South Coast Derby Day – A Love Hate Relationship

Is there anyone who actually enjoys a local derby? I mean when the fixture list is published in the football free month of June then they are the first games you look out for, but can anyone truly say that the build up is enjoyable? Of course if your team wins then the bragging rights are all yours, if they win. Lose, however, and it can mean months of misery.

Working with a fan of your most hated rivals can be a nightmare. Suddenly that mouthy Manchester United fan that is always looking to put your team down doesn’t look quite so bad, compared to the new guy. That new addition to the workforce, who you helped to settle in, turns out to be a die-hard fan of that hated lot from down the road, and you have an antagonist in your midst. All of a sudden his presence adds that little bit of extra spice to the forthcoming matches, lose now and instead of just trying to erase the result from your memory, you are looking at weeks of endless jibes and reminders. These jibes will last until the next match comes about when you finally get the chance to turn the tables. Lose again, however, and you may want to start looking out for another place of employment.

I hate local derbies but I love them as well, after all football would be more mundane without them. This season has seen the first league derbies between Southampton and Portsmouth since our relegation from the Premier League in 2005. There have been many changes in both camps since the last time we met in a league fixture; we have risen almost phoenix like from the ashes of our administration to be within a few points of a Premier League return. Portsmouth on the other hand mortgaged their future in order to win an FA Cup final against the might of Championship side Cardiff City, and now they find themselves in a worse position than we did only three years ago.

Both clubs have had the misfortune to have been owned by men whose actions caused a financial meltdown, but at least we have a modern stadium and a strong academy to show off as a result. Yes Portsmouth won the FA Cup but that is of little consolation when it comes to offering any potential investor a reason to shell out millions. I do not want to waste too much of this blog on the recent plights of each club, but the swing in the fortune’s of both clubs has been amazing and there is no doubt that we are on the up and they are on the way down. Unfortunately, that means that in reality they do not have much to lose this Saturday, when they visit St. Marys for what could be not only the last league meeting for awhile, but the last one ever.

I’ll admit I’m worried about Saturday, after a pathetic capitulation at Blackpool last weekend that was broadcast live to the nation, we can ill afford to lose this one too. With Reading hot on our heels we could well be down to second in the table by the time we kick-off, thanks to the Royals playing on Good Friday. Not only will defeat this Saturday knock our promotion hopes back, it will give them bragging rights that could last years, as we may have to wait a very long time to have another crack at them.

I’ve hated this past week, as I can barely concentrate on anything else other than this match, and it just goes to show how much a local derby can become all consuming. In reality we should be more concerned about the potential title decider against Reading six days later, rather than settling old scores against a team we will not cross paths with again for many a year, if ever! Even the BBC tried to stir up some interest by naming it “El classicoast” in a play on words based on the El classico fixture in Spain between Barcelona and Real Madrid, when they showed the first match at Fratton back in December. How disappointed they must have been when it turned out to be anything other than a classic, though it was nice to take the lead at Fratton. I knew one goal wouldn’t be enough and so it proved, and 1-1 draw did feel a little like a defeat.

Nothing can be decided on Saturday, we can’t gain promotion and we cannot relegate them, although a victory may go some way to achieving both come the end of the season. I know I will not be able to sleep much come Friday night and the morning of the match will see me full of fear and trepidation, and wracked with nerves that will increase until the final whistle blows. Many fans seem to think that we will win by a large margin and we only have to turn up to win, an attitude that I hope is not shared by the players come Saturday.