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Say hello before waving goodbye
First published in The Pink, Saturday April 30, 2011
Take a look around St. Mary's against Walsall - and pay attention to the empty seats you see.
Not the ones that haven't been sold but the ones that can no longer be filled by the person who sat there.
Think to yourself who they might be, what they might look like and what their name is.
I say this as last weekend as I went to take my seat, someone I had never seen before was talking to the people I sit in amongst.
I had no idea who he was, but he was in his 20s and quite emotional. The stark expressions of those around him instantly told the words he was struggling to find.
Every year, as every season ticket holder will tell you, people come, people go. New faces appear whilst others fade into the recesses of your memory.
Some stopped coming after relegation. Others when they became fed up of the politics. Others when they could no longer afford it, moved to be with their friends or just simply lost interest.
I've been sat in my seat since Paul Sturrock was manager. Practically face around me now is different to those when I first strolled up the steps of block 18.
All but one.
He hated the players I liked, loved the ones I loathed. What I thought were unlucky great passes were to him abominations of football. Shots high and wide would be greeted by him slowly turning around to look at the rest of us, before exclaiming how the side just lacks that 'bit of class' in a thick Welsh accent.
Wind or rain, sun or snow, he would be there in his seat wearing some form of Saints clothing suitable for the conditions. He would come down from Cardiff for every match. In the seven years I've sat in my seat, I don't remember his seat ever being empty.
But it was against Hartlepool, just as it will be against Walsall and for every subsequent match.
I spoke to him every week. I never knew his name though. None of us who sat around him did. We knew a son of his worked in a hotel where lots of football teams stayed, we knew he was from Cardiff and we knew he never missed a match. Beyond that, we knew nothing - other than his views on the team.
He wasn't old. Mid 60s or so, I'd guess, so the news that he had passed away so suddenly was a shock.
When Lambert scored the opener against Hartlepool, I swear the first reaction of everyone around us was to just look at the empty seat.
By the time you read this, Saints could well have virtually secured promotion. But spare a thought for the fans who will never see it achieved. Never be able to join in the celebrations.
And as you take your seat against Walsall next Saturday, make sure you turn to the person next to you and ask them their name - because one day, you won't be able to.