Farewell to the Dell
By Matt Rowson
With thanks to Andy Mintram of Marching In
April Fools Day. Liverpool. Late in the afternoon, after the trip up, the traffic jams, the flat tyre, the defeat, the singing. We're in Felix's car, looking for a garage that doesn't look like an army bunker and/or the quickest route out of the city. Spencer, having yet again failed to get his arse in gear and buy a ticket, is being relayed the day's events via my mobile.
I'm momentarily interrupted in mid-flow by Anfield gliding past. It's a source of much consternation that the only away game I've missed all season has been the only one we've won. No, it isn't my fault. "Hold on Spencer, we're passing Anfield...".
ig, as so often, crushes the moment with blunt realism. "Matt, it looks like all the others..."
Which, sadly, is true. And although the news of Southampton's new ground will have been greeted with unrestrained joy in Hampshire - for a start, the artificial mantle of one of the division's worst supported sides will surely be a thing of the past - there's a part of me that's glad that there's a quirky, misshapen ground in the Premiership. As long as it's not ours, natch.
Results of recent weeks have virtually guaranteed that Watford and the Saints will be in different divisions next season (and with the new ground due to open the season after next, this will in all likelihood be our last ever visit to the Dell). Hoddle has not been slow to change things around, and the side are reputed to be playing the best passing football seen at the Dell for some time - in apparent antithesis to Dave Jones' more direct approach.
The uncertainty of the management situation - with the surely never-to-return Dave Jones' court case due in November, and Hoddle on a particularly liberating one-year contract - is likely to become an issue of some concern. In particular, having recently been quoted as saying that he would still like to be England coach, and would still be in the position had the FA any backbone, the possibility of Hoddle returning to whichever planet he comes from cannot be discounted.
In goal for the Saints will be Neil Moss. Regular keeper Paul Jones misses the rest of the season following an operation on a long-standing back injury, however Moss is seen as a more than able deputy, and Southampton's long-term first choice. He did himself no harm with his display at Bradford on Saturday, his first start of the season. Back-up will be the enormous Scott Bevan - pity whoever has the seat behind the bench...
Traditionally perforated at the back, the Saints have toughed up considerably, particularly since Hoddle's arrival. Dean Richards has been winning plaudits all season, and he is now partnered by Tahar El Khalej, an experienced and versatile Moroccan international who is Hoddle's only cash signing to date. Jason Dodd on the right is a regular fixture and team captain, whilst the erratic Francis Benali on the left has been with the Saints forever despite being only thirty-one. Other options at the back are Dane Claus Lundekvam, a regular until Tahar's signing, youngster Gary Monk and Wayne Bridge, also employed as a midfielder. Frenchman Patrick Colleter is suspended and John Beresford is injured, neither situation entirely unusual.
In midfield, much of the creativity will be missing on Saturday if Hassan Kachloul and Matt le Tissier fail to recover from a hamstring injury and a throat infection respectively. The latter is thought to be the more likely to make the game. Their absence would almost certainly mean a return for the talented but frail Matt Oakley, who missed the Bradford game following a knock in the Saints' disappointing home defeat to Sunderland. Joe Tessem, a versatile Norwegian ex-policeman signed from Molde, will also play, as will workhorse Chris Marsden and the preposterous Stuart Ripley. Ripley's right-sided berth is under threat from Latvian Imants Bleidilis, an increasingly impressive performer in the reserves, whilst Trond Egil Soltvedt and Luis Boa Morte are also options. New boy Paul Hughes is still working on his fitness following his arrival from Chelsea.
Up front, Kevin Davies is gradually looking like a Premiership striker again following his spell at Blackburn, whilst much was made of Hoddle's decision to restrict Marians Pahars to the bench on Saturday. Effective as this ploy proved to be against a tiring Bantams defence, the absence of both Kachloul and Le Tissier would virtually demand the creative Pahars' inclusion on Saturday. Another attacking option is James Beattie, last season's player-of-the-year, who has yet to score in an injury-hit campaign this time. David Hirst has finally retired.
The Dell, then. No, Premiership grounds aren't really going to be missed next season are they (is there still a terrace at Stockport, anyone?). Nor will Premiership prices... £21 for a seat at the Dell? £25 for a seat behind the dugout at Chelsea? Not to mention our place. You're 'avin a larf.
Having to apply for tickets for away games months in advance, that's rubbish too. A thing of the past. Spence might even make one. "Match of the Day". Remember how we all celebrated in Watford on May 31st saying things like "hey, excellent, we'll be on Match of the Day. We'll be in the Merlin Sticker Collection"? Well the bitter, childish Lineker has rendered "Match of the Day" a farce. And the sticker album didn't have Gibbsy in it.
Most of all, the overblown pompousness of the whole thing, the disproportionate lauding of the whole charade, it's arse, it really is. Yes, there are definitely silver linings, no worries.
We'll be back, you bastards.