IT was one of the biggest treasure hunts Hampshire has ever seen.
Hundreds of Saints fans are celebrating after netting themselves one of hundreds of limited edition club footballs hidden around the county.
Supporters rose at the crack of dawn in the race to hunt down 500 balls distributed in key landmarks and locations.
Some set off as early as 4am to scour shopping centres, transport hubs and housing estates to snap up the hallowed prizes which fast became like gold dust.
Winners not only had the chance to keep the balls but have been able to ‘earn their stripes’ by being in with a chance of winning Saints’ new kit before it goes on sale.
Kelly Mitchell, 34, from Lordswood, and her daughters Bethany, 13, and Libby, nine, netted two balls planted in Ocean Village and two others in St James Park and next to a ‘No Ball Games’ sign in Alder Road.
The pre-school teacher and St Mary’s season ticket holder said: “It’s been really good fun.
“The girls don’t normally like early starts but they were straight out of bed wanting to look for them.”
John Stewart, 33, and daughter Lucy, two, spotted a ball at the Grosvenor Square roundabout on their way to the club’s former ground at The Dell.
The father-of-two, who set off from his Sholing home at 7.30am, said: “I spotted it in the bush and quickly jumped out of the car.
“I didn’t think we would find one, but now we have it will keep Lucy quiet! It’s a fantastic competition.”
Eight-year-old Sebby Robinson, from Winchester, bagged a ball hidden at Winchester Cathedral after being narrowly pipped to the post at the King Alfred statue.
Mum Vickie, 41, said: “He’s really excited as he is such a big fan.
“We even took a football for a kick-around while we searched the trail.”
Winners took a selfie of themselves and posted it to Twitter with the hashtag #EarnYourStripes to enter the contest.
Ten winners will be drawn at random and invited to collect one of the first home shirts off the production line at an event on Friday, the night before the kit goes on sale.
HUNDREDS of Saints fans are celebrating after winning limited edition club footballs, but if you missed out don’t worry as today the Daily Echo gives supporters another chance to win.
We have six of the special limited edition Southampton FC footballs up for grabs and will be giving them away today, tomorrow and Wednesday – all you have to do is send a text for a chance to win.
Text VEHO followed by a space, SAINTS, your name, postcode and first line of your home address to 80360.
Text messages cost 50p plus your mobile operator’s standard text charge.
Closing date for entries is Wednesday, July 16 at midnight.
Normal Newsquest rules apply, for a complete set of rules visit dailyecho.co.uk and click on 'Promotions & Competitions'.
Text competition line provided by Newsquest Media Group.