TOTTON-born ex-Blackburn Rovers chairman John Williams is being strongly linked to replace Nicola Cortese at St Mary’s.

The lifelong Saints fan, 64, is the latest ex-Premier League man linked with the club after Christian Purslow and Derek Llambias, the former managing directors at Liverpool and Newcastle United respectively.

Williams, who is reported to have been interviewed by Saints owner Katharina Liebherr, is currently in charge of the Professional Game Match Officials referees’ group, having been appointed to that role a year ago this month.

He joined Blackburn Rovers in 1997, during Jack Walker’s successful ownership of the club, as chief executive.

In 2005 he took on the title of executive chairman - the same title Cortese had at Saints.

He left Ewood Park in February 2011 following the arrival of controversial new owners Venky's.

A few months later he joined Manchester City, working alongside ex-players Brian Marwood and Partick Vieira. He stepped aside a year later following the appointment of new chief executive Ferran Soriano.

At the time of his appointment, City said Williams “will provide support in a number of areas which include assisting with the high volume of senior and youth contracts, whether for renewal or disposal and also working closely with our football legal and secretarial functions.”

After growing up as a Saints fan, Williams studied science at the University of London. His early career took him into horse racing as he joined the Levy Board and became general manager of Sandown Park racecourse.

Williams joined Granada in the late 1970s, working as head of studio operations, head of design and head of film, before being asked to help design the Studios Tour on Quay Street.

That led to him becoming chief executive of the company’s Entertainments Division, which included theme parks in Lancashire and Derbyshire, a dozen nightclubs and six hotels.

Williams was involved in Granada’s 1996 takeover of the Forte Group, which include the Travelodge and Little Chef chains, before Walker invited him to join Blackburn a year later.