One of the quirkier and more memorable football grounds, The Dell was home to Southampton for over 100 years before they moved to St Mary’s Stadium in 2001.
The club originally played at the wonderfully-named Antelope Ground until it was sold for development in 1896. They then spent a short period at the local county cricket ground before deciding that the rent (£200 per year) was exorbitant and announcing the purchase of a plot of land for the construction of a new stadium.
The new location, described by one writer as ‘a lovely dell with a gurgling stream and lofty aspens’ was in a valley north of Southampton Central Station and the land was bought from the railway.
The Mayor kicks off the first match at The Dell
Built at a cost of £10,000, The Dell was opened in 1898 with a match against Brighton United in which the home team ran out 4-1 victors. It was so highly thought of that it was chosen to stage an international between England and Ireland in 1901. Funds to build the ground had to be borrowed so the club were effectively tenants until finally raising the money to buy it outright early in the 20th century.
The original Stadium had two stands, East and West. A new West Stand was built in 1928 based on designs by the famed football architect Archibald Leitch. The following year the East Stand was destroyed in a fire and a new stand was built in the same style as the West.
The Dell in the 1930s
The Stadium was damaged twice during World War Two, once by a bomb which landed on the pitch and the second time when there was an explosion and a fire in the West Stand where munitions were being stored.
The Dell was the first Stadium in England to have floodlighting installed, in 1950, with the first match played being a friendly against local rivals Bournemouth.
The ‘Chocolate Boxes’
Perhaps the most famous feature of the ground were the ‘chocolate boxes’ built at the southern end of the stadium which gave a two tier effect and which remained until the 1980s.
The Dell hosted First Division football for the first time in its history in 1966 and in 1969 a record 31,044 crammed in to watch Manchester United – George Best, Bobby Charlton and all – beat the hosts 3-0. But the need to change to all-seating saw capacity greatly reduced and after searching for a new site for some time the club announced in 1999 that they would be moving to the newly-built St Mary’s Stadium.
In 2001, 103 years after opening, Saints ended their time at The Dell with a real flourish, local hero Matt Le Tissier scoring the 89th-minute winner as they came from 2-0 down to beat Arsenal 3-2.
A favourite of many away fans, The Dell, like many of it’s kind, became a victim of the need for more modern facilities. But it will always hold a place in the hearts of Saints fans, and many visitors too.