On 1st May 2016, before the Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester City, “The Saints” celebrated the 40th anniversary of the most important moment of their club history. On an open top double-decker bus 1976 FA Cup football heroes travelled through the streets of the city to reach St. Mary’s Stadium. It was an unique occasion to make the fans relive (or sometimes live for the first time) a wonderful Sunday afternoon in May. On that day a second-tier team like Southampton were able to defeat English giant Manchester United at Wembley. After the final, a bus took the players and the coaching staff to Southampton, where a crowd of more than 250,000 fans welcomed them to celebrate that historical win.
So after 40 years the club decided to repeat that special city tour on the same bus used in 1976. Everything seems identical, despite white-haired former players and a much more moderated celebration in comparison with what happened in 1976 for the sole “major” cup won in club history.
Among Saints’ players who in 2016 remembered that triumph there wasn’t the match-winner of 1976 final game: Bobby Stokes.
He passed away aged 44 on 30th May 1995 after contracting bronchial pneumonia due to heavy smoking.
However Portsmouth-born striker has been and will be forever the icon of that unforgettable final. After some fantastic saves by Southampton goalkeeper Ian Turner, Stokes scored the 1-0 goal in the 83rd minute. He received former Manchester United midfielder Jim McCalliog‘s pass and slotted the ball across Stepney and into the far corner. English goalie was one of the very few ManUtd team members who played under Matt Busby management. He was the only connection with the glorious side that at the end of the 60’s had ruled over England and Europe.
In front of around 99.000 fans, Manchester United coached by former Chelsea legend Tommy Docherty, was punished by a 25-year-old striker from Portsmouth playing for a Second Division team.
Pompeys fan Stokes was discarded by Portsmouth, because in those years due to financial problems the club management said
there’s only money for fish in the sea in Portsmouth “.
Bobby ended up signing for Southampton, he played more than 200 games for Portsmouth’s fiercest rivals and he wrote his name in golden letters in the Saints history book. From that fantastic goal and that crazy celebration on the streets of Southampton 40 years and ten months have passed. After all this time “The Saints” will be back to Wembley on 26th February to face Manchester United again in the English Football League Cup final. Southampton reached this goal defeating Liverpool in EFL semi-final. After this win the Lancashire-based club fans decided to paint post boxes in team’s colours.
A different way to welcome back football history in Southampton after many years.
However in Southampton everything has changed in comparison with 1975-1976 FA campaign, as Daily Echo football reporter Peter Howard explained to MondoFutbol.
Everything has changed. There have been some very significant moments that have changed the club forever. Saints have moved from The Dell to their new stadium, St Mary’s, in 2001 and gone through many ups and downs, with the club at one point nearly going out of existence. The most pertinent point in this recent era happened when the late Markus Liebherr bought the club in July 2009. He is absolutely adored unconditionally by the club’s supporters. It was his money and dedication to Saints that allowed them to climb away from near extinction and back through the leagues to the top flight”.
In the last few seasons Southampton have developed into a solid Premier League team under Pochettino and Koeman‘s guidance playing in a European competition again. Here comes another final, in a bit strange season for The Saints
It has been strange because up until the Sunderland win Saints had been on a bad run in the Premier League. They had lost six games in seven league matches. There was a lot of concern over the possibility of being dragged into a relegation battle. There were also question marks over Claude Puel’s management of the team and there were boos ringing around St Mary’s after recent defeats, especially after the 3-1 loss to West Ham and the 5-0 thrashing by Arsenal in the FA Cup. Because of that the atmosphere barely felt like there was a Wembley final on the horizon. That has changed, though, with the Sunderland victory helping Saints climb back up the table. It has allowed the fans to really start to look forward to Wembley.There is a lot to be positive about all of a sudden, with Gabbiadini very much helping that”.
Without any doubt Manolo Gabbiadini is the man of the hour. After scoring three goals in his first two Premier League matches, Southampton fans have already chanted his name and on social networks they asked the Italian striker for a decisive goal in the EFL Cup final.
Also French coach Claude Puel is trying to change Southampton formation in order to take as much as possible advantage of the football harmony between former Napoli striker and Dušan Tadić, one of the best Premier League assist-men.
Puel has noted that Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic have developed a great playing relationship in training. He decided therefore to change formation in the 4-0 win over Sunderland to accommodate both of them, so they could work together. Saints overall looked excellent in the changed 4-2-3-1 formation, with Gabbiadini and Tadic linking well.
Could Gabbiadini become the new Bobby Stokes?
Gabbiadini will be able to create his own hero status if he scores against Manchester United, but nobody will ever be able to become the new Bobby Stokes. Stokes is an icon and will forever be remembered as the man that scored Saints’ most famous goal.
English reporter says.
More than 40 years have passed and Southampton are waiting for another final against Manchester United, Everything but the essence has changed. “The Saints” need a great feat to beat every odds. They would want to rewrite history and to travel on that romantic open top double-decker bus.
Contribution: Roberto Brambilla
Cover and Gabbiadini photo ©LaPresse
Parade 1976 and Bobby Stokes photo ©PA
Parade 2016 photo ©The Ugly Inside