Like three excitable youths who have just finished High School, going their separate ways before embarking on a new educational path, Southampton, Brighton and Portsmouth, as close as they may be geographically, couldn’t be farther away from one another now in terms of the football league pyramid.
I wrote earlier this season about how each club should be grateful for each other’s success. Southampton were top of the league; Brighton were third playing an exciting brand of football; and Pompey had just appointed Michael Appleton with fresh hopes of turning the club around, pre-administration.
Each were vying to be the top team on the south coast. But as their backs turn, and they gallop towards next season, the real education begins this summer with the first test coming in August when we kick-off once again, with all three clubs facing different challenges this summer and beyond.
Southampton, in two magical seasons, have finally laid to rest the turbulence of the past seven years which included administrations, relegations and a questionable managerial reign from a certain Mr Redknapp. Replicating exactly what Norwich did the season before them, they have secured back-to-back promotions to the Premier League. The similarities don’t stop there. For Grant Holt, Saints have Ricky Lambert. For Anthony Pilkington there’s Adam Lallana. For Morrison there’s Sharpe. Both are well respected family clubs with a sense of belonging in England’s top flight. Now stable; cautious and dependable.
Manager Nigel Adkins has surprised many, and I’m sure eyebrows were raised by even the most loyal of Southampton fans at his appointment in 2010. However, after speaking to several national journalists, it appears Nigel and the clubs’ owners are in for a shock when it comes to the sheer volume of national media enquiries a Premier League club endures. “Closed off”; “shy”; “unapproachable”; “rude”; are just some of the terms I’ve been handed by journalists writing for our national print press. This approach will have to be severely changed if they are to get on the ever- influencing British media.
But Southampton have it all in place. A history. A reputation. A foundation. Heritage. And unlike recently promoted clubs (note Blackpool), they have a 30,000+ all-stadium which they can fill. The future is bright if they use the aforementioned attributes correctly and hang on to their key players.
On to Brighton, and I must put my allegiance to one side for now. Albion have enjoyed a terrific first season back in the Championship. Had Vicente remained fit then who knows where they would have finished. He is that good. But that’s the point. He didn’t remain fit, and that’s the problem right there: quality within the depths of the squad. Wingers galore, yes. But lack of creativity without the little Spaniard and fire power up top proved crucial in what is one of the toughest leagues in the world.
Brighton are looking to replicate the Swansea model. Pass; pass; pass. Prove yourself at Championship level and push on when ready. Before securing 8th spot in the 2008/09 season, the Swans went on to finish 7th in the 2009/10 season, on 69 points. The following season they were promoted.
Brighton fans must gain a bit of perspective. A state of the art new stadium doesn’t guarantee Premier League football, as we’ve covered looking at Southampton’s past. Murmurs of discontent from some small quarters have been expressed on social media platforms – it seems some will take nothing less than top flight football next year. Give the team a break. As if they weren’t playing with enough pressure already. Unbelievably some have even been criticising the new stadium expansion plans describing them as ‘ugly’, ‘dull’ and ‘disappointing’. Head back to the Withdean then; that’ll give you ugly, dull and disappointing.
I suspect Brighton will achieve the holy grail at some point, but whether that’s next year, who knows. You would expect the Brighton fans, who have suffered so much turbulence since 1997, would understand the need for patience; the same trait which their team demonstrates each week as they caress the ball against their opponents.
Pompey on the other hand will face league fixtures next season against the likes of Crawley Town. Long gone are the memories of FA Cup Finals; Harry Redknapp; and stars such as Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch and Glenn Johnson. Expected to release the majority of the squad, the one saving grace Michael Appleton can take from relegation is the ‘blank canvas effect’. It’s time to start again; time to right so many wrongs.
Pompey will be looking to mirror what Leeds United have done by bouncing back from League One to Championship play-off contenders. That is opposed to Leeds’ rivals, Bradford City, who nosedived from the Premier League to the depths of League Two and now rank as the lowest placed former Premier League club in English football.
Pompey’s demise can serve a purpose to everyone involved in football. The unpredictable nature and business of the game is expected to hurt others with administration predicted for at least another six football league clubs this year.
So with lessons learned from a season of strict education in the Championship, our three south coast clubs leave with backs turned, and each with a different style of test awaiting them.