Post & In sat down with ex-Southampton, Blackpool, and Preston North End striker Brett Ormerod to discuss the 2002/03 season where Ormerod played in the FA Cup final for Southampton, as well as finishing eighth in the Premier League. The former striker played a huge part in the 2002/03 season, with his goal and assist in the FA Cup semi-final win over Watford taking the club to their first cup final since winning the FA Cup in 1976.
Ormerod had a very successful career, playing in all four divisions in the English football league. He was the first player to play in all four of these divisions for Blackpool, and remains the only player to have scored in each of these divisions for the club.
Ormerod seemed to enjoy reflecting on the 2002/03 season; a season in which he scored nine goals in all competitions for the Saints.
This is a season in the life of Brett Ormerod.
Post & In (P&I): “You were part of the side that year that finished eighth in the Premier League and got to the FA Cup final, do you remember what the ambitions were at the start of that season?
Brett Ormerod: “I joined Christmas time the year before, maybe November or December but I got injured. I did my medial ligaments so I was out quite a bit. So, the second season was, I think, the first proper Gordon Strachan season. We had a really good pre-season, I think we went to Sweden on tour and we went to Scotland – they used to take us to Edinburgh – for a gruelling pre-season. We used to hate it, because he was fit, was Strachan, and his pre-seasons were one of the hardest I did in my career.
Then we started off the season, and it took me a bit of time to try and establish myself in the team because we had a lot of good players at that point. I mean, there was Beatts (James Beattie) and it was sort of about who was going to cement that spot with him. We had Marians Pahars, who was probably our best striker at the time but struggled with injury, then there was Kevin Davies, me, and Jo Tessem, I think, who were trying to nail down a first team place.”
P&I: “You were signed by Gordon Strachan, who had been aware of you for a while and had previously said that once he got back into management he would sign you. He was a manager known for his quick-wit in the media, but what was he like to play under?“
Ormerod: “He was brilliant with me. I mean, you know, he used to hammer me as much as anything but he did have a lot of affection for me. He was the kind of manager that would try to improve you as a player, wanted the best for you, and wanted nothing less than 100% every training session and week in week out. When he first came in, to try and get an advantage we had to be fitter than everyone else because the Premier League is such a competitive league. You had your top four or five teams who were always going to do what they did, but then the teams that were around you, you could have a good season or a bad season dependent on anything really because we were all pretty much in the same boat. So, he got us as fit as he could and we actually won a lot of games late on that season because of our fitness. So, yeah, he knew what he wanted and he didn’t suffer any fools. If he didn’t get what he wanted you certainly knew about it, that’s for sure.”
P&I: “One thing people may not know about you is that you and James Beattie played together in the youth team at Blackburn Rovers, didn’t you?”
Ormerod: “Yeah, I’ve know Beatts since we were kids. I was a year older than him and he was an apprentice at Blackburn with me. He was also quite a good swimmer, was Beatts, and I knew his parents and he actually wanted to be a doctor; I think his dad wanted him to go into medicine. At that time, I’d injured my ankle and, even though Blackburn were in the Premier League, they didn’t have all the big academy stuff then. I remember we had just moved into a new training ground but we still only had one physio, so I used to get Beatts to do my ankle strapping for me because the main physio was always too busy with the first team.”
P&I: “Do you think, then, that knowing each other so well helped you form a good partnership with Beattie at Southampton?”
Ormerod: “Yeah, you know, if you’ve ever been in a room with Beatts he’s never quiet; it’s never boring with Beatts. You could be in a bad mood and then go in a room with him and he’d put a smile on your face. He’s that type of character, and he’s a fantastic lad, and he’s always been like that for as long as I’ve known him. He helped me settle in when I moved down there, as I’d never moved out of Blackburn really and Southampton is pretty much as far as you can go before you hit water (laughs). So, he helped me out, he rang me straight away and got me round and stuff. So, yeah, we did have an understanding. I was actually a right winger at Blackburn, I wasn’t a centre forward, so I used to put crosses in for him. We had both known each other from a very early age so I think that did help, and I think it helped that we were both from the same place. I’d been released by Blackburn and he had been sold to Southampton so we both felt like we had a point to prove.”
P&I: “Obviously, you’ve mentioned Beattie there, and there were some very talented player in that team. How did you find it when you first joined, and who impressed you the most at the time?”
Ormerod: “It was a different level. Obviously, I’d been in League One, League Two, I’d been at Blackburn – I actually left when they won the Premiership – and been into into non-league. So, in the Premiership, it was a massive jump and it took me a bit of time to settle. I remember one of my first games was at Old Trafford, and it was 67,000 and I was sat on the bench and I looked over and Beckham and Giggs were there and you’re thinking ‘what am I doing here?’. I remember Strachan doing a team talk about keeping it tight first 20 minutes and then Scholes hit a 60-yard ball to Van Nistelrooy and he took a touch at a ridiculous angle and smashed it in the back of our net and I think we got beat 6-0 that game. Strachan just went ‘well that’s what happens, you’ve got to move on, you can’t dwell on it. Arsenal can go to Old Trafford and get done that’. It’s just one of those things.
The injury didn’t help, either. I injured my medial ligament in a reserve game against Watford on like a Monday night at St Mary’s. That sort of just stopped me in my tracks. I had scored 20-odd goals at Blackpool and I was flying at the time. I was probably the fittest I had been and I was just in that state of mind, and then the injury did set me back quite a lot if I’m honest. Even when I came back, I was having cortisone injections to help with the pain, which they don’t advise nowadays. If you look at the early days, I think when I scored on my debut against Ipswich, I used to put tape round my knee just to try to alleviate some of the pain. It never really settled down until the following season. Every time I would take a shot it was like someone hitting my knee with a hammer. But, it was inconsistent, sometimes I’d take a shot and it would be fine and next minute it was like someone was whacking my knee and you would think ‘where’s that come from?’. It was a big thing, that injury, and it really did put me on the back foot at that time.
P&I: “You mention that step up. Did training against the likes of defenders such as Michael Svensson and Claus Lundekvam everyday improve you as a player?”
Ormerod: “Yeah, I think playing with better plays does help. I remember my first shooting session I was paired with Matt Le Tissier and I went home and just rung my brother and went: ‘what am I doing here? I’ve just played with Matt Le Tis’. I mean, ‘Tis’ was coming to the end of his career then, but his technique was still absolutely phenomenal. Me and Beatts actually ended up playing in his testimonial that year and I remember he had an afterparty and Shearer was there. I mean, I cleaned Shearer’s boots at Blackburn, and me and Beatts were like kids. Peter Beardsley walks up, and it’s like the old England team from when I was a kid. Gascoigne was there; it was just a who’s who of names. It was surreal to be honest, but I just loved it.”
P&I: “In the 2002/03 season you obviously went all the way to the FA Cup final. Was there a feeling that you were building momentum in the competition that season, and at what point did the players start to believe you could do something positive in the cup that year?”
Ormerod: “It sort of snuck up on us. We were having a decent season. It took us a little while to get going, but once we did we did quite well. The FA Cup run…we sort of struggled. I think it was Millwall at home and they scored first, then Kev Davies came on and he’d had a loan spell at Millwall and wasn’t playing, but he scored in the last minute. So it wasn’t a really smooth route. To be fair, Millwall played really well at St Mary’s that day and on the whole probably deserved to win but Davo came on and nicked a goal for us to equalise. I was on the bench the next game (the replay against Millwall), and I think we won 2-0. Matt Oakley scored two fantastic goals, and we played really well at The Den; much better than we had at St Mary’s. So, there were games like that, and it wasn’t all cut and dry. It wasn’t like ‘oh we’re building momentum, we’re gonna get to the cup final’.
It got to a point where I think we beat Norwich at our place, I think it was 3-1 or 2-1, and that’s when you start to think. Then we got Watford, and it wasn’t any disrespect to Watford, but there was Sheffield United, Watford, us, and Arsenal. You’re just thinking, with the history of the cup, if you can avoid Arsenal you’ve probably got the best chance you’ve had of getting to the cup final since we’d won it in 1976. So, we got Watford, and not for one minute did we take them for granted. In fact, it probably put a bit more pressure on us, because once we got Watford the fans were like ‘well, we should get to the final’, so there was an expectation on you then. Whereas, if we had got Arsenal it was sort of like ‘well, do your best’, and it puts a different perspective on it. I always seem to have done well in big games throughout my career, wherever I’ve been. I was actually struggling to score goals at that time, you know, I had hit the post, I’d had games where I’ve hit the bar, the post, and it just wouldn’t go in for me and it was probably the longest spell in my career I’d had without scoring. I had lost my confidence, so to then score one and set one up in the semi-final was a dream come true to be honest and the elation after the game is something that I’ll never, ever forget.”
P&I: “Like you said, you scored some very big goals in your career, such as scoring the goal in the play-off final to get Blackpool to the Premier League. Where does the semi-final goal and assist rank in terms of your career, I guess it must be right up there?”
Ormerod: “Oh definitely, yeah, one of the best moments of my career; to get to the final. I remember, there’s a picture actually from the final when we got beat, and it’s me and Beatts just sat there dejected. David Seaman pulled off a worldy on me, I chested it down and turned and hit it on the left foot on the half-volley, and my left foot is my weak one, but as soon as I hit it – it’s one of the only times I’ve hit it and thought ‘it’s in’. I was right behind it, and it was in, but then David Seaman pulled this massive hand out of nowhere. We had Arsenal on the back foot to be honest. There’s a picture, and I used to tell some of the lads and they would take the mick, but there’s a picture of Thierry Henry running with it in the corner and me and Chris Marsden trying to smash him to get the ball back. To have Arsenal, a team of that calibre, trying to time waste just shows you how well we played that day. But, when you play those sort of teams and play those big games you need a bit of luck and we never got it that day to be honest. I mean, there’s one in the first half where I put Beatts through and if you look back it was so tight, and he finished it off, and the flag went up straight away. I’ve watched that a few times and thought ‘I’m not sure that’s offside, you know’. The thing is as well, Seaman played on, it wasn’t like everyone stopped and Beatts smashed it in, and I felt like that should have been the equaliser; as we were 1-0 down at the time I think. No one batted an eyelid at the time, but even then I thought ‘that was close, that was really close’. Beatts had one headed off the line late on too. Playing in the FA Cup final – as a kid everyone wanted to play in the FA Cup final – and it was the biggest thrill, but if we had won it…
…There was one moment where we walked past and shook hands with Bobby Robson, and I never touched the FA Cup trophy, and I should have done. I was so dejected at the time, but that’s one of my regrets; to be that close that you could literally touch it. I think Strachan once said that he watched it back a few times and we had played a hell of a lot better than he could remember because of the whole emotion of it all. I’ve watched it back as well since and we do, we play really well, and I think the biggest compliment was that if you’ve got one of the best strikers in the world running the ball to the corner against what was lowly Southampton, when compared to Arsenal, then we must have had them under the cosh at some point, that’s for sure.”
P&I: “You mention luck there, but there were things that happened that day, such as Antti Niemmi having to go off injured, that made it feel a though maybe it wasn’t meant to be, wasn’t there?”
Ormerod: “The thing is, it probably gave me the opportunity that Marians Pahars was injured. Pahars was one of the best all-round forwards I’ve ever played with. When you talk about someone who had everything: he was smaller than me, but he was great in the air, his feet, his awareness…The sign of a good player, for me, and Kev Phillips was another one – probably the best all-round player I ever played with was Kev. I would probably have put Marians ahead of Kev if I had played with him more, but because of all the injuries he had I can’t. Marians’ natural ability was unbelievable, and honestly he was about 5 foot 5, but he just had everything. He was just such a clever player, moving into certain spaces, and his touch was superb. He was always one step ahead, and he was fantastic, but him getting injured was probably the reason that me and Jo Tessem were able to battle all season to play upfront with Beatts. If it hadn’t been for Marians’ injuries I probably wouldn’t have played as many games as I did because he was probably our best centre-forward. He had a horrible time with injuries and illness, though, and I never really saw the best of Marians like I had seen before I came to the club and in training. He was one of those players who could do something off the cuff or make something happen, and that final we were probably missing that; someone like Marians who could pull it out the bag with that little bit of brilliance. But, we gave it our best and it just wasn’t to be.”
P&I: “It feels like Pahars was one of those players that was slightly under-appreciated by a lot of football fans, but whenever you hear players that played with him talk about him they always seem to say how good he was.”
Ormerod: “He was a great lad. I’d come in and go ‘Marians, how are you today?’ and he’d go ‘ahh Brett, I think I’m going to be ill’ – he would tell you when he was going to be ill. Strachan once said to him: ‘Marians, the only virus you haven’t had is a computer one’. I think his injuries got in his head a lot, and it was a bad injury. He never really recovered; he never got back to the player that he was. But, what a player. What a player.”
P&I: “We touched on that goal that got Blackpool back into the Premier League and the goal and assist in the FA Cup semi-final. Do you think getting released from Blackburn and playing non-league football at Accrington Stanley made you appreciate those big moments more?”
Ormerod: “Yeah, definitely. I was at Blackburn from a kid, so it was a transition. Jack Walker had come in, all this money had come in. My year was the last year that they gave apprenticeships, then they started giving a year apprenticeship and three year pros. The year I got released, I was 18, and the club had won the Premier League but there were no under 23’s then. I had missed half the season with a double hernia. Like I said, we only had one physio so I was training still and I never got diagnosed so I had my double hernia operation halfway through the season which I should have had six months prior. So, I was limping through the last six months of my apprenticeship. Blackburn had come a long way in a short space of time, so it was just wrong place at the wrong time for me, I think.
So, I went into non-league with Accrington Stanley, and I had lost my confidence to be honest. When I first went into Accy Stanley’s dressing room I remember a lad called Ryan Welsh, who had played at Burnley. Obviously, Blackburn and Burnley have a big rivalry. I’d played Burnley at under 18’s and I think we drew 2-2, and I had scored both goals, and I remember walking into the Accrington Stanley dressing room and him going ‘what are you doing here? Don’t tell me Blackburn have released you’, and he turned round to everyone and went ‘what a player he is’. I was just like ‘what?’, because I had lost my confidence. But at Accrington Stanley I got my confidence back. My form went from down there to all the way up there and I went from 18, lost confidence and fell out with the game, and by 19 absolutely loving football and everything I hit went in. I was in the first-team, and I was scoring goals for fun; it was just second nature.”
P&I: “Just going back to the Cup final. Obviously, it was a massive thing for Southampton. What do you remember about the build-up to the final and also the day itself?”
Ormerod: “It was a bit surreal. It was pouring down in Cardiff, and it was the first FA Cup final played under a closed roof. The build-up was mad, but you just tried to enjoy it. There’s two things I remember most. Me and Beatts were going down to dinner in the hotel and we went to reception and there was Sara Cox, the Radio One DJ, and I was going ‘Beatts, that’s Sara Cox there’. Then we got in the lift and there was Sven-Goran Eriksson, the England manager, and Beatts just went ‘Brett, this is Sven’ and I shook his hand and it was all just surreal. I used to share a room with Rory Delap, and I went back to my room and I was like ‘we’ve just met Sven! Sara Cox is downstairs!’. It was weird, but it didn’t seem weird at the time because you got swept up in the whole occasion and the build up. It was like your wedding day, the FA Cup final: you wait all that time and then it has come and gone just like that. Like I said, we played well that game and I have no regrets, because we gave it our best shot.
I remember the play-off final against Leyton Orient in 2001, when we got promoted to League One. Our ‘keeper slipped and they scored after 30 seconds, and then we equalised, then they scored again. That was one of those games where we just kept getting back into the game. We weren’t playing well, but for some reason you just know it’s your day and we ended up winning 4-2 comfortably in the end; it was our day. Even in the Championship play-off final in 2010, we beat Cardiff 3-2 but we went behind twice. There was just something about that day where you just knew it was your day. But, with the Arsenal one, we gave everything but you need a bit of luck. When you played your Arsenals and your Man Uniteds and your Chelseas, you had to give everything and be at your best and then hope that they weren’t. We did beat your Arsenals and Man Uniteds at times, but we’d had that bit of luck and we were at our best and they weren’t quite at it. Because, I mean, you were playing against the best players in the world; it was the best league in the world. On any day they could just spank you 6-0, because they could do that to each other. We just never got that little bit of luck we needed, or that I felt we deserved, because performance-wise we were superb. We let an early goal in from Pires, but it was quite an even game to be honest.”
P&I: “Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about that season, Brett. All the best!”
Ormerod: “No problem. Thoroughly enjoyed it! All the best.”