The Dell officially opened on the 3rd September 1898 with a South Coast derby match between Southampton and Brighton United. The derby spoils went to the home team courtesy of a 4-1 opening day victory.
The stadium’s name originated from where it was located; in a dell, or small valley, on the outskirts of Southampton. Its capacity was around 25,000 supporters and became the home of The Saints until 2001.
Never to be Forgotten Football Grounds: Southampton’s The Dell
During its long history, The Dell underwent several restorations. The first major one was in 1927 when the club built a new West Stand. This would go with their other stand and two grass banks made for standing areas.
A year later, a fire occurred in the stadium which destroyed its East Stand. So the club created a replica model from the West Stand and the upgrade rose the stadium capacity to 30,000.
Let There Be Light
Southampton have the proud record of being the first English stadium to install floodlights. Its inauguration took place on 31st October 1950 with the visitors being Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic, now know as AFC Bournemouth. A happy Halloween for the Saints.
The 1980s saw further renovations with the inclusion of a family stand replacing the ‘chocolate boxes’ of the older stands previously constructed.
The 1990s brought the inclusion of an all-seater stadium due to the Hillsborough tragedy. With this, the stadium’s capacity decreased to less than half of the original size at 15,200 seats. It was a tight and compact stadium. A typical English football ground with the fans right on the players. The Dell was atmospheric – always giving the opposition players and supporters a partisan ‘welcome’.
Quirky Stand At The Dell
Due to the lack of room to expand the seating capacity, Southampton erected a curious triangular stand behind the goalmouth of The Milton Road Stand. From left to right, the seating’s capacity increased starting with five or six seats from top to bottom on the left-hand side to around five times that towards its right-hand side. Instantly iconic.
The Grey Shirts Saga
The Dell would be a jinxed stadium for Manchester United losing there three times in a row during the late nineties. On the 13th April 1996, a famous match saw Southampton beat Manchester United 3-1. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team were 3-0 down at half time but that wasn’t the real drama. Cue the famous shirt change, with United blaming the grey shirts worn in the first half on their poor performance. Their change to blue and white shirts to see each other clearer on the field did not help as they only managed to score a late consolation goal in the 89th minute through Ryan Giggs.
Southampton Hit The Red Devils for Six
Another famous match against Manchester United took place at The Dell just six months later on 26th October 1996. No shades of grey to blame this time around for Manchester United; returning to play in blue and white shirts from kick-off. Yet The Red Devils were on the end of another defeat after an extraordinary match which saw nine goals and finished 6-3. The pick of the bunch were two exquisite strikes. The first was a beautiful lob by Matt Le Tissier over Peter Schmeichel after bamboozling two United defenders. The other being a thunderous volley from the edge of the box smashed into the net by Eyal Berkovic. Amazingly, there were four goals scored in the final 10 minutes as United were humbled.
For The Saints, that sensational win earned them Premier League survival as their better goal difference kept them in the league. Staying up by the skin of their teeth and in remarkable fashion.
The Demise of The Dell
The stadium was the smallest in the English Premier League. It was clear from the lack of expansion opportunities that The Saints would have to uproots and move to a bigger and brighter future.
The last match at The Dell was on 19th May 2001 when Southampton took on Arsenal. It was a five-goal-thriller as The Saints gained a thrilling 3-2 win. Fittingly, it was Saints legend Matt Le Tissier who scored the last goal to give the best send-off possible to The Dell.
After that, the stadium then became a new housing estate. As a tribute, the club included the names of former Southampton players in its five court areas. This included The Dell’s cult hero, Matt Le Tissier.
The Future of Southampton: St. Mary’s Stadium
The club bravely battled relegation in six of its last eight seasons of The Dell’s existence. It was clear the club was in need of financial backing. At a cost of £32 million, the 32,000 seater St Mary’s Stadium was a reality. It pushed the club into the modern-day era and has been the home of Southampton ever since.
Staplewood Plush Academy
Southampton counts on not only a beautiful stadium but a groundbreaking training complex. Opened in October 2014, Staplewood Training Campus, located over the waters of the River Test in the village of Marshwood in Southampton, opened as a state-of-the-art complex to bring through the next generation of Saints. It cost £39 million to create but it has been money well spent. A world-class facility and the envy of many a football club.
Staplewood is a world-renown complex and has the recognition as one of the best academies in world football. It is testament to the club that they have cultivated talent after talent which have consistently come off the Southampton conveyor belt.
Southampton’s list of academic graduates from Staplewood and its previous training ground reads a who’s who of footballing prodigies; Alan Shearer, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Matt Le Tissier, Wayne Bridge Theo Walcott, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Kevin Phillips to name a few.
Not only that, the recent pool of talent arriving to the club is impressive. With the help of been professionally nurtured and ultimately sold for a higher price, the list is significant; Virgil van Dijk, Toby Alderweireld, Sadio Mané, Dušan Tadić, Victor Wanyama, Nathanial Clyne, Artur Boruc and Dejan Lovren. Imagine a combined all-star XI on your video game.
The Dell is now history for Southampton but the stadium’s past has served to propel the club to the present with St Mary’s and with Staplewood, its rich future.