The Pilgrimage (Part 2) – 15/10/2017
A day after one of the highlights (so far) of our trip, Theo and I were down on the south coast to watch Southampton take on Newcastle United in part 2 of our weekend’s Premier League double header.
This was a rougher, more authentic footballing experience. Far more so than yesterday.
I think I suggested yesterday that Wembley ain’t the home of Tottenham Hotspur. Even though Spurs fans were everywhere the stadium also had the feeling it was full of footballing tourists. Walking around the ground listening to the accents you felt you could have been at Trafalgar Square or the Tower of London. And the sheer vastness of the stadium diluted the atmosphere to the point it clearly helped the away team.
So after that, along with a stop at Stonehenge on the way to the Southampton game, it was great to step inside a ground with a proper football feel. Theo and I were probably the only footballing tourists there.
The trip to the game went like clockwork. We drove the hour or so to Stonehenge so Theo could be the latest Barlow to visit this iconic tourist attraction. It felt like Wembley in a way, with the addition of the occasional hippy and prospective cult member. After exactly an hour there we drove to our hotel in nearby Salisbury, dumped our bags then headed to the train station, parked, bought our tickets and literally walked straight onto the train for the half hour ride into Southampton Central.
There were a few fans on the train by then, which meant we had to stand. That didn’t go down too well with Theo. I didn’t tell him it’d be worse on the way back later.
Southampton Central is about a half hour walk from St Mary’s, the local stadium, cutting right through the middle of town. The architecture was new, old and that horrible grey concrete blandness that once passed for being appropriate. I both hated the place and wanted to see more. Confused first impressions for sure.
St Mary’s is a compact Premier League ground of just the right size for a club like Southampton. There is just the right amount of space around the stadium for fans to do their pre-match thing and just the right amount of room under the stands to grab a bite and chew the fat. The seats are tight to the pitch and ours, in row G midway between the edge of one of the six yard and eighteen yard boxes, were superb. You could almost touch the players and smell the magnificent looking playing surface.
After not expecting much the game was surprisingly good, not that you’d know by listening to the Saints fans around us.
The visitors went ahead twice, the second time (right in front of us) less than a minute after Southampton equalised, before it finished 2-2 but it could have gone either way. The Geordie fans were far noisier and certainly out sung the locals, despite only having one half of one end of the stadium. The locals had a kind of half-hearted go at them but didn’t seem overly fussed with it all, spending most of their time reacting to what was happening on the field.
The Saints had more of the ball and were obviously looking to maintain possession rather than lob the ball into the box, which drove the home fans mental. Every time the right back knocked it inside to his centre half rather than play the cross the two guys behind us just about had a hernia.
I guess, as a neutral, I could see what they were trying to do and understood. It’s just that they’re not good enough at it yet. That helped Newcastle who sat in and looked to go more direct, which they did to good effect.
The overall quality was just enough to give us four goals and an entertaining match. For Southampton, Mario Lemina stood out, while England international goalie, Fraser Forster, looked dodgy..and didn’t the home fans know it. Virgil van Dijk is a giant of a centre half but looked a long way short of the money he’s supposedly worth. Matt Ritchie was good for Newcastle while Jamaal Lascelles looked a far better option than van Dijk if Spurs ever want another defender.
We were back at our hotel and eating dinner by 8pm, which was pretty good following a 4pm kick-off, another walk, a jammed train ride and a drive. Theo managed the train okay, even though he ended up slumped on the floor for most of the ride. But it would be safe to say the plan came together.
We’ve been back in tourist mode for the last few days. I had plans of going to the Exeter v Luton Town League 2 game last night as we were in the area, but we found a way to watch the Real Madrid v Spurs Champions League game instead, which seemed a slightly better option. And it’s got us properly in the mood for this Sunday’s football finale at Wembley. Bring that on!