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Southampton v Portsmouth: There is no fiercer derby, says Saints idol Lawrie McMenemy

11 Feb 2010 23:06:14

Southampton v Portsmouth: There is no fiercer derby, says Saints idol Lawrie McMenemy

Lawrie McMenemy is far too much of a gentleman to growl at the Southampton official who insisted that in future he would be required to purchase his own tickets. Not that the insult ended there. 'This chap who lasted just three months in the job told me last summer that if my wife and I wanted to attend home games this season we would have to buy our own tickets,' McMenemy recalled. 'He said we would not be allowed in the boardroom and that I would not be allowed to speak to the owner. I just smiled, shook his hand and wished him good luck.' That level of disrespect would have been on a par with, say, Liverpool charging Bill Shankly for a parking place at Anfield or Ipswich Town squeezing the price of a programme out of Bobby Robson. McMenemy, a former Buckingham Palace guardsman and still a straight-backed 73-year-old, became just as much a favourite down at the old Dell. Happy memories: Lawrie McMenemy today This is the man who during his 12 years and 754 matches in charge of Southampton masterminded a giant-killing FA Cup victory over Manchester United in 1976 and in 1984 took the unfashionable club to second place in the then First Division, just three points behind champions Liverpool. This is the adopted Geordie who attracted a legion of big-name players to an unfashionable club on the south coast. Superstars like Kevin Keegan, Alan Ball and Mick Channon, not to mention the likes of Peter Osgood, Peter Shilton, Frank Worthington, Charlie George, Mick Mills, Dave Watson, Phil Boyer and Ted MacDougall all responded to his charm. 'They were not all there at the same time,' McMenemy pointed out. 'If they had been, there would not have been a ground big enough. They would have played the best one-touch football you could ever see. We would have had the best social life and we would have been relegated. 'They were all lead violinists. As I have always maintained, every club needs some roadsweepers.'  Unlikely heroes: McMenemy masterminded second division Southampton's 1-0 FA Cup win over Manchester United in 1976 McMenemy was with one first violin in Guernsey recently as an aircraft was emblazoned with an image of Matt Le Tissier. 'They asked me to say a few words. I said I thought they had the wrong man. He was slow on the ground and bloody useless in the air. And with that nose he should be on Concorde.' We meet in a well-known Hampshire hotel at one time frequented by the Kray twins. Strangely, it burned down in 1966. Field Marshal Montgomery was said to have planned the D-Day landings there a generation earlier. But Southampton football fans will know it better as the place where Keegan was unveiled as McMenemy's greatest signing, perhaps the most closely kept secret in the history of high-profile transfers. 'It was in this room, I think,' McMenemy said, looking around and delving into his memory. 'There was a long table. The press had no clue why they had been summoned. The Southampton board did not know until that morning. Bally, our captain, sat at the table. He had no idea. The chairman opened the door and in came Kevin, his wife and theirlittle baby. Everyone stood up and clapped.' And to think the remarkable story of how the England captain moved from Hamburg, where he had twice been European Player of the Year, to Southampton began with a stairway light. Dell boy: McMenemy stunned the football world by bringing Keegan to Southampton for £500,000 'I had just finished building a new home. The architect suggested a special light manufactured only in Germany. Hamburg, to be precise. That started me thinking. I got Kev's phone number. We did not know each other. I had never spoken to him. I suppose his home town Doncaster was a bit of a common denominator. I had managed there. I asked him if, as a favour, he could bring back a light for me next time he was in England. 'We spoke again. I mentioned that he kept being linked to big clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona. I wondered if he might need to employ guards to protect his young kids. I floated the idea that he might consider a club like Southampton if he moved back to England. 'I asked him if we could meet. I told only our financial director. We all met in a private house near the Royal Garden Hotel in London. We sat on a settee and indulged in some small talk. Kevin asked if we had brought a contract. 'Give us it', he said and there and then he signed a blank contract. I told him I couldn't believe what he had just done. He replied that he had a confession to make. He had forgotten my light. He brought it on the next visit. I've still got it.' McMenemy, whose good works include being chairman of the Special Olympics Great Britain, gives more than the faint impression that he misses those days.  You can see it in those keen eyes. He hankers for the transfer coups, the daily jousting with 'rascals', as he calls the likes of Channon and Ball, the piecing together of thejigsaw puzzle that comprises a football team the young, the experienced, the violinists and the roadsweepers. 'I miss management,' he said. 'I miss Saturdays. Not Monday to Fridays. I would love to be sitting on the bench again. I miss going to games.' He is going to the south coast derby tomorrow as part of a group which has taken a box. A couple of weeks ago he received an invitation out of the blue to attend a match and meet the chairman. That thoughtless official had long gone. The irony of this weekend's FA Cup tie does not escape McMenemy. 'Southampton are now one of the most stable and financially solid clubs in the country. And right next door is the biggest financial mess ever at a Premier club. And they are playing each other. It is amazing.' Fierce rivalry: McMenemy is relishing Saturday's south coast derby McMenemy was contacted by Alan Pardew ahead of his interview for the Southampton job and Pardew duly thanked his elder after being appointed. 'I think he is doing a good job, though I have not seen too much of the side this season,' McMenemy said. 'I do worry about Southampton fans taking things for granted this weekend because of ground and home crowd advantage. Portsmouth are, after all, the Premier League side while we are effectively third division. AndPortsmouth did very well for 40 minutes against Manchester United the other day.' There is no fiercer, more passionate, more hostile derby in British football, according to McMenemy. That from a Geordie who knows all about the feelings generated by Newcastle v Sunderland. 'I think it is partly because they don't play each other too often. It can get out of hand off the field. I remember one Christmas we won away at Brighton. We were coming up to Portsmouth in the coach when the driver shouted, 'Look out'. They were up on a bridge dropping a lump of concrete on the bus. One time we played a benefit match at Fratton Park and their fans knocked over a garden wall. 'They have got some genuine supporters but they have got a hardcore element. Possibly both clubs have, but mainly Portsmouth. People in Southampton are Hampshire. Portsmouth are not necessarily locals because of the Navy.' Previous history: Southampton met Portsmouth in the FA Cup fourth round in 2005, with the Saints winning 2-1 thanks to a controversial penalty from Peter Crouch McMenemy can upset a Pompey fan merely with his record. He enjoyed five wins in five derby games against Portsmouth, including the FA Cup tie in 1984. A last-minuteSteve Moran strike won it for Saints in front of a capacity crowd at Fratton Park. He never even lost a friendly or testimonial against the old enemy. But he takes no delight in their current difficulties. 'I'm a football man. I said it many years ago and I say it again. It would be great for the area for both clubs to be in the same division, the top division, and sharing a 40,000-seat stadium on the M27.' In this particular dream, McMenemy would be sitting in the Southampton dugout.  New father chooses FA Cup ticket queue over baby's birthPortsmouth FC: Born 1898, died 2010? Financial meltdown could spell end for proud Fratton Park club after 112 years'Insolvent' Portsmouth given a week to live at High Court showdown


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