Saturday, November 21, 1885 saw the birth of a new football team when St Mary's Young Men's Association F.C beat Freemantle by five goals to one. The match was played on the site of what was then part of the old County (Cricket) Ground in Northlands Road where Hampshire Bowling Club now reside.
As well as being known as St Mary's F.C, Southampton St Mary's and, of course, their present name Southampton F.C. during the last 125 years, the Saints have played at a number of different locations.
The early days saw matches take place on Southampton Common (near to The Cowherds pub), the County Ground itself and their first long term ‘home’. The Antelope Ground was bordered by St Mary's Road, Clovelly Road and Exmoor Road in the St Mary's area of the City (not far from where the Jurys Inn now stands) and played host to matches between 1887 and 1896.
It was around the turn of the century that Southampton started to see success by winning the Southern League five times in seven years, a period that also saw them as losing FA Cup finalists in 1900 and 1902. After a very brief spell back at the County Ground, it was also during this time that they moved into The Dell, which was to be their home for 103 years.
Saints joined Division Three of the Football League in 1920 where they were runners up before being promoted as Champions in 1922. A seven year spell back in Division Three during the latter part of the 50s was finished with promotion as champions once more in 1960 and then the ultimate step forward to Division One in 1966.
The Dell, having had its capacity reduced to 15,000 by the 90s, was being thought of as requiring replacement as early as the 1970s but it wasn’t until 2001 that this actually happened. It was whilst as The Dell that Southampton enjoyed their most successful times.
The FA Cup win in 1976 and achieving the runners-up spot in the First Division in 1984 top the pile of honours but there were also League (1979) and ZDS Cup (1992) Runners-up medals as well as an appearance in the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1977.
The record home attendance of 31,044 in a 1969 match at The Dell against Manchester United was broken once the move to St Mary's was finally made although, in the main, the opening part of the 21st Century has been one of disappointment for Saints fans.
They were runners-up again in the FA Cup in 2003 but St Marys has also seen two relegations and the holding company that owned the club entering administration in its first ten years of occupation.
Whilst silverware was won in the shape of the Johnstones Paint Trophy earlier this year, with it being a competition solely for the lower divisions, sadly this just goes to show exactly where Southampton FC currently lie in the football hierarchy.
Where the roller coaster ride of recent years will end up no-one knows but St Mary's regulars will be hoping that the bad times of the last decade are replaced by good for the next.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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