Of the current Premier League clubs, eight have never won the title. Of those, two have a second place as their best ever finish. In 1982-83 Watford achieved this when they finished second to Liverpool in Bob Paisley’s last season as manager at Anfield. A year later Southampton embarked on their attempt at their best ever season.
It is 1983-84 and Southampton are about to embark on a season where they almost achieved something which would’ve been unthinkable at the start: the double.
Formed in 1885 they joined the Football League in 1920 and didn’t compete in the First Division (now Premier League) until 1966. Their promotion was masterminded by Ted Bates, who remained in charge until 1973-74. During that season, Bates was replaced by Lawrie McMenemy who was unable to halt the slide back to Division Two.
McMenemy took to rebuilding the squad and his strategy was based around using older, seasoned professionals, alongside some keen youngsters. One of the clubs greatest days came in May 1976 when, as a Second Division team, they beat First Division Manchester United in the FA Cup Final. 1978 saw them return to the First Division, in the same season Tottenham came back up.
Finishes of 14th, 8th, 6th, 7th and 12th followed as McMemeny thrilled the Saints fans with established England internationals such as Dave Watson and Alan Ball. In 1980 McMenemy shocked the football world when he signed one of the most famous players around, England captain Kevin Keegan.
Keegan had decided to move from Hamburg where he was double-Footballer of the Year and initially agreed to move to Juventus, before his wife vetoed the plan. McMenemy had sneakily spoken to Keegan on the pretext of sourcing a lamp made in Hamburg. This call gave him the opportunity to sell the idea of playing on the South coast. Keegan bought it.
By 1982, Keegan was keen to move on again and re-located to his spiritual home in the North East with Newcastle. McMenemy responded with three important signings who were instrumental in their success the following season. Defender Mick Mills, captain of 1978 FA Cup winners Ipswich, Peter Shilton, goalkeeper during Nottingham Forest’s late 70s success, and Mark Wright, young up & coming defender who would go on to play 45 times for England. He also signed Frank Worthington from Sunderland. The mercurial striker was at his 10th club in a 16-year career. But he’d always scored goals wherever he was so even though he was approaching his 35th birthday, he was considered worth the gamble.
These players complimented exciting talents such as Danny Wallace, Steve Moran and Steve Williams. They replaced Keegan, Watson and Ball who all left in 1982-83, and the locals weren’t sure what improvements they would bring. They were about to find out. In addition to these there was David Armstrong, who’d been signed in 1981 from Middlesbrough where he’d played almost 360 times in a 10-year career. They were a real mixture of youth and experience.
Liverpool were the defending champions, having won the previous season by 11 points, Bob Paisley’s last as manager. When you consider they didn’t win any of their final seven matches, you get an idea of their dominance. Liverpool also won the League Cup for the third successive time, and Manchester United won the FA Cup, their first trophy for six years. Beaten finalists Brighton were relegated along with Swansea City and Manchester City. Man City had gone down in a dramatic finale when Luton beat them on the final day of the season to stay up at City’s expense.
In the Second Division, QPR, managed by Terry Venables, finished 10 points ahead of Wolves with Leicester City in third place. Leicester, with a promising strike-force of Gary Lineker and Alan Smith, had overhauled Fulham despite a huge deficit leading to the end of the season. The season ended in controversial circumstances as a pitch invasion at Derby ended their game early with Fulham, but the authorities refused to take action in the form of a replay.
This piece will look at how the season unfolded for Southampton, game-by-game. But first let’s have a look at the main actors in this particular play.
Lawrie McMenemy (aged 47). Born in Gateshead, he never played league football before injury forced him to give up his career at 25. Southampton was his third managerial job when he was appointed in 1973. Lead them to the FA Cup win when as a Second Division club they beat Manchester United in 1976. Were beaten finalists in the League Cup to Nottingham Forest in 1979. He eventually left the club in 1985 having been widely regarded as one of their best managers. Spent a couple of seasons at Sunderland and then went onto be involved with the England national side under Graham Taylor. Also spent a year as manager of Northern Ireland.
Peter Shilton (age 34), 42 appearances, 18 clean sheets. Was England’s number one keeper by this time. Began his career at Leicester, moved to Stoke City and then Nottingham Forest. Won League title and two European Cups with Forest. Moved to Southampton in 1982. Stayed for five years before moving to Derby, Plymouth and a number of other clubs. Ended his career with over 1,000 first team appearances and is currently England’s most capped international
Reuben Agboola (age 21) 33 appearances. Joined from Cheshunt and made his debut in 1980. Remained at the club until 1985 when he moved to Sunderland. Was later capped nine times by Nigeria.
Mick Mills (age 34) 34 appearances, 2 goals. Began his career at Ipswich where he captained them to FA Cup win in 1978. Captained England during the 1982 World Cup just before moving to Southampton. In 1985 he moved to Stoke City. Ended his career with over seven hundred appearances.
Mark Wright (age 20) 29 appearances 1 goal. Began his career at Oxford United before moving to Southampton in 1982. In 1987 he moved to Derby County and then onto Liverpool in 1991. Captained Liverpool to the FA Cup in 1992. Was capped 45 times by England and played in the 1988 Euros and 1990 World Cup.
Kenny Armstrong (age 24) 26 appearances. Born in Shropshire of Scottish parents, he started his career at Kilmarnock. Moved to Southampton for the start of this season. Moved to Birmingham a year later before a knee injury ended his career at 27.
Ivan Golac (age 33) 11 appearances. Born in Croatia when it was part of Yugoslavia. Began his career at Partizan Belgrade before joining Southampton in 1978. Played for five seasons before a contract dispute saw him return briefly to his homeland. He returned to The Dell in March 1984.
Dennis Rofe (age 33) 2 appearances + 1 sub. Born in Epping, he began his career at Leyton Orient. After five seasons he moved to Leicester City. Rofe was eventually made club captain in an illustrious career covering over 300 matches. After two years at Chelsea, he was signed by McMenemy for Southampton.
Mark Whitlock (age 22) 15 appearances + 1 sub. Born in Portsmouth, he made his debut for Southampton in 1979. Never a regular, he moved to Bournemouth in 1986 then onto Reading and Aldershot.
Mark Dennis (aged 22) 20 appearances. The tough tackling left-back first came to prominence at Birmingham City where he made his debut in 1978. After four years he moved to Southampton. A decent player with a short fuse he was sent off 12 times in his career. Later moved to QPR and then Crystal Palace.
Steve Baker (age 21) 8 appearances. Born in Wallsend he played for the famous Wallsend Boys Club, before Southampton signed him as an apprentice. Made his debut in 1978 but in nine years at The Dell he only started on 73 occasions. Moved to Leyton Orient and then Bournemouth.
David Armstrong (age 29) 42 appearances, 15 goals. He began his career at Middlesbrough in 1971. After over 350 appearances in the North East he moved to Southampton in 1981. Ultra reliable, he was a regular starter for both clubs averaging 36 games a season for 16 years.
Nick Holmes (age 29) 42 appearances, 3 goals. Another reliable professional, Holmes only ever played for Southampton, his hometown club. After making his debut in 1972 he went onto play in almost 450 matches. Was a member of the 1976 FA Cup winning side and the 1979 League Cup runners-up team.
Steve Williams (age 25) 27 appearances, 3 goals. Started as an apprentice at Southampton, making his professional debut in 1976. A talented player, he was named club captain for this season. Was a member of the side which finished runners-up in the League Cup in 1979. Played almost 280 times for The Saints before a move to Arsenal and then Luton Town. Was capped six times by England.
Ian Juryeff (age 21) 0 appearances + 2 subs. Born in Gosport, he joined Southampton as a schoolboy. Made his debut in 1980 but struggled to find a regular start. Had several loan deals before moving to Leyton Orient in 1985 where he played over 100 times for The O’s. Went onto play for another eleven league and non-league clubs throughout the South.
Steve Moran (age 22) 33 appearances + 1 sub, 21 goals. Born in Croydon he went to school in Fareham. Southampton snapped him up and he made his debut in 1979, scoring with his first touch. Became one of the finest strikers the club has ever had. Made over 200 appearances for the club, including playing in Europe. Moved to Leicester City in 1986 then Reading, Exeter and Hull City. Was capped by England at under-21 level but never at senior level.
Frank Worthington (age 35) 34 appearances, 4 goals. One of the most gifted players of his generation, the maverick Worthington played for almost every club in England. Bega his career at Huddersfield in 1966. He moved to Leicester in 1972 and almost joined Liverpool. Scored goals wherever he went, some of them spectacular including one for Bolton against Ipswich in 1979 which was voted Goal of the Season. After successful spells in America he was at Leeds and Sunderland before Lawrie McMenemy signed him for The Saints. He only stayed a year before moving to Brighton and then a whole host of other clubs before ending his career as player-coach at Halifax Town in 1992
David Puckett (age 23) 7 appearances + 11 subs, 3 goals. A local boy he made his debut for the club in 1978. Struggled to find a regular place, he moved to Bournemouth in 1986 and then Aldershot and then Woking.
Danny Wallace (age 19) 41 appearances, 11 goals. Joined Southampton as a schoolboy, making his debut in 1980 when he became the youngest player to play for the club. Was a pacey, exciting striker who seemed destined for big things. His two brothers, Rod and Ray, joined him at the club in 1988. After over 200 appearances for The Saints, he made a big money move to Manchester United. At £1.2m he was a record transfer for Southampton. Spent four seasons at Old Trafford before moving to Birmingham.
Alan Curtis (age 29) 8 appearances + 1 sub. Born in Rhondda, he was an integral part of Swansea’s surge from Fourth Division to First at the end of the 1970s. In 1979 he moved to Leeds United for a season and then back to Swansea. Was signed at the start of this season spending three seasons at The Dell. He then moved back to Wales to play for Cardiff and then a third spell at Swansea. He was capped thirty five times by Wales.
Ian Baird (age 19) 6 appearances, 1 goal. Born in Rotherham, he grew up in Hampshire. Joined Southampton and made his debut in 1982. Spent three seasons at the club without gaining a regular start. Had two spells at Leeds United where he won Second Division winners medal. Also played for Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Hearts, Bristol City, Plymouth and Brighton.
Martin Foyle (age 20) 2 appearances + 3 subs. Joined Southampton as a trainee in 1980. Only made thirteen starts in four years before moving to Aldershot and then Oxford United. In 1991 h moved to Port Vale where he made almost three hundred appearances.
Southampton’s first task was a trip to the City Ground to meet Nottingham Forest. It had been three years since Forest were European Champions. They were much changed although still called on the services of Ian Bowyer, Viv Anderson and Garry Birtles from their trophy winning days. They had finished just two points off a second place the previous season. This was a repeat of the 1979 League Cup Final. Southampton had won there in March, the first time since they returned to Division One. They repeated the feat this time with a Danny Wallace goal to win all three points.
Two days later they welcomed newly-promoted Queen’s Park Rangers to The Dell, but played out a goalless draw.
The following weekend, young Ian Baird scored the only goal of the game to see off Arsenal at home. Their first really big test came when they visited Anfield for a midweek game at the beginning of September. Ian Rush became the first player to beat Shilton that season but a late goal from Mick Mills gave The Saints a 1-1 draw. Steve Moran who’d missed the last two matches, was back for the trip to Roker Park and he scored a double to beat Sunderland, 2-0. Five matches and Southampton were fifth and one of just four sides unbeaten. West Ham lead the table with five wins from five.
September continued with a great win over Manchester United at home
Steve Williams scored two good goals in the first half. Then after some inspired keeping from Peter Shilton, David Armstrong opened his account for the season to complete an impressive 3-0 win. West Ham’s 100% record was ended at West Brom and Southampton and Liverpool remained the only two unbeaten teams. The Saints were now up to second.
The month ended and so did the unbeaten run. Up against another former European Cup winning club, Aston Villa, and Peter Withe (whose goal won the trophy for Villa in 1982) was the only goal of the game. Interestingly enough, Liverpool’s unbeaten record also went on the same day at Old Trafford.
Up to now Frank Worthington had yet to find the net after his move in the summer, but when Wolves visited The Dell he made amends. Another low scoring game, but a 1-0 win was exactly what they wanted to make up for the defeat the week before.
In midweek they were in League Cup action. The second round was over two legs in those days and Southampton were up against Carlisle United, then a Second Division side. They made the 600-mile round-trip to Brunton Park for the first leg, but two goals from local hero, Malcolm Poskett saw them skulk back needing to overcome a two-goal deficit.
The magic of the League Cup eh? The might of Liverpool, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest or Aston Villa couldn’t beat Southampton and England’s number one goalkeeper, but little Carlisle United could.
Mid October saw a trip to Filbert Street to take on Leicester City, who’d just one point from their opening eight games. The weather was atrocious and heavy rain force the game to be abandoned.
Back in the league and the wobble continued as they travelled to Kenilworth Road and were well beaten 3-0 by Luton Town. Trevor Aylott scored twice. For a side who had conceded just twice in eight matches, they’d now let in five in a week.
One win in four wasn’t the form they’d hoped for going into the second leg of the League Cup tie against Carlisle. David Armstrong put them in front in the first half but with four minutes to go they were still behind on aggregate. Twenty-year old Martin Foyle came on as a substitute for Ian Baird and scored the vital second goal with four minutes to go. This took the tie into extra time and up popped Foyle to grab his second and enter the annals of history at The Dell. Southampton had squeezed through to the next round.
Foyle managed to earn a rare start when Ipswich arrived at The Dell, but he was subbed by Steve Moran who found the net to complete a 3-2 win.
October ended with Manchester United on top of the table, with Liverpool in second. Southampton were one of four sides on twenty points just behind the Champions, and they had a game in hand.
Join us again in Part Two when we look at the run of fixtures to the end of the year and then into the New Year with the FA Cup.