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The History of Southampton Football Club

A bit of history by Ned Kelly

Southampton FC has many fans like myself, who follow the club very closely. The club has fans all over the world, hence the brand name; SaintsWorld. As a true Saint’s fan, wherever you are in the world, the club holds a very special place in your heart. However like me, many of you may not know as much as you would like about the history of the club. This article will enable you to gain a brief knowledge of the club’s rich history and possibly tempt you into doing your own research about the club.

The creation of Southampton F.C.

The development of the club dates back to November 1885, when the club was founded under the parish St. Mary’s Church, naming the club St. Mary’s Men’s Association. Shortly afterwards a game was arranged against rivals Freemantle F.C. They beat the opposition 5-1 with Ned Bromley (Charles Edward Bromley) bagging the first ever Saints hattrick. The game was orchestrated on the ‘backfield’ of the Hampshire County Cricket ground.

The Saints joined Hampshire Football Association when it was founded in 1887. The club was prosperous from the beginning, they won the Hampshire FA Junior Cup three seasons consecutively. The Saints went on to succeed in the Hampshire FA Senior Cup by winning the competition in 1892 and 1893. By 1894 the club became a fully professional football club competing in the Southern League. The Saints played in the Southern League for 26 years from 1894 until 1920, they won 6 titles in the Southern League: 1897, 1898, 1899, 1901, 1903 and 1904. The Saints then joined the 3rd division in 1920 and became founding members of the league. After two seasons they were promoted to the 2nd division. The club from their creation in 1885 despite massive evolution through 135 years of history, have always been committed to the famous red and white stripes. Many people were attracted to the colours of the kit, including both Spanish clubs Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. Juanito Elorduy visited England in the early 20th century, and before leaving for Spain became inspired by the kit which led to Elorduy buying 50 shirts and giving 25 shirts to each football club.

The Dell

The stadium opened in September 1898 with the first opponent being Brighton United. The Saints were victorious scoring 4 goals to 1. The first goal ever scored at the Dell, was scored by striker, Walter Keay.

Despite our fierce rivalry with Portsmouth, the Saints unavoidably had to play home matches at Fratton Park during World War 2, as a bomb landed on the pitch at the Dell, leaving the ground damaged.

A record attendance was broken on the 8th of October against Manchester United with the Dell stadium packed out at an outstanding number of 31,044. One of the iconic features of the Dell, was the two-tier terrace positioned to the south of the ground, the second tier resembled what many labelled as ‘chocolate boxes.’ Due to the Hillsborough disaster the Taylor Report triggered much change across the nation with stadiums being transformed into ‘all-seated’ grounds, this led to the Dell becoming cramped and dramatically decreased the capacity. The stadium saw 103 years of football before the Saints due to the lack of expansion prospects had to form plans to play elsewhere, this being at St. Mary’s Stadium. The last ever competitive game at the Dell was contested on the 19th May 2001, with an exciting 3-2 win against Arsenal with Matt ‘Le God’ Tissier scoring the last ever goal at the historic ground. Le Tissier spoke about the moment in his autobiography “Taking Le Tiss”, the former striker described the moment “the explosion of noise was incredible. Even now it sends a great shiver down the spine.” The victory on the final day of the season lifted the club from twelfth position up to tenth, many hold the consensus that there was no better way to end the Saints term at the ground.

Ted Bates

The iconic Ted Bates (also known as Eddie) was born 3rd May 1918 and passed away on the 26th November 2003. The former Saint’s player made 217 appearances for the club and scored 64 goals, his years as a player for the club spanned from 1937 to 1953. Eddie’s most memorable appearances were alongside Charlie Wayman, together they proved to be a formidable force. After his retirement in 1953 he became a coach, by 1955 he was employed as first team manager. Bates managed the club into the second division in 1960, Bates then for the first time in the Saints history brought the club up to the first division of English football. By this point Ted Bates had surpassed expectation as no other manager was able to bring the side to the 1st division. Eddie later in 1969 took the club into Europe for the first time entering the Inter-Cities Fair Cup. By 1973 Bates surpassed Matt Busby as the longest serving manager in football, he shortly afterwards handed over the reins to Lawrie McMenemy whilst becoming assistant manager to McMenemy for a few years.

Eddie’s affiliation with the club continued first as Chief Executive then occupied the role of director, in 1993 he retired from the board. Bates after being a member of the board from 1978 later became club president in the 90s holding the role until his passing. His reputation became increasingly known as “Mr. Southampton”. The well-respected man received further honours such as Freedom of the City in 1998 alongside being nominated and later receiving an MBE in 2001, the club later revealed a statue outside St. Mary’s Stadium in 2007.

We spoke to lifelong Saints fan Jeff Stanfield, Jeff when asked to describe Eddie, stated that he strived for “the best attitude on and off the pitch demanding that the team played really fast and positive attacking football, especially at The Dell”. One of Jeff’s fondest memories was when Saints won the FA Cup in 1976. “Ted was the first person to congratulate Lawrie McMenemy at the final whistle. It meant the world to him, a definite tear in his eye – I think his quote was ‘a great big day for a great little club”. Jeff commented on the legacy of Bates stating, “The club continues to try to develop young players through the academy. Bates set out as a priority the development of youngsters – Mike Channon is a good example” further adding “I think that all the work that the Saints Foundation does for the local community is an offshoot of Ted’s time at the Saints. I believe he felt that the team and club really did represent and support our city and the fans. People often touch his statue before games or meet friends ‘by Ted Bates’. The club was a big part of his life – it is for many of the present-day supporters.”

1st May 1976 FA Cup Final Victory

It couldn’t be a Southampton F.C. history lesson without mentioning the most unforgettable day in the Saint’s history. Prior to the FA cup final in 1976, the Saints were deemed underdogs having finished 6th in the second division with Manchester United finishing 3rd in the first division that season. The team by that time had been managed by Lawrie McMenemy for 3 years. McMenemy is also known for managing the club to their most successful campaign ever; finishing runners up to Liverpool in the 1983/84 season. The clubs cup campaign started in Round 3, beating Aston Villa in a replay fixture away from home, 2 goals to 1. They further went on to defeat: Blackpool, West Bromwich Albion, Bradford City and in the semi-final won 2-0 against Crystal Palace. The final at Wembley Stadium was a hard-fought match, with the Saints holding out until the 83rd minute. McCalliog dipped a ball in between the United defence with Bobby Stokes running through getting there to hit it low with his left foot, finding the bottom right corner of the net with the United goalkeeper Alex Stepney unable to make the save and as they say ‘the rest is history’.

The Saints Cup Final Squad: Ian Turner, Peter Rodrigues, David Peach, Nick Holmes, Mel Blyth, Jim Steele, Paul Gilchrist, Mick Channon, Peter Osgood, Jim McCalliog, Bobby Stokes and with Hugh Fisher on the bench.

There is a link below for more in depth information about the 1976 FA Cup winning team, it is an interesting documentary made by the club “40 Years On: How Southampton Won The FA Cup (The Final)”

Markus Liebherr Our Saviour

After being relegated on the final day of the season in 2005, the Saints 27-year top flight division stay was officially over. Following this, the Saints finished 12th in the Championship which can only be described as a lackluster season. In the 2006/07 campaign Southampton were able to creep into the playoffs, however the Saints were unfortunately beaten by Derby County; this was the club’s last chance to grab promotion with the support of parachute payments. Southampton soon after suffered with two seasons of battling with relegation, narrowly avoiding this in 2008, although in 2009 with only 45 points the Saints finished 23rd and were relegated to League One. By this point financial difficulties were looming and eventually the club were placed into administration, leading to the club being deducted 10 points ahead of the 2009/10 League One campaign. As of 8th July 2009 Markus Liebherr completed negotiations which saw the completed purchase of Southampton Football Club. This became the foundation of which the club were able to bounce back from misery, to back to back promotions in 2010/11 and 2011/12, meaning that 3 years from Liebherr’s arrival the Saints found themselves in the Premier League after a 7-year absence. Sadly, Markus Liebherr passed away in August 2010 after suffering a heart attack, Liebherr’s investment was instrumental in the Saint’s success and it can be said that the Saints would not have reached the success it has had over the last 10 years without him.

This article provides an overview of Southampton F.C. and its historic moments. It recounts the formation of the club and its early years. It also charts both the highs and lows in the club’s history, such as: the Dell, Ted Bates’s success, climbing to top flight football, winning the FA Cup, going on to experience administration alongside being in the 3rd division for the first time in nearly 50 years and then bouncing back to the Premier League.

Ned Kelly

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