The biggest club on the south coast after the sorry demise of bitter local rivals Portsmouth, Southampton FC are based at St Mary’s, just east of Southampton‘s city centre. Lending its name to the stadium the club built in 2001 after a century at The Dell, St Mary’s is where the club has its roots.
It was in 1885 that the Reverend Arthur Sole set up the St Mary’s Young Men’s Association football team, attached to the church of the same name. Then, as now, the area was quite rough, and football was one of several team sports being actively encouraged.
The team played local fixtures before becoming St Mary’s FC, then, as the club progressed up to and past the Southern League, simply Southampton FC: ‘The Saints’.
One player for St Mary’s was Charles Miller, a Brazilian student who would take the game to São Paulo, and thus Brazil. A mural on the footbridge to today’s St Mary’s Stadium honours this extraordinary twist of fate.
Others to sail out from Southampton, the then Gateway to the Empire, were the engineers, dockers and miners who introduced football to Spain. Many were locals, who probably instigated the wearing of red-and-white stripes in Bilbao.
As a club, Southampton were also pioneering, their international tours advancing the game in Central Europe. Goalkeeper Jack Robinson would give post-match displays on the art of the full-length dive. More than a century later, his name is still evoked in Budapest if a keeper makes a spectacular stretch for the ball.
By now, Southampton were playing at The Dell, the ground they had built at great expense, just the other side of today’s Bedford Place.
Failure in two FA Cup finals, lack of progress in the league and local economic misery – more than 500 Southampton households lost a family member on the Titanic – led to fallow years at The Dell.
The Saints picked up after the war, when loyal striker Ted Bates notched enough goals to bring them within a whisker of the elusive top flight. With Bates as manager, Southampton achieved promotion in 1966, the crucial goal coming from star winger Terry Paine, soon to play for England at the World Cup. Though a spectator for the final itself, Paine would receive his medal more than 40 years later.
Bates managed the club for two decades, up to the successful early 1970s. He was also on hand, though not in charge, when the club won their only major honour to date, the shock cup final over Manchester United in 1976.
He lived long enough to see the club move to their new stadium at St Mary’s, where his statue stands on front of the main entrance.
Southampton Airport is 6.5km (four miles) north-east of town, with its own rail terminal, Southampton Airport Parkway, a short walk from the terminal. A train (journey time 10mins, £3.40) runs to Southampton Central every 10-15min.
Radio Taxis (+44 23 80 666 666) charges £11-12 for the same journey.
Six bus companies run public transport, each with separate routes and ticketing. Plan your journey with Traveline. Most of Southampton, from station to city centre or city centre to stadium, is pretty walkable.
Southampton Tourist Office has a user-friendly, click-through booking service.
The hotel closest to the stadium is the family-friendly Premier Inn Southampton City Centre with a restaurant attached. The stadium is just the other side of the roundabout, no more than 10min walk away.
Historic city-centre hotels include the Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin, where Jane Austen celebrated her 18th birthday in 1793. Some have seen better days. The Star Hotel is within easy reach of St Mary’s, while the Southampton Park Hotel, conveniently located between station and city centre, has attractive online rates and TV football in the Mayflower bar.
For real luxury in the heart of town, the themed White Star Tavern offers five-star boutique with bar and restaurant to match. Lower Deck rooms are affordable – Upper Deck is expenses-only.
Bars dot various city-centre hubs, including Bedford Place and Oxford Street. The student quarter of Portswood and Bevois Valley, north and south of St Denys, offers a more bohemian, music-savvy selection.
With the stadium so close, many city-centre pubs double up as pre-match ones. Classic examples include The Grapes, recognisable from the film ‘Titanic’, and, equally traditional, The Alexandra. Other football-focused venues include the standard Frog & Parrot and, closer to the waterfront, The Standing Order. Another Wetherspoon, in the Bedford Place vortex, is The Giddy Bridge.
If you just need to pop in and catch the match near the station, Encore is a handy, party-centric pub by the Mayflower Theatre.