Their sensational return to the Premier League has made them the toast of Southampton – yet Saints have not
responded to the council’s suggestion of a celebratory open-top bus tour.
Adam Leitch asks why.
THE etiquette of football-related open-top bus tours is more subjective than prescriptive.
For some clubs, any reason seems enough to take the tin opener to the traditional double-decker and have their stars jump up and down and spray champagne over each other while their adoring public wave up in adulation.
For other clubs it seems like a piece of nonsense they can well do without.
Saints appear to be favouring the latter approach after the news that they have not responded to the city council’s suggestions that the Premier League promotion-winning team tour the city.
So are Saints being killjoys or merely showing commendable decorum?
The answer is that they are doing what they think is right, and that seems to supersede any sort of unwritten rules where open-top bus celebrations are concerned. Saints have only had one – that was after the 1976 FA Cup final and included a reception in the Civic Centre.
There was no tour after they last secured promotion to the top flight in 1978.
The club also refused to bow to the clamour to tour the city in 2003 after getting to the FA Cup final. They seem set to do the same again.
There is one common difference between those three occasions and 1976, though – Saints achieved, but were not winners. The FA Cup was something tangible, a trophy to show off. In 1978, as this season, Saints have achieved and, in a way, they have won something, in the shape of promotion. But the crucial difference is they did not win the title.
In 2003 it was a magnificent run to get to the final, but they lost to Arsenal. I remember a conversation with 2003 manager Gordon Strachan when he was asked about the potential for an open-top bus tour after the outpouring of emotion and pride from that marvellous day at the Millennium Stadium.
He gave the idea the credit he thought it deserved – in this case not much.
In typically blunt fashion he pointed out that “an open-top bus tour is for winners, not for losers”.
It mattered not to him that the people of Southampton did, in fact, view him and his team as winners, in the same way that the city are proud and delighted at the presentday Saints for their promotion. It was black and white, all about winning.
Nigel Adkins has already admitted he is gutted Saints didn’t win the title this season, just as he was last year. In the world of sport second place is a consolation, even if the prize it generates is fantastic.
There are examples of clubs who have used second place as a reason to wave to their adoring masses from upon high – Norwich did it last year, Stoke did it on their elevation to the top table of English football.
But there is actually more of a trend for play-off winning sides to do it than the actual runners-up.
If you win a major trophy you do a parade – well, apart from Swindon, who won League Two this season but won’t do a parade either – and getting through the play-offs and winning the final at Wembley feels like exactly that.
It may seem strange that the team that finishes first could be parading, as well as the team that potentially has finished sixth, while the second best side doesn’t. But that’s the way it so often is.
Saints will argue they partied with 32,000 fans on the pitch after the final game of the season. What more memories do the fans want? The counter-claim will be this is for the city, for the wider public, something to celebrate the success of Southampton and not just the team.
Saints are following their heads and their hearts, though, and their own traditions.
Next time they win something they will surely board the bus.