Signed from Norwich City on his nineteenth birthday, Bates' war-interrupted playing career peaked when he forged a prolific partnership with Charlie Wayman, the duo scoring 70 goals as the Saints narrowly missed out on promotion from Division Two in successive seasons at the end of the 1940s. Retiring as a player in 1953, Bates was working as reserve team manager when, with the club struggling in Division Three South, the board of directors forced George Roughton out in September 1955 and handed control of the first eleven to the man who would eventually become known as 'Mr Southampton'.
Third Division champions in 1959-60, it took Bates another six seasons to finally attain the First Division status he'd been denied as a player, his free-scoring Saints side averaging over two goals a game as they clinched the runners-up spot behind Manchester City. "Getting promotion to the First Division was obviously the high point for me," Bates remembered in a local newspaper interview. "And once we got there, it wasn't the end of it. It was a struggle to stay up at first. We really had to dig in and keep improving the side. You can never stand still in this game."
Bates built Southampton just as Shankly made the modern Liverpool or Busby Manchester United, unearthing future England internationals Terry Paine, Mick Channon and Martin Chivers as the Saints reached the 1963 FA Cup semi-final, twice finished seventh in the First Division, and played two seasons in Europe, beating Rosenborg and Vitória de Guimarães in the Fairs Cup of 1969-70 before losing on away goals to Newcastle United, then bowing out at the first round stage of the 1971-72 UEFA Cup 3-2 on aggregate to Athletic Bilbao.
After nearly two decades as manager, Bates stepped down in 1973, remaining on the staff as chief executive and assistant to Lawrie McMenemy as Southampton defeated Manchester United 1-0 in the 1976 FA Cup Final. "It didn't come any better than winning the FA Cup at Wembley, " he said. "It was our first trip to Wembley, the first time we'd won the cup...I don't think anyone involved with the club will forget it."
Joining the board in 1978, Bates was made an MBE and awarded the freedom of the city in 2001, two years before his death at the age of 85. Four years later a £112,000 bronze statue, funded by the Ted Bates Trust, was unveiled outside St Mary's Stadium, only to be taken down within a week. Widely derided for resembling Portsmouth owner Milan Mandaric shrunk to Jimmy Krankie proportions, the sculpture was called "an absolute abomination", "His head is too big, his arms too big, his legs too small," just one of the many criticisms. "It was an embarrassing episode, mistakes happened, it wasn't very good and something had to be done," Southampton chairman Leon Crouch admitted as he revealed a £120,000 replacement. "Ted was - and in many ways still is - Southampton Football Club and we owe it to him to build a fitting statue." The new work - by Sean Hedges-Quinn, who also sculpted Sir Bobby Robson and Bob Stokoe - stands outside the main entrance to the ground, showing Bates dressed formally in a suit and tie, waving towards the River Itchen. "Ted Bates MBE Mr Southampton," reads the inscription on the plinth. "This statue has been erected by fans, friends and colleagues in recognition of Ted's 66 years of loyal service to our great club." A fitting tribute to the man who did as much as anyone to build Southampton FC.