For decades it was a theatre of dreams for generations of Saints fans, and home to countless great memories of Southampton’s football past.

Now The Dell – long since gone and replaced with a housing estate – has inspired the centrepiece for Southampton’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

The area to host the city’s Art at the Heart festival has been based on the old Saints stadium.

And yesterday it was unveiled with the help of some other Southampton FC legends.

The Daily Echo-backed festival, to run from August 1 to 17, will feature a play about the highs and lows of being a Saints fan as one of the main attractions, starring Tendayi Jembere and Scarlett Johnson, who played Vicki Fowler in EastEnders.

Scores of people gathered in Guildhall Square to watch former Saints stars Francis Benali and Matthew Le Tissier unveil plans of how the Nuffield Playing Theatre will look.

The 450-seater open-air arena was designed by the Assemble Architects, who aim to make the pop-up venue feel like a sports stadium.

The festival of theatre, film, music, visual art and dance will act as a precursor to the opening of the city’s new arts complex in 2016 and is being presented by some of the city’s leading arts organisations.

Art of Heart also marks five decades of The Nuffield theatre, and will include Hampshire Youth Theatre’s new adaptation of War Horse author Michael Morpurgo’s The Best Christmas Present In the World and a series of film screenings curated by City Eye.

Other highlights include a concert series presented by Turner Sims, a day of global music presented by Art Asia, and a light installation by artist David Ward presented by John Hansard Gallery.

Creative and executive director of The Nuffield theatre and Art at the Heart chairman Sam Hodges said: “I think the range and the scale of the work is testament to one thing – that the cultural organisations in the city are serious about its future, its story and its people. We hope that events like this are just the start.”

Mr Benali said: “I think Art at the Heart is great for the city. Anything that links culture and sport is fantastic. I can’t wait to see the first night of it. I just hope the weather is good.”

To buy a ticket for any of the Art of Heart events call 023 8067 1771 or visit