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Slipped Through the Net: Nicky Southall
By: Dan Humphrey
Remember a season where Nicky Southall and Tommy Widdrington were Town's only two midfielders? It was 1996-97 and then Town boss Brian Laws employed an apparently random winger-rotation system that involved any two of Childs, Wrack, Black, and on occasion Southall himself.
Unsurprisingly, the Mariners were relegated that year. Mind you, although Southall received a fair amount of stick that season, he WAS playing alongside the largely ineffective Widdrington, and sometimes even a rather large and well past his best ex-England international Neil Webb.
Southall became a target for some of the boo-boys, who missed the reliable Groves:Dobbin central midfield partnership. A little harsh, considering that Nicky was one of the few players who did well enough to retain his place, while the likes of Webb and Paul Trollope all came and went without making a real impression. Perhaps if the Mariners had been able to persuade loanee Michael Appleton to stay.....
Unsurprisingly, the Mariners were relegated that year.
Like so many players at Blundell Park under Laws, Southall was played out of position a few times. As left-sided midfielder, he probably never expected to end up between the sticks. But on one occasion, against Portsmouth, goalkeeper Paul Crichton was red-carded, and Southall went in goal, allegedly because he had the same surname as Everton's goalie Neville Southall.
Perhaps Southall believed, having braved the Laws period and stayed on after relegation, that if he could impress the new gaffer Alan Buckley, he might be able to help the Mariners back to Div I. Well, he thought wrong. Buckley was keen on forming a team based on the players he already knew from his first spell - Handyside, Lever, McDermott, the returning Groves etc, - whilst remaining highly suspicious of any non-Buckley signings. As a result in came Dave Smith from West Brom to compete with Laws' signings Gallimore and Black on the left. And Southall, like Darren Wrack, was allowed to depart for nothing. Yet, to be fair, the occasional free kick apart, Black has not particularly impressed since then. Perhaps Buckley let the wrong man go? One can only speculate how Southall could have performed in a confident and winning Town side.
After Buckley made it clear that Southall was not wanted he moved to Gillingham, where he has been a regular at wing back ever since, and helped them to promotion last season. Whatever your opinions of Southall it is hard to deny he is the only player who has left Town in recent years and found regular first team, injury-free football without resorting to Division III or non-league football. Whether this will be the limit of his achievements is yet to be seen.
Perhaps the forthcoming clash (10th February) between the Mariners and Southall's present employers will reveal all - as an in-form Kevin Donovan may test Southall's Division One pedigree.
This site is by the fans, for the fans, and we will consider articles on any subject relating to the Mariners whether it be related to current news, a nostalgic look back in the past, a story about a player, a game or games in the past, something about Blundell Park or football in general. Click here to submit your article!
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