He’s no saint

Dave Juson looks at how Graeme Souness came to be on the south coast

The arrival of Graeme Souness at The Dell has bemused the faithful. Celebrity managers are not something Southampton FC are noted for. Actually, managers are not something we’re noted for, not until Guy Askham became chairman. Chris Nicholl, Askham’s first victim in 1991, was only our sixth manager since World War Two. Souness is the fourth attempted replacement.

The timing and manner in which his predecessor Dave Merrington was dismissed have perturbed many. Merrington came to The Dell during Lawrie McMenemy’s managerial reign a dozen years back and brought on an impressive selection of young talent including Rod Wallace, Shearer and Le Tissier. It’s a tribute to his record that despite a far from inspiring season, Merrington retained the respect and affection of the supporters. After all, it’s not as if he coveted the job Alan Ball defected from – there just weren’t any other candidates. (Some at The Dell had been adamant that ‘Director of Football’ McMenemy only wants a puppet in the post; Alan Ball had wanted his own way, so Merrington was brought in. An hypothesis exploded by the arrival of Souness.)

The rumour mill had been working overtime after Christmas concerning player discontent and it was evident that Le Tissier was not exactly revelling in the role of shadowing opposing full backs. As the season ground to a climax, the big whispers were that Merrington, whose wife is seriously ill, would resign at the final curtain. George Graham was earmarked to take over and Richard Branson would be investing in the club. The George Graham tip was not greeted with enthusiasm and . . . well, no one wanted the lads to step out with ‘Virgin’ stencilled across their chests, even if the saint the club takes it’s name from was Christ’s mother. The latest word is that Merrington did resign, only to recant on his solicitors’ advice the next day. (We await facts patiently in Southampton. Charlie Wayman’s transfer to Preston in 1950 has yet to be satisfactorily justified.)

As for Souness, we’re coming round to the idea, although it has been recalled that while at Rangers he bought Terry Hurlock and, worse, flogged him on to us while the hapless Ian Branfoot was in charge. It will taken a little time before our new manager is pardoned for that in some quarters. Guy Askham has obviously forgiven already, or forgotten.

From WSC 115 September 1996. What was happening this month