Football: Taylor enters frame as Branfoot bows to fans' pressure: Ex-England manager may be Saint

IAN BRANFOOT delivered the news that some Southampton supporters were praying for when he decided yesterday to step down, thereby creating an opening which may be filled by another manager who departed after extreme pressure from his critics. . . the former England boss, Graham Taylor.

Taylor was already being spoken of at The Dell as a possible successor even before Branfoot decided to leave. He has an obvious heavyweight supporter in the boardroom in the shape of Lawrie McMenemy, his England assistant who was made a Southampton director before the turn of the year.

A home FA Cup draw with Second Division Port Vale was the point of no return for Branfoot who decided then he had to go. During the tie he was greeted by a sea of red cards from fans in the Milton Road stand, the popular end of the ground, endured the same taunts which have become familiar to his red-raw ears and left hastily afterwards under cover in an effort to avoid protestors outside the main entrance.

Last night, the Southampton Independent Supporters' Association which had organised the campaign to oust him was celebrating its 'late Christmas present'. A spokesman, Clive Foley, described it as a 'victory for people power' and added: 'Branfoot has taken the team nowhere and it'll be three years before we are back to the point at which he came in. I don't feel any sympathy for him. Because of his arrogant attitude he never built up a rapport with fans. No one will be sorry to see him go.'

Despite the abuse Branfoot maintained a dignified stance and saw no reason to change it when he departed as manager. 'I only want to wish the club every success,' he said. 'It's a wonderful club, full of wonderful people.'

It was Branfoot's second spell on the south coast. Before embarking on a successful period at Reading and a brief stop at Crystal Palace he was in charge of Southampton reserves. The second time around, however, he was never able to win over his detractors whose dissatisfaction really began on his first day in June 1991 when he showed the door to the experienced campaigner, Jimmy Case.

The supporters were unhappy with the players he brought in to replace his big-money sales who included Alan Shearer and Tim Flowers. Kerry Dixon and David Speedie arrived for a combined pounds 1m fee, but were released a year later for nothing. The protests grew in intensity this season when an embarrassing Coca- Cola Cup defeat by Shrewsbury followed the same dismal Premiership pattern. They are one off the bottom of the table.

The Southampton chairman, Guy Askham, said: 'Ian Branfoot has relinquished his position as team manager and has left the club's employment. He has served the club honourably, skilfully and diligently in circumstances in which most men would have given up the task before now.'

Placed in temporary control are two assistant managers, Lew Chatterley and John Mortimore, while McMenemy has been given the job of helping to find a replacement. That can only feed speculation about Taylor, but there may also be support for two former McMenemy players, Alan Ball (the manager at Exeter) and Peter Shilton (player- manager at Plymouth Argyle).

Newcastle are hoping to entice Paul Merson away from Arsenal and are understood to have offered around pounds 3m for the versatile attacker who has been unable to win back his place after injury. George Graham, who has frequently criticised Merson's attitude, might now be tempted to sell him but risks upsetting Highbury supporters who have become frustrated at their manager's exclusion of flair players.

Wales are protesting to Uefa after learning they are among the third- ranked seeds for the 1996 European Championship draw to be held in Manchester on 22 January. They are upset because new countries like Ukraine and the Czech Republic are included among the second seeds. A Uefa spokesman said the seedings were decided by performances during the 1992 European qualifiers and the 1994 World Cup qualifiers while, with respect to new countries, the results of their clubs in Uefa competitions were used.

Torino's trauma, page 35