Interview: Keith Southern: “Chairman left a voicemail to let me know I wasn’t needed after 10 years”

We sat down with Keith Southern to chat all things tangerine. Keith chatted through his ten years with the club, which included two promotions, three play-off campaigns and a season at the top table of English football. Keith also spoke of the disappointing way he left the club in 2012 when his mind was made up by the voicemail from the previous chairman.

Why he left

It wasn’t just battles on the football field that the tough-tackling midfielder had to deal with during his decade with the Seasiders as he was going through a battle with cancer at the time of his departure. That said, he’d seen the trajectory of the club that was to come and decided to move onto pastures new.

Keith said: ” I had personal problems and health issues – cancer took a lot out of me. I’d been there 10 years, Simon [Grayson] was the big pulling factor. It was a move to the Championship, Simon was the manager and said he wanted to build the team around me – and I felt me time was done at Blackpool. I needed a new, fresh challenge.”

“I was probably tired in honesty and I remember being in a hotel in Portugal that preseason and getting a call from the chairman. After training I came back to my room and I had a voicemail off the chairman. It said ‘Huddersfield have made a bid for you and I’m happy to accept the bid. How do you feel? Ring me back, but I must let you know that the club won’t be paying the wages that they previously paid to players. We won’t be giving contracts out like previously.’

“In a roundabout way he basically said that he was looking to cut the wage bill back to what it was pre-Championship days even as far back as League One. My mind was already made up anyway, I wanted to go, but they were just the words that I needed to hear. He had to confirm that decision. It was heart breaking hearing those words. I didn’t really need any more encouragement. My mind was made, especially after hearing that voicemail.” 

The impact of Holloway

Looking back to when Ian Holloway initially came in, Keith recalled how he made such an impact on him that he changed his own career path and first started to think about going into coaching. That’s something that he’s doing now by being involved in the youth setup at Everton.

He said: “On that first day he had flip chart paper and pen. He [Holloway] said ‘I lost my job playing 4-4-2 and letting players run up and down in straight lines.’ I thought ‘Well hang on a minute, I’ve made a career out of that! It’s not that bad!’ He kind’ve dismissed everything like that and talked about how he wanted to sell his vision.

“It was 4-3-3, three central midfield players with the wingers. Arrows all over the flip chart, it just looked like seven year old scribble to me at the time. He was saying ‘I know this system works, I’ve done it with my chickens!’. I was sat there with the other lads thinking ‘This lad’s barmy, he’s off his head!”

“On the drive home I couldn’t get him out of my head. I’m thinking ‘We’ve only just come up to the Championship, did well to stay up, not finished above mid-table. This guy’s talking about the Premier League! We’ve got no chance. Too many players set in their ways. It’s gonna end in tears.’ I never said this to anyone else; at 29 you become a bit cynical, you’re not a young player anymore and you need a bit more convincing, but boy did he did that!

“Over the weeks and months, he taught me that belief that you need in yourself. He was the catalyst for me going into coaching. He changed my outlook on football. The results spoke for themselves and the rest is history on what we went on to do together.”

“The best fans in the Football League”

After having played at Bloomfield Road for a decade, across three different divisions, Keith is well-placed to tell us the impact that a Bloomfield Road crowd can have on the team.

“I think it’s been a big miss – the fans not going to Bloomfield Road. I know there’s no fans at any club at the moment, but I’m yet to see a better group of fans in the Football League than Blackpool. You know, I might be biased, but the noise and the passion, the colour and the atmosphere of those tangerine shirts at Bloomfield Road. I don’t think there’s a better sight if you ask me.

“I am biased, but I speak to a lot of people in the game who’ve got no affiliation with Blackpool, who are with other clubs in League One. They say to me all the time ‘That must have been some place to play when it was bouncing when it was full’, because the atmosphere’s been electric when they have played there with their teams or they’ve coached their teams there.”

Coaching Ellis Simms

Keith’s role at Everton means he’s had a first-hand view of new Pool striker Ellis Simms who is on loan for the remainder of the season from the Toffees. We asked Keith if he had any involvement in sanctioning the deal.

“It was nothing to do with me, him going to Blackpool. He had plenty of offers from League One. I think Everton valued the amount of chances that Blackpool create so felt he was in good hands with them.”

Our summary
Our chat with Keith was packed with some really good insight, spanning a really turbulent decade in our history. Southern highlighted the many personal battles he had to go through away from the game and the struggles the players faced when they came in to train every day. It was clear that Southern has a lot of passion for the club and the fans, which was really great to hear as the feelings are certainly mutual! After everything that’s happened since and the way it ended, it seems like the sea of tangerine packed into Bloomfield Road made all of the blood, sweat and tears that he shed in his time worthwhile.

Listen to Episode #30 of the 1-2 Podcast now.

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Image Credit: Blackpool FC

You can also check out our most recent pod where we spoke to former Pool forward Stephen Dobbie to get his view on the helping the Seasiders to the Premier League, as well as his other three loan spells with the Pool!

Published by Dan Hopwood

Life long Blackpool fan, thanks to my older brother for dragging me to Bloomfield Road in days of Colin Hendry! Currently a seaside exile living in London.

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