BY Vince Cooper

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 St Mary’s name has been with the Saints since the very beginning of their existence as the club’s origins came from the St Mary’s Young Men’s Association.

Early visitors to the area were the team from Stoke City and they would eventually leave behind three or four of their players, along with the red and white quartered shirts which became the new team’s first-ever kit.

The original meeting that brought about the creation of the club took place at St Mary’s parish church under the chairmanship of the Rev. A. B. Sole and the club became St Mary’s F. C. With Canon Wilberforce as the first president.

The 1887-88 side

In November 1885 St Mary’s played their first-ever home match against Freemantle at a ground on Newlands Road. It resulted in a 5-1 win with Ned Bromley, later to be named captain, scoring a hat-trick. At this time the team were known as St Mary’s Young Men’s Association. This was abbreviated to St Mary’s FC in 1888 then to Southampton St Mary’s in 1894 and finally to the current name after winning the Southern League in 1896-97.

The club played at a number of grounds in their early years including Southampton Common (where matches were frequently stopped due to people wandering across the pitch), Newlands Road and then 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 in Northlands Road before deciding that the rent (£200 per year) was exorbitant and announcing the purchase of a plot of land nearby for the construction of a new stadium.

Action from the Cup final loss to Bury

With George Carter an inspiring captain the team quickly became a major force locally and a hat-trick of successes in the Hampshire Junior Cup gave them the trophy outright and saw the jump up to senior level. They went on to capture the Senior Cup seeing off Royal Engineers in the final. Their first tilt at the FA Cup saw a 7-0 thumping of Reading which was later overturned because they played two members of the 93rd Highlanders who were ineligible.

When the Southern League started in 1894-95 Southampton St Mary’s were among the founder members (although they were initially refused a place and only entered when another team pulled out after being invited) and they finished third behind Millwall Athletic and Luton Town a feat they repeated in year two. They then proved that they were clearly the south’s top team, taking the title in three successive seasons, with the first of the those being achieved with an unbeaten record.

The 1897-98 season saw Southampton advance to the FA Cup semi-final when they were drawn to play Nottingham Forest. A 1-1 draw in the first meeting at Bramall Lane set up a replay held at Crystal Palace. The match, with over 20,000 fans in attendance, started in ‘slight sleet’ but as play went on this developed into a ‘raging blizzard’. Play was eventually suspended but the referee insisted it should be finished and Forest, having been under pressure for most of the match, scored twice in the last three minutes to record a 2-0 win before going on to beat Derby County in the final.

The 1899-1900 players

The last of the trio of Southern League wins came in 1899-1900, a season which also ended with a first  FA Cup final appearance. Victories over Football League teams Everton (3-0), Newcastle United (4-1) and West Bromwich Albion (2-1) set up a semi-final clash with old foes Millwall Athletic who had come through a three-match marathon with Aston Villa

The pair first played out a goalless draw at the Crystal Palace before Saints prevailed 3-0 when they met again at Reading’s Elm Park in front of a crowd of 8,500 with goals from Alf Milward (2) and Jimmy Yates.

England international goalkeeper Jack Robinson.

Bury were the opponents in the final at the Crystal Palace and, in front of a crowd of 68,945, they gave Saints ‘a footballing lesson’ according to one report, running out 4-0 winners. Indeed, the report went on that were it not for the heroics of England international goalkeeper Jack Robinson the win might have been even greater.

C. B. Fry

Two years later they would again make it to the final.

The first round draw for the 1901-02 season set Saints a clash with Spurs. The pair, with Southampton as winners of the previous season’s Southern League and the Londoners as the cup holders, were generally considered as the South’s top two teams and they fought out a titanic struggle over three matches, Southampton finally prevailing with a 2-1 win at neutral Elm Park.

Liverpool were then dispatched 4-1 before Saints got their revenge over Bury in the quarters, travelling up to Lancashire and running out 3-2 victors. Tottenham’s White Hart Lane was the semi-final venue and Nottingham Forest were comfortable]y seen off 3-1 to send the men from the South coast back to the Crystal Palace.

Action from the 1902 final

This time, with that famed polymath C.B. Fry in their ranks and wearing unfamiliar white shirts, they scored two minutes from time through Harry Wood to take Northern giants Sheffield United, who included William (Fatty) Foulke in goal, to a replay before losing 2-1 at the second time of asking. It would prove to be the club’s last final appearance for over 70 years.

The Mayor kicks off the first match at The Dell

The new land bought by the club was described by one writer as ‘a lovely dell with a gurgling stream and lofty aspens’. It was in a valley north of Southampton Central Station and had been built on land bought from the railway.

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 with the opening goal coming from Scottish inside forward Watty Keay.

Watty Keay. First Dell goalscorer.

Keay was signed by secretary / manager Charles Robson as one of six new faces brought to the club after one of Robson’s scouting trips to the Midlands. The trip, which also brought centre-forward Joe Turner to the club from Stoke City, caused problems for the Saints who were accused by Burslem Port Vale and Stoke of poaching. They were severely censured for ‘gross negligence’ and ordered to pay their own costs along with those of the other teams involved.

Keay was lured away from Derby County, where he had lined-up regularly alongside Steve Bloomer, and he would spend five years at the Saints before retiring, aged just 28 in 1900 with a record of 28 goals in 83 matches and being presented with a pocket watch by grateful fans for his service.

After hanging up his boots Keay became first a publican and then a shipwright but he maintained his association with the Saints, coaching the reserves in the 1920s and working as a scout in the 1930s.

England v Ireland

The new ground quickly earned a reputation as one of the finest in the country and within a year of opening it was chosen to stage an international between England and Ireland on 9 March 1901 a match which resulted in a 3-0 win for an England team that included Saints goalkeeper Robinson, C. B. Fry and outside-right Arthur ‘Archie’ Turner although the last named was forced off after just 20 minutes following a heavy challenge.

The £10,000 it had cost to build the ground was borrowed from a Mr George Thomas, later to become a director at Chelsea so the club were effectively tenants until finally raising the money to purchase the freehold early in the 20th century.

Members of the Argentina – Uruguay tour party

In 1904, the pioneering Saints, Southern League Champions for the sixth time in the season just ended, ventured on an unprecedented 17-day tour to Argentina and Uruguay, the first British professional team to do so. They played a total of six matches against local opposition, winning all and scoring a total of 40 goals.

They were clearly the best team in the Southern League but Southampton was particularly hard hit in 1905 when the competition decided to impose a wage limit, forcing them to sell a number of their best players. This took away the monetary advantage the club held over a number of their rivals and forced them back into the pack.

The club continued to compete, with mixed results, in the Southern League up until football was stopped by the 1st World War where they were particularly hard hit by casualties during the fighting with 19 present or former players losing their lives. But the first fatality came, tragically, on the pitch.

Three months after the conflict started Southampton were playing a reserve team match at Watford where George Mouncey was struck in the stomach by the ball. The centre-half, who had made one Southern League start for the club, had to receive artificial respiration after the blow and passed away three days later from heart failure.

After the fighting ended the Football League decided it was time for expansion and Saints were invited to join in the newly added Third Division which soon became the Third Division (South). Having finished as runners-up to Crystal Palace in their debut season Southampton captured the title in 1921-22 to move up into the Second tier where they would remain for 31 years.

The Dell in 1928

This period saw the debut of classy defender, and son of Olympic cyclist, Michael Keeping.

An outstanding full-back, Keeping was signed from Milford On Sea FC in 1919 for the princely sum of £25. It took him a while to break into the firet team as Saints already had a fine player in his position in England international Fred Titmuss. But he eventually ousted his rival from the side in 1924 and from there on became a regular in the line-up, so much that Titmuss was allowed to leave for Plymouth Argyle in 1926.

Full-back and future Real Madrid boss Michael Keeping

Known for his fastidiousness and dress sense (he would apparently spend hours getting ready before public appearances), Keeping featured for the Professionals team in the 1929 Charity Shield and also represented the Football League against the Irish League in 1931.

However, the early 1930s saw financial problems at The Dell, brought about in part by construction work and Keeping was sold, along with Johnny Arnold, to Fulham for £5,000. He spent the rest of his playing career at Craven Cottage but perhaps his major claim to fame came in 1948 when he was appointed coach of Real Madrid, a post he would occupy for two years.

The West Stand is demolished in 1927

The original Dell had two stands, East and West. The old West Stand was demolished in 1927 and a new one 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.

Ted Drake

The Saints looked like they might miss out on locally born Ted Drake who was offered a trial at Spurs whilst playing for Winchester City. But after missing the trial match due to injury he was persuaded to join Southampton and turn pro, giving up his job as a gas meter reader.

Drake spent three years at The Dell, scoring 47 times in 71 matches before moving to Arsenal for £6,500. At Highbury he scored 124 goals in 167 matches and also managed five in six starts for England before his top-class career was sadly cut short due to the Second World War.

He would later go on to become a successful manager, guiding Chelsea to their first league title in 1954-55.

The Dell in the 1930s

The Stadium was damaged twice during World War Two, once by a bomb which landed on the pitch and caused an 18-foot crater and the second time when there was an explosion and a fire in the West Stand where munitions were being stored. This forced them to switch home matches for a while to Fratton Park, home of local rivals Portsmouth.

Alf Ramsey with teammates Ian Black and Bill Rochford

It was during World War Two that the club signed Dagenham-born Alf Ramsey who was serving with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Ramsey, who had previously agreed amateur terms with Portsmouth before being turned down by the Fratton Park, spent the war years in England, enabling him to play regularly for his Battalion team.

Originally stationed in Cornwall, they moved to Hampshire and after they had played two friendlies against Southampton in 1943 he was called in by his commanding officer and told that Saints wanted him to play for them in a match against Luton Town. He signed amateur forms and played, giving away a penalty as the team secured a 3-2 win. He played three more matches for the club in the 1942-43 but then his battalion was posted to County Durham.

When they returned to Hampshire in 1944, Ramsey he was offered professional terms by the club at £2 per match. Reluctant at first, he eventually agreed to sign although this debut was delayed when he was injured, ironically playing for his battalion against Southampton.

Returning after Christmas he made his professional debut against Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Playing at centre-half he could do little to stop former Saint Ted Drake scoring twice. Towards the end of the season he switched to inside-left for a match against Luton Town and scored four times in a 12-3 win.

Ramsey remained in the Army throughout the 1945-46 season but managed 13 appearances for the Saints before he was deployed in Palestine. The following campaign saw him demobbed, employed at the club on new terms of £6 per week in the summer, £7 in the winter and £8 if he played for the first team. He starting the season as the reserve team’s centre-forward but was switched to full-back by manager Bill Dodgin and promoted to the first team.

It wasn’t until the 1947-48 season that Ramsey ousted incumbent right-back Bill Ellerington and earned a regular starting berth and the rapid rise continued when he was included in the England party for the 1948 Summer tour.

However in early 1949 he was injured, Ellerington came back in and played so well that he couldn’t win his place back. He asked for a transfer and was sold to Spurs in a part-exchange deal with Welsh international winger Eddie Jones moving in the other direction with Ramsey valued at £21,000 – a Spurs club record.

A title-winner as a player at White Hart Lane, Ramsey later moved into management at Ipswich Town where he led the team to successive 2nd and 1st Division championships before, of course, managing England to their World Cup win in 1966.

The Dell was the first Stadium in England to have permanent floodlighting installed, in 1950, with the first match played being a friendly against local rivals Bournemouth.

The 1949-50 team

Three times in the late 1940s and early 1950s the club came close to promotion to the top flight. Fuelled by the goalscoring exploits of the prolific Charlie Wayman, they missed out to Sheffield United by an agonising 0.06 of a goal in 1949-50.

Charlie Wayman scores against Blackburn Rovers

Wayman had arrived from Newcastle United in 1947 and in three seasons at The Dell he scored 73 times in 100 appearances, teaming up with future manager Ted Bates.

The sharpshooter had all of the attributes of a great centre-forward except for one. At 5ft 6in he was definitely smaller than the average main striker and this lack was in all likelihood the only thing that stood between him and an international call-up.

Wayman was eventually sold to Preston North End where he would continue his fine goalscoring exploits while the Saints plummeted down the table, finding themselves relegated to the Third Division (South) in 1953.

The ‘Chocolate Boxes’ at the Milton Road end.

Perhaps the best remembered feature of the ground were the ‘chocolate boxes’, as the three elevated enclosures built at the Milton Road end of the stadium became known, which gave a two tier effect and which remained in place until the 1980s.

Derek Reeves

It took Saints seven years to regain their Second Division status then finally in 1959-60, 39 goals from Derek Reeves took them to promotion.

Reeves had joined the club shortly after being demobbed from National Service in 1954. After scoring on his debut against hometown team Bournemouth he went on to bag almost 150 goals in 273 starts before leaving in 1962

Three years later, York City, Watford, Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest were all seen off in an F. A. Cup run that ended in narrow semi-final defeat to eventual winners Manchester United in front of 65,000 fans at Villa Park.

By 1965-66 Martin Chivers had taken on the goalscoring responsibilities and his league-leading 30 goals helped earn the team the runners-up spot in the 2nd Division and – at long last – promotion to the top flight.

Chivers, born locally in 1945 wrote to the club asking for a trial. After it proved successful he was sent to play for farm team CPC Sports then inked a professional contract in September 1962.

Martin Chivers

After scoring in his third match, against Newcastle United in April 1963 he had earned a regular place in by the start of the following season where he finished joint-top scorer alongside Terry Paine.

When he was sold to Spurs for a club record £125,000 in 1968 he had scored 96 times in just 176 matches and he would go on to win 24 England caps, netting 13 times.

By the time of the club’s promotion Ted Bates had already been managing the club for 11 years. After he had secured First Division football for his club the manager signed Welsh striker Ron Davies to partner Chivers and the pair’s prolific goalscoring kept them safely afloat in the top flight.

Terry Paine scores for England against the Rest of the World

Reeves, Chivers Davies and later Mick Channon were all fine goalscorers but they also owed much of their success to service received from wide men Derek Sydenham and more specifically the aforementioned Paine.

Paine arrived at The Dell in 1956 after playing for Winchester City as a youth, moving to Southampton after City manager, and former Saints player, Harry Osman recommended him to former teammate Bates. By the time he left, for Hereford United in 1974 he had spent 18 years at the club and had made a total of 825 appearances in all competitions as well as winning 19 England caps.

The 1966-67 line up

The Dell hosted First Division football for the first time in its history in 1966. A crowd of 19,900 were present to see Terry Paine give Saints the lead although Mike Summerbee later equalised for Manchester City to leave the match all square. The season proved something of a struggle for the new boys but they managed to avoid immediate relegation finishing in 20th place five points clear of the drop zone.

One of the reasons Bates was prepared to let Chivers move on in 1968 was the emergence of another local product, Mick Channon.

Mick Channon in England Under-23 colours

Wiltshire-born Channon had made his debut as a 17-year-old in 1966, scoring against Bristol City and by the 1968-69 campaign was ready to take a regular place up front alongside Davies. He would go on to spend twelve years at The Dell, making almost 400 appearances and scoring nearly 150 goals whilst also winning 46 caps for England.

in 1969 a record crowd of 31,044 crammed in to The Dell to watch Manchester United – George Best, Bobby Charlton and all – beat the hosts 3-0.

Saints lift the F.A. Cup

But before the move there was time to finally bring a major trophy to The Dell.

By the time the 1975-76 season came around Saints were being led by Lawrie McMenemy who had taken over when Ted Bates retired following relegation in 1974 after 18 years at the helm.

There was a 3rd Round FA Cup scare when Southampton were held to a home draw by Aston Villa but two goals from Jim McCalliog gave them an extra-time win in the replay. A home win over Blackpool was followed by another replay success when, after a 1-1 draw at the Hawthorns they hammered West Bromwich Albion 4-0 at home. A first-minute goal from Mick Channon and he later went on to add two more with Paul Gilchriet completing the scoring.

Peter Osgood set up McCalliog for the only goal in a tough quarter-final at Bradford City and that set up a last-four clash with Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. Gilchrist scored again to give his side the lead 14 minutes from time and a David Peach penalty four minutes later confirmed Saints’ place at Wembley.

Wembley hero Bobby Stokes

McMenemy’s men were big underdogs against Manchester United on their first ever visit to Wembley but an 83rd minute Bobby Stokes goal was enough to win them the trophy, still, to date, their only major honour.

Top flight runners up

Two seasons later the club regained their First Division place and McMenemy brought a number of veterans to the club, including Alan Ball, Kevin Keegan and Peter Shilton, to help keep the team in the top flight, and do even better particularly in 1983-84 when the finished the season as runners-up, just three points behind champions Liverpool.

Le Tiss

Next up on the home grown production line was Channel Islander Matt Le Tissier who, having made his debut in 1986 would spend his entire professional career with the club, playing almost 500 games, winning eight England caps and scoring a number of stunning goals.

Alan Shearer

Two years later another homegrown player (although this one was born and raised in the North East) broke through in Alan Shearer. And what a breakthrough it was with a hat trick against Arsenal on his full debut.

Unlike Le Tissier, Southampton were unable to resist big money offer for Shearer who moved to Blackburn Rovers for an English transfer record breaking fee of £3.6 million.

The Dell retained its homely yet passionate atmosphere 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 fittingly 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. And those living in the development now on the site of the former ground have reminders galore of the ground’s history with apartment blocks named after former heroes Bates, Channon, Le Tissier, F.A. Cup hero Stokes and Danny Wallace among others.

The new St Mary’s Stadium is highly thought of and the club have done a great job in providing a ground that all attending can enjoy. But it can never be The Dell.