In 2001, was commissioned by Elizabeth Smith, the Public Arts Officer for Southampton City Council to collaborate with the project client Barratt Homes, to create an interpretive landscape artwork for the central courtyard of the former Dell Football ground. The Dell was demolished in 2001 by Hughes and Salvidge. I was able to visit the ground to document the site just before this process began and just after the last game had been played.
The Club moved from the Dell in 2001 to the brand new St Mary’s Stadium.
“a lovely dell with a gurgling stream and lofty aspens” Philip Brannon 1850
“On 19 May 2001, midfielder Matt Le Tissier, (who retired from playing a year later) said goodbye to the stadium that had been host to his entire professional career by scoring a volley in the final minutes of the final league game securing a 3–2 win against. Le Tissier has the distinction of scoring the last competitive goal at The Dell. On 26 May, the club’s fans said goodbye to the Dell by stripping all of its seats, the pitch and even an advertising board after Southampton’s last game at the stadium, a 1-0 victory in a friendly against Brighton & Hove Albion, the first and last opponents at the stadium. The last goal ever scored at the Dell was by Uwe Rosler”. Wikipedia
“The final league goal witnessed by the Dell was Le Tissier’s 89th-minute winner against Arsenal, a fitting tribute from the forward to his home for 16 years and to the fans who could not imagine life without him. Club fortunes fluctuate, players come and go but Le Tissier has infected those who have witnessed his feats on the south coast and their worshipping will go on long after his boots are finally hung up”. The Guardian 21st May 2001
‘The site on which the ground was built was described in Philip Brannon’s Picture of Southampton, published in 1850, as “a lovely dell with a gurgling stream and lofty aspens”. The stream is the Rollsbrook which flows out of Southampton Common, running parallel to Hill Lane before disappearing under Commercial Road and Southampton Central Station, from where it is conduited under Southampton Docks into Southampton Water.
The land had been purchased in the 1880s by the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway to enable them to continue their line from Winchester via Twyford, Chandlers Ford, a tunnel at Chilworth and Shirley where it was to pass to the North East of what is nowSt James’ Park, Southampton and St James’ Church. From here the line would have travelled south across Hill Lane to run through the dell and onto an embankment leading to a viaduct over Commercial Road and the London and South Western Railway line before terminating on the Western Esplanade North of the Royal Pier.
The dell was stripped of vegetation and the stream channelled into a conduit with work started on the embankment, which survives behind property to the North of Commercial Road but was never used, and the viaduct which was part built but later demolished.’ Wikipedia
I wanted to recreate this idea of ‘a lovely dell with a gurgling stream and trees’, as well as represent something important about the history of football and of Southampton FC on this site. It appeared that the centre circle of the pitch was exactly where the stream had originally passed through and was now culverted underground. The radius of the centre circle on a football pitch is 9.15m. My design reflects this. The centre spot is in exactly the same space it would have been on any match day. 11 trees are planted around the circumference to reflect the squad of 11 who would have played each game. The raw cast concrete retaining walls, steps and planting beds retain something of the look and feel of the original football terraces. Several bespoke cast terrazzo benches with white aggregate in a red cement matrix face into the centre. These reflect the club colours.
The most notable detail is the textured low-relief elevation exposed around the centre circle. This is the stud print of Matt Le Tissier’s right football boot – or so I was led to believe. We contacted the club during this project and this was the boot I was sent. I so want to believe it. I wore the boot to make the original mould, by running over a bed of clay. I still have it. The idea was to recreate and remember the raw play and boots on muddy ground which embodies the spirit of play.
I approached Patterns & Moulds Ltd, a fantastic company, I have since worked with on several projects. Established in 1967, Patterns & Moulds remains the largest independent and privately owned mould maker in the UK.
Turf had been stripped off the pitch by fans eager to take a piece of footballing history home with them.
Above: All the concrete works were delivered in-situ, with timber formwork constructed on site. The concrete retaining structures and curving walls created a series of interlinked paths and terraces, which were then backfilled with soil or compacted gravels to create the finished terrace levels. The Matt Le Tissier stud-print concrete feature relief-wall was also cast in-situ on site with bespoke rubber moulds and timber formwork. The raw, unfinished concrete surfaces emulated the original hard terrace construction at the Dell Football ground.
Above: Elizabeth Smith, Public Arts Officer, Southampton City Council 1998 – 2011, talking with the Project Site Manager.
Above & Below: The Rollsbrook Stream was re-imagined as a shallow rill flowing through the courtyard.