A Vital Guide To...St. Mary's Stadium
Where next? Southampton`s St. Mary`s Stadium.
Where are we seated? There will be 3,000 Gooners seated in the Northam Stand, which is at the North End of the stadium behind the goal. Tickets are £38. This stand is split between away fans and home fans.
What`s it like? The seats are red and white, which differentiates it from Leicester, Derby and Coventry City. But it could just as easily be the Riverside or the Stadium of Light. If you had been sent to the stadium blindfolded and had your blindfold whipped off once inside, it would be very hard to tell whether you were at Sunderland, Middlesbrough or Southampton.
Basically, it`s one of the identikit, off the shelf stadiums built between 1995 and 2002. (It temporarily proved to be just as much of an albatross to Southampton as new stadiums did for Derby, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Leicester City coincidentally enough). It has four, single tiered, cantilever stands, sight lines are good from everywhere, as you`d expect from a modern stadium. The corners are closed, which also means noise stays in. The Northam Stand is one tiered, which means it is steep and a good panorama of the game can be expected if you`re any further back than the first ten rows.
What are the facilities like? Whilst grumbling about unoriginality, it must be said the stadium paid due deference to spectators in its design. (As well as the pitch, a Perspex beam runs above the bowl of the stadium to allow more light to get onto the pitch, aiding the always impressive surface you see at St. Mary`s). Concourses are wide and toilets are plentiful. Southampton also have a separate kiosk for alcohol compared to the food outlets, which greatly reduces the queuing time for both.
St. Mary`s even has toilets accessible around the perimeter of the ground prior to you entering the turnstiles, which is another good touch. Stewards are generally quite friendly from memory. I must confess, the last time I visited St. Mary`s was with Millwall in 2009 and even given the treatment Millwall fans usually expect from staff at away grounds, the Southampton staff stayed friendly. (Even when the toilets resembled a gaggle of naughty boys from Grange Hill sneaking half time fags). Access to the ground is very simple too, with big wide pavements minimising crowd congestion outside the turnstiles.
What are the home fans like? Southampton have probably some of the most pleasant fans in the division. They tend to stay behind their team and stay positive. Wearing colours in the vicinity of the ground will present no bother. It`s a shame that the police tend to regiment the away pubs as much as they do in the town centre because I don`t envisage there would be many problems drinking shoulder to shoulder with some Saints fans. I would regard the atmosphere as average by Premiership standards. (i.e. better than us and Chelsea, but not as good as Stoke).
How to get there? There is a park and ride close to the stadium for the drivers, but despite the big car park close by, I`m told driving is not really advisable. I`ve never driven myself. Trains are much easier, going directly and very regularly from London Waterloo. The station is about a mile and a half away from the stadium and there is a plentiful supply of buses shuttling you from the station to the stadium. An off peak return from London to Southampton is £36 and that is a fixed price, so you can buy the day you travel.
Any historical landmarks? There is a statue of legendary Saint Ted Bates outside the main entrance of the stadium. Bates was a player, manager, director and President, totally 66 years service to Southampton FC prior to his death in 2003.
Where to drink? The city centre is the only genuine option for pre match bevvies in Southampton, there is nothing near the stadium itself. Upon alighting from Southampton Central Station, police will generally try to shepherd away fans into the Yates` or the Slug and Lettuce pub next door. As per usual, away fans pubs are usually the worst, as the brand names of these chain pubs suggest.
Yates` is basically Walkabout`s even more dysfunctional and unlikeable cousin. Rubbish beer at rubbish prices. I`m sure the beer is farted into the barrels via someone`s arse. The Slug and Lettuce is a chain that tends to lure in yuppies with its vague pretensions of class, but in reality, its beer also appears to have been kept inside an old man`s arse. They`ll charge you more than Yates` do, but their staff make a slightly better attempt at concealing their utter hatred of you.
I have previously been in in the large Wetherspoons called The Standing Order, but I`m told this venue is now for home fans only. Since Arsenal last played at Southampton, I`m told a good Wetherspoons has opened in Ocean Village called the Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis. ('The Admiral` then). But wherever you go, leave yourself plenty of time before kickoff. The ground is about a 20 minute walk and the queues for the bus can get lively as kickoff approaches. LD.