We recently saw the appointment of Le God as an ambassador for Southampton FC, I must admit, I thought he’d already been made one a few years ago when Nicola Cortese left the club. Being made an ambassador is a fitting tribute to the man who spent his whole career at the Saints.
Le God signed his professional contract in 1986, he made his top flight debut away at Norwich, a game in which Saints lost, not the most auspicious start to his career that would last just over 16 years, little did we know then that he would go on to become the talisman, the legend, the player who almost single handily kept Saints in the top flight of English year upon year.
With no worldwide web, social media and with newspapers not being delivered to Belize, my earliest memories of Le Tissier came from reading The Pink that my Mum used to send me, Reports of this young lad tearing up the youth/reserves and then making his first team debut, it wasn’t until November 1986 that I witnessed for myself the talent who would, in my opinion go on to be the greatest Saints player of all time.
I was home on leave and a mate said “Man U got Saints tonight up the Dell wanna go?” of course watching Saints back wasn’t much fun, but I was home, Saints were playing so I thought why not, the decision not to spend the evening watching the old man play crib up the Legion turned out to be a pretty good one, I think we thumped the mighty Man U 3 or 4-1 with the young Le Tissier scoring twice, (if I remember rightly).
When I returned to Germany many of my muckers (being Northerners) asked about this kid Le Tissier, I said “he looks good, he can spread it about a bit, but he could do with losing a few pounds, if he does that, he could become a decent player” little did I know what a talent the lad would become.
I watched with interest the following season, still being in the army visits to the Dell where very few and far between but whenever I was home or Saints played away near where I was stationed I’d go to the game, I really enjoyed watching the lad produce some really good football, my overriding memory was, he doesn’t actually run a lot, put when you spray a pass here there and everywhere you don’t have to.
The following year he really start scoring, knocking nine goals in, not bad for an attacking midfielder who played only 28 games, roughly a goal in every three games.
In 1988 another young player hit the headlines, namely Alan Shearer, he too had come through the ranks at the Dell, many younger Saints fans won’t remember that Saints had a pretty good academy even before the famed Staplewood academy, with the likes of Le Tissier, Shearer, the Wallaces all coming through the ranks to play for the first team.
Matt rose to real prominence in the 89-90 season, I was based in Aldershot so it was easy to get to the Dell, I loved it, I loved watching this lad who I thought needed to lose a pounds playing the some of the best football I’d seen a from a player in a red & white striped shirt, scoring 20 goals and winning the Young Player of the Year award from his fellow professionals. They didn’t count assists in those days, but you could almost guarantee if he didn’t score he would have put a team mate through to score, normally Shearer, another thing I do remember from the days was the blend of experienced players and home grown young players, when the like of Jimmy Case, Barry Horne and Glen Cockerill played alongside Matt, the lad seemed to have more time on the ball, now I don’t why that was, but I can hazard a guess as to why.
A year or so later saw the appointment of Ian Branfoot, this saw of the most turbulent times at the Dell, Saints fans hated the style of play, and this would eventually lead to our best player who’d been given the nickname Le God by this time being sent to train with Dave Merrington and the reserves, without Matt for three games Saints struggled, then came the visit of Newcastle to the Dell in October.
This was a must win game as we were languishing 2nd from bottom, even recalling Le God wasn’t enough to satisfy Saints fans, who were baying for Branfoots blood, the atmosphere inside the Dell was one of pure hatred, toxic wasn’t the word, I was stood there when Branfoot walked from the tunnel in the bottom corner of the East Stand to the dugout on the half way line, I swear that if the stevedore behind me could have got to Branfoot he wouldn’t have got to the touchline alive.
After a goalless first half it seemed that being dropped had affected our talisman, then the moment came, just after the hour the ball was pumped forward towards Dowie, who nodded it just behind Le God, with left foot he flicked over his head back into his path, it with a sublime piece of skill that only he could do, the ball bounced up, his second touch on the volley drew the blonde bombshell Barry Venison towards him in a vain attempt to tackle him, but Le God got to it first, which left only the giant Kevin Scott in his way, now I don’t what Scott was doing or where he was going but Le God using his right foot, flicked over Scotts head like he wasn’t there, this took Le God inside the box, with only the keeper to beat, and then it came, the moment of pure brilliance, Le God using his right foot and half volleyed past Mike Hooper, what a goal.
Andy Cole pulled a goal back for Newcastle, but was thus was to be Le Gods day, with roughly 3 minutes to go, Neil Maddison nodded the ball to him, 25 yards from goal, he controlled it with his thigh and then smashed a stunning volley into the top corner with his right foot, to be fair, Le God looked cream crackered at that, he just lifted his arms as if to say to Branfoot, go on fool drop me again, that season Le God went on to 25 goals.
For me his first goal was the best goal I’d ever seen from Le God, the second wasn’t too shabby either. Matt will tell you his goal away at Blackburn against his old friend Tim Flowers in goal was his career best, who am I to argue, yes it won the Match of Day Goal of Season, but the first strike against Newcastle the previous season, given the circumstances of returning after three games and basically being called unfit by the manager was my favourite ever Le God goal.
The season after, it looked like Le God was on his way to Chelsea, the late Matthew Harding had been rumoured to have a £10m bid accepted by the Saints Board. Well we all know how that turned out.
It took Le God until the year 2000 to finally score his 100th Premier League goal, he ended up scoring 161 goals in the Premier League.
The last of his goals for Saints was real Roy of the Rovers stuff, he scored it on 19th May 2001 and we all know it was the last ever goal at the Dell, drawing 2-2 Le God came off the bench to score a glorious volley to beat Arsenal, now if Carlsberg did fitting ends to a stadium life, that would probably be the best end in the world, only he could do it, only Le God, it had to be, until that day I’d never cried at football, but must admit a tear rolled down my eye, not because we said goodbye to the Dell but because of the way we ended, our greatest ever player scored the last ever goal at ours and his beloved Dell.
Le God played his last game at St Marys Stadium on January 29th 2002, although he didn’t announce his retirement until later in March, many who saw that day knew the end was near, after 540 appearances and 209 goals Le God finally retired at the end of the season.
I’ve often seen Le God in the crowd at St Marys, I’m not one who chases players or ex-players for selfies with them or one who wants to disturb them when they’re out with their families, so it took a while to finally say thank you to the player who’s career at Saints bought me (and thousands of others) so much joy, so it was quite funny when last year I finally got to chance to thank him for everything he had done for Saints during his career.
I would like to wish him all the best in his role as an ambassador for Southampton FC, if it’s even half as successful as his playing career was and his media career is, Saints won’t have gone far wrong.