The surprisingly mobile Rickie Lambert.

by Noel Draper

You may have gathered from my past ramblings on this excellent site that I have a soft spot for Southampton and its lovely football club. This is mainly due to a ten year period in my early life when I lived just outside the city meaning that I got to see Keegan and Channon in their nearly prime on a weekly basis.

Since those heady days I have witnessed many things from my distant perch, be it their status as one of the founding members of the Premier League, their drop through the leagues caused by financial meltdown  -oh you again Mr Redknapp- or their pleasing resurgence in the last few years under the expert tutorship of Mr Nigel Adkins. With all this resurging going on the Saints are now one win away from the Premier League at the time of writing. Heady days indeed but what of the man who has taken them to this point in time? Who is this Nigel Adkins? Well, let me explain all.

Nigel started his football career as a goalkeeper for the club he supported as a kid, Tranmere Rovers, and played 86 times for the Superwhites during their most difficult financial period. Even in those days his attitude shone through. When interviewed by the local press he used phrases such as “Football isn’t about just picking up your wages you have to work hard, train hard, play hard” and “There’s no point in a football career if you are not ambitious.” Still, at the time Tranmere were in the old Division Four and although player-managed by the great Frank Worthington, not really achieving much.

After three years at Prenton Park, Nigel moved to Third Division Wigan Athletic in 1986 to join his old Tranmere team mate Ray Mathias who had just been promoted into the managers job. He stayed for seven years with only a F.A Cup quarter final in 1987 and a relegation to Division Four to show for his efforts. He still continued to impress with his hard work and dedication which led to one of his team mates to call him “the most dedicated player I have ever seen”.

Injuries had taken their toll on Nigel as two broken cheek bones, a fractured wrist, a torn knee tendon and a double fracture of the spine will testify so when he left Wigan in 1993 he joined Bangor City on a part time basis so he could qualify as a physiotherapist from the University of Salford. This soon changed as Nigel was given the player-manager role. He led Bangor to two Welsh Premier league titles that came with the added bonus of Champion’s League qualification ties which, although hampered by the foreign player ruling (Bangor had a lot of English players), they managed to lose without disgracing themselves. Atkins at this stage had also managed to pass his F.A coaching badges which would soon come in very handy.

In 1996 Nigel accepted the role of physio at Scunthorpe United and over the next ten years he assisted the manager, Brian Laws, in turning the club’s fortunes around. When Laws left in 2006 to join Sheffield Wednesday it came as no surprise to anyone involved with the club to see Nigel take on the manager’s job even though it was as a caretaker at first. Under his leadership, Scunthorpe won the League One championship with 91 points which led to him being voted “Emergency Boss of the Year” by the Sun newspaper. Over the next couple of seasons the club yo-yoed  between the Championship and League One before Adkins was head hunted by Southampton in 2010.

The Southampton he joined had just sacked Alan Pardew after finishing in 7th place in League One in the previous season. The club itself had just gone through the worse period of its existence after having to sell players such as Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Kenwyne Jones to keep itself afloat. It didn’t work and in 2009 Southampton were put in administration and deducted 10 points hence the League One status. A new owner joined in 2009, effectively ensuring the Saints financial stability but it wasn’t until Adkins became the manager that the Southampton supporters sensed a new era had officially started and this was confirmed when he led the team to finish in 2nd place in League One behind fellow south coasters Brighton and Hove Albion.

Which brings us bang up to date. Not many teams promote straight from League One to the Premier League in successive seasons but it seems as though Southampton might be on the verge of doing exactly that. A home win against an already relegated Coventry City would mean that the Saints would be back in the Premier League for the first time since the heady days of Mr Redknapp and the year 2005. Throughout all of this, Nigel Adkins has quietly gone about his business in a calm and assured manner, much like the team he has moulded. They play fast attractive football using the surprisingly mobile Ricky Lambert as a figurehead with skilful players like Adam Lallana and Richard Chaplow supporting him in a style that would be very suited to the top division. So good luck at 12.30 on Saturday Mr Adkins. The likes of you are more than welcome in the Premier League with your attractive football and honest approach.

There is, of course, another bonus to Southampton being promoted and that is the fact that their manager is English. A good English up and coming manager in the Premier League? Well I never.