Adventures in Football #44: St Mary’s (Southampton FC)
MARCH 13, 2022
SOUTHAMPTON FC vs. WATFORD FC (Premier League)
Southampton started life as a church team way back in 1885 and were originally called St Mary’s until switching to Southampton in 1897. Hence the name of the new ground. They started life in the Southern League, which they frequently won and were a regular contender for early FA Cups. When the leagues settled down in the 1920s they were founder members of Division Three South. They won it, second season, and would have probably continued on an upward trajectory were it not for the outbreak of war. They were part of the new Division Three in 1958 and thus started a rapid rise up the divisions. By 1966 they were in the top flight. They went back down again but won the FA Cup in 1976 while a second tier side.
Since the 70s it’s been relatively comfortable being a Southampton fan. Promoted back to division one in 1978 they stayed there until 2005. During that time they made it to another cup final (and lost), a League Cup final (which they lost) and came second in the league in 1984. They were founder members of the new Premier League in 1992 and it all felt like sunshine and roses until the 2005 relegation. Followed by, in 2009, relegation to League 1. Followed by a 10 point deduction for entering administration. They didn’t wallow in this mire though and were back in the Premier League by 2012. Back in 2001 they moved from their home at The Dell to their current home; St Marys.
The Dell was an old fashioned stadium, which hasn’t hindered many other top teams (Old Trafford, St James Park, Anfield, Villa Park, Stamford Bridge, Goodison etc) but it was small. When they moved from the Dell to St Marys Southampton basically doubled their capacity. 32,384 is the capacity for St Marys. That makes it the single biggest stadium I’ve been to this season. Edging out West Brom, Birmingham and Nottingham Forest.
Southampton come into this game with Watford in P10 (before Saturday) and it looks like being comfortable mid-table yet again for the Saints. A win here would basically end any worries about relegation. Meanwhile Watford have a paltry 19 points and are on their third manager of the season. Typical Watford behaviour. Both teams lost on Thursday night. Southampton at home to a rejuvenated Newcastle, Watford away at Wolves.
After Saturday’s escapades at non-league Arundel FC we* headed over to Potter’s Heron. A pub just north of Southampton that would be our stop over for the evening. I would recommend it. It was a nice spacious room, the staff are overly polite but happy to engage in a bit of banter and it was a nice experience.
*Myself and Groundhopper’s Guide co-host Mike Kilby.
Look at it! What a beauty. This is an actual hotel. I had a miserable night’s sleep but this was down to my right shoulder, which had decided to go all stiff and wake me up every 15 minutes or so. A right laugh. I’m sure the beers didn’t help matters. They had a nice bitter called Flack’s Double Drop, which was from a local brewery in Romsey. They make a tasty beer. No complaints. After my horribly disrupted sleep we headed off into Southampton, which was a breezy little trip. Only 20 miles. Bit of a contrast to my journey time from home.
We parked up at an NCP, which cost £11. The trouble with city centre stadia is that while parking is abundant it isn’t cheap. We got in so early we thought we’d have a stroll around. That quickly got old and we tried to go into the Spoons to get one of their greasy breakfasts. It was packed. This is just after 11am. I forget sometimes how early football fans get into the pubs.
We strolled around and found a boozer called the Duke of Wellington. It was completely empty but almost every table had been reserved for lunch. There was literally one bloke at the bar. They sorted us out on a table that was booked for 2pm and we got some fine quality scran in. Also, another really decent beer called Dirty Rucker, from the unpredictable Wadsworth brewery.
Having been suitably fed we headed off towards the ground. It was about a mile away and we got to take in some of Southampton’s vibe. I’ve been there before, in the summer, and it’s a nice place. It doesn’t have the same feel as Portsmouth with its historic docks and big ships but it feels more modern.
We walked past this church, which is the St Marys church that Southampton’s new stadium is named for. The humble beginnings of the Premier League giants was within these walls. From there we cut across the train tracks. That will never not unnerve me. You can’t even see that far along them. Note: this picture is taken from Google, there’s no way I’d stand there and take that shot. The question is….are we now on the wrong side of the tracks?
From this harrowing life and death experience it’s a stroll through an industrial estate loaded with burger vans. In fact they were so frequent there’s one in the shot I took of the ground. I didn’t even realise.
This is the Chapel Road end where the family zone is that they shoot t-shirts into pre-match.
We also walked past these lads. They’re quite famous at Southampton, it’s the brass band that plays “When the Saints Go Marching In” before the match starts. It’s quite the sight, seeing a brass band march down the side of the pitch. It certainly gets the crowd fired up. This is them warming up. They’d just finished their rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Not quite what I was expecting.
We walked past the club shop (or megastore if you’d rather) as the queue was the longest I’ve ever seen. People really wanted that merch today. WAIT JUST A MINUTE…
Is that Southampton me? Is that Southampton Josh he’s talking to? Mind blown.
In we go. This is the first completely unmanned turnstile I’ve ever been through. Stick your ticket in the barcode reader and you’re automatically through the clack-clack-clack bit. It was quite satisfying. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure they had this at West Brom and it didn’t work. Stewards were very helpful though. Being a new build, the ground has tonnes of room for people to mingle around pre-match.
After last week’s landscape shot at Burnley, here’s my go at St Marys. Bosh! Some bloke stood up just as I took it, which rather ruins the effect but you can see it’s a lovely new shiny stadium with a cool looking roof. It’s a big bowl of a ground with all the corner bits filled in. It’s exactly what you’d expect a modern stadium to look like. It doesn’t have the character of Turf Moor and grounds like this are part of the reason I hope a lot of older grounds get renovated rather than replaced. New grounds are fine, but I preferred Turf Moor to this.
How’s the legroom by comparison? Erm, well. It’s worse too. Not Portsmouth bad but very tight. The seats aren’t wide either so I was constantly rubbing shoulders with my two neighbours. Get some social distancing back in here!
On mascot watch we have Sammy Saint. Sammy is a prankster. I watched him and his whole aim in life is practical jokes and then giggling to himself. It had a certain charm to it. He’s got a sister/wife/girlfriend as well but I have no idea what her name is. I can tell she’s a girl though by the dramatic bow on her head. Look at her giggling away. They must be related.
Modern stadiums have this deal where the floodlights are built into the roof. It doesn’t have the same feel for me of seeing floodlights sticking up above the stadium. I do dig the whole set up on the roof here though. It looks cool. Like I said, it’s a modern ground and you get the mod cons but also the downside. The crowd were lively in here but I’d prefer the old ground personally.
The game kicks off but nobody tells Southampton who snooze through the first half and get hit on the counter repeatedly. A terrible, terrible back pass leads to Cucho Hernandez making it 0-1. Watford go up by two goals not long after and Mike, already miserable thanks to Luton losing to QPR earlier in the day, says “this is the worst day of my life”. Sorry mate. It’s not helped by the Watford fans singing “Luton get battered everywhere they go”. For Mike, there’s nothing worse than the sight of a happy Watford supporter.
Half time was the best part of the day. Mixmaster Ed, the Southampton DJ, played a load of relegation themed songs to irritate their visitors including “Down” and “Free Fallin”. There were also messages for people’s birthdays and whatnot and one of those was “Happy 70th Birthday to Grandad Fat Boy”. Grandad Fat Boy! As if that got read out. The second half was a frustrating watch. Watford players cheated extensively. Normally by falling over and pretending to be injured to stop the game but then refusing physio treatment so they could stay on. They were very persistent at this. It’s a form of gamesmanship that some people (Simeone for example) think is an acceptable tactic. I believe it to be total scumbaggery from teams who can’t win without cheating. The only other thing that happened of note was a VAR check on a blatant handball, which I could see in real time. No handball says the VAR. It didn’t even make Sky’s highlight package.
So, that was it. Watford win. Mike is sad. I had an ok time at Southampton. The ground is pretty uninspiring as a new build. It’s from a period where teams were aware they needed something new and with that came urgency but not so much thought. At least St Marys is still in the middle of the city and near the church where it all started. It just doesn’t have much character. It probably didn’t help that Southampton were crap. In their defence I did love the brass band, the mascot and all the little bits and pieces that you get from a well-run club. However, I would take Turf Moor over this every day of the week and it’s not even remotely close. If they’d made it comfortable it might be a different matter, but seat space is every bit as squeezed here as at grounds that are a hundred years old. I’ve not been to many new builds, but a running theme is functionality over soul. The aim of any footballing architect should be to make a building I can’t take my eyes off. Or at least offer a view inside that’s irresistible. Not take their design from a tissue box.
My next game is at Sutton Coldfield so I imagine my takes will be less dramatic! Until then; enjoy the football.