THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Why one fan no longer attends St Mary's

icon saints4 July ~ Southampton season ticket holders were recently sent a DVD. It features highlights from what the accompanying brochure calls "the last three years of the journey so far", which has seen them promoted from League One to the Premier League. The film makes it clear that the club has big plans for the future. The artist's impression of St Mary's with an increased capacity (think LS Lowry if he had decided to paint a future free of litter and disease) shows that Southampton are keen to leave recent memories of administration far behind.

In the 24 years I have spent following the club, last season was the first in which I did not go to a single game. Before Christmas I blamed my absence on the lack of income that comes with unemployment, while in the New Year I pointed to my commitments playing football locally. But deep down I knew a trend had developed.  

I have moaned about having to pay £12 to watch football in the Blue Square Bet South. I remember admiring the discipline that Eastleigh and Dover players demonstrated in refusing to attempt anything that could be described as flair. And to think I still missed both goals. This was due to my friend's insistence on ordering drinks minutes before kick-off and leaving before injury-time to "avoid the rush". However, my absence from St Mary's was not just because of ticket prices.

Having been brought up when Southampton home strips ventured outside the traditional perimeters of red and white stripes, I thought I was ready for pretty much anything. I was wrong. What we have for the coming season is a strip that Liverpool fans could find themselves buying by accident. Some people are unhappy about the kit – especially the red shorts. Others, like me, are less concerned. Getting upset about a football shirt is futile; after all, there will probably be another new kit next year.

This lack of outrage at the club's disregard for tradition, combined with my no-show at games shows me for what I really am: a fairweather fan. It would seem that live football is less important to me than I would like to believe.

I nearly missed the televised coverage of the game against Coventry City that sealed promotion. Work commitments meant I had to transport a giant cheque to Ebbsfleet's Stonebridge Road ground. I was in the chairman's office, which was doubling up as the club mascot's changing room, when I found out we had taken the lead.

On any other occasion I would have liked to have watched Ebbsfleet versus Lincoln in its entirety. But at the risk of being rude I felt compelled to leave after about 20 minutes. So rather than being among the full house at St Mary's, it was in a pub somewhere on the banks of the Thames that I settled down to watch Southampton's promotion to the Premier League.

Southampton's home attendances were pretty good in League One and the Championship, but if the club is ever to increase the capacity it will need to convince people like me that going to St Mary's is a better use of my time than playing football, or indeed listening to it on BBC Radio Solent. A good bit of marketing in the form of a short film is not a bad start in encouraging fairweather fans back to St Mary's. Mark Sanderson

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