We’re going to win the cup….

Watching Accrington Stanley against Derby, I need something to distract me from the fact that it should have been us – Southampton – apart from the tiny point that we let a 2-0 lead slip against the Rams. Twice.

The FA Cup is when everyone falls in love with football. Or should be. I can remember great games I’ve seen live, and great occasions with friends and family around the TV or in the pub. 1968 was the first FA Cup Final televised in colour and the excitement was palpable.

But today, the love is lukewarm. Football attracts the supporters of individual clubs and some general fans of the game, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Of course, the clubs and the national associations can do more to make the whole experience more attractive, but what else can be done to make the game (where top players can be earning as much in a week as their supporters earn in 4 or 5 years) more entertaining. Seeing a highly paid professional athlete fall over pretending that he (this hasn’t infected women’s football to the same degree) has been fouled to win advantage can’t be the pinnacle of entertainment.

VAR is being slowly introduced to ensure more of the important decisions are given correctly. Today I’m looking at just four other things that irritate me which could be changed to make the game more attractive – but without any major alteration to the rules or structure of the game.


This was brought to a head in a recent game featuring the mighty SaintsFC when a player was injured with just 20 seconds of the added time already being played remaining. The injury stopped play for some three minutes, and the referee promptly added an extra three minutes to the game. This may be within the letter of the law but is clearly not the intention.

Football should adopt external timekeeping as do many other sports. The referee would indicate when the clock should be stopped – injuries, substitutions, goals, and other stoppages which should not be counted as playing time identified by the rules – and started.

The clock would be visible to the crowd, players and coaching staff. And once the allotted time had been reached play would continue until the ball went dead, eliminating any disputes about whether a goal was scored or a penalty conceded before the referee blew the final whistle.

Goal kicks

Another of my pet hates is when a goal kick is taken to a team member on the edge of penalty area who is closed down by the opposition and steps in to play the ball before it has left the area as the rules require. This results in the goal kick being retaken, wasting time and irritating me.

The simple solution would be to make this, playing tha ball before it leaves the penalty area afetr a free kick, an offence punishable by an indirect free-kick to the other team.

Foul throw

There are rules about how to take a throw-in. They are simple. But in every game, literally every game, the ball will be put back in to play by a throw-in which is not within the rules of the game. And very rarely is that offence punished.

No-one cares. Except me.

I’m almost as irritated by unpunished foul throws as I am by the inability of a player to find a team-mate with a legitimate throw-in. And the solution is straightforward.

Referees need to be instructed that the rules relating to throw-ins must be enforced. After a couple of games, people will learn the rules and follow them.

Stopping play for injuries

This one may be a bit more controversial.

Currently, if a player is injured and play is stopped so they may receive treatment, the game resumes when the player has been treated and leaves the pitch to re-enter it from the sideline (with the referee’s permission). There are some variations according to the nature and seriousness of the injury.

But it is evident to anyone watching the game that injuries are often used stop play and gain an advantage (or respite) for one of the teams.

Again football could learn from other sports and allow an injured player to receive treatment on the pitch without stopping play – providing the referee is satisfied this would not be a further danger to the player in question or others.

What would you do?

If I had to pick just one of these it would be timekeeping. But what about you? Do any of these make sense to you?

And what else would you like to see to make the game more entertaining? You can have safe-standing areas, for example – providing old fogies like me can still have safe seating areas.

Rickie Lambert. England’s goal machine.

Well maybe.

Without a shadow of a doubt the best thing about the England Scotland game was Rickie Lambert burying a header with his first touch. What turned out to be the winning goal came just over two minutes into his England career. I hope that for Lambert’s sake that’s not the end of his career too.

But for England’s sake we need more youth academies like the one at Southampton to start to bring on new young talent. And we need a complete overhaul of the structure of English football to make the most of the talent that is developed at club level.

Rickie Lambert deserves his England place. He deserves to be in the squad when we have our next competitive games – certainly ahead of Andy Caroll. But even Rickie Lambert himself will acknowledge that if he is the best English centre forward currently (and he is) and if Roy Hodgson is the best English manager currently (and he is) then English football is in a pretty parlous state.

Every time I see Steven Gerrard substitued after yet another woeful performance, I wonder how much longer will we have to rely on reputations that are fading fast if not already completely faded. At least Sir Rickie Lambert has enhanced his reputation today. His career with the three lions may not be long, but it is already more notable than that of some who were on the pitch with him tonight.

Let’s hope he can do the same on Saturday.


There’s only one Nic Cortese

That's what we were all singing, on the pitch at St Mary Stadium at the end of the last season. We should be singing it again at the match against Everton, along with any tributes to Nigel Adkins.

They say a week is a long time in politics. It seems longer in football, but the truth is somewhat different. Since Nicola Cortese persuaded his friend and business associate, Markus Liebherr to take an interest in a down and out English football club, weeks turned into months, turned into years as we saw some much needed stability at Southampton Football Club.

I've supported the Saints through 26 different managers, and given that spanned the Ted Bates and McMenemy eras, in recent times they have been coming and going through a revolving door. Until Cortese brought some sanity back to the situation with his five year plan to take the team back to the Premiership. Not to where they belong, through some given right to be there, but to where they deserved to be through hard work and application by all members of staff, and with support of the fans who began to dream of a new age of enlightenment.

Part of that plan was to bring in new players. Not in a Harry Redknapp supermarket rush to round up anyone and everyone who was on special offer. But in a methodical who can we afford who will make us a bit better way. The prime example was Billy Sharp. Bought in to a specific job for a few games, which he did – just. Not a Saints legend. Not even a legend in the making, but a competent Championship footballer who could score the goals we needed in that division. I don't know of any Saints fan who thought he was premiership class. He did his job and was moved on.

The other key part of the plan was to have the leadership who could take us to the next step. Nigel Adkins got us promoted from Division One. He nearly didn't get us promoted from the Championship. And during the last quarter of last season and the first third of this his ability to take the team on to the next level was being questioned by Saints fans on a daily basis. His ability to keep us at this level, let alone taking us on, was being questioned by virtually every pundit and national newspaper who is now leaping to his defence.

Nigel Adkins did his job, for which a heartfelt thanks, and now he too has been moved on. People complain that it was brutal in its execution. That ordinary people aren't treated like that. And they aren't. But football managers aren't ordinary people. The are highly paid senior executives, and like all other highly paid senior executives, when a change is required it invariably happens within hours rather than days or weeks. The most obvious recent example being the short-lived Director General of the BBC who had done nothing wrong – hadn't been in post long enough to do right or wrong – but was shown the door in an instant.

But football fans are an odd bunch. I include myself in that. All season there has been constant complaints about team selection, lack of a keeper, points given away. But only one person has been prepared to do anything about it. Fortunately he happens to be the one person with the ability to take action.

Nigel was nice. Is nice. Thoroughly nice. But, as many people have said before, the statistics don't lie. Nigel's record in the Premiership is worse than any our permanent managers bar Redknapp, compounded by the fact we have lost 19 points from winning positions. Almost as many points as we've won.

I was one of Adkin's few defenders. Not because I thought he had all the skills we need, but because I thought he was a good guy and deserved a chance. And if Saints were a pub team with nothing at stake that would be true. But we aspire to better than that. I started watching the Saints in Division Three South. I have seen them come second in the (old) first division and win two cups in 55 years. The lack of trophies doesn't matter so much. what matters is that I have seen year upon year of mediocre football from a team that thought it knew its place. The story of the team throwing away an eight point lead at the top of the third division because the club collectively didn't think it was even second division material has left a lasting legacy with fans of a certain age.

Now we have a chairman for whom second place isn't good enough. Not everyone can come first, of course. But if we are not going to be first, or second or third it should be because we have tried the best we possibly can and we have been beaten by better clubs.

For the first time in my lifetime we have a Chairman who wants Saints to be better than merely mediocre.

And I, for one, say count me in.

There's only one Nic Cortese. Only one Nic Cortese.


Love the one you’re with

Alway loved Jason Puncheon. Even when I hated him (most of last season) I had a sneaky feeling that he could still come good, and today was another outstanding performance. Whlst the fans ratings on the Ugly Inside Saints FC fanzine site are notorioulsy unreliable, he deservedly gets man of the match on current ratings. Nine out of ten is rose tinted in the extreme, but this a site where Saints fans would have given Ali Dia six out of ten just for turning up.

Puncheon scored two great goals. Unfortunately the referee didn’t share that view and chalked one off for some imaginary misdemeanour in the penalty area. The goal that stood came in the second half and not only demonstrated Puncheon’s powerful shooting, but also, and more importantly, his football brain as he ran into space whilst pointing the exact route of the pass that Clyne needed to make. The pass was made, the shot was fierce and accurate and even this referee could find nothing to complain of.

Puncheon’s performance was one of several bright spots in the game, not least being the win to nil.  In the first four games of the season we conceded 14 goals, and 10 in the next four. In the next four games we let in six goals and this improvement has continued with only two goals in the last four games played. And this improvement has not only inevitably lead to more points being won, but also means that we are now in 15th place on goal difference – unthinkable a few weeks ago.

And much of the improvement is down to the fact that in Luke Shaw we have a left back who can defend as well as attack, which has brought a much needed balance to the back line.

Southampton manager Nigel Adkins picked another strong team and managed his substituions astutley once again. He said after the game,

I thought we dominated the game and we were worthy winners. The crowd got behind the players, we played with a good tempo and it was a good 1-0 victory. The goal was excellent and one from the training ground where we get the full-backs forward.

The only disappointment for me, apart from not scoring the additional couple of goals that we (and my Betfair bet) deserved, was the pathetic booing of Guly do Prado when he came off the bench for the last 15 minutes. He again showed that he is a more accomplished player than some of the crowd give him credit for. And only bad luck luck meant that a swivel shot at the end of a slick move that he started ended up nestling in the keeper’s arms rather than the back of the net.

Hopefully people will learn to love the man they hate.

I did.