In two days time, over 35,000 Saints fans will embark on their journey to the home of English football. This isn’t a journey we are entirely used to, so I, like everyone else, will savour every last second of it.
Southampton take on Manchester United in the first major final of the season as Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils battle Claude Puel’s Saints in the EFL Cup final. Saints fans have only travelled to Wembley four times in their clubs 131-year history, despite being in eight domestic finals.
Southampton’s first three major finals were held at current athletics ground ‘Crystal Palace’ as Ernest Arnfield’s men lost two FA Cup finals; the first in 1900 as Bury ran out 4-0 winners. Saints then lost 2-1 to Sheffield United in 1902 after a 1-1 stalemate resulted in a replay. Saints’ most recent major final was, again, in the FA Cup as Gordon Strachan’s men travelled to Cardiff to face Arsenal. Robert Pires broke Saints hearts as his goal in the 38th minute sealed a 1-0 win for the Gunners at the Millennium stadium. Apart from a dismal record away from Wembley, Southampton currently have a 50% win record at the national stadium, as Saints have won and lost two finals in four respective competitions. These competitions being the FA Cup; the League/EFL Cup; the Zenith Data Systems Cup and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
1976 F.A Cup Final
Saints’ first appearance at Wembley was in 1976 and it’s still our greatest achievement to date. Lawrie McMenemy’s Second Division side had a huge task of beating First Division Manchester United to their first major trophy. Southampton were undoubtedly the underdogs as many expected the Red Devils to ease past Saints to victory. However, as the game unravelled, McMenemy’s side showed they had the quality and fight to match Manchester United. After their opponents hit the bar, Saints took their chance. Jim McCalliog sent a ball over the top of the Manchester United defence which looped into the path of Bobby Stokes. Stokes allowed the ball to bounce once then struck a precise shot past United ‘keeper Alex Stepney. The goal was scored in the 83rd minute as the yellow end of Wembley went wild. The goal didn’t come without its controversy though, as the United players and coaching staff claimed Stokes was offside, but the linesman’s flag remained down. As the full-time whistle blew, Saints pulled off one of the great FA Cup giant killings and secured themselves their first major trophy. The sea of yellow and blue erupted when club captain, Peter Rodrigues, collected the trophy from Her Majesty the Queen and lofted it high. There are many parallels from this game to our upcoming match this Sunday. Firstly of course, we have our opponents. Just like 1976, standing in our way of a major trophy is arguably one of the biggest clubs in world football, Manchester United. Coming into this Sunday’s fixture, the Red Devils have only lost once in their past 25 games. Due to this incredible form, Saints are firmly the underdogs once again, and hopefully rather like 1976, we can use this to our advantage.
1979 League Cup Final
Three years after the FA Cup final triumph, Lawrie Mcmenemy masterminded another great cup run. Southampton embarked on their League Cup adventure by beating First Division Birmingham City and Derby County in rounds two and three. Saints then needed a replay in the fourth round to see past Fourth Division Reading. In the quarter-finals, Saints beat Manchester City 2-1 and then secured their place in the final by beating Leeds 3-2 on aggregate across two legs. In the final, Saints faced Brian Clough’s legendary Nottingham Forest side. Much like the 1976 FA Cup final, Saints were seen as the underdog as Forest were amidst their greatest ever era; Clough’s side eventually won the European Cup that season. Brian Clough was up to his usual antics before a ball was even kicked. Prior to any cup final at Wembley, opposition managers lead their teams out onto the pitch before kick-off. However, Clough did not lead his team out and gave duties to his right-hand man Peter Taylor; he followed closely behind and went straight to the dugout. Saints took the lead in the 16th minute through David Peach and the score remained 1-0 up until half time. Forest then equalised just six minutes into the second half as Garry Birtles drew his side level. Birtles then struck again to give Clough’s side the lead in the 79th minute after a closely fought second half. Forest’s number 10 Tony Woodcock looked to have sealed the tie in the 83rd minute, but Nick Holmes nicked one back five minutes later to give Saints hope of taking the tie to extra time. Unfortunately for McMenemy’s side however, Saints couldn’t grab that elusive third goal and were defeated in their second match at Wembley. This was Saints’ last League Cup final appearance.
1992 Zenith Data Systems Cup Final
After the League Cup final defeat to Nottingham Forest, Southampton had to wait 14 years until their next Wembley appearance. The opponents, again, Nottingham Forest, still managed by Brian Clough. Although this competition is far less prestigious than the previous two, it’s still a trip to the home of English football for the fans and the club. Saints were managed by the highly unpopular Ian Branfoot who famously shut out Matt Le Tissier citing that he wasn’t good enough. However, Branfoot started Le God in this particular final alongside Alan Shearer, Neil Ruddock, Francis Benali and Ian Dowie. Southampton had the worst possible first half as they found themselves 2-0 down at the break after goals from Scot Gemmill, in the 16th minute, and Kingsley Black, right on the stroke of half-time. This particular final conveyed the phrase “a game of two halves” as Southampton looked a completely different side in the second 45 minutes Matt Le Tissier pulled a goal back in 64th minute with a header from six yards out, and only six minutes later, a ball into the box found Kevin Moore, whose header crashed in off the woodwork to level the scores. The game went to extra time after Saints’ great come back from two-nil down, but once again, it was Forest who won the trophy at Wembley after a deep ball into the box found Gemmill unmarked – Tim Flowers was helpless in denying the winner.
2010 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final
Ah, what a day. After a fall from grace which left Saints bottom of League One with a 10 point deduction, this final really showed what was in store under the guidance of Markus Liebherr and Nicola Cortese. For the first time, Saints came into this game as huge favourites as Alan Pardew’s team showed great form within the new era at the club. Players such as Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Jose Fonte and Michail Antonio, unknowingly used this victory as their springboard to Premier League and International success. Saints took on Carlisle in the 2010 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final after seeing past MK Dons in the semi. Southampton took the lead after 15 minutes through a trademark Rickie Lambert penalty, after Peter Murphy handled in the box. Saints then netted just before and after half-time as Rickie Lambert flicked on the ball to the far post, where Lallana found himself free to knock the ball into the net. Southampton then sealed the trophy after a mistake from Horwood allowed Antonio to let fly at the Carlisle goal; Collin made a brilliant initial save, but his strong hand couldn’t stop the ball dropping to Papa Waigo, who was left with the simple tasking of nodding it into an empty net. As the game fell away from Carlisle, a ball deep into their half from Kelvin Davis found Antonio, who chested the ball down and struck a venomous low volley past Collin. Our opponents that day did pull a goal back as Gary Madine glanced the ball past Kelvin Davis, after a free-kick was whipped into the box. The waves of red and white flags flew in the air as Saints sealed their first win at Wembley since 1976. One of the great images of the day was to see our saviour savour the day as his smile beamed from ear to ear. Markus Liebherr was seen taking photos throughout on his small digital camera, as he soaked up the atmosphere from the club he saved. Back-to-back promotions soon followed as a new manager, Nigel Adkins, took the reigns. And the rest, they say, is history.
After a 41 year wait without a major trophy, a victory on Sunday would cap off a meteoric rise under Markus and Katharina Liebherr. I’m sure the players will have Markus in their minds and hearts as they step onto the carpet that is Wembley’s pitch. After a two-week break Saints should be fresher than their counterparts who played a Europa League game away in France only two days ago. Whatever the result, the fact that Puel and his players have taken us fans to Wembley for a mouthwatering tie is something to be very grateful for. Let’s hope we return to the south coast with an EFL Cup and a performance to be proud of.