Southampton’s maiden topflight season and their underrated attacking brilliance

This piece was kindly written for @TFHBs by Eleanor Hobby - you can follow her on Twitter 

Just three weeks after England lifted the 1966 World Cup, the 1966/67 English First Division season would commence. One player a part of Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad was Southampton forward Terry Paine. For Paine, this season would be his and Southampton’s first in the topflight. Paine had sealed Saints’ promotion by heading in the equaliser against Leyton Orient on the final day of the 1965/66 season. The side finished as runners up.

The success of that season was in part due to Southampton born Martin Chivers. Chivers scored 30 of Southampton’s 85 league goals, making him the top goalscorer in the Second Division. Chivers was indicative of the centre forwards of his era, he was dominant and strong, hard to dispossess, however he could also play with pace and style. The number 8 would soon develop a clinical partnership with new signing Ron Davies. The24-year-old arrived at the start of the season for a then-club-record fee of £55,000. Davies had already established his international career for Wales two years prior. He arrived from Second Division Norwich City, having netted 58 goals in 118 appearances. Davies replaced George O’Brien who had departed Saints for Leyton Orient late last season, much to his disappointment.

After drawing on the opening day to fellow promoted side Man City and losing to Sunderland, the Saints' first win of the season came at Bloomfield Road. Beating Blackpool 3-2, Ron Davies scored his first Southampton goal as he lobbed keeper Tony Waiters from 35 yards. Davies couldn’t believe how far Waiters had been off his line explaining “I just knocked it over his head". Southampton then won their next game at home to Sunderland 3-1 as Paine, Davies and Chivers all got on the scoresheet, a sign of things to come. 

The Saints next four games showed promise of growing form. In their seventh game of the season, a 1-1 draw away to Leicester, Davies scored his first of many headed goals. At 6ft3, like Chivers, Davies was a big striker. The Welshman was also a prolific header of the ball, powerful and hard to stop. Paine called Davies “the best I’ve ever seen in the air” with left winger John Sydenham reiterating that Davies was “the best header of a ball the Dell has seen”. The striker’s ability to jump with such ease could be explained by his days playing for Chester. Davies’ manager, Bill Lambton, instructed him to leap over hurdles whilst wearing heavy army boots. Though a brutal exercise, it would greatly improve his strength.

While he was formidable in the air, Davies was still incredibly clinical with his left foot. In fact, four days after Southampton’s draw at Filbert Street, the Welshman aided his side to a 4-3 League Cup 2nd round win against Plymouth Argyle at the Dell, earning his first of many hat-tricks in a Saints shirt.

Ron Davies

The opening nine games also saw Robert Campbell Forsyth in goal. Campbell had been ever present since he signed for Southampton the previous season. However, against Liverpool at The Dell, Forsyth broke his leg and was out for the rest of the season. 19-year-old Gerry Gurr was manager Ted Bates’ only other option, which left him to make the decision to sign Dave Maclaren. Maclaren had faced Saints last season for Wolves as Southampton had battered the side 9-3 at the Dell. A strange decision on the face of it, however, the Wolves defence were heavily blamed that day as Maclaren felt as if he was starting in midfield. The keeper had been unusually praised for his composure during the 90 minutes. Against West Ham at Upton Park, Maclaren made his debut and subsequently started 19 games in a row. 

Saints were continuing to enjoy what would be their best run all season, sitting tenth after drawing 2-2 with the Hammers. Remaining unbeaten for two more games, Saints then lost 3-2 at home to Sheffield United 2 weeks later. However, Davies goal against the Blades would mark the beginning of a ten match run of 12 goals.

A particular demonstration of his ability in the air came during this run against Leeds. In front of a crowd of 32,232 at Elland Road, on the 28th minute, Dave Thompson’s corner was headed in as Davies did his signature leap into the air, just as he’d done for Wales the week before. Left winger Thompson had signed in the summer after Southampton’s promotion, this was his second start for the side. The game was an exhibition of the sides ease and brilliance with the ball. Just moments before the opener, Chivers had made a nice run from deep, before crossing to Melia, who switched the direction of play to Paine on the edge of the area. Paine’s pinpoint cross met Chivers, whose shot was tipped over the bar by David Harvey.

Martin Chivers

Dave Maclaren stood strong in goal against a Leeds side that would go on to finish fourth that season. It was one of his best performances in a Southampton shirt, pulling off some masterful stops, including preventing the physical presence of Jack Charlton. He described those 90 minutes at Elland Road as “like being at the Alamo”.

The Saints then beat Stoke City 3-2 at home helped by a Ron Davies brace. The side could boast high-scoring games as they had done in the Second Division. Yet, unlike their run of going nine unbeaten in the league, they struggled to find form and keep clean sheets, never winning more than two on the bounce. Indeed, there had been much debate when Saints had won promotion of how their defence would fair. Recently departed George O’Brien had been frustrated with Bate’s inability to bring “a bit of stability at the back” to a side with a pacey and high-scoring attack.

However, all was not lost for Southampton as BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme had noted upon their visit to Elland Road, they had averaged almost a point a game which was “pretty good for a newly promoted side”.

Even Southampton’s 5-3 loss away to Spurs was still a demonstration of the capabilities they had up front. Saints were only two points above the relegation zone and Spurs hadn’t won in five games. Tottenham’s Dave Mackay and Mike England could only watch on as a leaping Ron Davies headed Southampton into a 1-0 lead. Davies went on to make a brace, as did prolific Spurs winger Cliff Jones, while Jimmy Greaves scored from the penalty spot. Chivers, too, left a lasting impression on both sets of supporters. A match perhaps of what was to come, as Chivers would go on to sign for Spurs, seen as Greaves's replacement only two years later.

A week later Saints beat Newcastle 2-0 at home with goals from Davies and Jimmy Melia, who scored on the 65th minute. The midfielder was a continued presence as he had been last season. Further positives could still be found, as Davies frequently offered excitement in games. He even scored with his signature leaping header in a thumping 5-1 loss to Blackpool. The Welshman also achieved his first league hat-trick against Leicester in a thrilling 4-4 draw.

After winning their FA Cup third round replay 3-0 against Barrow, Southampton’s first league win of 1967 came in a 6-2 thrashing of West Ham. A then record attendance of 30,123 fans at The Dell witnessed Southampton demolish a West Ham side graced with World Cup winners Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore. The Saints led 4-0 at half time. Speedy and tough full back Denis Hollywood hit home the opener after only two minutes, just one of his four career goals for Southampton. Paine converted from the penalty spot, with Davies and Chivers also getting on the score sheet. Paine netted his second penalty, just 12 minutes into the second half. Hurst soon pulled a goal back for the hammers before John Sydenham’s cross met Chivers who netted Southampton’s sixth. A jubilant day despite the side being 17th with 23 points, just six points clear of the relegation zone. Unfortunately, the Saints then lost their next three league fixtures and were kicked out of the FA Cup fourth round as Bristol progressed instead.

vs Man City

Failing to pick up points from their next two games and without goals from Saints star forwards, the threat of relegation increased. Bates knew it was important to sign an extra goalkeeper. He chose 
another Scotsman, Dunfermline’s Eric Martin who played in goal until the end of the season. In his debut for Southampton at Goodison Park the Echo painted Martin’s performance as “about the best display of goalkeeping… seen in the Saints’ side for quite a long time.”

It was also Ted Bates decision to sign central midfielder Hughie Fisher in March from Blackpool, that brought some stability to Southampton’s season. Fisher had scored from 25 yards out for the Seasiders when they thumped Southampton 5-1. The midfielder also made his debut at Goodison. Likewise, the fixture saw newly signed Howard Kendall, a midfielder that Bates had originally wanted instead, if not for the hefty price tag, introduced for Everton. Fisher was brave on the ball, creative, and Southampton won 1-0 with a 70th minute goal from Chivers. Dave Thompson once again started ahead of John Sydenham and effectively prevented the supply from creative Everton forward Alex Young. Southampton’s 11th win of the season, 4-2 against fellow strugglers Fulham was vital. Fulham hadn’t won any of their last four and had performed a miraculous great escape at the end of last season. Their recent fragility was shown when Stan Brown placed one into his own net. Paine, Chivers and Davies all got on the score sheet and Saints remained 19th, level on points with 18th placed Aston Villa.

Yet, Saints still struggled to maintain their form. They wouldn’t win any of their next three. Davies netted a brace against West Brom away in a 3-2 defeat before achieving his second league hat-trick of the season at home to Burnley in a 4-0 win. It was only Southampton’s fifth league clean sheet that season, a welcome change for a side that had shipped the most goals in the league.

The sides 3-1 loss to Newcastle marked 18-year-old striker Mick Channon’s only appearance that campaign, after making his debut for the first team last season, although he was subbed off for Martin Chivers who scored in the 66th minute. A future star who was a more than adequate replacement for Chivers when he left for Spurs.

Terry Paine

Indeed, Southampton remained in a relegation battle until the penultimate game of the season. At home to title challengers Nottingham Forest, the Saints secured a 2-1 win that guaranteed safety, in a game that was end to end. Playing in their usual 4-3-3, Bates` side demonstrated the excellence of their passing game. The opener saw Paine’s inswinging freekick headed in by Chivers. Chivers then passed to Jimmy Melia on the halfway line. Melia left it for Paine, who played a lovely through ball into Melia, who was then fouled in the box. Terry Paine, who had missed some key spot kicks last season, remained composed. He confidently slotted the penalty away past Peter Grummitt into the bottom left to the roar of The Dell. A poignant matchday, that also marked an end to Forest’s hopes of a first topflight title as Man Utd were declared champions after thrashing West Ham 6-1. Southampton’s win also confirmed Aston Villa’s relegation to the Second Division.

Only exasperating Villa’s end of season self-destruction, Southampton blasted six past the Lions, on the final day of the season to win 6-2 at The Dell. However, the match began with an own goal from David Walker. Chivers then equalised from a Paine free-kick on the 42nd minute. Davies then put Southampton ahead a minute later before Barry Stobb equalised for Villa in the second half. Davies then put Southampton back ahead thanks to a ball from Chivers, with Chivers himself heading in another Paine free-kick 10 minutes later. The Welshmen then converted a penalty three minutes later to earn his third league hat-trick of the season. Davies would then score his fourth in the 88th minute to cap off a rollercoaster first topflight season for the Saints.

Ron Davies ended the season as the First Division top goalscorer with 37 goals in 41 games, a record not bettered since. The Welshmen went on to be joint top goalscorer with George Best in the 1967/68 season. Martin Chivers finished the season on 15 league goals, a feat perhaps overshadowed by Davies striking achievement. To both accomplish this in their first season in the top division and in an inconsistent side, seems an improbable feat. Perhaps it was the ingenious of Ted Bates to spot what Southampton had needed at the right times, trusting Ron Davies goal scoring record ahead of experience in the topflight.

Defensive changes would be made in the summer, as wing half Cliff Huxford and centre half and captain Tony Knapp would leave, and Dave Walker and Jimmy Gabriel would come in. However, what would remain in the 1967/68 season was the chemistry and consistency of Davies, Chivers and Paine.

This piece was kindly written for @TFHBs by Eleanor Hobby - you can follow her on Twitter 


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