Sunday, 10 May 2009

The future wasn’t orange… will it be red and white?

The following article was printed in sports weekly The Pink on Saturday

With Saints’ fate already decided, last Sunday’s final-day defeat at Nottingham Forest was not as costly as it could be have been, but it still marked a sorry end to a sorry season that few fans of the red and white will want to remember.

Younger fans (myself included) will certainly be hard-pushed to remember a season that provided such misery, week after week. But the summer break by no means amounts to a respite: with a buyer still to be found the club’s future hangs in the balance.

The club’s relegation was certainly the final nail in the coffin of the supposed ‘Dutch Revolution.’ While parts of the season were characterised by the sort of free-flowing ‘Total Football’ promised upon Jan Poortvliet and Mark Wotte’s arrival on the south coast, neither managed to successfully combine youthful flair with results.

And while Saints fans will be accustomed to relegation by now, the club’s administration at the beginning of April added a new shade of grey to the misery. We all knew the club was in trouble, but it was a stark reminder of the financial ineptitude which has characterised our time outside the top flight.

However, it would be futile to engage in the blame game now. Until the future of the club is secured – hopefully without the assistance of the various directors who got us into this mess – looking for a buyer must be the priority.

Let’s just hope he or she wasn’t a season ticket holder at St Marys this year. Seeing just five home wins all season must surely be some sort of record and would be enough to put anyone off. The fact that ticket renewal forms aren’t being sent out until a buyer is found may be a blessing – any forms received following our horror defeat against Charlton would have been thrown straight in the bin!

Though there have been glimmers of hope, this has been a season with relegation written all over it. Our slow start could have been dismissed as typical of Saints, but our persistent failure to pull away from the lower reaches of the league indicated the problems ran much deeper than that.

Our lively young side may have played some pretty passing, but they were being consistently found out in the tough, physical environs of the Championship. As the season wore on, the ‘Dutch Revolution’ was exposed as a financially-driven strategy aimed at keeping the club solvent. It may have been done with the best intentions, but football clubs rarely thrive when the bank becomes too much of a factor and the side’s failure to win during either October or December saw us enter the new year in relegation peril.

Encouraging wins away at places such as Reading and Preston brought some relief from the agony but were ultimately outweighed by our terrible home form. Fans probably guessed the game was up after the Charlton defeat. As the crowds returned to St Marys in the club’s hour of need, the players got stage-fright and fluffed their lines on the big stage.

Our failure to stay up means we will begin life in League One – a tough league at the best of times – ten points behind. Our cause will not be helped by the player sales that will inevitably take place this summer. But the current Saints squad is not one fans have grown to love. Others will follow the departing Ryan Smith (“world-class,” apparently) and Rudi Skacel (an overpriced underperformer).

It may be best for a clean slate, both financially and tactically, in League One. Few Saints fans at the FA Cup final in 2003 could have guessed the fall would be so steep, nor the pain so great. But the priority now must be on shoring up the club’s future and halting the decline. And who knows – we might experience a promotion one of these days.

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