THE father of Burnley striker Sam Vokes will have mixed emotions if his son scores another goal against the club he was brought up to support.
Tim Vokes is a lifelong Saints fan who saw his eldest son play a small part in the club’s relegation to League One five years ago.
Sam netted a first-minute header in a 3-0 Wolves win when he last played against Saints, at Molineux in April 2009. The Good Friday result took Wolves closer to the Premier League, while Saints dropped closer to League One.
“The writing was on the wall, it was another nail in our coffin,” recalls Tim. “But I prefer to blame Kelvin Davis for not catching the ball and whoever was supposed to be marking Sam!
“At least he didn’t celebrate and he came over to clap the Saints fans at the end.” Tim was in the away end that day but has not decided where to sit as his son prepares for his first start at St Mary’s - against the club that rejected him for being too BIG.
“Saints looked at him when he was 11 but after a six-week trial said he was too tall and lanky and wouldn’t fit into their way of playing,” explained Tim, who saw his first Saints game, aged five, in 1967 (Ron Davies scored twice in a 3-2 win against Manchester City at The Dell.) “My cousins took me down, I stood on a box to see the game."
Tim took Sam to the Dell for the first time as a three year-old, for a 3-2 win against Sheffield United in 1993.
“He belonged to the Junior Saints and we went to away games together,” he continued. “Then he got noticed by Southampton schoolboys and trialled with Saints.
“I was more upset than him when he wasn’t taken on, but he was still happy playing with his mates and a year later he went to Bournemouth. The rest is history.”
It was at Bournemouth that Vokes first played alongside Danny Ings, his Burnley strike partner and another local lad, from Netley Abbey.
The Southampton-born Saints rejects have scored 29 goals between them in firing Burnley into promotion contention in the Championship this season.
Ings was a Cherries academy teammate of Sam’s younger brother Matt, a former Bashley midfielder, before his partnership with the older sibling began. “I gave up my Southampton season ticket when both of them were at Bournemouth, I couldn’t follow them and go to St Mary’s,” said Tim.
“I’m very proud of both my boys. Matt was released at 18 and has gone back to college, but I still think he can make it.”
The Vokes brothers first played the game firing shots at their dad, a former goalkeeper with East Boldre, Hordle, Highcliffe and, briefly, Wessex League Brockenhurst, in the back garden of their Lymington home. Sam thrived at Bournemouth, making his debut two months after his 17th birthday and scoring 16 goals in 38 league starts.
His move to Wolves came in 2008, but he was restricted to nine starts and nine goals in four years.
After several loan spells he was signed by former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe at Burnley 18 months ago.
The Welsh international's little-and-large partnership with Ings has blossomed this season, with Vokes scoring ten – his best return since his Cherries days.
“They know exactly where the other is 90 per cent of the time and Sam’s the battering ram,” smiles Vokes snr, who lives in Freemantle, where his business, Vokes Concrete Flooring, is also based.
“He’s always been a big lad. When he was playing junior football for Sway in the Bournemouth League other parents would complain that he was too big to be playing in that age group.
“He bullied other defenders and that’s what got him noticed. He’s a gentle giant off the pitch but on it he’s always been a tough character, as you can see from his scars!”
There will be scores of Sotonians supporting Burnley’s No 9 at St Mary’s this afternoon, as well as Ings, while Jay Rodriguez will have no shortage of backing in the away end.
“We’ll have 19 family and 30 friends, including Sam’s girlfriend Maddy, a Lymington lass, and his mum, Penny,” says Tim. “A lot of Sam’s friends are Southampton fans but we’re having to get the rest of the tickets from here, there and everywhere.
“Sam’s got me a Burnley ticket but I’ll decide where I sit on the morning of the game! I see Burnley more these days, including all their games over the Christmas period, but I’ll probably be in with the Saints fans.
“Hopefully they’ll understand my reaction if and when Sam scores. The best result for me would be a 4-3 Saints win with a hat-trick for Sam!
“But I don’t mind seeing Southampton lose so much now they’re playing such good football. It’s certainly better than the Ian Branfoot days!”
Whatever the result, Tim will mull over the 90 minutes with a pint alongside fans of both clubs.
“I knew a lot of Burnley lads from long before Sam signed for them, through drinking in real ale pubs while supporting Southampton home and away,” he said. “A few of them are coming down and I’ll take them round the real ale pubs in Southampton over the weekend.
“We’ll visit my locals, the Wellington and the Waterloo Arms, as well as The Giddy Bridge, The Dolphin and The South Western.”