LOCAL lad Nicky Banger knows what it’s like to be given a chance at Saints.

The former striker came through the ranks at the St Mary’s side and went on to make his first-team debut back in 1990, scoring a hat-trick against Rochdale.

Saints managers have continued showing their faith in youth, but none more so than current boss Ralph Hasenhuttl.

When Hasenhuttl took charge of the south coast outfit in December last year, his main aim was to ensure the club’s Premier League safety.

He did that with two games to spare, but what really impressed Banger was that he wasn’t scared to pick the youngsters.

Speaking to the Daily Echo, Banger said: “I think that shows the mark of the manager.

“He has given players the opportunity and, ultimately, he needs to give them a chance to see if they are good enough.

“He needs to see if they can handle the pressure.

“The hardest thing about a young player is that if they get given the opportunity they must take it.

“People in the crowd must really understand that you wait for your opportunity and, if you don’t deliver, you’ve missed that opportunity.

“Players like [Nathan] Redmond have kicked on this year. I think he flattered to deceive, but now he’s got goals and end product to his game.

“He looks like a very, very key player.

“I think if we can keep [Danny] Ings fitter and play him a little bit more then we can start to build around the squad.

“I think we still need another striker and another centre-half. It’s exciting times.”

Banger, who has followed the club closely since leaving to join Oldham in 1994, wants to see a level of continuity at St Mary’s.

Hasenhuttl is Saints’ fourth manager in three years, after Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes all received the axe.

The Austrian has made an obvious impact on the club and its supporters, which can be likened to when Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman were in charge.

The free-flowing football has eluded St Mary’s in recent times, which is why Banger is keen to see Hasenhuttl outlast the ones who went before him.

“If you look back at Ted Bates, Lawrie McMenemy and Chris Nicholl, they are three managers who stayed for many, many years,” continued Banger.

“Saints went on a bit of a random thing where they’ve had something like 18 managers.

“With [Mauricio] Pochettino and [Ronald] Koeman there was some fantastic football and they were pressing from the front. They were some exciting times but then we had a bit of a blip.

“Not just with [Mark] Hughes, but there were other things as well.

“The good thing about this manager is that he always wants to give youth a chance, he likes to play on the front foot and is very positive. He likes players to attack and win it up front.”

Banger was speaking at Saints legend and Daily Echo columnist Lawrie McMenemy’s annual golf day, where he was joined by a slew of his former teammates.

The 48-year-old admitted that he still keeps in contact with the majority of them through a WhatsApp group.

Such is his relationship with the side he grew up in, he has taken a role at St Mary’s where it’s his job to bring old players in for a chat on matchdays inside the Fans’ Lounge.

This allows him to maintain the bond that they developed growing up at Saints together, which he thinks is drifting away from modern-day football.

Banger added: “We had an unbelievable time. There were so many players that came through the system and we all managed to get in the first team at the same time.

“Players such as Jason Dodd, Tommy Widdrington, Neil Maddison, Rodney Wallace, Jeff Kenna and we had a very good opportunity to get in.

“The difficulty was that we had people like Jimmy Case and Glenn Cockerill, to name but a few, who were very good in their positions.

“It was very difficult for the young players to sustain that but to remember playing in the Premiership when it first started was amazing.

“I honestly think we had a unique group of players.

“We are all together on WhatsApp and still keep in touch 20 to 30 years later. I’m not sure now if that will ever happen again.

“To be honest, my memories of The Dell were superb – it was a fortress. You were taking a throw-in and people would be able to touch you from the crowd.

“I know things move on now, but The Dell will always be special.”

Although Saints remain in Banger’s heart, it’s clear from spending time with him that he doesn’t regret how his career on the south coast played out.

The striker was struggling for game time in a team packed with experience.

He took the decision to join Oldham in 1994 and spent three years at Boundary Park before signing for Oxford.

Following a two-year stint in Oxford, Banger became a journeyman, as he signed for a further 11 clubs up until 2006 when he decided to hang up his boots.

Despite his career being played away from the Premier League, the 48-year-old is satisfied with how it went.

“I was chatting recently to Lew Chatterley about it because he gave me advice about staying at Saints,” revealed Banger.

“I remember playing against teams like Man Utd and Liverpool one minute and then in the next minute, you are playing in the reserves against Brighton in front of 20 people.

“To have that high and that low, with no disrespect to the reserves, it’s very difficult to be on the periphery. You train all week to play for 15 minutes.

“I have always been a person that trains all week and then wants to play. I’m not very good at understanding why players can accept being substitutes all the time.

“I get that squads are bigger and there is more money, but I was never happy to sit on the bench. For me, it was a no-brainer if I couldn’t sustain my place in the Premiership as a striker.

“My choice in hindsight of going to Oldham was wrong. No disrespect to Oldham but they type of football they played in the winter was very long which wasn’t for me.

“I don’t regret a single thing because I feel very privileged and honoured that I managed to play for my local club.”

Unlike others who retire from the game, Banger didn’t struggle to fill the void that was left.

He tried his hand in various management roles but eventually found something that became more fulfilling than playing football.

His daughter, Sophia, has cerebral palsy and Banger accepted the role to become CEO at the Knights Foundation and start helping out families with disabled children.

He has recently just opened a new lodge where families can go in order to have a bit of a break.

“For me, there are players that can never walk away from football because they are quite obsessed about it or because football is a bubble they never want to leave because of its comfort zone,” added Banger.

“I had my time as a player and now my life is exciting because I want to go and do different things.

“Because my daughter has got cerebral palsy, I raise money for kids with special needs between Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire so I’m completely out of football.

“We have just bought a lodge for a quarter-of-a-million pounds in a place in Shorefield near Barton-on-Sea.

“We are launching it for families to give them respite, family breaks and pay for them to have holidays.

“I must admit that I absolutely love it.

“I have a great work-life balance. I still try to keep myself fit and generally enjoy life.”

Although Banger is working for Saints on matchdays, he was adamant that he won’t have another crack at management.

When asked whether if fancied trying his hand at it again, he responded: “100 per cent not.

“It’s not the fact that I don’t like being around players but being at a football club is a six to seven-day week because you are answering calls at 10 o’clock at night and at eight o’clock in the morning.

“Your life revolves around pre-season and the season. I don’t want to do that.

“I want to be able to go skiing in March and go on holiday when I want to go on holiday. There is more to life than football.”

Nicky Banger was speaking at Lawrie McMenemy’s annual golf day which was in aid of Autism Hampshire and sponsored by Meachers Global Logistics.