.

But now my beloved Southampton are top of the league and I’m genuinely not sure how to act about it. It’s quite difficult knowing what to do, especially in recent weeks when we’ve been on a bad patch of form. You can’t keep singing ‘We are Southampton, we’re top of the league’ with conviction when you’ve only had one win in the past six league games.

Given where Saints were a few years ago, I wonder how to feel about things at the moment. Do I take the line that we’ve spent a fair bit of money to get where we are and our form is unacceptable, especially when we’ve shown we deserve to be at the summit? That’s one way to look at it.

The flipside to that particular coin though is that we’ve only just escaped League One, administration, a negative points total and trips to Adams Park, Spotland and the ‘other’ St. James Park (No offence intended, Wycombe, Rochdale and Exeter…). Maybe I need to appreciate having a football club at all.

It’s a difficult one, all said and done.

Watching those other sides do so well, you imagine being top of the league and in with a shout of promotion or silverware must be one massive party. I can’t say it’s been like that so far. You just want the season to end now so that you win the title and that’s that, and you worry each time a team around you runs into good form.

That team’s form could be what dispatches you from your lofty position. Cardiff, for example, who have already beaten Southampton, are doing very well. Too well for my liking…

Last season was a difficult one too. We finished second and got promoted, which was the aim all the time we were in that division. I found myself on the pitch after we secured our place in the Championship, celebrating with thousands of others, but really I don’t think I was ever amazingly happy. Having been used to the Premier League for so long, League One was a bit of a shock. Escaping it was more relief than joy.

January is a particularly difficult month in the table-topping fan’s diary. Having seen a five-point lead evaporate and now sitting at the top of the pile on goal difference alone, the focus is on reinforcements. Except Southampton these days don’t do reinforcements, per se. Nigel Adkins has stressed time and again that we won’t sign for the sake of signing, and any additions will be better than what we’ve already got.

Easier said than done though, isn’t it Nigel?

Reports recently linked us with Gary Hooper, scoring goals for fun in Scotland – and the price is £6 million. To pay that in the Championship would be incredible and I’m not sure I’d like it, though it does occur to me that it’s not every day we’re top of the league with ambitions to get back into the Premier League – and can afford to spend such amounts of cash.

The transfer market has moved on too; if you’re English and can kick a ball, you’re going to have a hefty price tag. Maybe it's time to break the record fee spent on Rory Delap (locally pronounced ‘Rory Dollop’, ‘Rory DeCrap’ or even ‘Rory BeCrap’, depending on where you were sat at St. Mary’s).

With prices like £6m being quoted from Scotland, it’s no surprise the net has been cast a lot wider – like Tadanari Lee, a highly promising Japanese international. Maybe it’s time to put on hold the dream of an all-English XI and look abroad for value-for-money signings, if we’re really that serious about promotion. Horses for courses and all that...

I should point out I'm incredibly grateful for the position we’re in. There are clubs in much worse places than us with fans on the verge of crying, if not already in tears. Looking at crisis clubs like Darlington makes me question how I should feel about it all, so please spare me the accusations of being a spoilt brat.

As proven by Darlo, things change very quickly in football. Imagine the feeling of winning the FA Trophy one minute, then facing extinction the next. I think ‘terrifying’ is the word. The Championship in particular isn’t going to stop and let us think about how to act and how to feel. It’s time to simply keep calm and carry on, like those overused posters tell us to. Perspective must be kept, but at the same time there is room to dream - it is football after all.

Perspective is a funny thing in football, funny because it often goes missing. Look at Spurs right now – in with a shout of winning the league, which I think the neutral would absolutely love. If they didn’t at the very least qualify for the Champions League they’d be disappointed, wouldn’t they? Same thing here. I’m afraid to say I’d now be disappointed if we didn’t achieve promotion, and to put a finer point on it, automatically.

How am I going to treat being top of the league then, now that the rare feeling is actually here? Well, I’m going to carry on as normal. Celebrate when we’ve won, moan when we’ve lost, agonise when we’ve thrown it away, and rejoice when we’ve won it at the death. Most importantly, I’ll carry on through thick and thin, simply because it’s my duty as a fan. Come on you reds.

…I’d take the end of the season now though. Seriously.