IT was good to meet up with two of my Saints apprentices at the League Managers’ Association dinner – fresh from taking Sheffield United back into the Premier League.

I host a table next to John Barnwell, my fellow life vice-president (the LMA president is always the incumbent England manager) at the dinner, where the winner of the prestigious Manager of the Year award is announced.

Each member has three votes and two of my three choices were in the final shortlist of six. 
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo did not feature but Chris Wilder won the main award as well as Championship Manager of the Year. 

Saints supporters of a certain age will remember that he signed for us as a schoolboy around the time I started what are now called academies in London, Bristol and on Tyneside.

Chris was recommended to me by an old friend in Sheffield. He spent five years with us from the age of 16 without quite making it before forging a career with Sheffield United, and then the likes of Rotherham, Notts County, Bradford and Halifax. 

He did the same as a manager, cutting his teeth at lower levels, something I’ve always recommended, at the likes of Alfreton Town, Halifax, Oxford and Northampton, where he won the League Two title three years ago. 

Now he has won the prize of Premier League football at the club where he started out after leaving us.

Chris informed me that another of my ex-youngsters at The Dell, Alan Knill, has also been a big part in the success at Bramall Lane this year, as his assistant manager.

Alan also had a playing and coaching career at the lower levels. He never wanted to go into management but for many years worked as coach and number two to Chris.

They were at the Dell at a similar time. I well remember having to tell Alan we were not offering him a contract which was always one of the worst days of the year.

A tall, lanky, ginger-haired centre-half, he shook my hand and said ‘I’ll prove you wrong’. I said ‘I hope you do’. 

Many years later he was playing for Swansea City, whose manager, Terry Yorath, also managed Wales. 

Terry once gave Alan a late call-up to the Wales team due to an injury. So Alan won his one cap.

I sent him a telegram saying ‘well done, you proved me wrong - good luck tonight’. 

It was good to meet up with him and Chris as we mixed and mingled with guests including Sir Alex Ferguson.

I’ll look for the Blades’ results with interest next year and will be pleased to see Chris and Alan when they visit St Mary’s. But I’ve already told them not to expect to get a result at ‘the new Dell’!

One of the biggest moments of the evening was when Chris Hughton was invited on stage to make a presentation the day after being sacked by Brighton.

He received a long standing ovation from the 500 or so in attendance, which just shows how shocked people were by the decision and how popular he is. 

In the past I’ve praised the Bloom family for supporting their manager so I was as shocked as anyone. To have got Brighton in the top flight and kept them there for two seasons is an achievement in itself. He won’t be out of work for long.

* The passing of Freddie Starr reminded me of his bizarre time with my Southampton players on 1979 League Cup final day. 

It was mentioned in a recent letter to the Daily Echo and referred to a book I once wrote called Diary of a Season, in which I revealed Freddie’s ‘guest appearance’ at Wembley 40 years ago. 

I was last on the team bus and took my usual seat behind the driver when I heard laughter from the back seats. I was pleased they were relaxed – until I saw Mr Starr amongst them. 

One of the players knew him so I decided not to kick him off. But when we got to Wembley he walked up the tunnel and out on to the pitch with the players! He waved to the crowd and pretended to score – and somehow watched the first half from the back row of our bench! 

He then proceeded to imitate Brian Clough as the Nottingham Forest manager shouted to his team! 

As we headed for the dressing room at half-time he even thought he could sit in on my team talk!

I said ‘sorry’, shut the door and didn’t see him again.

* It was also sad to hear of the passing of former local sports journalist John Hughes.

John had not long left the Echo when I joined Southampton, when one of his many duties as a freelance reporter was to ring me about my column.

He covered cricket as much as football and was always one of the most popular journalists so would get interviews from anybody because of the respect we had for him. 

John had been ill for several years and is very sadly missed. God bless both him and Freddie.