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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Rupert the Rare
By John May

Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe
Former Southampton boss Graeme Souness once said of his chairman: "You tell me if there is anyone else in football by the name of Rupert?"

Souness' remark was designed to be dismissive of the football credentials of a public-school educated son of the Shires who wandered into football almost accidentally by virtue of owning old folks' homes.

But Souness was right. In English domestic football, Rupert Lowe is a one-off.

Any perception of a tweed-clad member of the landed gentry more concerned with pheasant stocks, Purdey shotguns and regenerative timber stocks hides a shrewd, calculating businessman, unafraid to show the ruthlessness of a mako shark in making unpopular decisions.

Lowe's secretary will spend Monday preparing Paul Sturrock's P45 - the seventh of his tenure of a club that during the days of Ted Bates and Lawrie McMenemy was a byword in managerial stability.

Sturrock supposedly fell victim to a whispering campaign that began as a spark, and built in force and power until it became a blazing forest fire.

Lowe blamed a "constant stream of negative and unfair media coverage which has taken on a life of its own", but at no time did he attempt to strangle it at birth, on the basis that any comment would only add to the frenzy.

Tales told of player unrest at training methods; of players dismissive at what they saw as a lightweight, unproven manager trying to punch above his weight in a dressing room of established Premiership players.

They told of board discontent at Sturrock's appearance; of star players wanting away.

Sturrock himself was either unable, unwilling or unfussed to halt the blaze of rumour and speculation that ultimately fatally undermined his reign.

LOWE'S MANAGERS
Graeme Souness: 3.7.96-1.6.97
Dave Jones: 23.6.97-27.1.2000
Glenn Hoddle: 28.1.00-28.3.01
Stuart Gray: 30.3.01-20.10.01
Gordon Strachan 22.10.01-13.2.04
Steve Wigley: 13.2.04-4.3.04
Paul Sturrock: 4.3.04-23.8.04

In the end, Lowe and Sturrock were Neroes who discovered they were unable to put the fires out and the "mutual consent" parting would have been exactly that.

At their Sunday meeting, Sturrock felt his position was untenable without the total public backing he wanted. Lowe equally felt the mounting, self-feeding unrest had rendered Sturrock untenable as a viable manager, able to get the best out of his players.

Lowe pointed an accusing finger at the media, but in the end, that same finger was on the trigger of a gun, which may not have fired at Sturrock, but helped point him out of the door.

Despite having had seven managers work under him, Lowe can justifiably claim he has only fired one - Stuart Gray.

Graeme Souness and Glenn Hoddle resigned, Gordon Strachan did not renew his contract, Dave Jones was given "gardening leave" to fight charges against him, Steve Wigley was strictly a caretaker, and now Sturrock's departure is mutual.

Lowe's treatment of his managers has put at risk the respect he has earned from Southampton fans.

Since taking over, Lowe has transformed Southampton from a moribund club in a 15,000 capacity shack, into a multi-million pound business with football at its heart.

He masterminded a seamless 32m project to move Southampton from The Dell to St Mary's stadium without the loss of Premiership status which has bedevilled other clubs moving home.

Blackburn manager Graeme Souness
Graeme Souness resigned as Saints manager

In the process, he has shown that a cool, hard head for business is a more important attribute for a football club chairman these days than a fan's passion allied to a bulging wallet.

His pragmatic approach to football caught the eye of the game's power-brokers and he now stalks the corridors of power at the Football Association.

As one of the Premier League's representatives on the FA Board, Lowe is mooted as a future FA chairman.

Not bad for a man who almost stumbled into football by accident.

Lowe's background is The City, where his CV is decorated with such names as Morgan Grenfell and Deutsche Bank and a spell on the board of the London International Futures Exchange.

Former Southampton boss Paul Sturrock
Sturrock's Premiership reign lasted just 13 matches

He also formed a care home company (with Saints vice-chairman Andrew Cowen, a grandson of J Arthur Rank) which was to provide his route into football when Southampton were looking to float on the Stock Exchange to finance the St Mary's project.

It was a shock to Saints fans when the favoured consortium led by recent BBC chairman and Saints fan Gavyn Davies, and Sir David Frost was turned down in favour of a Reverse Takeover into the small Bristol-based Secure Retirement PLC, which already had a Stock Exchange listing.

It was a controversial move, which suddenly gave Southampton FC a chairman who was a hockey-playing rugby fan, who had only seen his first live professional football six months earlier.

Lowe has the prudent businessman's dread of debt and one of his favourite sayings is: "Once you get into debt, the bank manager comes into the club to run the team."

That hints of an awareness bordering on obsession that what happens on the field affects the share price off it.

Lowe has shown he is not afraid to make unpopular decision if he feels they will benefit Saints' long-term future - and more importantly, preserve the club's financial security.






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