Southampton Football Club: An Introduction
Southampton Football Club has now completed 18 seasons at St Mary’s Stadium. Eighteen eventful seasons. Since 2005, the club has played in three divisions, having been relegated twice and promoted twice. They also endured two relegations at their previous home, The Dell, where they played for 113 years, competing in five divisions.
St Mary’s takes its name from the city of Southampton’s ‘mother church’, a ten-minute stroll away, where the club was founded in 1885, as St Mary’s Church of England Young Men’s Association Football Club.
By 1888, when they won their first trophy (the Hampshire FA Junior Cup) they had become St Mary’s FC and were widely known as ‘the Saints’. By 1894, when they joined the newly-created Southern League, the Saints were uncontestably the most successful and best supported club in Hampshire.
The new, geographically wider competition necessitated a new name: Southampton St Mary’s FC. They became Southampton in 1887, having won the first of their six Southern League championships.
The Saints were outstandingly successful over the following decade. They dominated the Southern League, and reached four FA Cup semi-finals and two finals, having eliminated Football League clubs on 16 occasions – 11 of those were Division One outfits. Thereafter, the fortunes of the Saints and the Southern League began to slide
Not long after World War One, in 1922, Saints were promoted to Football League Division Two as champions of Division Three (South). Not long after World War Two, in 1953, having twice been promotion contenders, Saints were relegated back to Division Three (South). In the intervening 32 years, Saints and their supporters had lived in interesting times. Some outstanding footballers emerged, hopes were raised and dashed in equal measure, but nothing remarkable appeared in the trophy cabinet.
Saints bounced back. Gradually. Managed by Ted Bates and inspired by the masterful wing-play of Terry Paine, they returned to Division Two in 1960 and gained Division One status for the first time in 1966.
By the time Ted was succeeded by Lawrie McMenemy, in 1973, they had twice qualified for European competition. Under McMenemy, Saints qualified for the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976, having won the FA Cup as a Second Division club, and qualified for the UEFA Cup four times, before he departed in 1985.
During the 28 years that encompassed the Bates and McMenemy eras, Saints established an enviable reputation for developing remarkable young talents. A reputation sustained despite the increased turnover of managers over the succeeding three decades.
Recent Academy graduates include Gareth Bale of Wales and Real Madrid, and England internationals Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw.
Current manager Ralph Hasenhüttl, who was appointed in December 2018, has taken a keen interest in the academicians. Yan Valery ended the 2018/19 season as Saints’ first-choice right-back, while Michael Obafemi, Callum Slattery, Josh Sims and Kayne Ramsay have also demonstrated rich potential.
However, it was the enduring workaholic Shane Long who attracted Saints’ biggest headlines of the 2018/19 campaign. On April 23rd, against Watford, at Vicarage Road, he set a new record for the fastest goal scored in the Premier League: 7.69 seconds.