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The Fall and Rise (?) of Southampton FC
Southampton Football Club are 5th in the npower League 1 table as of Tuesday 22nd February 2011. Less than 8 years ago they were 8th in the Premier League, 2nd in the FA Cup and were set to compete in the UEFA Cup at a shiny new stadium for £30 million. So, where did it all go wrong?
After a fairytale ending to 103 years of football at the Dell, when club hero Matt Le Tissier scored a sensational volley to seal a 3-2 victory over Arsenal, the club was due to move to the new St. Mary’s with a capacity of 32,000. Things started slowly at the new ground but picked up for Saints to finish 11th in the 2001/02 season under Gordan Strachan. Things got even better the following season with an 8th place finish and an FA Cup runners-up medal, but this was to be the start of the club’s rapid fall from grace.
In the 2004/05 season, struggling Southampton acquired a certain Harry Redknapp from local rivals Portsmouth. In addition, Rugby World Cup winner Sir Clive Woodward was employed as ‘Technical Director/Executive Director/Director of Football’ on a multi-million pound contract from which no benefits were ever seen. Despite the big name investment, Southampton FC were relegated from the Premier League on 15 May 2005 after a total of 27 years in the top flight of English football. Needless to say, things did not improve when Harry Redknapp returned to Portsmouth in November of that year.
After several seasons in the Championship Football, chairman Rupert Lowe’s strategy of taking money and selling the best young players from the club’s prestigious academy caught up with him to line his own pockets. Wayne Bridge, James Beattie, Kevin Davies, Kenwyne Jones, Andrew Surman, David McGoldrick, Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale’s earnings totaled £45m.
On 23 April 2009, Southampton FC entered administration with £30 million of debt attributed to the new stadium. 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, assuming they could find a buyer to keep them going, would start the following season at minus 10.
After countless renditions from fans of “Swing Lowe, Swing Rupert Lowe, Hanging from the Itchen bridge”, the chairman finally relinquished his position. Numerous bids to buy the club failed, including Pinnacle Group led by Matt Le Tissier who even paid £500,000 exclusivity before Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr stepped in.
Markus Liebherr, owner of the Mali Group and with an estimated personal fortune of £5 billion, bought the club on 8 July 2009. The club’s debt was immediately wiped out and significant investment was made in the team. Nicola Cortese was unveiled as chairman, with Alan Pardew brought in as manager and Rickie Lambert was bought for £1 million from Bristol Rovers. He was to make a huge contribution to the team, scoring 36 goals in his first season at the club.
Despite a difficult start to the season, Saints managed to finish 7th in the league and also win the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final at Wembley.
On August 11, 2010, the club was hit with the tragic news that Markus Liebherr had died at the age of 62 from heart disease. Following this mysterious sacking of Alan Pardew as manager following a convincing away win at Bristol Rovers, it looked set to continue the club’s instability.
On 12 September 2010, Nigel Adkins was appointed as manager. The January transfer window storm was weathered by the retention of the services of prized assets Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and plans to remove the current “Premier League standard” training facilities in favor of a £3m new development for the club. the foundations were approved.
15 managers in 10 years at Southampton FC suggests the club’s recent instability. With finances now seemingly secured, a strong chairman and manager with the faith of all the fans behind him, the club seems to be back on the rise. All thanks to Saint Markus Liebherr, a true legend and savior of the club.
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