Club historian David Bull highlights recent incidents that have provoked “reminders” of Saints-related events, starting with a visitor’s penalty at St Mary’s.
The instant I read that Mason Mount had become, in the Saints’ last home game, the 25th player to score a Premier League penalty for Chelsea, I was, in my mind’s eye, back at Stamford Bridge, on Easter Saturday 1955, watching ex-Saint Peter Sillett convert a spot-kick of huge historic importance to Chelsea.
In May 1953, a cash-strapped Southampton were desperate to sell their rising star, 20-year-old Sillett, and so be able to pay the back-wages his teammates were owed. Peter’s “mind was just boggled”, as he spoke to prospective buyers at hotel meetings convened by the Chairman.
Chelsea’s manager, Ted Drake, felt entitled, as an ex-Saint who’d played with Peter’s dad, Charlie, to bypass the hotel rotas and head straight for The Dell. Charlie had been killed in the War and Peter was living with his mum and stepdad at the
in Nomansland, where they kept enough chickens for him to bring in surplus eggs for trainer Jimmy Easson.
Noting that transaction, Drake pushed his privilege a step further, suggesting that Peter take him “to see Mum. I’ve got to have some eggs like Jimmy’s.” Mum struck a hard bargain. Drake could have some new-laid eggs and Peter, too, just so long as he’d also take her younger son, John – a 16-year-old amateur at The Dell. Chairman Sarjantson sanctioned the deal and Chelsea had a £12,000 bargain.
Two years later, I was in a crowd of 75,043 to see Peter take his fourth penalty for the club, against the 1954 league champions, Wolves, who were rivalling their hosts for the 1955 title. Chelsea had been damaging their title chances by missing penalties. Captain Roy Bentley and John Harris – a war-time Saint who had left for Stamford Bridge amid rumours of illegal payments – had between them taken five penalties and failed to score.
So when the Wolves and England captain Billy Wright handled on an unguarded goal-line, Sillett, their dependable replacement, stepped up to the spot. But not until the referee’s award of a corner had been countermanded by a linesman. I would have sworn that Wright had headed the ball over the bar and the ref evidently thought the same – until the linesman intervened. The photo, here, signed for me in 2006 by Roy Bentley, vindicates the linesman.
Wright would have been sent off today – after a tedious VAR vindication, no doubt – but a penalty kick would have to be sufficient punishment, always supposing that Chelsea had at last found somebody who could convert it. They had, as Sillett demonstrated by driving the ball past England’s goalkeeper, Bert Williams.
Chelsea held out for a 1-0 win that would effectively clinch their first-ever championship. Peter would score further penalties and a few in open play, too, to become the club’s highest-scoring defender – remaining so until overtaken by John Terry. Other milestones would include three England caps on that summer’s tour and then being partnered at full-back for Chelsea by younger brother John (as seen here, with John on the left).
I am persuaded by various sources – notably his chapter in my 1992 compendium of fans’ memories and his 1999 autobiography – that John Major watched this match as a 12-year-old; that the penalty taker became his football hero; and that Peter received greetings from Prime Minister Major on his 60th birthday. The contention that young Major was introduced to Chelsea by Irish lads living in his multi-occupied house in Brixton must be plain wrong, however, given that his family moved in a month after the Easter match.
I know the feeling. As I’ve relived this historic match over the years, I have wondered whether or not I was accompanied: surely my mum would not have permitted me, aged 15, to travel alone from Camberley to Waterloo and onward via the underground? Well, I discovered evidence, only last month, that she probably did.
This evidence, hidden away for 66 years, in a wallet from my mid-teens – plastic imitation snake-skin: how cool is that? – takes the form of a train ticket from Waterloo East, from which I travelled, the following Saturday, to Charlton, to watch a 1-1 draw with Manchester City. I find that I had not only written the result and City’s scorer on the back of the ticket – oddly omitting to record that Stuart Leary scored for Charlton – but I’d noted that I was on my own (as opposed to being with Keith, the Camberley school-friend who’d introduced me, that season, to The Valley of his roots).
I know that Keith had travelled to Waterloo with me on New Year’s Day 1955. It says so on the back of an underground ticket from Waterloo to Highbury, indicating who scored in Arsenal’s draw 2-2 with West Brom. And I have further exhibits, confirming my mid-teens habit of recording on train or tube tickets the details of matches seen in London.
I kicked that habit and have long since settled for entering scores and scorers in my diary. Thinking about it now, though, I so admire the meticulous way in which Gary Chalk and Duncan Holley began recording Southampton’s results in their twenties, painstakingly producing the Saints Complete Record in 1987 and going on to hone parts of that landmark publication for subsequent books by Hagiology Publishing. We fellow fans owe them so much.
The words of Peter Sillett are from an interview by David Bull for Dell Diamond, as later reproduced in All the Saints, one of the Chalk and Holley record books from Hagiology Publishing. Visit hagiologists.com for offers of these and other books from the Saints historians at much-discounted prices.
The Sillett photos are from the Duncan Holley collection that forms the basis of his website saintsplayers.co.uk on which the 1000+ player-profiles have been expanded and updated from All the Saints.