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First published in The Pink on Saturday, September 17, 2011
THE star-studded world of European football returned this week, and for the first time in a number of years, has had an impact on Saints.
As you know, this weekend’s match with Birmingham was put back to Sunday thanks to their Europa League (or UEFA Cup as we actually know it) match with Braga on Thursday.
It’s been a number of years since a Saints fixture was affected by a match involving continental opposition, other than people wanting to stay in and watch a Champions League match rather than watching Saints take on Leyton Orient or someone.
It’s somewhat depressing to think that it is now eight years since Saints made a short foray into the world of European football following a rather sizeable period stuck to these shores.
For many Saints fans, that will be the sole memory of European football, left to lament missed chances against Steaua Bucharest and listen to more mature fans recall tales of the Cup Winners Cup exploits and so much more from the early 80s.
For those of us deprived of seeing our club in continental competition, it can something of a kick-in-theproverbials when you see clubs with aspirations on UEFA’s premier competition rather than the secondary one deride the tournament.
Playing the likes of FC Sion or Skonta Riga may not be as sexy as lining up against Barcelona or Inter, but can it really be as pointless as they make it out to be?
Would they rather finish fourth in the Premier League than get to a major European final? Apparently so. Even Birmingham put out a much changed side during the week, although their circumstances are slightly different knowing that as a Championship side, the odds or progressing too far must be against them.
But putting aside the problems presented by European football, would Saints not love the chance to be back there again? Odd looking kit and all?
Indeed, the side’s blistering start to the Championship already has some looking towards the future and chalking up European football as a when rather than an if.
While that should be stored securely in the ‘fantasy’ box for the time being, it is important we remember the atmosphere at St Mary’s the night Romania’s finest came to visit.
For all the problems with European football, there is something special that it offers, which the domestic game just cannot reproduce.
There was a buzz in the air that night, even if the game itself wasn’t exactly a classic.
So for all their off-field problems at the moment, it’s hard to glance an envious eye at Blues fans for the reason at least they can enjoy a few more of those nights this year.