Best of the Saints: Rod Wallace


I wouldn’t say there was just one, but the obvious choice for me personally would be the game at The Dell against Liverpool in 1989 (a 4-1 win). Playing against the club I supported as a youngster in that Dell atmosphere, it was just a great occasion. From the time my brother scored against them with the overhead kick live on TV, I always wanted to be part of that. Playing against people like John Barnes and Alan Hansen, the legends of Liverpool… it was a great honour to be able to do that at The Dell against those guys. To score two goals and get an assist for Matty (Le Tissier) was an unbelievable experience.

The Liverpool one was one of them, but there was another game, against Man United, also in 1989. We were in a bit of a relegation battle, but we ended up beating them at The Dell. I remember that game being really important in getting out of the relegation fight, and we ended up finishing 13th that season. To get the winning goal against Man United at The Dell, where the atmosphere was always good in those types of games, meant a lot to me, personally.

There were so many, but it’s hard to look past that Liverpool game. Team performance-wise, you can’t really beat that one, because Liverpool were on fire at that time. It was their first defeat of the season.

I had a great time growing up at Southampton, making my debut at 17, and they were all good seasons for me. I’m not sure how many goals I scored in 1989/90 (21) but it was a great time, growing up with Matty, Franny (Benali), Alan Shearer, Glenn Cockerill and Jimmy Case, my best captain ever. It was a great place to grow up and Chris Nicholl gave us a lot of freedom to go and express ourselves. With what we had up front, we could basically do what we wanted, within a team structure. It was fantastic, I loved it. I always like to go on YouTube and watch some of the goals and some of the games on there. Those are great memories.

One day I’ll always cherish is the game against Sheffield Wednesday in 1988, when Raymond made his debut. That meant myself, Danny and Raymond were all on the pitch at the same time – the first time three brothers had played in the same team in a First Division game for 67 years. That was a massive moment for our family, and something I’m still very proud of to this day.

We had a couple of good games at Luton on the AstroTurf, and one of my favourite goals came at Kenilworth Road. I saw a backheel I scored on Twitter the other day as well – that was quite a nice one that I’d forgotten all about! There were plenty of goals, and that Man United one I mentioned was a special one too.

Matt (Le Tissier). He’s the all-time best player that I played with, I’ve always said that. We had a great connection on the pitch, and off it as well – we always got on well together. Matty had everything – he just couldn’t run! He’d be the first to admit that, but he had everything else. He could’ve gone to other clubs, but he stuck it out with Southampton, and he was very good for them. Matty’s always been the top player for me.

John Burridge was always a mad man, but he was funny with it. I just remember him diving into the skips! Someone would throw a towel or a ball at him, and he’d dive into the skip – he was crazy, but good with it. A good guy.

At first I was with Danny, my brother. Sometimes I’d be with Franny, from what I remember. We used to chop and change quite a bit. When I first started to get in the first team, it was Danny. We’d share the duties, so making the teas was never a problem!

My time was Chris Nicholl, I never had a problem with him. He gave us a lot of freedom – me, Matty, Alan (Shearer) and Paul Rideout. But we had a great upbringing with Dave Merrington. He was the youth team coach at the time and gave us a great structure, in terms of being disciplined and keeping a team shape. Coaching-wise he was very good as well. I don’t think Chris Nicholl had to do too much with us, but he gave us a lot of freedom to express ourselves.

I always liked going to Arsenal and Liverpool. With me being a fan of Liverpool, Anfield was always a nice place to go. Everything was just set up for the players there, it was a great stadium and the supporters were great as well. I always remember Highbury had heated floors! It had a great tradition, so those were the main two for me I think, and the places I really looked forward to playing at the most.

It would be the same two teams I just mentioned, Liverpool and Arsenal. Who doesn’t want to play against those kinds of clubs? Playing against Liverpool at Anfield is what you want to do when you’re a youngster. I’m a London boy, so to go to Arsenal and play against the likes of Dave Rocastle, Paul Davis, Michael Thomas, Tony Adams… the list goes on. It was a major team that they had at that point.

I didn’t like playing against Pat Van Den Howe at Everton. They had a good team, and I always wanted to beat them. He always tried to bully you – he was intimidating, to say the least, but you had to stand up to those kinds of guys, otherwise they’d take advantage of you. They’d be trying to kick all kinds of stuff out of you! Stuart Pearce was always a tough defender – he had the name “Psycho”, which tells you everything, but the best defender was Des Walker. It was always a good battle between us, because he was very quick but he could defend as well.

One eye-opener was when I was looking to sign my first professional contract. Alan Shearer had already signed his, but, because I’d already made my debut, I said I wanted a rise close to Alan’s. There was no negotiation and no agents at the time, so I was in there on my own with Chris Nicholl. He just said, ‘you ain’t getting that!' I can’t even remember what the wages were at the time, but what I was offered wasn’t on the same level as Alan’s, so that was a bit of an eye-opener. I did sign that contract, but I didn’t sign another one after that, so maybe that was a learning point for me.

They gave me my start. From being a schoolboy to an apprentice to the first team, with the players that were there at the club and the players that I played with from the youth side, they gave me my start, and I’ll always remember that. My brother (Danny) and I were the first and second million pound-plus players that the club sold, ever. For me, that was the start, and it was all about the start. Like I said, Dave Merrington gave me a lot of structure and the work ethic that I’m sure I showed when I played. I learned to be successful, to work hard and to be the best that I could. It was a great time to grow up.