Southampton Club History 1885-1918
Saturday, 8th Sep 2007 15:42
One day, or evening, in November 1885, the members of St. Mary's Church of England Young Men's Association convened at the Grove Street schoolrooms and passed a motion agreeing to form an Association Football club.
On November 21 they played their first game, on the "backfield" of the Country Cricket Ground in Northland's Road, against Freemantle. They won 5-1, the single goal they conceded was netted by one of their own players late in the game! After a couple of years confined to playing friendly fixtures St. Mary's Y.M.A. F.C. decide to enter a competition, The Hampshire F.A. Junior Cup; they win it with a 2-1 defeat of Southampton Harriers in a replay at the County Ground. By this time they were being referred to as St. Mary's F.C. and the local press had christened them the "Saints".
In 1890 Saints decided to enter the F.A. Cup. They were, so far, undefeated in any official cup competition, having won the Hants Junior Cup outright with three consecutive championships, and the Hants senior Cup at the first attempt. In the first qualifying round they won 4-1 at Warmley near Bristol, earning a home draw with Reading, who were dispatched 7-0; unfortunately Reading entered a protest regarding the eligibility of two of the St. Mary's players, which the F.A. upheld, and it was Reading and not Saints who went through to the next round. Saints went on to win the Hants Senior Cup for the second successive year.
The Southern League Era:- In 1892 Saints signed their first professional, Jack Dollin, from local rivals Freemantle, a brave move because the only other southern club paying players was Woolwich Arsenal, who had been expelled from the London F.A. for their nerve. Fortunately the Hampshire F.A. were more sanguine than Londoners about such matters, and Arsenal could, at least, find fixtures in Southampton before managing to secure a place in the Football League in 1893.
The Southern League was formed in 1894 and St. Mary's applied to join, and were rejected! However the 2nd Scots Guards were obliged to withdraw and Saints were offered their place. On entering the new competition they were re-christened Southampton St. Mary's, a name that quickly earned repute; it was not until the 1906-07 season that they finished below third place. In that time they won six Southern League Championships, reached two F.A. Cup semi-finals, two F.A. Cup Finals and eliminated a dozen Football League clubs -nine from the first and three from the second division- from the F.A. Cup. They were widely regarded as good, if not better than the majority of Division One sides during this period.
While building up a fearsome reputation on the playing field they moved ahead business-wise as well, becoming a limited liability company in 1897, and changing their name to Southampton F.C. At the start of the 1898 season they moved into the Dell, probably the most well appointed stadium in the country at the time; if far from being the most capacious.
In 1907, despite only finishing mid-table in the Southern League, they again made it to the semi-finals of the F.A. Cup, only to suffer defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers; after which the club, beset by debts from the glory years and a penurious rent on the Dell, went into decline.
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