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Now a veteran in what proved to be his final season with Saints Terry Paine pulled the strings in midfield that enabled Mike Channon to end the 1973-74 season as the First Division’s leading goalscorer.

Alas, that didn’t prevent Saints’ relegation.  “Team Manager Designate” Lawrie McMenemy had succeeded Ted Bates in November, with Saints looking a good bet for a UEFA Cup placing, but form fell off dramatically after the New Year; despite the acquisition of Chelsea’s imperiously elegant Peter Osgood. Saints ended the season returning to Division Two.

Following his inauspicious start it was brave and perceptive of the board to retain McMenemy’s services. The decision, or lack of one, dismayed many of the faithful, a small number of whom took to standing at the front of the terracing beneath the West Stand, to hurl abuse and, occasionally, saliva and missiles at Lawrie as he made his way to and from the dugout. You may have wondered about his predilection for leather overcoats?

Less uncouth critics were convinced that Lawrie’s lack of experience made him unsuitable to manage Southampton; he’d never played professional football and had worked his way up the coaching ladder via non-League jobs and assisting Sheffield Wednesday boss Alan Brown before managing Doncaster Rovers and Grimsby Town. His army of detractors diminished considerably after the 1976 FA Cup Final, dwindled further with promotion back to Division One in ’78 and was reduced to an obstinate few after the signing of England skipper and European Footballer of the Year Kevin Keegan in 1980; but never entirely faded away.

The catalogue of McMenemy’s bargain buys is a hefty one. Keegan was his most sensational signing, but the seduction of Alan Ball, who ditched Arsenal for Southampton in December 1976, was probably Lawrie’s canniest move in the transfer market. Bally skippered Saints to promotion, a League Cup final and back into Europe. It is a shame that many, even the most passionate of Saints’ fans, associate the Club’s greatest successes with those two illustrious names, but it was the 1983-84 season when Lawrie and Saints got closest to the Football League championship: and by August ’83 Keegan had been with Newcastle United for a year and Ball had been gone ten months.

At the death they finished three points behind Liverpool; a team they had certainly bested that season, having taken a point at Anfield and defeated them two-nil at The Dell; with two fabulously outrageous Danny Wallace strikes.

The team that season often contained five graduates from the youth set-up. The most experienced player was Frank Worthington, who, while past his best as a goalscorer, worked magically behind pocket-strikers Wallace and Steve Moran. Lawrie’s system was 5-2-3 or, when on the offensive, 3-4-3, featuring either Rueben Agboola or Nick Holmes as a libero. A heretical line-up in a footballing nation that – 30 years on – continues to equate any deviation from 4-4-2 with “funny foreigners” and the sort of weirdos who don’t watch Top Gear.

The future looked rosy. But ’84-85 got off to a poor start. Agboola was dropped following a well publicised nightclub “incident”; the name of England midfielder Steve Williams was becoming increasingly synonymous with Arsenal and, in November, during the visit of Queen’s Park Rangers for a League Cup tie, a halftime tactical discussion in the home dressing room ended with Lawrie in a bath and Mark Wright being fingered as the culprit.

Saints, with Kevin Bond and the supposedly superannuated Jimmy Case replacing Agboola and Williams, made a strong finish and, for the fourth time in five seasons, qualifying for the UEFA Cup.

However, in May, following the lethal behaviour of English “fans” at the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus at the Stad du Heysel in Brussels, English clubs were banned from European competition. Three weeks later “Big Mac” resigned, he said, with no plan in mind; although he claimed that managing Florida (his son’s rock band not the American state) was a possibility. After a few months at Sunderland he was probably wishing he’d plumped for the sex & drugs & rock ‘n’ roll.   

The Lawrie McMenemy era 1973-1985

The most celebrated day of Lawrie McMenemy’s tenure was the defeat of Manchester United in the 1976 FA Cup Final.

 Above: United manager Tommy Docherty looks on as Saints’ skipper Peter Rodrigues exalts. Below: Sunday 2 May, the Saints party breasts Redbridge Hill on their triumphant circumnavigation of Southampton

Lawrie McMenemy’s greatest achievement with Saints was finishing the ’83-84 as Runners-up in Division One.

Old Dellites still shake their heads and wonder how Saints managed to lose at home to Notts County and be held to a goalless draw at Birmingham City. And do not mention Loftus Road.

Reports from The Times, 18 May 1984

© Jenny Godfrey

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