Chelsea helped break new ground at St Mary's, over 18 years ago now, and as club historian Rick Glanvill remembers it was an afternoon that went well...
Chelsea were the winners of the first competitive match ever played at the newly-opened St Mary’s stadium on 25 August 2001, a searingly hot day on the south coast.
Inauspiciously, the Saints had actually been booed off at half-time during the stadium’s curtain-raiser two weeks earlier, a friendly against Espanyol. The hosts were losing 0-4 at the break, but clawed three back to lose 3-4.
First impressions of St Mary’s were good – it had a far more modern and roomy feel than the Dell, although the pitch itself was the same width, albeit two yards longer. The stands, however, were much expanded, and a club record crowd of 31,107 was accommodated for Chelsea’s visit, pipping the 31,044 for the visit of Manchester United to their former home that had been the high water mark since October 1969.
Matthew Le Tissier, the last man to score at the Dell, was unavailable through injury. So instead of the Saints’ hero, the honour of becoming first goalscorer at the new stadium fell to the Blues’ striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (pictured top).
The Netherlands marksman struck just past the half-hour mark. ‘He peeled sharply away from Dean Richards,’ local newspaper the Daily Echo reported, ‘to work a simple eight-yard header into an empty net as he got on the end of an exquisite teasing cross [from Graeme Le Saux.’
Stuart Gray threw big centre-back Richards upfront in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the maiden voyage, but Chelsea resisted. Before the end, Frank Lampard’s chipped pass over goalkeeper Paul Jones presented Mario Stanic with an easy tap-in for 2-0.
The Echo turned to the words of a former Southampton manager and director for wisdom. ‘Ted Bates always used to say that you win nothing with bricks and mortar,’ it noted, ‘and while there is no doubting the glorious quality of Saints’ new home, on its own it is not enough.’