In c.1885 the Reverend Arthur Baron Sole, the curate of St Mary’s church, began meeting with the young men of the parish to discuss founding a football club. The initial discussion centred on whether a soccer or rugby club should be formed, with those in favour of the round ball game eventually winning out. St Mary’s Young Men’s Association (usually abbreviated to St Mary’s Y. M. A.) was founded on 21 November 1885 and played its first match against Freemantle, the best of the existing local teams, on the same day. St Mary’s won 5-1 and began establishing themselves as the dominant local team.
The genesis of the club may be said to pre-date 1885 as the St Mary’s club essentially absorbed the already existing Deanery Football Club which had been formed five years earlier in 1880. There were also links between the Deanery club and the even older Southampton Rangers who were playing matches on the Common as early as 1878.
That first match against Freemantle was played on land later occupied by the Hampshire Bowling Club on Northlands Road, but most of their early games, all friendlies, were played on the Common. After joining the newly-formed Hampshire Football Association in 1887 the club, now styled Southampton St Mary’s, established the Antelope Ground on St Mary’s Road as its first permanent home.
The club won the Hampshire Junior Cup three years in succession from 1887-88, and then turned their attention to the Senior Cup which they won 1890-91 and 1891-92. They were now the premier team in Hampshire and in 1891 they entered the FA Cup for the first time. They joined the newly-formed Southern League in 1894 finishing third in their first two seasons and winning it in the 1896-97 season. At the beginning of that season they vacated the Antelope Ground, which was proving too small for their growing band of supporters, and moved to the county cricket ground on Northlands Road. Further success followed, with Saints winning the championship in the two following seasons and reaching the final of the FA Cup in 1898, which they lost 2-0 to Nottingham Forest. In 1898 the club moved to a new purpose-built ground at the Dell in Banister Park. The new stadium, built by George Thomas and leased to the club, had a capacity of between 20,000 and 25,000.
At the beginning of the 1920-21 season the Southern League sides applied en masse to join the Football League, with the result that the third division was created, becoming the third divisions (North and South) a year later. Saints finished second in their first season in the third division and were promoted to the second division in the 1922-23 season, where they remained until the 1953-54 season when they slipped back into the third division (south). Ted Bates took over as manager during the 1955-56 season, and in 1959-1960 guided them back into the second division. In 1967 Saints achieved their first ever promotion to the top tier of English football by finishing second to Manchester City. They qualified for the EUFA Cup for the first time in the 1970-71 season, after finishing seventh in the league. They were knocked out by Athletico Bilbao in the first round.
They remained in the first division until the 1973-74 season when they finished in 20th place and were relegated. It was during this next short spell in the second division that Saints were to achieve their only major trophy, winning the FA Cup in 1975-76. By this time Lawrie McMenemy had replaced Ted Bates as manager and had begun building a team that would eventually take them back to the top flight, a feat they achieved at the end of the 1977-78 season. This began a sustained period in the first division and later the Premier League, an era that was almost certainly Southampton’s most successful. Although no more major honours were achieved, they finished runners-up in the league in the 1983-84 season, appeared in three major cup finals and played in Europe on four more occasions. In 2001, after more than a hundred years at the Dell, they moved to the new St Mary’s stadium in Northam. The move to a new stadium, however, heralded a period of declining fortunes for the club. They were relegated in 2005 after 27 years in the top flight. Financial woes and unstable management continued, with the club eventually going into administration and receiving a ten point deduction in April 2009. This deduction ensured that Saints would be relegated to the third tier of English Football for the first time in almost 50 years.
Since this nadir, their fortunes have started to improve again. In 2011 the club won promotion back to the Championship after spending just two seasons in the third tier, and in 2012 they returned to the Premiership.

see also

Dell, The

Further reading:
In That Number: A Post-War Chronicle of Southampton FC, by Duncan Holley and Gary Chalk. (HS/r)
Southampton: A Complete History of the Club, by Peter East. (HS/r)
Full-Time at the Dell, by Dave Juson and David Bull. (HS/r)
Association Football and the Men Who Made it, Vol. 4, by Alfred Gibson & William Pickford, p65-68. 796.33


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