Thursday, 3 April 2008

Saints Hit Lowe Times

The No Longer Mighty Saints

As a committed Saints fan, I have chosen a devastating time to start writing about my club. During my lifetime Southampton FC has never found itself in such dire straits. 22nd in the Championship, Saints face the very real prospect of relegation to the third tier of English football. This represents a staggering fall for a club that finished 8th in the Premier League and were FA cup finalists just five years previously. Off the field, the club’s bi-annual accounts revealed the extent of their financial woes this week also. Before player sales, Saints have been haemorrhaging £38,900 a day for the last six months. A situation where only player sales stand between financial disaster and some form of stability (overall, they were still making a daily loss of £3,800) seems a sure recipe for catastrophe. Since the ousting of Rupert Lowe two years ago (held responsible by many for Saints’ relegation from the Premiership), the club has continued its slide. Fed-up fans see a team they no longer recognise, lacking in confidence, commitment, fitness and creativity. In the recent words of the legend that is Dave Merrington: “The club has lost direction; it’s a very sad situation.” In their hour of need, Saints require a saviour, a knight in shining armour (preferably a Russian one, with a few billions in the bank). However, another knight has come forward. A knight called Rupert.

Rupert's Return?

Yes, old Beetroot cheeks has gone and done it. After teaming up with Michael Wilde, the man that ousted him from the club, Rupert Lowe has launched his bid to overthrow the current Saints regime and install himself back in control at St. Marys. The Saints board has 21 days to set a date for an Extraordinary General Meeting, at which shareholders would vote on a potential return for Lowe. However, with Lowe and Wilde possessing 22% of the club between them and a further 20% of shareholders said to be behind them, the present board surely faces defeat and may choose to resign without an EGM. Either way, it seems that the shares owned by Lowe (6%) and Wilde (16%) would make it difficult to prevent their return to the club. Under their proposition, club chairman Leon Crouch would be removed from office, with Lowe succeeding as PLC chairman, Wilde as football chairman. The news of Lowe’s return has been greeted by Saints fans with dismay and support in equal measure. Would the club be mad to agree to the return of Lowe, or would he be an improvement upon Crouch, who has not proved himself in office?

Lowe-Life? The Case against Lowe and Wilde

The central charge against Lowe is that he was responsible for our relegation. It is certainly true his reign was marked by a culture of managerial instability, with Saints averaging a manager every eighteen months during that time. Blame for the disastrous appointments of Stuart Gray and Steve Wigley can certainly be laid at his door. Wigley’s appointment was especially damaging, coming at the start of our relegation season. However, Lowe was also responsible for the appointments of Glenn Hoddle and Gordon Strachan, managers who brought great success to the club (in the latter case against opposition from other board members). And it must be asked whether we would be in our current predicament had the club allowed the “second coming” of Glenn Hoddle. I for one supported his appointment of Harry Redknapp to save us from relegation; I thought he would be up to the job. However, on the whole Lowe’s managerial record is not an encouraging one and played a part in our relegation. Off the field, though, Lowe ran a very steady ship. It is doubtful whether Saints would find themselves in their current state of financial woe with Lowe in charge. However, Lowe has an unpopular history of selling high-profile players over the years such as Dean Richards and Wayne Bridge. But he was responsible for the financing of our new stadium, without which Saints would not be financial viable. Michael Wilde has a similarly mixed record. His main achievement in the eyes of Saints fans was the ousting of Rupert Lowe, hence the surprise at the pair staging a joint coup. He was singularly unsuccessful at attracting outside investment, and resigned as a result. In light of these facts, it is not hard to understand the unwillingness of many Saints fans to see the pair back in charge.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?

But what has the demise of Lowe and Wilde left us? For one, we have Leon Crouch as chairman, a Saints fan through and through, whose efforts were largely responsible for the superb new Ted Bates statue that now stands proudly outside St. Marys. For that he must be given great credit. However, he has been as unsuccessful as his predecessor Michael Wilde at attracting outside investment. His recent statement putting a timeframe of 6-9 months on investment was met with dismay by the vast majority of Saints fans. His appointment of Nigel Pearson as manager was largely greeted by the same reaction. In fairness to Pearson, he has not done a bad job considering the players (and their physical conditions) left to him by Burley; if Saints go down it will certainly not be his fault. However, his lack of managerial experience surely disqualifies him from consideration for the prestigious post of Saints manager. Where was the big name Saints fans were hoping for, such as Billy Davies or Chris Coleman? It seems as if these high-profile candidates took one look at Saints - a club in disarray - and thought against it. Why risk their reputations on a struggling club bereft of the funds to finance new signings? Can this be blamed upon Crouch? Crouch certainly inherited a club on the slide. However, for all his virtues as a Saints fan he has done nothing to halt the slide and appears to lack the business nouse to attract outside investment. Responsibility for the horrific financial state of the club lies with him.

Old Faces, New Start?

I do not buy into the argument that relegation is the kick up the backside Saints need to start again. That was said last time. The priority now is to avoid a relegation that would prove catastrophic for the club. Though relegation seems probable, almost inevitable, there is still a chance of survival and fans must unite behind Nigel Pearson and the players. Off the pitch, the choice between Crouch and Lowe/Wilde is hardly an enticing one. However, I believe a strong dose of Lowe’s financial control is required to restore stability to the club’s balance sheet. With respect to Crouch, his tenure has not been a glorious one. Opting for Lowe however, is very much a case of feeling that he is the lesser of two evils, and has more to offer the club in the long term. Let us hope he can deliver.

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Which team will fill the third relegation spot?

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Would you be in favour of a return for Rupert?