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Official Review by Stephan Hoogerwaard, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
St Mary's Stadium has been the home of Southampton F.C. since 2001, and is situated close to the city centre of Southampton. With a capacity of 32,689, it is a UEFA 4-star rated stadium. It is the largest football stadium at the south coast of England.
The need for a new stadium became more and more apparent in the 1980s when the club was among the best sides in English football. At that time, Southampton F.C. played at The Dell, which only had a capacity of just 15,000 seats. Obviously, this was unworthy of Premier League standards. The city council offered the club the chance to build a new ground on the disused gas work site in the heart of the city, about one and a half miles from The Dell.
The move was cited as the club "returning home", because the club was formed by members of the nearby St. Mary's Church as the football team of St. Mary's Church Young Men's Association before becoming Southampton St. Mary's F.C., and eventually Southampton F.C. So, it’s no wonder that the stadium was named St Mary’s Stadium. This piece of history also explains why the club is nicknamed "The Saints".
The stadium, which cost £32 million to build, is a complete bowl, as all stands are equal in height. There are two large video screens at each end. The stadium has four stands, each named after neighbourhoods of Southampton in which the entrances themselves face. The eastern grandstand, named the Itchen Stand as it faces the River Itchen, is considered the main stand since it contains all the executive boxes, press area, a police room, and even four hospitality suites named after players considered to be the Saints' greatest: Bobby Stokes, Terry Paine, Mick Channon, and Matt Le Tissier. The stand across the pitch from the Itchen is called the Kingsland Stand, while the south goal rests in front of the Chapel Stand, and across the pitch is the Northam Stand.
32,363 fans were at the 28 April 2012 Saints match against Coventry City, the record attendance at St Mary's. If needed, the stadium was built to be able to expand to around 50,000 seats.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are not many pubs located nearby the St Mary's Stadium, so the choice for away fans is limited. There is the Waterfront Bar on William Street, which is in an area called Shamrock Quay. In the Ocean Village, you can find "The Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis" public house. This large establishment has an excellent choice of beers, friendly staff, and a convivial mix of both home and away fans. Also in the Ocean Village, you can find various restaurants for a pre-match meal. Most home fans end up in the city centre before the game, where there are plenty of pubs to choose from. Please remember though that if you do drink in the centre that the stadium is a twenty minute walk away. Otherwise, alcohol is served within the ground.
The sizable concourse behind the stands features a Ladbrokes, has TVs which show the game as it is played, and hosts a number of eating and drinking outlets. At these outlets, you can buy the regular burgers, hot dogs, and pies (such as steak kidney or chicken curry pie). You can also choose from a large variety of drinks like sodas, coffee, or beer. There are plenty of staff and the queues never seemed to get particularly long, which was a pleasant surprise. The food and drink prices are reasonable. There is also a "Pie & Pint" outlet that, as the name suggests, only serves beer and pies. Please note that it is not allowed to bring beer into the stands.
During our match against Leeds United, the atmosphere was great. The 3,200 travelling Leeds supporters sung for most of the match. These supporters were housed in half of the Northam Stand, while the other half of the stand was for Saints supporters. They were very vocal on this day, as well. Louis Armstong's version of the song "When the Saints Go Marching In" was heard several times. Nowadays, this song is the main anthem of football clubs like Southampton F.C., St Patrick's Athletic, and Australian Rules Football club St. Kilda.
St Mary's Stadium is located just east of Southampton's city centre in the docks area on the west bank of the River Itchen. It is less than 2 kilometres (15 minutes walking) from Southampton's High Street. Just to the north of St Mary's Stadium, there are 2 huge old gas tanks. This is not what you expect when you are visiting a football match. Although the stadium is great, the neighbourhood is not really pleasant.
Southampton fans are truly loyal fans. Though they travel to away matches in rather small numbers, the home matches are most of the time sold out. The local rivals are Brighton Hove & Albion and Portsmouth FC. The South Coast Derby against Portsmouth is really one to attend.
From the M3, take the A33 into Southampton. Continue on the A33 until you reach the junction with the A3024 (Northam Road) and turn left towards Northam. Then, turn right onto the B3038, and follow Britannia Road to the stadium. But there is hardly any parking available at the stadium. That is really a problem. You can park your car at the Marina Area. It costs £5 and is only a 10 minute walk to the stadium.
Southampton also offers a Park & Ride service off the M27 at Junction 8. The stadium is located around 3 kilometres from Southampton station (where there is also quite a large car park), which should take about 30 minutes to walk to the ground.
The tickets for Southampton games can be bought both online and by telephone. Tickets fall into three different pricing categories (A, B, and C). Tickets for category A games are the most expensive, with the cheapest ranging from £35.00 for a seat behind the goal or in the corners to £48.00 for a central seat at the main stand. Tickets for category C games are the cheapest and cost between £28.00 and £42.00.
In addition to the scheduled bus services, there are shuttle bus services in operation on match days from the Central Train Station and the Town Quay Ferry Terminal. A fee of £2.00 per journey has been introduced for the use of shuttle buses that bring supporters to St Mary's on all matchdays. The fare is payable on the inbound journey only and tickets must be shown in order to use the bus on the return leg. Make sure you hold on to your tickets, because anyone who doesn't produce a valid ticket will not get to ride the buses back.
If you want to enjoy the south coast of England in combination with a city trip to Southampton, and there is an opportunity to visit a home match of Southampton, then you must certainly do that. The view of the playing action and the facilities within the stands are excellent. Nothing compares to the atmosphere inside St Mary's Stadium while you watch a Premier League football match.
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