A few minutes after midnight on Wednesday August 15 a chorus of ships’ foghorns blasting “V” (for victory) in Morse Code alerted Southampton to the news that Japan had surrendered and the War was over. Later that day, in the Echo’s “Topics of the Hour” column, it was reported:
It was a signal for mass awakening, the crowds trekked down to the centre of town. In a few minutes rejoicing had begun. Fireworks were cracking, bonfires were lit (some in the streets). Service men and civilians surged through the streets with linked arms ...
The FA Cup was restored to the football calendar but it was too late to bring back the Football League. Saints competed in League South, gifting them the most glamorous fixture list in their history. Opponents included the likes of Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers as well as Cup holders Pompey and all the top London sides.
For one season only each Cup round was to be decided over two legs. Saints fell to Third Division Queen’s Park Rangers in the fourth round; 5-3 on aggregate. In the league Dellites witnessed a lot of goals. Saints started the season with a five-all home draw with Plymouth Argyle, and completed it with a 4-2 home defeat to Millwall. In all they scored 97 and conceded 105. The competition was won Second Division Birmingham City, who piped Aston Villa on goal average. Villa netted 105 for and 58 against, while the dourly defensive Brum scored a measly 96 and let in a miserly 45.
Bill Dodgin, who had signed for Saints as a player in 1939, took over as secretary-manager during the 1947 close season. He had succeeded John Sarjantson, who had resigned as chairman and taken over Tom Parker’s duties in June 1943 (it was against FA regulations for directors to be an employee of a club).
Dodgin got off a bright start. Saints finished the ’47-48 season closing in on the runners-up spot, but Newcastle United managed to hold off the late challenge. The star of the season was Charlie Wayman, a £10,000 acquisition from Newcastle in October. He scored 17 goals in 27 appearances. Ted Bates weighed in with 10 in 22 games.
Saints spent the close season in Brazil. Such was British intelligence regarding South American football the trip was approached as a missionary expedition. The culture shock proved to be all Saints’. Bill Ellerington, one of the best full-backs ever to pull on a cherry stripped shirt, told Aidan Hamilton (in An Entirely Different Game: The British Influence on Brazilian Football; Mainstream Publishing 1998): “… they were light years ahead of us – in all aspects of the game … In the passing, the movement off the ball, everything … They were like silk … It was the first time I had seen anything like it.”
Invigorated and possibly inspired by the Brazilian tour (and extended cross-Atlantic cruises aboard the RMS Andes), Saints got off to a promising start to the ’48-49 season. Wayman and Bates proved particularly fecund. On Saturday 2 April, Saints left White Hart Lane top of Division Two with 51 points from 35 games and Wayman nursing a leg injury. Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, second and third respectively, were both on 43 points.
With Wayman sidelined Saints collapsed. Just four points were accumulated in the seven remaining matches and Fulham and West Brom leapfrogged them into Division One.
Insult was added to injury when Bill Dodgin accepted an offer to manage Fulham. Club physiotherapist Sid Cann was appointed manager. Clever and resourceful, Cann was responsible for a number of innovations, such as getting The Dell equipped with floodlights, but he struggled with some of the players. After a poor start to the ’49-50 season Saints rallied only to be squeezed into fourth place by Sheffield Wednesday, who were promoted, and Sheffield United, who weren’t, on goal average.
The already popular conviction that the Club “don’t want promotion” inflated by degrees. Any pretence the board had any ambition was settled for many when Wayman was transferred to Preston North End early in ’50-51. Preston were promoted – Saints ended the season 12th.
Sid Cann’s contract was “terminated by mutual consent” on Friday December 14 1951. It appears that he and the board disagreed on “matters of policy”. Saints were 17th at the time. First team affairs were managed by a committee of players, coaches and three directors until March, when Exeter City manager George Roughton was recruited; by which time Saints had risen to 11th.
Roughton’s appointment did not herald a revolution. However, Saints did reach the fifth round of the FA Cup in ’52-53. Centre-half Henry Horton snatched a late equaliser at Bloomfield Road on Saturday 14 of February and forced a replay at The Dell on the following Wednesday. Floodlights remained too outré for the FA, so all Southampton, it seemed, took the afternoon off and shoehorned itself into The Dell to see the great Stanley Matthews and Blackpool vanquished. Saints were: “quicker in the tackle, faster on the ball, [and] more cohesive in attack …” according to the Times. It would not “have been the slightest miscarriage of justice had [Blackpool] found themselves three goals down at the change of ends.” But Saints only led 1-0. Four minutes into the second half and they trailed 2-1. Blackpool went on to win one of the Wembley’s most memorable Finals and Saints finished the season in Division Three (South).
The board gave Roughton two chances to get Saints back into Division Two. He was 13 points shy in ’54 and 11 in ’55. Five games into ’55-56, with Saints sitting 20th in the table, he was asked to resign and Ted Bates, who had been appointed “2nd team coach and trainer” in May 1953, was given his job.
1948: Saints spent the summer touring Brazil. The standard of football and the facilities they encountered proved sobering.
LEFT: Ian Black, the first Saint to be capped for Scotland in the 20 th century – and the last.
RIGHT: George Curtis, a.k.a. “Twinkletoes”, formerly of Arsenal, a cultured schemer.
FOR THE STORY OF HOW AND WHY THE DELL BECAME BRITAIN’S FIRST FLOODLIT FOOTBALL STADIUM CLICK HERE
The first Football Echo was published on the same day as The Dell opened
3 September 1898. The joint 50th anniversary was celebrated with enthusiasm.
Two popular creatures from Arthur “Orf” Palmer’s bestiary that featured regularly in the Football Echo during the 1950s.
They made the transition from The Dell to St Mary’s seamlessly.