St Mary's Stadium
Southampton v Ipswich Town
Wednesday, October 24th 2001, 7.45pm
"Southampton was yet
another destination that I had to return to due to the club relocating to a new
stadium. I'd been down to The Dell with Everton on a few occasions and quite
enjoyed the quaint appearance, however it was clear that a move was required to
allow more supporters in to see the Saints.
The match between Southampton and Ipswich Town was a midweek game so I took the afternoon off work and drove round the M25, down the M3 and into Southampton. The journey seemed to take an age due to an inordinate amount of traffic that blighted the entire route. Arriving on the outskirts of the city a couple of hours before kick-off, I hunted for a sign to the stadium and was pleased to discover that there were many - all of which instructed fans that parking around the stadium was for permit holders only. I had heard about the parking problems beforehand, so I opted for the city centre and left my car in the car park of what appeared to be the civic hall or library. The car was there on my return, and with charges waived after 6 pm it also meant it was free - not bad at all. The ground was only a 10 minute walk away and navigation was easy due to the flock of home fans headed that way.
By the time St Mary's Stadium came into my view for the first time the night had drawn in. This gave the illuminated stadium a dramatic appearance and from the outside I was impressed. It was certainly a far cry from The Dell. The large crowd had yet to materialise so I took the opportunity to have a leisurely wander around the stadium and surrounding area, noting the obligatory shiny new club superstore and Member's Lounge/bar entrance. Surely, I thought, Saints fans must be overjoyed at their new home?
Time passed by and I moved inside the stadium, entering the Chapel Stand behind one of the goals. Nothing of any particular note struck me in the concourse area - there were the usual array of food counters, bars and betting booths etc. When I found my seat I was instantly impressed by the fact that it was a solitary 'section' which was flanked by a large wheelchair viewing area (a good touch) and a stairway. What's more, it had a generous amount of legroom which added a degree of comfort to the evening. The stadium comprised of one continuous tier of seating around the entire pitch. The roof design even looked the same as I'd seen at Reading, Middlesbrough etc.. and there was nothing out of the ordinary to make the ground stand out to the observer.
With the grand close to full at kick-off time, I at last began to appreciate
something inside St Mary's. The home fans certainly made themselves heard,
perhaps due to the recent arrival of their new manager, Gordon Strachan. They
certainly anticipated a long overdue first win in their new stadium, but the impressive
away following form Suffolk more than matched them in the atmosphere stakes. The
game itself was a real ding-dong affair, illuminated by some good goals,
the best of which being a cracker from Mark Venus' left boot. Another 3-3
encounter - my second in only five days.
At £26, admission was quite steep and I had bought one of the cheaper tickets. It was pretty much run of the mill fare for any new stadia, but perhaps my lack of appetite was down to fatigue at having visited so many recently. Fortunately for me the game was a real thriller, but at times I yearned to be watching a game at Blundell Park or Layer Road. To me, St Mary's Stadium is one of the less than ambitious of the recent projects around the 92, too similar to Middlesbrough, Derby and Reading (just minus the extra tier on the Main Stand) and Stoke City, but even the Britannia Stadium has unused corners and an extra tier on the Main Stand to add a degree of identity. Continuously symmetrical all the way around, St Mary's is boring but with time I'm sure even the biggest doubters would agree that The Dell had to be left behind - it's just a pity that the club couldn't come up with something better to ensure the unique identity of the old ground lived on."
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