LSSC legends: John Sydenham
“It was like taking a huge risk – we’re going to play with two wingers and attack them. We just completely overran them… Ron (Davies) was fantastic – the best header of a ball I ever saw and he could make bad crosses good ones, which was handy if you’re not a very accurate crosser of the ball. At that time we were not playing two wingers away from home.
The emphasis was on attacking teams at home and keeping it tight away from home, bringing in defensive players. An incredible day out”!
John Sydenham commenting on Saints’ famous 4-1 win at Old Trafford in 1969
February 2010 – John Sydenham
John was educated at St. Mary’s School, Southampton and, at 13, he became their first pupil to play for the Southampton Schools XI. By playing his part in the side that reached the final of the 1954 English Schools trophy, only to lose out to Liverpool, he came to the notice of Saints. In August 1955 he joined CPC Sports who doubled as a Saints’ nursery side.
In due course John became part of the successful 1956-57 Southampton Youth side which did so well in the FA Youth Cup. Saints lost out 7-5 to Manchester United on aggregate but Sydenham’s lasting memory of the cup adventure was of Manchester United manager Matt Busby going into the Old Trafford dressing room and congratulating them on their performance. The young Saints side had just won 3-2, becoming the first side to beat United in the Youth Cup, but the damage had already been done in front of a 20,000 crowd at The Dell where the Busby Babes had won the first leg 5-2.
He was now well on his way to a successful career in football and having been selected for England Youth five times, he joined Southampton as a professional in April 1957. John made his debut for the Southampton first team on 4 May 1957 at home to Newport County. At this time John first joined forces with another young winger, Terry Paine, and before long both players were regulars in Saints’ first team, tearing Third Division defences to pieces.
He became famous for having an incredible burst of speed and would simply knock the ball past an opposing defender and then outsprint him to reach the ball first.
He first received International honours in the 1959-60 season being twice selected for the England Under-23 team including against Scotland, which match ended 4-4. A young Denis Law netted all four goals for the Scots while Jimmy Greaves converted a hat-trick for the English.
Like most players at this time, his progress was interrupted by National Service in July 1960.
On his return to the club, he soon regained his place on the left-wing and played an important part in helping Southampton reach the First Division in 1966. Unfortunately, by the time of Saints’ arrival in the top flight wingers were dropping out of favour, and John was often not selected for away games in preference for an extra defender. Uncomplainingly, he remained loyal to the club and on 16 August 1969, he enjoyed a spectacular afternoon at Old Trafford, when he laid on all four of Ron Davies’ goals to set up a memorable 4-1 victory against Manchester United.
To Saints fans from the 1960s, the words “Paine and Sydenham” roll off the tongue as effortlessly as “peaches and cream”, and the two of them will always be remembered as the club’s finest ever pair of wingers. John made 401 League and Cup appearances for the Saints, scoring 40 goals.
Eventually, he was slowed by age and lost much of his effectiveness and, after a testimonial match against Portsmouth, in March 1970 he moved to Aldershot (under old team-mate Jimmy Melia), for whom he made 59 appearances before moving on briefly to Bath City , managed by another ex-Saint David Burnside. He first went to Perth, Western Australia in 1974. He stayed just for the one year, but in that time faced Chelsea with the State side in May and won a Top-Four medal with Floreat Athena before jetting back to England. He was lured back to Western Australia in 1980 to take on a player-coaching role at the Greek-backed club Athena, where both Alan Ball and Ted MacDougall played for him, and succeeded in returning the side back into the State League as Second Division champions.
Today, with his wife Jean, he lives in Perth where he runs an insurance company he formed 20 years ago. Since the demise of their academy in Australia, Sydenham is Saints’ representative there, keeping a close eye on any talent coming through.
John Sydenham factfile
Born: 15th September 1939, Southampton
Appearances and goals
1957-69: Southampton 342 (37)
1969-71: Aldershot 59 (4)
January ’10: Jimmy Case
December ’09: Alan Ball
November ’09: George O’Brien
October ’09: Francis Benali
September ’09: Steve Williams
August ’09: Terry Paine
July ’09: Charlie Wayman
June ’09: Jimmy Steele
May ’09: Matt Le Tissier
April ’09: Antti Niemi
March ’09: Steve Moran
February ’09: Ted Bates
January ’09: Marian Pahars
December ’08: Mick Channon
November ’08: Ivan Golac
October ’08: Ron Davies
September ’08: Chris Marsden
August ’08: Danny Wallace
July ’08: John McGrath