In Southampton Football Club terms, six years is practically a lifetime. For the first time since 2009, the Saints hierarchy put themselves in the firing line.
It was a night that showed how the club has improved as much off the pitch as they have on it. The last forum was one of bickering and in-fighting as Leon Crouch and Rupert Lowe venomously argued for all to see; compare that to Ronald Koeman, Les Reed and Ralph Krueger walking into rapturous applause.
Saints have come an awful long way during the Liebherr era, and the meeting in the Mick Channon Suite at St Mary’s was another milestone. For too long, Nicola Cortese’s regime had been guilty of minimal fan connection and communication, something the new hierarchy have been keen to change.
With the forum chaired by BBC Radio Solent’s sport editor Adam Blackmore and broadcast live on the club’s own YouTube channel, all eyes were on the panel. Yet Koeman, Reed and Krueger arguably may have felt like it was easier than they may have first thought.
For all of the progress Saints have made, there are plenty of questions that many fans have. Topics such as the reversal in loan policy, where Saints are now loaning out their young players instead of preferring to keep them from learning bad habits elsewhere, were ignored. Any question about the notoriously secretive Katharina Liebherr was simply not asked, nor about the Europa League failure. Considering the fact that Cuco Martina, Steven Caulker and Juanmi were all signed in the summer yet have barely made any impression on the squad, you would have thought a question to Koeman for his thoughts on the transfer window just gone. It didn’t happen.
The fans’ forum just seemed to be a real missed opportunity. The fact that not just the director of football and chairman were there, but the manager as well, meant that the fans had a chance to ask the burning questions plenty have went begging.
The fact ‘Ted from Totton’ was able to tell the hierarchy his pleasure at watching Saints now as he had done for 74 years, and a child of around ten years old being able to ask Ronald his own question, should be applauded. Saints fans have a voice and the fact they are able to have queries answered is a luxury plenty football fans don’t have.
But the forum was about Saints, and should have been solely about Saints. Ronald Koeman’s incredible career both as a player and manager obviously means the Dutchman has plenty of tales to tell over his 35 years within football. This wasn’t a night, in my opinion, to ask him what he had felt about Louis van Gaal and his management methods. If there was a dearth of questions to answer, asking him about Van Gaal and Depay of course makes sense. But the long absence of the fans’ forum meant that there was plenty of hands up that were not tended to.
That’s not to say that there were not important questions. Issues like a ladies team and what the club were going to do about away ticket prices are hugely important for plenty of Southampton fans, and were able to be answered. Two fans, who asked about the club’s link to local businesses and fan loyalty respectively, were even promised a further audience with Ralph Krueger to discuss their concerns in far more detail.
But it just felt that the night was wasted somewhat. The fact that just two Radio Solent microphone attendants were moving between 500 supporters meant that plenty of questions weren’t asked. Yet the fact the forum was restricted to an hour slot means that every second taken up by someone saying how brilliant a fan they are is taken away from another fan who may have a burning concern they are dying to ask.
A slight change in how things were done, maybe questions being preselected, may help organise the forum better, and the reaction from the crowd to being asked about another forum soon was positive.
But it almost felt as if the fans there were too nervous to ask the tough questions that the manager, chairman and director of football were almost briefed to expect, but never arrived.
That perhaps shows how popular a job the board have done since wrestling back control of the club from Cortese. Keeping the club in stable hands is hugely important, and an easy night is something that Krueger, Koeman and Reed really want to have every time the focus goes onto them like that.
Yet that doesn’t mean that there are still a few important questions unanswered. A poor year, and those in the firing line may not be afforded that same stay of execution from the fans wrath.