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  • Chris Tuck

St. Mary’s Stadium – Southampton FC

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86

St Mary’s Stadium Britannia Rd Southampton, England SO14 5FP United Kingdom

Year Opened: 2001

Capacity: 32,384


Home of the Saints

Twenty twenty-one (2021) sees the 20th anniversary of Southampton FC’s move from the Dell, their memorable former home, to St Mary’s Stadium. St Mary’s is a four-star-rated UEFA stadium that has already created memories of its own. Premier League football in 13 out of those 20 seasons, 6 Europa League fixtures, full men’s and women’s internationals all grabbed the headlines. An 8-0 win, a 0-9 defeat, a sub-3-minute Sadio Mane hat-trick, David Prutton ‘laying hands’ on an official, and, in this game, Saints striker Shane Long scoring with his ‘nether’ regions are the stories more likely to be passed down the generations.

The Dell (1898-2001) held the hearts of most Southampton fans over the age of 40 as a quirky, compact ground that provided some big European nights of its own. Before that, the Antelope Ground was home situated just a mile from the current stadium.

The move to a new stadium in 2001 was a homecoming of sorts – the club originally hailed from the St Mary’s area of the city. Indeed, its original name in 1885 was St Mary’s Church of England YMA. It’s a club ‘built on faith’ as they say in these parts.

The stadium was built for a relatively cheap £32 million (compared to the estimated £390 million Emirates Stadium in London). In some ways, you get what you pay for since the ground differs little from similar constructions found in Derby, Middlesbrough, and Leicester. After the club was saved from extinction by the German-born billionaire Markus Liebherr, the stadium was looked after well under the watchful eye of Ted Bates, the Southampton FC legend whose statue sits just outside the ground. After the owner’s untimely death, the fabric was getting a little tired, hence the recent spruce up in summer 2019.

It’s a bowl-shaped stadium, just over ten minutes from the city centre. The four stands are named after the areas of the city adjacent: the Chapel, Kingsland, Itchen, and Northam. The latter two house the more vociferous home fans where you should expect to stand more than you sit.

Food & Beverage 4

You may well decide to eat in the city centre or from one of the burger vans hugging the pavements along Britannia Road. Inside the stadium, the choice and quality of refreshments certainly beat the ‘Stadia Catering’ at the Dell which famously sold out of food before halftime on more than one occasion! There are refreshment serveries in all the main concourses with prices in line with what you’d expect at a Premier League ground. Kingfisher beer and Magners Cider are £4.50 a pint. A glass of wine (do people drink wine at football?) is £4.20. Coke, Sprite, Oasis, and bottles of water as well as tea, coffee, and Bovril cost between £2 and £2.50.

Steak and Ale, chicken, ham and leek pies, and sausage rolls (including a vegan option) are £4. Finally, crisps, pork scratching, and chocolate bars are also available.

For more upmarket provisions, or if you just want to treat yourself, enquire via the website about the club’s hospitality options. There are 38 Executive boxes, 5 lounges, and a bar/grill with a capacity of 200. Ex-players are often around to meet visitors, chat, and take photos.

The club has recently announced a new catering partnership with Gather & Gather to begin on July 1st, 2020. Gather & Gather will provide catering and events services across the club’s sites.

Atmosphere 3

A move to a new stadium was mooted by FA Cup winning manager Lawrie McMenemy as far back as the 1970s with the club looking to cement its place toward the higher echelons of English football. A 25,000-capacity stadium near the airport almost came to fruition in the 1990s before finally, the council assisted in providing land on the east of the city for St Mary’s. Finally, the new stadium was ready for its inaugural fixture, a 4-3 friendly defeat to Espanyol in August 2001, and the first league fixture a week later at home to Chelsea. The record attendance so far was for the promotion party match v Coventry City in 2012 when 32.363 supporters were packed in. The stadium was built with expansion in mind. All except the Itchen Stand could be built upon to increase capacity if needed.

St Mary’s could never replicate the unique atmosphere of the Dell, where fans were so close to the pitch making it such an intimidating place for visiting players. The roof can still be raised at St Mary’s though and when there is a sizable away support there can be some entertaining ‘discussion’ between fans. ‘Oh, When the Saints’ Southampton fans signature song, is sung with a real passion as well as the other usual songs that do the rounds. In short, it’s the largest ground south of London and definitely worth a visit.

St Mary’s was the first stadium in England to install an LED lighting system which is cheaper, greener, and gives a distinct look at night matches. Two large scoreboards behind each goal provide information and team news and the playing surface is immaculate at all times of the season thanks to head groundsmen John Wright and his team.

In late 2016 a brand new PA system was installed which, if you wanted to, you could probably hear from your hotel room! No marching bands these days, a light show with shooting flames and booming music is the latest craze. Premier League razz-a-ma-taz is loved by tourists but often loathed by the locals.

There isn’t really a bad view in the whole ground although you will find it harder in rows a, b and c to get an overall impression of how the game is going. The sunsets seen from the Itchen and Northam corners are sometimes stunning!

Neighborhood 4

Southampton has an eventful maritime history that in many ways has defined this city known as the ‘Gateway to the World.’ The Pilgrim Fathers set off to the ‘New World’ from here in 1620 seeking a more fruitful and ‘fit for living’ existence. Nearly three centuries later over 500 Sotonians perished at sea in the Titanic disaster. The ill-fated voyage left from Southampton and it is said that almost every family in the city was affected in some way. Both of these historical events are remembered within the excellent Sea City Museum in the cities’ Civic Centre (just look for the tall clock tower). There are also smaller memorials to both events dotted around the city. The city is a major port for container / RORO and cruise ships, many of the jobs in the city are therefore rooted in the logistics sector.

Another industry that thrives in Southampton is the service sector with many of the shops, bars, cinemas, and restaurants now gathered around the West Quay Watermark complex. Other areas to explore for refreshments would be Oxford Street (upmarket bars and restaurants), Bedford Place (a large student area), Ocean Village (to get a glimpse of the sea), and the ‘Cultural Quarter’ around the civic centre building to the north of the shopping area. If culture is your thing then a guided walk around the city walls is highly recommended, as is the main art gallery and the Mayflower Theatre.

If you choose to extend your stay then there are many attractive areas outside of the confines of the city to explore. The Isle of Wight, the New Forest, the historic city of Winchester, and the beaches to the west of the city around Bournemouth are all recommended. Family attractions such as Marwell Zoo and Paultons Park are both within a 20-minute drive of the city.

All the usual chain hotels are here. The Jury’s Inn and Premier City Centre Hotels are very handily placed for the stadium and the city centre. For a more upmarket experience, the 5* Harbour Hotel at Ocean Village has great views from the rooftop ‘HarBar on 6th’ restaurant and is only a 15-minute walk to the stadium. For sports fans the Hilton Ageas Bowl Hotel is recommended, it’s integrated into the ‘Rose Bowl’ cricket ground, another international standard stadium on the western outskirts of the city.

If you enjoy your stadium/groundhopping, other local clubs to visit include Eastleigh FC and Sholing FC, and many more in the Wessex League.

St Marys’ Stadium is not in the most salubrious area of the city but there are lots of decent pubs hidden around the estates close to the ground. North and east of the stadium are the Northam Social Club (£1 entrance fee), the Prince of Wales, the Unity Brewing Company, Browns, Tap-it Brewing Company, Shamrock Quay Bistro, and The Chapel Arms. Further south there are the Oxford Street and Ocean Village areas and to the west of the city, there are numerous bars and restaurants in the city centre. Home fans tend to be spread out across the city for pre-match beverages. Away fans have various city-center bars suggested like Yates in Above Bar but, without colours, you can gain entry into most pubs if you keep your head down.

Fans 4

No local team can match the large attendances at Southampton, which is regularly over 90% full each season (averaging over 30,000). This is about mid-level for the Premier League. Away from home Southampton takes good numbers across the UK and has sold out allocations in Prague, Arnhem, and Bucharest in previous years. Over 6,000 made the trip to the San Siro stadium in Milan in 2016, a memorable occasion for all Saints fans despite the 1-0 defeat at the hands of Inter.

Brighton and Hove Albion, 60 miles away, are the closest attendance-wise, with similar 30k attendances. In the Premier League, Bournemouth is the closest geographically but with a restricted capacity of around 12,000, they will soon be looking for a newer, larger stadium.

The fan culture in the UK is second to none. Well, it was 30 years ago. English football lacks the ‘tifo’ choreography and the organised chanting of its European neighbours, and it is now promoted as family-friendly. Grounds are far less intimidating here than they used to be. What you do get though is tribalism, humour (often coarse), and knowledgeable fans, and in all these respects, Southampton fans are no different. With the onset of all-seater stadia, English football began to attract the middle class through its turnstiles. The result was (higher revenues but) sanitized atmospheres and ‘customers’ instead of participants. St Mary’s fell foul to this like many others however in recent times, particularly in the Itchen North corner, the support is loud and proud.

For the Premier League match v Aston Villa, as well as the club anthem of “Oh when the Saints,” songs were directed at star striker ‘King of the Scummers’ Danny Ings, center-back Jack Stephens, and the club’s continued ascendancy over Portsmouth, a 3rd tier side 17 miles east of the city.

Access 4

There are excellent transport links to Southampton by air, rail, and road. If you are traveling from the Isle of Wight you can even arrive by sea! From Southampton Airport it’s just a 4-mile taxi ride to the stadium. Alternatively, you can take a train from directly outside the airport (Southampton Parkway) to Southampton Central in just a few minutes. A fast train to Southampton Central station from London Waterloo takes around 75 minutes, the stadium is a one-mile walk away. Shuttle buses also run on match days from the train station and the ferry terminal.

You can drive to Southampton via the M27 or M3. If you head towards the city centre, you can park in any of the numerous car parks. Nearer the stadium lookout for makeshift car parks at £10 a time in the industrial estates around the ground.

If you have any specific mobility needs with regards to getting around the ground it is worth contacting the club in advance. There are wheelchair accessible spaces in all 4 stands. More details can be found here. Visually impaired visitors can request audio description commentary, follow @Saints_AD for more information

Match tickets are categorised depending on the opposition. Fixtures are designated as A*, A, B, or C. For A* games you could be paying £50 for a ticket, for category C matches as low as £15 for an adult (if accompanying a child). Purchase tickets online or from the ticket office on the ground.

Return on Investment 3

With a location on the often-affluent south coast of England, approximately 80 miles from London, prices in Southampton will not be cheap.

High demand fixtures will certainly be costly to attend. Choose a category C game and there is value to be had or a cup game/pre-season friendly as tickets are often reduced to just £10 or £15. Refreshments will always be on the expensive side inside the stadium, and when you add £4 for the matchday programme, Premier League football can be an expensive animal these days.

Extras 5

The Saints Foundation is a fantastic charity that uses the power of the club to make Southampton a better place to live for everyone. Working in schools and with the city’s most vulnerable, the foundation has contributed immeasurably to the local community over recent years.

The club has recently announced that three group stage matches will be played at St Mary’s in the UEFA Women’s 2021 Euros.

Tours of the stadium are available, contact the club for more details. There is a large megastore in the Itchen/Chapel corner for your merchandise needs. A small ‘Fan-Zone’ has been created in the south car park of the ground. Kids can grab a burger, have a kick-around in a relatively safe environment.

Saints Brass Band (@SaintsBrass) can be found outside the stadium come rain or shine. They lift the mood with a wide selection of tunes designed to get fans in the mood before kick-off!

Saints Brass Band
Saints Brass Band

The stadium also hosts concerts with The Killers due in June 2020 and Take That, Rod Stewart, Robbie Williams, and the Rolling Stones all appearing in previous years.

Final Thoughts

On the football front, the Saints have always been entertainers (except for a brief spell under Ian Branfoot who didn’t quite understand that tradition). The club’s iconic player, Matthew Le Tissier, is still a fan of this friendly club and often attends games as an ambassador alongside Lawrie McMenemy and Francis Benali MBE, another ex-player held in high esteem locally. The club has been a mainstay of the Premier League in recent years after a dip into the lower leagues in the mid-2000s. That coincided with the club going into administration and although the current Chinese owners have yet to convince fans, it’s clear this home of South Coast football will be creating many new memories in the next 20 years and beyond.

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