Football Echo, 28 August 1920
THE CAPTION READ:
THE SAINT: Thank goodness we’ve come to a turning at last. We’ve been on the old road long enough:
ECHOIST (on the pillion): Yes you’re right! Keep the old bus up to it and we have every chance of getting to the top of the hill—and further.
Southern football was revolutionised after the Great War. In 1920, after one season, the Football League decided to introduce a Third Division, to be formed by making associate members of the Southern League’s first division clubs.
Before the war there remained a thin hope that a second, Southern Division Two might be formed but, as Commentator told Football Echo readers on 28 August 1920, there was now the “definite reward” of promotion. “The championship of the Third Division means not merely the custody of a trophy for the season, but progress up the ladder of football fame.”
Saints finished the first Division Three season as runners-up to Crystal Palace: but there was only one promotion place. Division Three became Division Three (South) in 1921, when the League conjured up Division Three (North). Saints took the Championship and promotion at the first attempt.
After a somewhat shaky start to life in Division Two (they picked up just one point and failed to score in their first five fixtures) Saints lifted themselves – literally – to mid-table and enjoyed a stunning Cup run. They needed replays in every round up to the fourth (the quarter finals back then), having knocked out two First Division sides, Newcastle United and Chelsea, before losing 1-0 to West Ham United in a second replay at Villa Park. The Hammers went on to the first Wembley FA Cup Final, which they lost to Bolton Wanderers.
This left Saints to concentrate on their League programme which they completed sitting 11th in the table with the following statistics:
P 42 W 14 D 14 L 14 F 40 A 40 Pts 42
Saints reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1925 and 1927, exiting, respectively, to Sheffield United and Arsenal. Both games were held at Stamford Bridge. Saints were regarded as a little unlucky in both.
As for League form, Saints flirted, lightly, with promotion in 1924 and 1929. Pre-War star Arthur Dominy remained an important presence during the ’24-25 Cup run, but had departed to First Division Everton by 1926. Other prominent Saints of the era were the free scoring Bill Rawlings; centre-half and Old Edwardian Alec Campbell; half-back Bert Shelley; full-backs Tom Parker and Fred Titmuss, all players of distinction. More local prodigies would emerge towards and into the 1930s, not least Mike Keeping, Dick Rowley and Ted Drake, but a consistent side could not be assembled.
With the benefit of hindsight it’s evident that The Dell was Saints’ major impediment to progress. It was too small for an ambitious club and there was little room for expansion – other than up! Nevertheless, the board purchased it in May 1926, and work began on a new West Stand and a major redevelopment of the East Stand during the summer of 1927.
The improved attendances needed to pay for the improvements never materialised. Players were sold to placate the bank manager; performance suffered; crowds diminished as a result; which necessitated more player sales. The process began with the sale of Tom Parker to Arsenal for £3,250 in March 1926, shortly before The Dell was purchased, and reached its nadir with the sale of Ted Drake to (can you believe it?) Arsenal for £6,000 in March 1934. Just 22, he’d scored 48 goals in 74 League and Cup games, leading the attack for a distinctly average unit. He remains a legend among Arsenal supporters and remained a painful memory in his native Southampton for generations.
An indication of just how moribund the club had become is that after reaching the FA Cup semi-finals in 1927, Saints only made it past the third round on one occasion (the FA Cup was reorganised in 1925 so that First and Second Division Clubs entered in round three), 1934-35, when they were defeated 3-0 at the Dell by Birmingham in round four. The worst defeat came in 1938-39, when Saints were eliminated at non-League Chelmsford City.
Saints finished the 1938-39 season placed 18th, four points clear of relegation. The highpoint of the campaign had been the FA Cup Final, in which Portsmouth defeated hot favourites Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-0. It might surprise many readers to know that Pompey’s success was admired in Southampton, even amongst the most diehard of Saints fans. Just as well, the two ports were about to confront a common enemy.
Bill Rawlings & Art Dominy, the two great goalscoring stars of the early post-war era
Ted Drake, born within the Walls, left for Arsenal in 1934.
The Saints at The Dell, 1934
The Football Echo 28 August 1926.
Caption:– The Saint and the Sailor simultaneously: “Now I’ll just show you how it’s done old man!”
Neither side were promoted!