For the Saints’ second season in the Southern League, they remained at the Antelope Ground, with the league season following a similar pattern as the previous year, with the Saints finishing third behind Millwall and Luton Town. The highlight of the league season was the visit of Millwall on 21 March 1896 when a crowd of 8,000 saw the Saints defeat the reigning champions 2–0, with goals from Charles Baker and Joe Turner.
Further excitement came in the FA Cup, when an away victory over local rivals Freemantle in the First Qualifying Round was followed by comfortable home victories over Marlow (5–0), Reading (3–0) and Uxbridge (3–0). In the First Round proper, the Saints once again received a home draw against opposition from the Football League First Division, this time in the shape of The Wednesday. Saints’ trainer, Bill Dawson, who had moved from Stoke in the summer, spent the week leading up to Wednesday’s visit with extra training for the players, taking them through their paces on Shawford Down.
For the match, played at the Antelope Ground on 1 February 1896, the crowd was estimated at 12,000, by far the largest yet recorded for a football match in Southampton. In an effort to avoid the crowd congestion from the previous year, the gates were opened at 1 o’clock. According to the report in one local newspaper, “The Independent“, by the time of the kick-off,
“the scene at the ground was a sight for the gods. Thousands lined the ropes and crowded the embankments, and hundreds packed the stands. The enclosure was encircled by a dense and perfect sea of faces. Every coign of vantage had been monopolised, windows and house tops not excepted.”
The reporter for “the Echo“, writing under the name “Ariel“, added:
“All the world and his wife were there, including many of our “city fathers” and grave and reverend seigniors, whose curiosity had been aroused by the chatter that was going on in the town… It was a sight calculated to excite the feelings of the Saintly executive, and make them look as pleased and comfortable as if the very cockles of their hearts were being tickled. A sea of faces ten thousand strong bordered the field of play when … the referee first tooted the whistle.”
Unfortunately, the ground was unable to take such a large crowd. Shortly before the teams ran out onto the pitch, a shed roof collapsed, resulting in injuries to fans who had been inside the shed or perched on top. One spectator, George May, suffered a broken ankle and a Mr. George Bett, who had been inside, suffered serious knee damage that subsequently prevented him from working in his occupation as a carriage maker at the Eastleigh railway works. Bett later unsuccessfully sued the club for damages, his case failing because it was found that the club had declared the shed “out of bounds“, although the defendants did agree to help Bett in his hardship.
For the match itself, the Saints had to play their third-choice goalkeeper, Walter Cox as Tom Cain was injured, and the Royal Artillery refused to allow on-loan ‘keeper “Gunner” Reilly to play. The Saints took an early lead, through Watty Keay, before two goals from Alec Brady gave Wednesday the half-time lead. Wednesday increased their lead shortly after the break, and although Joe Turner got one back, the Saints were unable to score an equaliser. Wednesday ran out 3–2 winners and went on to win the Cup the following April.