AFTER four years and almost £2m, Flybe is to end its role as main sponsor with the Saints at the end of the season, the airline has announced.

The shirt sponsor, which last week announced it had managed to remain profitable despite the recession, described its sponsorship deal as a “rollercoaster of a ride”.

A Saints spokesman was last night unavailable to comment.

This morning however, Saints revealed they intend to launch a shirt without a sponsor, to mark the club's 125th anniversary.

Thanks to the massive wealth of Saints’ Swiss billionaire owner Markus Liebherr, the need for a shirt sponsor is not as pressing as in the past.

Flybe described the end of the deal as a “very amicable” parting, but the relationship has not always been smooth. Last June, before the takeover by Mr Liebherr, there were reports of an “irretrievable breakdown”

in relations after the regional air giant reported feeling “very poorly treated”

before frantic behind-the- scenes negotiations stabilised the situation.

Worth £250,000 a year in the Championship, the sponsorship’s value fell along with relegation to League One. However, over the course of the four-year deal Flybe are estimated to have spent between £1.75m and £2m on promotional activity with Saints.

Simon Lilley, Flybe’s director of marketing, said: “The sponsorship deal between Flybe and Southampton has proved a very beneficial partnership. The four years have been a real rollercoaster ride that have seen the Saints experience the highs and lows and it’s been an honour to have been the club sponsor during this time.

“We know the club were very grateful for the way we stood by them at the end of last season and provided commercial stability amongst their sponsors, and as a result we are parting on very amicable terms with Southampton and leave the club in a good position – solvent and with an exciting future under the new owners.

“Since the decision has been taken, Flybe have worked closely with the club to help them source a new sponsor and fully intend to continue supporting the club in whatever way we can over the next few years.”

During its tenure, Flybe has made a significant investment in the local community.

Last Christmas, Flybe took children from the Wessex Cancer Trust on one-off Santa flight for which Southampton Football Club players and management played starring roles.

Flybe also worked closely with the community through the annual Flybe Community Cup in association with the Saints, Hampshire County Council and the Daily Echo that encouraged grassroots football to schools from all over Hampshire.