The precursor of the club we now know as Southampton came into being in 1880 when a group of schoolteachers formed Deanery FC. In November 1885 the local curate of St Mary’s Church had a wider ranging vision to form a Young Men’s Association for ‘active recreation’, an association of which he became president. At the inaugural meeting the name for the association of Southampton St Mary’s was decided upon, a not very innovative name considering the target population, but one that in essence has travelled down the years to us in the club’s famous nickname. A seemingly inauspicious start was made on 28 November 1885, when the Saints met Freemantle, a local team from the other side of town.
The teams kicked off on an unfenced strip of land in Northlands Road, located opposite the County Cricket Ground. Soon after, a move was made to the Antelope Ground, the name taken from the the adjacent inn. For such a novice football team this remarkably well-equipped ground offered facilities superior to must of their contemporaries. There was a stand, a roofed enclosure and grassed embankments. To complete this very acceptable venue there was a flagstaff where a red and white flag was proudly flown when a match was due to be played.
Southampton St Mary’s were forced to vacate The Antelope in 1896 because the premises were destined for housing. A move was made over to the County Cricket Ground, already familiar to the club in view of the many cup-ties that had been played here. The relocation coincided with the championship of the Southern League, their new status of a limited company and dropping ‘St Mary’s’ from their title. But since Southampton were only tenants and having become a formidable strength in the south, the club was confident enough to secure a former duckpond in 1898 and converted it into what became known as The Dell.
At the start of the 2001/2 campaign Southampton moved to The Friends Provident St Mary’s Stadium. 103 years of history ended when on 26 May 2001 the Dell hosted its last ever game. Fitting that the last opponents, Brighton & Hove Albion, were the first ever opponents way back in 1898.
The Saints took to the field in a copy of the first ever St Mary’s kit of red and white quartered shirts and big baggy blue shorts. This quartered pattern gave way to halves by 1895. At the turn of the 20th century the jerseys included the delicate red and white stripes, allegedly on instigation of the large contingent of Stoke-born players at the club. Worthy of note are Southampton’s stylish narrow hooped stockings of the 1960’s until today remaining unique to the Saints.
An oak panel in the boardroom at The Dell, saved for posterity in the new stadium, reminds us of the club’s history and also displays the club’s first badge. It’s the shield and crest taken from the County Borough Council’s arms. The crest shows a golden castle resting on a green mound, with the upper body of a woman rising out of it. She is crowned as a queen and is robed in red with white trimmings. She holds in her right hand a sword of justice and in her left the balance or scales of equity and fairness.
The red and white roses in the shield are firmly linked with the Houses of Lancaster and York which the Tudors united. Henry, Duke of Lancaster and his son in law John of Gaunt, son of Edwrd II and John’s younger brother Edmund, Duke of York, were all involved with expeditions which set out from Southampton. It would have seemed appropriate to include their emblems in the town’s coat of arms. Roses already appeared on a 14th century staple seal of Southampton.
The present badge was designed by a Saints fan back in the early 1970’s It was the result of a competition they had at the time. The halo represents the Saints and the scarf links with the fans. The tree alludes to the nearby New Forest whilst the wavy blue lines refer to the sea and local docks. The white rose is the symbol for Hampshire The Hampshire Rose is widely used in the arms of Hampshire people and places. And the football? Well…….