Home and Away

Oh, we fickle fans of short memories

Supporters' views once affected boardroom decisions, but today protests are brushed aside by the slightest whiff of victory

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 4:29am

There was time when we fans used to chant in protest against a lousy manager and demand his sacking. If the poor results continued and the team nose-dived, the board gave the impression of listening and duly gave the underperforming coach the boot. That was the simple past and we all knew where we stood.

The present is wholly different. The world has been flipped on its head and we are steeped knee-deep in the mire of divided loyalties. Today, we protest for our good managers - those who win us games, promotion and trophies - to be returned to the dugout after they are summarily sacked for reasons not properly, if ever, explained.

Yet we direct only muted ire at the ruthless, deep-pocketed foreign owners - those who with one hand injected cash and optimism and with the other deliver a regular thump to the solar plexus to remind us of our station and who is in charge.

Chelsea fans have been hard at it, with each game witnessing anti-Rafa Benitez chants and laments for the departed Roberto Di Matteo. Their anger at owner Roman Abramovich is, however, tempered by a begrudging respect for the Russian oligarch. And they know in their heart of hearts their loyalty has zero influence over their wealthy master who transformed their club.

This week, the tide of extraneous ruthlessness washed into St Mary's and newly promoted Premier League side Southampton. The unexpected announcement that hero manager Nigel Adkins had been sacked by the club's foreign owners to be replaced by a non-English-speaking, obscure Latino - the former Argentina international Mauricio Pochettino - caused widespread anger, dismay and shock.

Protests were demanded and scheduled for Monday night's home game against Everton - the stage on which we would vent our spleen at chief executive Nicola Cortese.

Italian Cortese runs the club on behalf of its financial saviour, the Swiss-German industrialist family, the Liebherrs.

We were going to wave white hankies - a copycat act of Spanish fans who produce their handkerchiefs to signal their disagreement. We knew Pochettino would get the point. He had been sacked by Barcelona-based La Liga side Espanyol in November, leaving them bottom of the table.

Our anger increased with a flick through the match-day programme, which revealed not one mention of Adkins and his remarkable achievements of steering our club from League One back to where they belong in just two seasons.

The club's censors had been hard at it, though a minor slip with the airbrush saw a ghostly 2mm image of Adkins appear in the background of an action shot.

The Orwellian attempt to delete Adkins from the club's collective memory stuck in our craw, as did news that a huddle of supporters had been ushered away from the stadium at the pre-match press conference.

News also filtered down that journalists had been prevented from asking fans about Adkins' sacking by heavy-handed stewards.

The rewriting of history and the crude authoritarian and hackneyed attempt to reset the Saints FC clock to year zero under Pochettino incensed us. We bristled in our seats with the injustice - determined to wave our disgust at the barbarians already inside the stadium gates and call time on their cut-throat ways.

We stood in determined silence when the teams came out onto the pitch and we sang out Adkins' name.

But the anger soon evaporated. The football took over. We were a better side against Champions League-chasing Everton and we might have won. By the final whistle, we had another point in the bag and everyone in agreed Saints looked a force to be reckoned with.

Handkerchiefs stayed in pockets. Granted, Pochettino played an Adkins' side, but he appeared passionate and had about him an air of natural authority. He appeared capable of delivering his instructions to the players despite the language barrier. Our team looked strong and motivated.

There had been no apparent dressing-room rebellion and unity remained. Our despair gave way to the alluring whiff of exoticism mixing with the aroma of half-time coffees and pies. We heard the team were heading to Pochettino's old stomping ground, Barcelona, for a training camp during this FA Cup weekend.

Talk of an armada of Spanish players and dazzling Latin influence led by Pochettino - who is known as "the sheriff" for his hard-line disciplinarian style - circulated excitedly around the stadium.

"And he starts with Rickie Lambert. Nigel didn't do that enough," one supporter said.

"There's no room for sentimentality at this level," offered another wag and we all chuckled and nodded in agreement.

We can't risk a backlash against our continental owners, someone said. A revolt might backfire at a delicate time of the season, was the general consensus by the time of the final whistle.

Oh we fickle, hapless fans! Oh we desperate takers of wafer-thin margins! We the easily pleased! Up and down the English leagues, alien forces have opened up a vast chasm between supporters on the hard seats and those who rule from the executive boxes.

The alienation increases with each passing game and does so seemingly unopposed.

We patiently take every affront to our enduring loyalty on the chin. We sit defeated and spirit-broken in a cloud of confusion one moment - and the next we are on our feet, hypnotised by the savage hunt for glory.

It's amazing how acceptance of your ineffectiveness and powerlessness can lift the spirits. You bask in the illusion of being liberated. Sorry, Nigel who?