The former Southampton favourite shares some fond memories of yesteryear, and explains why he's optimistic for the future with Ralph Hasenhüttl at the helm...
Former Southampton marksman James Beattie can feel the good times returning to the club that witnessed the best football of his career.
A gutsy, determined striker who served Saints for six and a half years, Beattie could score all types of goals.
In total, he racked up 76 in 233 appearances and remains the club’s highest-scoring centre-forward in the Premier League, well clear of his rivals.
Only Matt Le Tissier, the legendary maverick who played in a deeper role, has outscored Saints’ former no 9 in the top flight since the league was reformed in 1992.
Now first-team coach at Birmingham City, Beattie maintains a strong affinity to Southampton, and lives locally despite leaving his playing days on the south coast behind in 2005.
“I come to the games when I can, being invited by the Ex Saints, where I’ve been a member for a number of years now, and I’ve recently gone on the board with Glenn (Cockerill), Franny (Benali) and Tis (Le Tissier),” he said.
“I’ve never really gone away for a long period of time. I’ve always had connections here, and always known players or staff at the club.
“It’s always felt like home, because I left Blackburn at 20. That was the first time I’d left home, and I spent six and a half really good years down here.
“I met Sarah (his wife) here and I’ve still got loads of friends in Southampton. The kids are at school here and our family home is just outside Bournemouth, but we’re relocating to Southampton.
“Ever since that period in my life, even though I moved on with football, it’s always seemed like a second home and is fast becoming a primary home.”
Beattie admits on one such visit to St Mary’s, last October, he was concerned for Saints’ Premier League status.
Like so many others, he has been reenergised by the impact of manager Ralph Hasenhüttl.
“I’ve been impressed by the manager and his style of play,” he said of the current side.
“I came to watch the team against Chelsea, in one of Mark Hughes’s last games, and it’s probably the only time I can remember getting angry at a football match.
“I don’t get angry at football matches. I probably did as a player – not with my own teammates, but with the opposition – but I felt the players were playing the game passively.
“I was actually a guest and I went into the lounge, where Nicky (Banger) was trying to ask me questions and I was just saying ‘I can’t answer them’ because I was right on the edge. I was not happy, because the club means a lot to me.
“The one thing I gave was a hundred per cent, because I wasn’t the most technically gifted, but heart and desire are a given, so I can imagine how Mark felt.
“But now Ralph has come in and he’s been great. He’s changed it all around, given it that freshness and when I speak to the boys they say the training is so intense – short and sharp but really tough. That’s the way he wants them to play.
“He’s got a new set of players from what I saw in that Chelsea game.”
A former England international, Beattie went into management with Accrington Stanley – the last club he played for – before taking up a coaching role at Swansea under former Saints teammate Garry Monk in 2015.
He later joined Monk at Leeds and Middlesbrough, before the pair teamed up again at St Andrew’s.
Monk has since left Birmingham, but Beattie drew parallels between the situation he inherited and that of Hasenhüttl.
“The fans see the intent of the manager and the connection is something similar to what Garry did at Birmingham,” he explained.
“He (Ralph) has brought that together. The performances always lead it, I think. If the lads are trying and giving one hundred per cent for the badge, that’s always the catalyst and everything else comes off the back of that.
“The relationship between the team and the fans, the manager and the fans, the club and the community… everything is helped by the performances.
“Now everybody wants to be on the Ralph Express! With the way you announced Ché (Adams, on social media), I was laughing my head off, showing all the boys at Birmingham’s training ground – it was great.
“It all helps make everybody more motivated to think of new things and everybody wants to get involved.
“I’m not saying it’s easy to do, but it can’t be that hard. If you’re passionate about something, which obviously Ralph is, I think the connection with the club and its fans goes hand in hand.
“With the clubs I played at, certainly when I was here, the fans were always up for it and it was sold out every week. They were always on board and there was always stuff going on in the community.
“They’ve got the Saints Foundation now, which is doing great work; Franny has gone on to do his challenges; Rickie (Lambert) and Tis have been out in China – two great people who can sell the brand of the club to recruit fans in China, which is a huge market.
“As you grow up and go through football, maybe the opinions and expectations of fans get a bit carried away. For me, as a young lad growing up, you would always support the club.”
james beattiethey're good memories. gordon strachan's time in charge was probably the best in my career, and i still speak to gordon now on various issues if i need some advice.
It’s clear Beattie, now working under Pep Clotet after Monk’s summer departure, still holds a lot of love for Saints, and enjoys reminiscing over his playing days, in which he donned the red and white stripes at both The Dell and St Mary’s.
“You always remember the dressing rooms,” he said, with a nostalgic smile.
“Initially, when I first came, players like Tis and Franny were here, and Kenny Monkou, Richard Dryden… they were great and they welcomed me, because obviously I was a little bit apprehensive with it being my first time away.
“It was brilliant and settled me down straightaway. I stayed in the Hilton for four months with Dave Howells, who transferred at the same time.
“Dave Jones was obviously instrumental in me coming down, and he was really, really good to me.
“It took me until November to get into the team, which was one of the highlights, and I stayed there until the end of the season.
“The FA Cup run that we had, particularly the semi-final (against Watford in 2003) and the whole week building up to that, was memorable, and the goals and the relationship with the fans that I think I still have, is special to me.
“They’re good memories. Gordon Strachan’s time in charge was probably the best in my career, and I still speak to Gordon now on various issues if I need some advice.
“What I said to the players when I was managing Accrington was ‘you’ll always remember a good dressing room’.
“I still speak to Tis and Franny, Marian (Pahars), Kev Phillips, Matty Oakey, Dave Hughes… I don’t want to miss anybody out or they’ll have a go at me!
“Glenn is the captain of the Ex Saints, and getting to know him a bit more from being involved in that over the past few years has been great.
“It’s a really good group to be involved in, and something I know the club are looking to bring back now and do a lot more with.
“That helps the club to have a homelier feel, like when I was playing here. I think it’s trying to get back to that.”