The Fall and Rise (?) of Southampton FC

As of Tuesday 22nd February 2011, Southampton Football Club find themselves 5th place in the npower League 1 table. Just a little under 8 years ago, they had placed 8th in the Premier League, runners-up in the F.A. Cup and were to be competing in the UEFA Cup in a shiny new £30million stadium. So, where did it all go wrong?

After a fairy-tale ending to 103 years of football at the Dell, with club hero Matt Le Tissier scoring a sensational volley to seal a 3-2 victory over Arsenal, the club were to move into the new 32,000 seater St. Mary’s Stadium. Things started slowly at the new ground but picked up to see Saints finish 11th in the 2001/02 season under the guidance of Gordan Strachan. Things got even better the following season with an 8th place finish and an F.A. Cup runners-up medal, but this was to be the beginning of a rapid fall from grace for the club.

The 2004/05 season saw a struggling Southampton acquire a certain Harry Redknapp from local rivals Portsmouth. In addition to this, Rugby World Cup winner Sir Clive Woodward was employed as ‘Technical Director/Performance Director/Director of Football’ on a multi-million pound contract from which no benefit was ever seen. Despite the big-name investment, Southampton FC were relegated from the Premier League on 15th May 2005 after a total of 27 years in the top flight of English football. Needless to say things didn’t get any better with Harry Redknapp returning to Portsmouth in November of the same year.

After a few seasons of Championship football, Chairman Rupert Lowe’s money-grabbing strategy of selling off the best young players rising from the clubs prestigious academy to line his own pockets caught up with him. The sales of Wayne Bridge, James Beattie, Kevin Davies, Kenwyne Jones, Andrew Surman, David McGoldrick, Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale came to a total sum of £45million.

With £30million of debt, blamed on the new stadium, on 23rd April 2009 Southampton FC went into administration. The Football League gave the club the following ultimatum:

“If you stay up this season, you will be deducted 10 points this season [ensuring relegation].”

“If you are relegated this season, you will be deducted 10 points next season.”

The club were relegated that season and therefore, providing they could find a buyer to keep them running, would start the following season on minus 10.

After countless renditions from fans of “Swing Lowe, Swing Rupert Lowe, Hanging from the Itchen bridge”, the chairman finally stood down from his position. Numerous bids to buy the club failed, including the Pinnacle Group, fronted by Matt Le Tissier, who even made an exclusivity payment of £500,000, before Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr stepped in.

Markus Liebherr, owner of the Mali Group and with an estimated personal wealth of £5billion, purchased the club on 8th July 2009. The club’s debt was immediately wiped off and significant investment into the team was made. Nicola Cortese was unveiled as chairman, with Alan Pardew brought in as manager and Rickie Lambert was purchased for £1million from Bristol Rovers. He was to make a huge contribution to the team, scoring 36 goals in his first season at the club.

Despite the difficult start to the season, Saints managed to finish 7th place in the league and also win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final at Wembley.

On 11th August 2010, the club was hit with the tragic news that Markus Liebherr had died at the age of 62 from a heart-related illness. Following this, the mysterious dismissal of Alan Pardew as manager following a resounding away victory at Bristol Rovers looked set to continue the club’s instability.

The 12th September 2010 saw the appointment of Nigel Adkins as manager. The storm created by the January transfer window has been weathered with the retention of services of prized assets Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and plans to remove the current ‘Premier League standard’ training facilities in favour of a new £3million development of the club’s foundations have been approved.

15 managers in 10 years at Southampton F.C. gives an indication as to the instability the club has seen in recent times. With the finances now seemingly secure, a strong chairman in place and a manager with the faith of all the fans behind him, it appears that the club is back on the rise. All thanks go to Saint Markus Liebherr, a true legend and saviour of the club.