Haven for football missionaries on the south coast

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

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.

Welcome to Southampton/Peter Thompson

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, then the 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.

Welcome to Southampton/Peter Thompson

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.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

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 (£3.40, journey time 10mins) runs to Southampton Central every 10-15min.

Radio Taxis (023 80 666 666) charges £11-£12 for the same journey. The station is just west of the nearby city centre, St Mary’s east of town near the riverfront. The main bus companies are Bluestar (Southampton City 1 day pass £3.40) and FirstBus (aka City Red, FirstDay pass £3.50). There’s no one overall pass but if you add a PlusBus tariff (£2.40) to your train ticket here, you can use nearly all local buses all day. From London Waterloo, the train takes 1hr 15mins, average advance single £12-£15. Direct from Birmingham New Street, it’s 2hrs 40mins, average advance single £100.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

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 on Oxford Street, recognisable from the film Titanic, and, equally traditional, The Alexandra on Bellevue Road, with a spacious beer garden and live music. Both show TV sport. 

Other multi-screen hostelries include The Standing Order on High Street, towards the waterfront. Another Wetherspoons, in the Bedford Place vortex, is The Giddy Bridge. Nearby, The Bedford is an excellent choice for match-watching, with craft beers and DJ sessions. Also in the vicinity are the more gastro-focused but TV-equipped Cricketers and the funky local branch of the now universal BrewDog, all 21 taps of it. 

If you just need to pop in and catch the match near the station, The Mayflower Village, the former Encore,  is a handy, games-focused pub by the Mayflower Theatre, with interactive darts and shuffleboard.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Visit Southampton has a user-friendly, click-through room-booking service.

The hotel closest to the stadium is the family-friendly Premier Inn Southampton City Centre with a restaurant attached and parking for £10/24hrs. The stadium is just the other side of the roundabout, no more than 10mins walk away. Another 10mins towards town, Jurys Inn Southampton on Charlotte Place comprises 270 upper mid-range rooms, some overlooking East Park.

Historic city-centre hotels include the Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin, where Jane Austen celebrated her 18th birthday in 1793. Alongside on High Street, the Star Hotel is a fairly basic three-star also dating back to the 1700s. Another Premier Inn at Cumberland Place, the former Southampton Park Hotel, is conveniently located between station and city centre, has attractive online rates.

For real luxury in the heart of town, the themed White Star Tavern on Oxford Street offers five-star boutique with a bar and restaurant to match. Lower Deck rooms are affordable – Upper Deck is expenses-only. Many passengers would have slept here before taking their fatal last voyage on the Titanic. Next door, The Grapes has a handful of comfortable rooms above a traditional pub. 

Nearby, overlooking the marina, Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa is the city’s only five-star, as sleek as the yachts bobbing alongside, with a state-of-the-art gym and spa, plus the rooftop HarBAR, the finest spot for drinks in town.