The Saints: An Introduction
Since the Premier League's inception in 1992, Southampton have been a regular presence in the elite division of English football.
The principle honour of the club, formed in 1885, is being the FA Cup holders in 1976 but, since first winning promotion to the old Division One in 1966, they have spent just two stints, amounting to 11 seasons, out of the top-flight. Their longest absence being the spell in the Championship and League 1 between 2005 and 2013.
That odyssey might well have ended in League 2 had it not been for the intervention and investment of Swiss-based, German-born entrepreneur Markus Liebherr.
During the summer of 2009, with Saints in financial straits and the supporters bracing themselves to experience the club’s first season in the third tier since 1959/60, Liebherr bought the club out of administration. Thereafter, the mood of Southampton’s football public took a definite upswing. Sadly, Markus Liebherr was to die in August 2010, by which time Saints were holders of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and geared for upward mobility.
With Markus’s daughter Katharina now the owner, Premier League football returned to St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday 25th August, 2012, when Saints faced their first home game back in the top-flight – one week after losing narrowly at defending champions Manchester City in the opening match of the campaign. Uncannily, their opponents were a club they had never before met in a league encounter: Wigan Athletic.
Saints lost 2-0. However, Liebherr’s judgement had proved sound. Saints may have been out of money and luck when he moved in, but the club did possess a fine new, international-class stadium, a substantial training ground and had some talented young players.
Southampton would finish 14th in their first season back in the Premier League, before a string of four consecutive top-eight finishes – with the pick of the bunch coming in 2015/16 when, under Ronald Koeman, they ended the campaign in sixth, qualifying for the UEFA Europa League for the second year running. In that time, they also reached the EFL Cup final, losing a dramatic game, 3-2, to Manchester United in 2017.
In August of that same year, Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng purchased a controlling interest in Southampton FC from Katharina Liebherr, and he would retain ownership until January 2022, when his shareholding was purchased by Sport Republic, an investment firm in the sports and entertainment industry.