“We are Southampton, we’re Premier League.”
It has taken seven years, but finally the Saints faithful are singing it again.
The cry echoed out proudly from St Mary’s today and penetrated deep into the city, as the club celebrated an incredible and emotional return to the top flight.
Thousands poured onto the pitch at the end of the 4-0 demolition of Coventry, hoisting the players onto their shoulders.
It was a display of pure, unbridled joy, as every section of the club came, to put it in manager Nigel Adkins’ words, together as one.
It was all in such stark contrast to the scenes on the final day of the 2004/05 season, when Manchester United played the role of executioner to Saints’ Premier League life.
“We’ll be back” the fans had defiantly cried after that numbing day.
It has taken longer than most could ever have imagined, but at last the prophecy has been fulfilled.
So much has transpired since that depressing afternoon – administration, a second relegation to League One, a ten-point deduction, and numerous managerial
It has been a long and, at times, incredibly painful road.
But as the fans clambered down from the stands and lifted their heroes up in celebration, it was as if many of those miserable memories were being completely washed away.
Within seconds of the final whistle, the pitch was completely flooded with supporters.
They mobbed the players, they danced, they hugged, and they kissed the turf.
It was a glorious end to such a fantastic season.
The scenes were remarkable, as the realisation dawned that Saints are back in the big time.
Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool – that is the company the club will now be keeping.
Even Adkins could hardly believe it. Normally never lost for words, he could hardly speak in the minutes after the final whistle and had to choke back tears in the tunnel.
Eventually, the players fought their way through the crowds and back into the dressing room.
They sprayed champagne, they embraced each other and they sang together.
The enormity of their achievement – winning back-to-back promotions to take them from the third tier into the top flight – almost cannot be understated.
The celebrations continued as they made their way up to the directors’ box, with Adkins, chairman Nicola Cortese, the backroom staff, and the
players all saluting the crowd.
Promotions have been so rare in the history of Southampton Football Club – and these moments will be treasured by those lucky enough to have been inside St Mary’s.
The only sad note was that the man who had made it all possible, Markus Liebherr, was not there to witness the iconic moment.
This was the day he had bought the club for, and the late owner’s beaming smile should have graced this occasion. It would have lit up the day even more.
But his legacy still burns bright and, fittingly, he was not forgotten.
Liebherr’s name was chanted throughout the match, and it boomed out from the enormous sea of fans on the pitch after the game.
It was a poignant and heartfelt display of affection from the supporters.
Although there had been the potential for tension and nerves, the overwhelming atmosphere before the game had been one of excitement.
Supporters knew the club stood on the brink of the top flight. There was no doom mongering, simply an air of expectancy.
And the players delivered in style.
The ground erupted when Adam Lallana’s volley deflected off Billy Sharp and found the net to put Saints in front.
Any concern that had existed immediately disappeared.
And when Jose Fonte headed a second moments later, the party really began.
Saints weren’t going to let it slip from that point, and the fans knew it. They belted out chant after chant and bounced up and down in celebration.
By the time the second half started, it was clear that the club were only heading in one direction.
Jos Hooiveld’s goal and a deserved strike for the mesmerising Lallana served as the icing and the cherry on the most delicious of cakes.
The announcement that a record crowd of 32,363 had piled into the stadium brought a huge cheer.
The only boos that rang out came when the most pointless announcement of the season was relayed over the tannoy.
“Please remain in your seats at the final whistle,” the voice pleaded. No chance.
Minutes before the end, the fans were already piling down the steps to the advertising boards.
As soon as the whistle was lifted to referee Anthony Taylor’s mouth, the invasion began.
It was a magnificent moment, and one that will live long in the memory of all who were part of it.
Saints are back in the big time…