Meetings between Cherries and Saints rare but good natured
18 June ~ While the rivalry between Southampton and Portsmouth seems to have intensified in the past two decades that between Saints and their neighbours to the west, AFC Bournemouth, is far less defined. The clubs’ first ever top-flight derby is scheduled to be played at St Mary’s on October 31. It remains to be seen how this new chapter will shape the relationship between the two and their respective fans.
While the Saints and the Cherries play the occasional friendly (contrastingly, the last non-competitive fixture between Southampton and Portsmouth was a testimonial played at Fratton Park in 1994) to date there have been very few competitive meetings. The League One game at St Mary’s in October of 2010 was the first league fixture for over 50 years.
Although there were reports of scuffles at this game and six arrests, the return fixture at Dean Court, and the earlier League Cup fixture, also at St Mary’s, passed without any significant incidents. For their part many Southampton fans seem to harbour, if not outright affection, at least a warmth towards their neighbours, evidenced by Bournemouth’s arrival in the Premier League being broadly welcomed by a large section of Southampton’s support.
The day after the Cherries' 3-0 win over Bolton, which all-but assured them of promotion to the top flight for the first time in their history, Southampton’s Daily Echo ran a poll which posed the question: "Are you pleased to see Bournemouth in the Premier league?" The final result was that 92 per cent answered in the affirmative.
Some of this is explained by the fact Bournemouth’s sandy beaches are the summer destination of choice for many Southampton residents. Some Saints fans may also feel their club had some small hand in their neighbour’s success via on-loan Southampton goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who helped Bournemouth’s defence to achieve the second best record in the Championship, conceding 45 goals over the campaign. Most important however, is that Southampton fans have only energy for one all-consuming rivalry – with Portsmouth.
For Bournemouth fans however, geography makes the rivalry with Southampton more of a focus. Their nearest rivals to the west are Exeter City and in the north the closest League clubs are based in either Bristol or Swindon. It would also be easy for Bournemouth fans to detect something of a patronising tone among all the magnanimity shown by the Saints supporters; despite now sharing the same division, few in the Saints support will truly regard the club as equals. This is something which Bournemouth fans will be hoping to see change, while the rivalry still remains for the most part, good-natured. Neil Cotton