BOURNEMOUTH — Driving from Southampton to Bournemouth through the foggy New Forest on Sunday, it took just over 30 minutes to get to the Vitality Stadium.
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The road from Southampton to Bournemouth hasn’t been one used for soccer often. They’ve played each other just 24 times in the league in history, making this particular South Coast derby one which has been tough to decipher over the years.
With Bournemouth languishing in the lower leagues for much of their 117-year existence and Southampton ruling the local areas for decades, the power is shifting with upstarts Bournemouth on the up in recent seasons after rising all the way to the Premier League from the fourth-tier.
Yet, as much as most Bournemouth fans want to make this a local rivalry, Southampton’s supporters aren’t too interested. Right now, they don’t see Bournemouth as a legitimate rival despite the Cherries being on level points with them (marking their highest-ever position in club history) heading into this clash.
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Before the game there were whispers among the Bournemouth fans that scuffles had broken out around the town center by the train station with bottles thrown and the police having to sort out the disturbances.
In some instances this rivalry is not a friendly one. For the most part it is.
“The minority spoil it for the majority. I’m very good mates with a lot of Bournemouth fans and their principles are the same as ours. They see it as a friendly rivalry,” Southampton fan Stewart McAlpine said in the away end at the Vitality Stadium.
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Chatting to Andy Poole, a Bournemouth fan sipping on a beer before the game. he acknowledged that this rivalry is still in its infancy but it can become something bigger than it ever has been.
“I think now that we are both in the Premier League it will take on a new meaning where before we were poles apart,” Poole said. “I think people talk it about too much. There is a lot of respect between the two sides and we’ve got a common interest on the South Coast to promote Premier League football. It can only be a good thing.”
For so many years Bournemouth have been seen as Southampton’s little brother. A club which Saints loaned its best youngsters out to for experience and a lower-league team they played in preseason friendlies. That’s not the case any more.
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Last season Bournemouth were promoted to the Premier League and top-flight for the first-time in club history and this rivalry was sent to new levels. Sunday’s South Coast derby proved that.
“F*** Off Southampton, the South Coast is ours!” was the first song from the Bournemouth faithful in the Steve Fletcher Stand and those chants only grew louder as Nathan Ake scored with a brilliant diving header to make it 1-0 to Bournemouth just six minutes in.
The underlying animosity was clear as a Bournemouth fan picked up the ball and threw it away from Saints’ right back Cedric Soares when it was 1-0. When Southampton equalized via Ryan Bertrand‘s lovely finish from the left side of the box there were groans of discontent inside the Vitality Stadium as Bertrand gestured for them to be quiet.
The home fans weren’t happy and the away fans taunted them with a song entitled “I’ve got a shed that’s bigger than this” when referring to the smallest stadium in the Premier League which has a capacity of just over 11,000.
Constant songs about hating Portsmouth, their true rivals from further east down the South Coast, emanated from the away fans throughout the game as Bournmouth’s fans continued to focus on Southampton.
“If you all hate scummers clap your hands” was the chant from the Bournemouth fans after Sofiane Boufal was booked for simulation before half time.
“I don’t really see it is a much of a rivalry because it has always been us versus Pompey,” McAlpine explained. “I think it is a friendly one. We’ve helped them out in the past. It’s nice to see them doing well. Saints fans aren’t really that bothered about Bournemouth. For Bournemouth, they have to have a rivalry with someone and that rivalry is with us. Let them have it. We are the best side on the South Coast.”
Poole, and most Bournemouth fans, believe they can fill the void left by Portsmouth following their relegation to the fourth-tier of English soccer which has left Saints without a main rival.
“It [the rivalry] now has that extra dimension with Bournemouth in the Premier League and Portsmouth waning over the years, maybe we are taking over from where Portsmouth left off,” Poole said.
At half time, there was a further indication of the closeness, at least geographically, of Bournemouth and Southampton, even if the rivalry isn’t as close as others across the Premier League which have much more history. It’s understandable, after all, these teams have now met just three times in the PL.
In a competition between fans on the pitch where they had to spin around on the spot and then take a penalty kick, a man wearing a Southampton shirt took a PK. He was introduced by the stadium PA announcer as someone from Christchurch, a town much closer to Bournemouth than Southampton. Cue boos from the home fans as he scored his penalty kick and celebrated by sliding on his knees. He cared. So too did Southampton’s fans.
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A lively start to the second half saw Southampton take the lead as Jay Rodriguez tapped home. That sparked wild celebrations in the away end and intense frustrations among the home fans. When Rodriguez grabbed his second and Saints’ third with a fine strike, the away fans were even more jubilant as they celebrated a deserved 3-1 win.
Despite Southampton’s dominant win on Sunday’s Bournemouth’s fans are still optimistic they can rule the South Coast in years to come with promise of a new stadium and more investment the longer they can remain a Premier League team.
“We’ve languished in the lower leagues for most of our history but there’s a determination to be a Premier League club for many years. With that comes a bigger ground and more expectation. For the future, who knows? We could be the dominant force on the South Coast,” Poole said, smiling. “Southampton have been the bigger side and had more success. It’s not that far down the road to go and watch football. Bournemouth have always been down in the lower leagues so people tended to go and watch Southampton play when they wanted to see that high standard of football. It’s all changed now and people are going to start migrating back this way.”
Even if that’s the case, Southampton’s fans had the final say on Sunday. And even if they don’t admit it, a win against their neighbors from 30 minutes down the road will make their Christmas dinner taste a little better next weekend.
“We are Southampton, the South Coast is ours!” was quickly followed by “There’s only one South Coast derby!” just to remind Bournemouth’s fans exactly how they felt about his perplexing rivalry.