Comment: Keith Southern, it was a pleasure
After ten years at Blackpool, Keith Southern has moved to Huddersfield Town for £300,000 on a three-year deal. Editor Jack Gaughan writes...
He would do it, on occasion, a few times a season. 25 yards out, Keith Southern looked right, then left, decide nothing was on and shape to shoot. Supporters grimaced as he manoeuvred the ball onto his left foot. 'Don't hit it...'
But there it would end up: nestling itself into the corner of the opposition net; Blackpool fans jubilant, but stunned all the same. Not revered for his goalscoring ability, Southern did notch some important ones. In the 2006/07 promotion season he scored six, including one of the aforementioned strikes away at Cheltenham, a late winner at Leyton Orient and an all-important playoff semi-final goal against Oldham. How did that one go in? Yep, it rolled into the corner, Gnasher-esque.
A battler and a tackler, he epitomised the spirit of the Seasiders throughout his ten years at the club. Steve McMahon, Colin Hendry and Simon Grayson didn't have another tenacious menace to drag the team along with him when the going got tough. It was always Southern.
Pointing, shouting and encouraging, Southern demanded the clichéd 110%. The norm is that type of player, usually your run-of-the-mill midfielder, merely acts as a cheerleader. Not Keith. He consistently drove the team on, on and off the ball, and provided a defensive steel so important to a side who were always, always, unfancied and, let's be honest, under the cosh for large spells in games.
That was particularly true during the 'Blackpool are back' fixture of 2007 away at Leicester (John Hills came on as a substitute that day, by the way, which puts the result into perspective). Martin Allen was beginning a new era at the Walkers, with the monetary power they still possess today, and back when Mark De Vries was an extremely feared target man. The Foxes probed around Pool's third, in front of a baying crowd (does anyone remember the slightly paunchy gentlemen missing his t shirt and banging the drum?), and threatened throughout. Southern stood tall. He carried David Fox that day and did the job of two men against an imposing home midfield.
And then he popped up with 'that' goal. How very Southern of him. Blackpool were back.
Delighted, his first instinct was to head towards the corner where the travelling tangerine army were stationed and shared the moment with them. There is a genuine affinity there, this is not simply a football one. DJ Campbell, David Vaughan and Charlie Adam were all 'loved' at the club. None, when talking about stretching every sinew for the cause and understanding the Fylde Coast, were fit to clean Gnashers' boots. He was, and always will be, one of us.
He understood the complexities of the club, from training ground to lack of finances and saw countless players and a manager leave for pastures new (it's interesting to note that one of them, Simon Grayson, has only been able to sign Southern when he's taking a backwards step towards the end of his playing career). Another, Richie Wellens, must have fond memories of Gnashers. Forever the villain on returning to Bloomfield Road, Wellens was always greeted by a welcome back huge, crunching tackle courtesy of his old teammate. He never was the same after those, and what a way for Southern to further endear himself to the home crowd. As if he needed to.
Writing this, reminiscing the impact Southern had, feels like I'm compiling a eulogy of a treasured family member. Following the departure of his best mate Brett Ormerod to Wrexham, Southern is the last of the old guard to leave the club. Fittingly, he will be allowed to trot out in tangerine one final time at his testimonial against Everton - his first club - on August 5. That will be the opening and closing 15 minutes. What a way to say goodbye.
When is all said and done, the time was right for him to leave. Holloway (who when last interviewed couldn't speak highly enough of the player - there is huge affection there) is turning evermore Spanish, and with a box-to-box hassler seemingly redundant, no Pool fan would want Southern to see out his days on the seaside warming a bench, or worse still, the boxes in the West Stand.
He deserves better than that, and now is rightly handed the opportunity to prolong his Championship career by a man, Grayson, who filled in for him when injuries struck earlier in his career. Larry tried to sign him while at Leeds, has managed to do it at Huddersfield, and will no doubt get the best out of a gutbuster who will still be a huge asset in the division. A gutbuster and an asset who needed a cancerous tumour removed last season. A mountain of a man. The fact that this piece has taken until the penultimate paragraph to reference that speaks volumes for both the lack of fuss made of the condition and the enormity of his impact in the years preceding it.
Good luck Keith, Blackpool is worse off for your absence. We look forward to welcoming you home on September 22. Maybe he'll slither one under Matt Gilks. The first instinct would probably be to head for the South Stand and celebrate with his gushing admirers. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
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