Life without Keith Southern is going to take some getting used to, it is akin to Coronation Street without Ken Barlow. Granted Southern hasn’t had affairs with 25 women on his road or seven fist-fights with Mike Baldwin but you get the gist.
Southern was part of the furniture, a man who arrived when the club was – how can we put this – rubbish, and was there throughout the glorious rise up the divisions.
Since signing as a shy 21-year-old a decade ago, Southern has played for five managers.
Under Steve McMahon, the man who brought him to the club, initially on loan from Everton. It started well, Southern – not unMcMahon-like in the tigerish, no-nonsense way he bossed the midfield – a regular fixture in the team.
The relationship between the pair soured when Southern was scandalously left out of the squad for the 2004 LDV Vans Trophy final, McMahon choosing his son instead. Southern was upset and, not surprisingly, had very little sympathy for McMahon when the boss was sacked a month later.
The Colin Hendry reign was difficult, Southern doing the best he could in a struggling team, before Simon Grayson took over and things started to change for the better.
Southern played a key role in Pool’s promotion to League One, scored at Leicester on the opening day of the Championship campaign, becoming the first player to score for the club in the top two tiers of English football since 1978.
When Grayson departed, Southern’s performances ensured Tony Parkes reign ended with the team avoiding relegation.
Then, of course, Ian Holloway came in and Southern, alongside David Vaughan and Charlie Adam in a midfield that barely changed throughout the course of the season, secured a historic promotion to the Premier League. An incredible rise, considering just five years before Southern had been in a Blackpool side battling to avoid the drop to League Two.
The last couple of seasons have been mixed. Injury ruined much of his year in the top flight, then, just as he was hitting his stride in last year’s Championship, Southern was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
The dignified manner in which he coped with and fought against his illness only heightened his standing in the eyes of those that know him.
He didn’t moan or feel sorry for himself.
He got on with it, underwent surgery, and was back playing within two months, leading out the team in January on an emotional afternoon in the FA Cup against Sheffield Wednesday.
When his testimonial was announced at the start of the summer, there were no signs or suggestions that he wouldn’t still be a Blackpool player when the game was played.
Alas, long-serving players moving on is one of the downsides of success. Lower league clubs wouldn’t get rid of the likes of Southern, or Brett Ormerod.
But when a club has lofty ambitions and knows it must keep evolving to get to where it wants to, decisions become more ruthless.
That is why Ian Holloway, a man whose aim is to take the Seasiders to the Premier League, and is prepared to do whatever necessary to make it happen, accepted Huddersfield’s bid and told Southern he could go.
Sad for the traditionalists and for those who value Southern’s commitment to the club, and believe that the midfielder still had plenty to offer.
But that’s life – even success has it’s downsides, as Bradley Wiggins discovers every time he nips to his local for a quiet drink.
All of the above, wouldn’t be such a romantic story, by the way, if Southern were one of those flash footballers, obsessed by money and not a particular nice bloke.
But the fact is that he’s a terrific fella.
No one has a bad word to say about him and in a sport as bitchy as football that really is some going.
It was therefore only appropriate that he was given a testimonial by Blackpool and, with the opposition his first club Everton, it really was an emotional occasion.
Southern was given a standing ovation not just by the home fans but those from Merseyside too.
He led the teams out of the tunnel, hand in hand with his son Ryan – wearing a number four jersey complete with the words ‘Daddy’. Nice touch.
As planned beforehand, Southern played the first 15 minutes. He did well too, a few nice touches, cleverly teeing Ince up for one long range effort. He was also clattered, too, by Marouane Fellaini, who clearly hadn’t been told it was a testimonial game. As Southern fell to the deck, Simon Grayson must have held his head in his hands. It takes a lot more than that, though, to keep Southern down. He was back on his feet in an instant.
As for the game, it was a very useful workout and any fears Ian Holloway had before hand about it turning into a non-competitive friendly were way wide of the mark.
His players had to work hard to keep up with an Everton team that had a spring in its step and looked like it had gone ahead within three minutes – Fellaini heading past Mark Halstead. Fellaini celebrated quite wildly for several seconds before noticing the lineman’s flag; always an embarrassing moment.
Halstead saved well from Steven Naismith, while at the other end Gerardo Bruna and Isaiah Osbourne both tested Toffees keeper Jan Mucha with powerful drives.
Handed a rare start, Bruna, a man who played not so much a bit-part last season as no-part, did OK, though he’ll have to produce more if he’s going to turn round his Blackpool career and get anywhere near the first team this year.
Half time and who should appear from the tunnel but Brett Ormerod. Blimey, this was fast turning into an afternoon more nostalgic and saccharine than your average episode of ‘Who do you think you are?’
Ormerod – now at Wrexham – quite rightly got a warm ovation, too. Two Blackpool legends gone in the same summer, let’s hope they both thrive at their new stamping grounds.
Second half was equally as good, well better really as it contained two Blackpool goals.
The first was as simple as you like – Bruna’s right-wing corner headed powerfully in by Alex Baptiste. David Moyes won’t have been happy with that piece of defending.
James Caton, a trialist who used to be at Bolton, got the second late on, lashing a left footed shot into the roof of the net. Good finish.
In between the goals we had the usual rash of substitutions. It disrupted the flow of what had been a fast-paced contest, but it allowed Pool to give a run out to a number of younger lads and was great experience for the likes of Liam Tomsett, Curtis Thompson and Louis Almond.
Speaking of Almond, he missed a good opportunity to make it two, nicking the ball off Shane Duffy and rounding keeper Tom Howard (on for the second half) but shooting wide.
After their lively start, Everton didn’t do too much to be honest, Pool defending well throughout. Victor Anichebe came closest to a breakthrough, when his thunderbolt from distance fizzed over, then another effort hit the bar.
2-0 at the end but the result didn’t really matter.
This was all about Keith Southern, a man who has etched his name into the Seasiders history books and, throughout it all, remained a thoroughly likeable and decent person.
No wonder the fans applauded so long and hard when Southern appeared on the pitch at the full time whistle to acknowledge the supporters who had turned out in good numbers.
Pool’s loss is undoubtedly Huddersfield’s gain.
Good luck Keith, it’s been a blast.
Blackpool: Halstead, Eardley (Tomsett 69), Eastham (Basham 35), Baptiste, Crainey, Southern (Osbourne 15, Addai 78), Angel Martinez (Thompson, Ludovic Sylvestre, Ince (Challinor 69), Taylor-Fletcher (Almond 69), Bruna (Caton 69).
Everton: Mucha, Baines, Gibson, Heitinga, Jelavic, Naismith, Neville, Pienaar, Coleman, Fellani, Duffy.
Attendance: 9,208 (2,195 away)