It has well documented that Southampton’s fanbase has grown substantially in the recent few years, as a result of their brand of attractive football and growing development of the club.

Not only has this attracted more fans and plaudits from elsewhere in the country, but also from all around the world.

This national attention that has been pushed on to the Saints has made us all proud, given the journey from the depths of League One to the heights of the top flight and European football.

The most appreciative of football fans nowadays appear to be those who have been through it all with the club; relegation, administration, success, the good times and of course, the bad times.

So, how have the fans from abroad found life supporting Southampton throughout all these years, witnessing the heartache and the growth of what is now a prestigious, global football club?

I spoke to John Paron, the former president and now vice president and treasurer of the Southampton Australian Supporters group, who was kind enough to answer my questions about his love and support for the club.

I’d like to thank John for his time, as well as his love and support for Southampton Football Club. It’s fans like him that make the game so special and that make our club so significant.

What made you support Southampton?

When I was 14, I was training with a regional team. To get me talking, whilst huffing and puffing, the ‘keeping coach asked me who I supported in the old first division. As I supported no one, and he insisted that I had to, I asked him who had the best ‘keeper. He said Southampton (Peter Shilton). From then on, I have been a Saints fan. It was re-enforced when Matty Le Tiss came along. The rest is history.

What was your first experience with Southampton?

Watching them when they were shown on Match of the Day in the early 80’s.

Have you ever visited St Mary’s?

In 1990, I went to the old Dell whilst visiting London on match day, thinking it was like Australia, where you can just buy a ticket on the day. Much to my surprise, it was sold out. So it was a quick pint or two before catching the next train to London.

Over the past ten years I’ve been to St Mary’s to watch Saints play in League One, the Championship and, a few months back, in the Premier League. The last time was the best because I took my wife and two sons for the first time. Every time I watch the Saints play at home I get a bit emotional.

I also went to my first away match this season at Watford.

How many Australian Saints do you know?

Well over 100. As part of the Southampton Australian Supporters (SAS), we have 3750 followers on our Facebook page alone. It started off with five people in 2005. We had about 100 members in the first few years and an e-mail mailing list. I basically got new members by accosting people in the street who I saw wearing a Saints scarf or getting out of a car with a Saints sticker on it. We then started a Facebook Group in 2010 and we have just grown and grown from there. A special mention should go to the SAS’s current president Trevor Foy, whose marketing skills have been invaluable to our continued growth.

I have made friends from all around the world due to our mutual love for the Saints. Malta, Ireland, London, Italy, Denmark, Texas, Cardiff, Holland and obviously Southampton and Australia.

Are there organised meet-ups to watch games with fellow fans where you are?

There is a hardcore group of about 15 of us who meet in the early hours of most Sunday Mornings at the Imperial Hotel in Melbourne. We also meet for mid-week games over breakfast if we are televised and the pub opens for us. We can get up to 60 people if it is a big match or an early weekend kick-off. It must be mentioned this is a far cry from when we were in the lower leagues and only got a dozen or so matches a year. They would be massive events and something we all looked forward to. The other capital cities also have regular catch ups. We also have been having an annual national road trip since 2013. This is a massive event attracting Saints fans from all around Australia. People have driven the equivalent from Southampton to Warsaw through a desert to attend. This year it’s happening on the 27th of Feb. Starting at 2.00pm at the Imperial’s rooftop bar, then concluding in our private room at 4am after watching the Saints take on Chelsea. There more than likely will be a beach or riverside recovery session the following day. People are travelling 2500kms to attend.

I think one of my all time highlights of following the Saints was watching the promotion match from the Championship against Coventry and with about ten minutes to go we had the 50 odd Saints fans who had overtaken the Sherlock Holmes Hotel in Melbourne hugging and congratulating each other and thinking the long exile is over. I can still hear the noise of the corks popping and the chanting.

How do Australian football fans’ perceptions of football differentiate between English fans?

That’s a difficult question because about 50% of SAS members are English born. I find the Australian born fans are more forgiving. It was our understanding from afar that Guly Do Prado copped a lot of flack towards the end of his time from the faithful at St Mary’s. Amongst most of us in Melbourne he became and still is a cult figure if for nothing all the work he did for us in the lower leagues. Many of us still closely are following his career. I think that could be because if you have no links to Southampton and you support the Saints you have to be a big fan of the underdogs and Guly was an underdog when he made the step up to the Premiership. There are other little things like out nickname for Shane Long is The Big Shlong, where the Shlong has an interesting interpretation into Australian slang.

Overall I feel Saints fans are more or less the same, world over. We get through the lows and celebrate the highs with such passion – if we were not, we would probably be plastic supporters of a big club.

What is it about Southampton that you love the most?

There is not much not to love. It’s like being part of another family, being part of the Saints Community. We suffer together and support each other through the lows. I have had people I have never met before go out of their way to help me, just because I am a fellow Saint. Some examples would be:-

• People offering me their seats for away games or a place to stay in England at their own expense just because I travelled from Australia to watch the Saints.

• The work of the current SAS president Trevor Foy bringing unwanted Saints shirts and scarfs to orphanages and poverty stricken people in the 3rd world. He recently told me a story of sending a shirt to a Saints fan in Vietnam who unfortunately could not get the parcel from the local post office because he could not afford the local pick up tax.

• Getting together here in Australia and seeing the generosity of my fellow SAS members when we have raised money for Mary’s Meals, The Southampton Hospital’s Children’s Cancer Ward and the Disabled Saints Supporters.

How could I forget mentioning celebrating a big win with a small and passionate band of fellow Saints in the middle of the night.

Is there one player you’d like to see at the club in the near future?

From a Personal view, I’m pretty trusting in Ronald (Koeman), plus Les Reed and the rest of the backroom staff. Everything and nearly everybody he has bought to the club has been above expectation. The only time things don’t seem to go well is when we have injuries. A perfect example would be when Fraser Forster is injured, it makes an obvious difference to the team. Look how much better (Maya) Yoshida plays for example.

What is your earliest memory of Southampton?

Watching them as a school kid on Match of the Day when I was a school kid. I always kept an eye out for Peter Shilton but I always remember thinking to myself that David Armstrong always looked very fast.

Who is your current favourite Saints player?

That’s a tough one because the squad is full of likeable and talented players but I will narrow it down to three in no particular order:-

• Fraser Forster – as mentioned, you just have to look at the difference in the way the side plays when he is in the team.

• Jose Fonte – Came to us in League One and made the climb through the divisions. Club captain, comes across as a likeable person and Southampton through and through. He is also a very underrated centre-back.

• Graziano Pelle – Also comes across a genuine nice person, has been shown able to score a goal in the past, plus he gave my 10-year-old son a wink and a thumbs up whilst waiting for a corner to be taken after we asked for one in Italian during the away match at Watford earlier this season.

Where do you think Southampton will finish this season?

I’m dreaming about top four, but if we keep defending like we are at the moment there is no reason why we can’t finish fifth or sixth. Over the past few weeks its looked like we can’t be scored against.

Once again, I would like to thank John Paron for taking his time out to answer these questions for us. Be sure to ‘like’ his Facebook page for the SAS.