“The key to his game was everything that is beautiful about it. He made it seem like an art form – extravagant penalties, stunning free-kicks, beautiful long-range efforts, attention to dribbling and skills that, frankly, aren’t seen often enough in this country”.
Hello. My name is Luke. I used to live in Southampton (from 2001 until 2004), and I went to university there. I miss it terribly – the nightlife, the town and, of course, Southampton Solent University – the place where I gained my Journalism degree. I made great friends there, and have longed for a jaunt back to the South Coast at some point. When the chance came, to spend an evening in the company of one of the most famous footballers to play for Southampton – Matt Le Tissier (as well as a fantastic comedian – Lenny Dee), I couldn’t turn the opportunity down.
‘Le God’ (as the Saints fans affectionately refer to him), was engaging, charismatic, friendly and funny to boot. Having spent last Friday in the company of his Sky Sports colleague, Phil Thompson, this evening will also live long in the memory. Matt spent 17 years at Southampton (from 1985 to 2002), and gained eight caps for the England national football team. The night in Newport was to raise money for the Velindre Cancer Centre, and took place at the Bisley Suite at Rodney Parade. Matt was kind enough to pose for photos (apologies for my picture above), as well as with the Football League trophy. Newport County A.F.C. returned to the Football League – after ending a 25-year absence – in 2013, and I think I spent most of my night, reassuring my fellow table companions, that they would see me on the terraces next season!
Matt mentioned tales of his time at Southampton, as well as ex-England boss, Glenn Hoddle being his hero as a boyhood Spurs fan. He also brought up the refusal to join several, bigger clubs during his playing career, including Tottenham Hotspur (in 1990) and Chelsea (in 1996). Le Tissier said he had no regrets about staying at Southampton. An attacking midfielder, with exceptional technical skills, he was the second-highest ever scorer for Southampton, behind Mick Channon, and was voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1990 (scoring 20 goals). His top scoring league season was 1993-94, when he scored 25 league goals. The following season, he won the Match of the Day Goal of the Season award, for his 40-yard lob against Blackburn Rovers (and against his long-term friend, and former Southampton keeper, Tim Flowers). He was also the first midfielder to score 100 goals in the Premier League, and also converted 47 spot kicks from 48 attempts during his playing career. In 2011, Matt became honorary president of Guernsey F.C., for whom he registered as a player in May 2013.
Matt answered numerous questions during the night – including ones about his omission from the France ‘98 World Cup squad (in which Gazza also missed out) – as well as his former Southampton boss, Chris Nicholl. He also mentioned a very, funny story, about being mistaken for Phil Tufnell (quality!), and the best player he played with, for Saints – former Danish midfielder/striker, Ronnie Ekelund. Ekelund was an instant hit during his loan spell at Southampton, with his skills on the ball, and formed a great understanding with Le Tissier (whom Ekelund later described as being on the same level as Ronald Koeman and Romário). In 2010, Spanish superstar Xavi, revealed that Le Tissier had been one of his childhood inspirations, claiming: “His talent was simply out of the norm. He could simply dribble past seven or eight players but without speed – he just walked past them. For me – he was sensational”.
Le Tiss also mentioned the strongest opponent he’s faced – fellow Englishman, and current manager of the England national under-21 team, Stuart Pearce (who played for Nottingham Forest, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Manchester City). The funniest anecdote I can recall from the night, was a story about Flybe naming a Q400 aircraft in Matt’s honour. They stuck a picture of Le Tiss on the side of one of their planes, and did an official naming back in Guernsey. Lawrie McMenemy (who was there to say a few words on behalf of the club), stood up in front of everybody, and said: ‘I don’t know if you realise what you’ve done – you’ve named an aeroplane after someone who wasn’t very quick on the ground and was rubbish in the air!” Brilliant!
Matt recently completed a half marathon weekend in Guernsey (in a respectable time of 1hr, 45 minutes and 52 seconds). My father is a marathon runner, and I’ve tried to keep up with him in the past (and failed miserably). I know how hard this is. So, to Matt – congratulations, sir, on the run, career and for being a true gent. Top night! (I’m always too afraid to ask questions, but if I wasn’t, I’d have asked, ‘What was it like, scoring with that 25-yard shot against Massimo Taibi, on Sep 25, 1999?)