Return of the Saint but now he's Bairdinho

Fulham's Mr Versatile is the first of those highly prized academy starlets to return to St Mary's

One bittersweet aspect of Southampton's return to the Premier League was always going to be the chance to welcome back the academy graduates who had to be sold while the Saints were out of the top flight. Today, ahead of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and the rest, Chris Baird becomes the first of the old boys to return, making his first appearance at St Mary's since leaving for Fulham in 2007.

Saints supporters who remember the young right-back will now see an experienced Premier League player with a Europa League final under his belt. They may be bemused to hear the Fulham fans sing "We've got Bairdinho" – the chants and a Facebook page a tribute to the likeable Ulsterman who won over the crowd after a difficult start at Craven Cottage.

"I think it came from two goals at Stoke," he said of the Roberto Carlos-style strikes in December 2010. "I was walking off down the tunnel and I heard, 'We've got Bairdinho' and I thought, 'Fair enough, I'll take that.' It's nice to hear the fans shouting for me. They've been terrific for us and we want to reward them with another good season."

Baird, 30, was signed from Southampton by Lawrie Sanchez, who managed him in a Northern Ireland team that had taken some notable scalps, including Sven Goran Eriksson's England in 2005. He had been Saints' player of the season, and though he had experienced relegation, he had good memories, such as the 2003 FA Cup final against Arsenal. "It was only my second start," he said. "I was happy just to be in the squad in Cardiff, and when Gordon Strachan named the team I couldn't believe it. I was disappointed we lost, obviously, but with 30,000 Saints fans, the scene was amazing. Thierry Henry just beat me to man of the match, but I think I got it from our players and fans.

"It was a hard decision to leave Saints but I'm happy to be here [at Fulham], although I didn't think I still would be after that first season. I played only 20 games, and the majority of them weren't good. The fans got on my back, and I can under-stand that. But I'm not one to give up. I wanted to show them, and prove to Roy [Hodgson], the new manager, that I could make it in the Premier League. I got my head down, worked hard and turned things around."

Baird is Fulham's third longest-serving player, and arguably the most versatile. He has played in central defence as well as at full-back, and is now a holding midfielder in Martin Jol's entertainingly remodelled side.

"It all started when Roy came in and we had injuries and suspensions. He was looking at the fringe players, which included me at the time, and seeing if they could do a job. Luckily I could step into roles across the back four and in central midfield – even at Southampton injuries forced me to play at centre-half, so I got to know the position. It's just nice to play, to be honest. We've got players who can hurt teams – Dimitar Berbatov is one of the best I've played with – and I'm glad to be part of it."

Baird has had plenty of managers to impress – six at Southampton, four at Fulham. But while the turnover at St Mary's led to relegation, Baird praises Hodgson – who tried to sign him for West Bromwich Albion in January – Mark Hughes and Jol for maintaining stability at Fulham. "We were doing well at Southampton, consistent in the League, but there were manager changes and players coming and going, and relegation happened, then administration.

"Whoever has come in at Fulham has seen the good things we can do and stuck with them. Mark was terrific, and Martin is similar. Training is good, we're playing well, we fin-ished ninth, in the top half again."

He hopes Fulham will be in the top half after today's game. "I had a fantastic time at Southampton and I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "I always followed them, even when they were down in League One, and I was glad to see them coming back up to where they should be.

"I don't know what the reception is going to be like today – OK, I hope. I've still got friends there, my wife's a Southampton girl, I had my first daughter there, her mum and dad are big fans. He wants a Saints win but me to score. But I'm a Fulham player now and I want the three points."

Southampton v Fulham is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal at the Golden Globes in 2011
film
Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up