WHEN I go to the games at St Mary’s, I am often stopped by fans on my walk to the entrance.

Usually they are supporters with their youngsters, who tell their children who I am and about the FA Cup win.

All of them have a camera for a picture and, if they have a programme, I’m asked to sign it.

I’m delighted to do these things and long may it continue.

But now and again something different happens.

Before the last game against Stoke, two very well mannered gentlemen asked for a picture with me.

After a quick chat, I said ‘could I just ask where you’re both from?’ They said that they were from Thailand and had come over just for this game.

I continued ‘with all due respect, how on Earth would you know who I was?’ They explained that in Thailand they’d set up a supporters’ group who watch every single game and at the place they view the games, they had put up a picture of me holding the FA Cup after the 1976 win.

Apparently, it’s a copy of the picture that a certain Mr Lowe elected to take down from the boardroom to be replaced by a picture of a train which Doncaster Rovers had been giving out to celebrate their promotion.

I’ve also, on previous occasions, had conversations with people from Australia at St Mary’s.

It really illustrates just how popular our club and the Premier League is all the around the world.

Now, at this time of the year, players are just coming back, having their medicals and starting pre-season friendly games.

But while we are all used to this by now, it’s the trips to as far as Africa and Australia that continue to surprise.

Wayne Rooney has just scored his first goal for Everton after returning from Manchester United. It was a very good goal from distance.

But the game was being held in, would you believe, Tanzania.

It’s hard to believe when looking back to the old days of pre-season. Back then it was always a slog and the players had a bit more time off than nowadays.

The first thing they were in for was getting weighed, to see how much they’d managed to put on, and then running that weight off again.

Many old supporters will remember seeing the players jogging up from The Dell to various locations around Southampton. The nearest was the old cricket ground.

We would also use Southampton Common and eventually at different times the Sports Centre.

The bus would take everyone up there and after a good hard session, the players would have to make their own way back to The Dell.

Some of the sessions incidentally were mainly on the running track, but the ones the players didn’t look forward to were on the small hills, which were also used as dry ski slopes.

One thing they did look forward to was watching a certain athlete, who was a very attractive, young blonde lady called Mary, who certainly diverted their attention.

She would have been a catch, but there’s no chance they’d ever have caught up with her!

I remember speaking to her one day asking her ‘can you do us a favour and go to the far side so our lot can concentrate?’ I later had the pleasure of doing a children’s TV programme later with her and Kevin Keegan.

Anyway, they’d run back from the Sports Centre to The Dell.

I didn’t, mind, because I’d gone by car, having had so much to do back at the office. That was my excuse anyway.

But I did used to make sure I was in the car park watching them return.

Usually the young players would get back first, but I started to become very impressed with a few of my oldies Alan Ball, Peter Osgood and others, who would come round the corner from Hill Lane, puffing and panting.

I would say ‘well done, good time, lads’.

However, I was informed not long after that they would make it from the Sports Centre to Hill Lane and wait for the first bus to come round the corner.

They’d even got a ride in cars as they were very recognisable and anyone would stop for them.

They’d then hop off near The Dell but out of sight and certainly put on a good act.

It’s a long way from those days, and to see Everton in Tanzania was a surprise.

In our day we never went too far. I eventually arranged pre-season in Scotland one year as well as in Ireland, in the north and south.

I am not convinced that managers want to journey so far to the other side of the world, bearing in mind the tiresome hours of travel and potential for jet lag.

But the gentlemen from Thailand and Australia remind us that Premier League clubs have fans everywhere and it’s good for their PR and finances, with shirts sold etc, to do these trips away.

It’s also waving the flag for the game.

America has taken off big time and many of the clubs, the Manchester teams and Swansea are over there as we speak.

United will play City in Los Angeles and believe me, having been there at football, the grounds will be full.

Arsenal have taken one of the longest trips, heading to Australia and China.

That’s no surprise with the Chinese owning so many clubs and I well remember being in Australia with England for matches and remembering how enormous the crowds were. We also played games in New Zealand and Kuala Lumpur on the way home, all with massive support.

It’s a reminder how popular the game is and how big the Premier League is, with television wanting to show the games all around the world.

Speaking to someone who helps organise pre-season trip with clubs, he pointed out how one club he’d organised took 45 players and staff, hired a plane of course and took club media, photographer and their own chef.

The hotel where they staying had already been notified of the meals and up to ten different menus had been requested, and they weren’t even in the Premier League.

In our day it was either beans on toast or a fillet steak, if you were lucky!

Apparently, the Premier League clubs take even more people and I suppose the commercial side work just as hard as the players in pre-season training when they are abroad. Speaking to people like Sir Alex Ferguson, he’s of course a club ambassador and in a year he normally has 20 visits around the world waving the flag for the club. I know it happens at other clubs too.

I suppose the days of Ossie and Bally thumbing a lift are long gone, but they’d certainly enjoy the modern game as much as anyone, I’m sure.