On that day

On that day: A fitting tribute?

November 28, 2008
By John Brewin
(Archive)

"His head is too big, his arms too big, his legs too small."

EmpicsWhat £112,000 will buy you. The first statue tribute to Ted Bates.

When a football club mourns its greatest servant there is often public call to build a statue to their fallen hero. So it proved at Southampton when club legend Ted Bates passed away five years ago on November 28.

Edrich Thornton Bates was a former Saints player, manager, director and president earning him the sobriquet Mr Southampton. As a manager he had led Saints to the First Division for the first time in their history in 1966, with a team boasting the talents of Martin Chivers and Ron Davies. He also helmed the club's maiden voyages in European competition.

Not only that, he had retained his dignity by stepping aside from the manager's position to hand the reins to Lawrie McMenemy who consequently led the club to FA Cup success in 1976 with Bates as his right-hand man. It was Bates, ever the gentleman, who was the first to congratulate McMenemy when the final whistle blew at Wembley on that sunny May day.

On retiring from coaching, Bates moved into the boardroom, serving the club for 20 years before being appointed club president. In 1998 he was awarded an MBE for services to football and then received the freedom of the city of Southampton the same year.

By the time of his death in November 2003, Bates had served the club for fully 66 years. His passing was honoured with great solemnity by the club and its supporters. As Manchester United had paid tribute to Matt Busby and Liverpool had done for Bill Shankly, it was felt that the club should erect a statue to a man who was truly the father of Southampton as a modern football club.

Enter local artist Ian Brennan, a lifelong Saints fan. Commissions from the Royal Household were among his 90 previous projects and so Brennan was handed the project by a committee of Saints fans, the Ted Bates Trust, who had raised half of the £112,000 it cost to sculpt a life-size bronze statue of the great man. The club paid the rest. It took eighteen months for Brennan to complete the labour of love he described as "more than a commission" and "a passion". Brennan said he had "worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week on this project" relying on photographs to obtain a likeness of Bates, which was his first ever human sculpture.

The Ted Bates Trust readied fans for the unveiling of the statue by hailing the maestro, saying: "Ian is a lifelong Saints fan and is meticulous with every detail of the statue even down to the creases in Ted's shoes that have to be exactly right."

GettyImagesTed Bates acted as assistant to successor Lawrie McMenemy during the club's most successful era.

Come March 17, 2007, the stage was set for the exhibition of Brennan's meisterwerk. Bates' widow Mary unveiled it in front of 450 guests and former players. The gathered audience greeted it with what would politely be described as a mixed response. And gasps of horror. The life-size statue did not look anything like Ted Bates. Or a normal human being for that matter. It was out of proportion, with the arms and legs being the same length while Bates' visage was fixed in a gormless grin.

Worst still was that if its face resembled anyone it was Milan Mandaric, former owner of none other than Portsmouth, Southampton's bitter rivals. And that comparison was a genuine insult to Mandaric. Meanwhile, Pompey fans smirked as pictures of this curious tribute hit the mainstream media, who also compared the statue to cross-dressing Scotch comedienne Janette/Jimmy Krankee and President George W Bush.

Saints fan Dave Hunt described it as "an absolute abomination. A lot of people have put in a lot of effort to raise the money for this and I think they deserve better. Certainly, Ted deserves better."

Bates was now perhaps more famous as a statue than he had ever been during all those decades in football. The club tried its best to calm an ongoing media storm of mockery and mirth: "Although the Trust and Ian Brennan share the disappointment of the fans over the finished version, they are upset with some of the over-the-top comments. They are hurtful to the family and to those who worked so hard on the project."

Fellow sculptors joined in the derision of Brennan. Philip Jackson, who had sculpted the Busby statue at Old Trafford, mocked the length of time Brennan had taken on his magnum opus and said: "It is still my opinion that if Southampton want a good sculpture and wish to avoid further embarrassment, they must bite the bullet and start again." Jackson's advice was soon followed. Within three days of unveiling, the statue was taken down considered beyond redemption. Saints chairman Leon Crouch said: "We owe it to him (Bates) to build a fitting statue. With hindsight some things could have been done differently, but this is not a time for recriminations. Let's just sit down and put things right."

Bates' family agreed that what they described as an "artist's impression" should be changed.

GettyImagesSanity was restored by a new statue - at an extra cost of £120,000.

Lawrie McMenemy, now a director at the club's new St Mary's home, played the Arsene Wenger card saying: "I was at the unveiling on Saturday night but I couldn't really tell what people thought of it - it was very dark."

Brennan's pride was severely wounded by the criticism of his "passion" and he went on the defensive. "Sculpting from photographs is not the cleverest way of doing it," admitted the under-fire artist. "Madame Tussauds would never work from photos alone because it is difficult to get the 3D effect." Exit stage left the maestro.

Southampton, at a further cost of £120,000, turned to Sean Hedges-Quinn, who had previously made a tribute to Sunderland legend Bob Stokoe. Hedges-Quinn had attracted his own detractors when his Stokoe statue, which was meant to convey the moment when the Rokerites won the 1973 FA Cup Final, showed the wrong time on the watch. Of course, that was small fry compared to the ridicule of Brennan's creation.

On March 22 2008, Southampton were finally able to unveil a statue that all were happy with. It looked like Ted Bates. Which helped.