Football stopped in the Premier League on 9 March 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak and many of us, apart from coping with the restrictions placed on us by the first lockdown, were also really missing our regular trips to St Mary’s.
I was one of them. My usual matchday involved travelling up to the ground with my son, daughter or my brother to sit in our regular seats, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the game and, suddenly having no football at the weekend, felt like a part of me was missing.
I initially just wanted to let the players and staff know how much I was missing them by creating a home-made banner to put up outside Staplewood training ground but my daughter, Ellie, came up with the idea of turning it into a fundraiser for the SDSA.
My Dad had previously joined the Saints Disabled Supporters' Association as a member when he struggled with his mobility in old age and several members of my family have become involved with the Association, helping out with collections and the like. So, knowing they had struggled with fundraising during the pandemic and wanting to help them celebrate their 10th anniversary in some way, I approached them with the idea.
What started out as a slightly mad idea of having a sheet banner hanging between trees or nailed to a garden fence opposite the Staplewood entrance, turned into a real possibility when we approached Southampton FC and they agreed to support the idea and display a banner inside the training ground. Thankfully no need to take up a kind Marchwood resident’s offer of hanging it on his back fence and facing the wrath of the Planning Department!
The SDSA committee helped by getting the message out to fans, creating campaign pages on their website and working on the technology to enable fans from across the world to send in photos of themselves in exchange for a small donation.
We contacted the media and were interviewed by Radio Solent and BBC television as well as getting the message out in the Daily Echo and on social media. Pan-disability teams sponsored by the SDSA also helped with promotion on their own social media channels and in videos.
We got the message out there and Saints fans started sending in their photos, some on their own, some in groups, we had one from our very own Saints Brass, many from St Mary’s and even one from the San Siro. In all, we received over 100 photographs from places as far and wide as the USA, Canada and Australia.
A graphic designer friend created the stunning design incorporating our famous red and white stripes, the Ted Bates statue and the SDSA logo and it was then ready to print.
Another friend, a signwriter, brought the banner to life by replicating the design onto a giant 6m x 2m vinyl banner in super-quick time just before Christmas.
We were then able to hand over the banner to SFC on Christmas Eve 2020 but, due to delays caused by covid restrictions, it was finally put up on display on the Markus Liebherr Pavilion at Staplewood on Friday 5 February 2021.
At the time of writing, we don’t know how long it will remain in situ but we know that we won’t be able to watch the Saints at St Mary’s for the remainder of the season. Apart from a couple of games in December 2020, that a few season ticket holders were able to attend, the majority have been watching from afar.
The banner has brought many of us together as football fans and we know from the club that Ralph and the players have appreciated the support from all those who sent in their photos and passed on their best wishes.
Over £1,000 has been raised from the kind donations sent in, which will go towards match tickets for fans with disabilities who would be otherwise unable to attend when we can get back into stadiums in the 2021/22 season.
Looking back, it was a challenging project but one well worth doing. I very much hope it won’t ever be needed again.
The message on the bottom of the banner reads ‘This banner was created by the Saints Disabled Supporters’ Association (SDSA) at a time when football fans could not attend matches due to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 .’
Under it is a quote from Sir Matt Busby ‘ Football is nothing without fans’ .
For more information on our 'We Miss You' banner follow these links:
Close ups pictures of the banner in place at SFC Training Ground, Staplewood, Marchwood
Individual photos of those that are included on the banner
‘Thank you’ board of those involved in bringing this to fruition including a list of all donors
Link to SFC article about the banner