A truly legendary Saint, club ambassador Matt Le Tissier shares his personal highlights from an iconic Southampton career...
My answer is always the same! The goal I scored against Blackburn, December ’94 I think it was. I was 35 yards out, it was a shot I’d been practising a lot in training, and it came off in the game. It was just nice that one of my good mates (Tim Flowers) was in goal for Blackburn that day as well, which made it a little bit more special, although we did end up losing the game 3-2.
There are a few that stand out, but I think the one for me was pre-Premier League. We played Liverpool in October 1989, they were unbeaten in the league coming to The Dell and we ended up beating them 4-1. We were very positive – we played 4-2-4 and we absolutely smashed them. It could’ve been 8-1! That was a team that included Rodney Wallace, Alan Shearer, Paul Rideout, Jimmy Case, Glenn Cockerilll… everyone was on top of their game, it was a phenomenal team performance.
Scoring the last ever goal at The Dell, without question. That would take some beating! One of the best feelings was after drawing 3-3 at West Ham on the last day of the season in 93/94 when everyone had written us off as relegation fodder, but we managed to stay up. That was pretty special, but scoring the last goal at The Dell… I’ll take that feeling with me to the grave. I was told on the Tuesday that I was going to be on the bench, but I would definitely get on. From that Tuesday night onwards, all I did that week was imagine scoring the last goal at The Dell. I was falling asleep every night thinking about it, and it came true. Amazing.
Seventh was the highest I finished in the top division – that was in 1990. But I think in terms of an achievement, given the position we were in when Alan Ball took over in January 1994 when we were in dire straits, to turn it around the way we did would be right up there. That’s why that feeling at the end of the West Ham game was so special to me, with the way we managed to get ourselves out of trouble.
I get asked that question a lot. There were a lot of good players, but for me, I loved playing alongside Rodney Wallace. I think he was a very underrated footballer. Jimmy Case was coming to the end of his career but was such a brilliant, experienced pro, who knew the game so well, looked after us and taught us so much. But from a purely footballing perspective, Ronnie Ekelund in the 94/95 season, when Bally brought him over on loan from Barcelona. That experience for me, playing alongside him, was just amazing. We were on the same wavelength from the first training session we trained together. That was a really special period in my career – probably the one I enjoyed the most.
I went through a few, because I had some habits they probably weren’t overly keen on! I used to like watching telly quite late on a Friday night before a game – until half-one or two in the morning, knowing I could have a lie-in on the Saturday. Franny loved his sleep, so we didn’t last very long together! My favourite was probably Barry Horne – I roomed with him for about three years and I learned a lot from him. He was quite an intelligent guy and we used to have some good conversations. He was a good character to be around.
It would be between three guys who were brilliant in the changing room. Iain Dowie and Tim Flowers together were a really funny combination as a double act. Then Tim left and we brought Jim Magilton in. He was brutal in the changing room – he took no prisoners, and Iain was a big character, so the banter between those two was just fantastic. If I had to pick one out of everyone, I’d probably have to say Iain.
Alan Ball, for me personally. He built the team around me and just said, ‘do what you’re good at. Don’t bother defending, because we know you’re rubbish at that, but when we are defending, get yourself in a position where, when we get the ball, we can pass to you’. That’s all he did. He just played to my strengths, and that was the best period of my career. From a tactical point of view, Glenn Hoddle would be the best that I played under.
Best team talk?
There was a team talk from Alan Ball that was not during a game – it was the day after we’d been beaten at home over Easter by two of our rivals for relegation, Oldham and Man City. Everyone was so down, thinking we’d completely blown our chances and were definitely relegated. But he made a speech on the Tuesday, which really picked everyone’s spirits back up and gave us a bit of belief back. We managed to stay up, so that one sticks out in my mind.
It would be a toss-up between 93/94 and 94/95. 89/90 was pretty good as well, when I won the Young Player of the Year, but I think probably the 94/95 season when I got 29 or 30 goals – depending on whether you consult the club records or the Premier League records, because they took a goal off me! That was the season I was playing alongside Ronnie Ekelund, and I felt like I was on top of my game.
Best personal performance?
There were a few games when I scored some nice hat-tricks, but I would probably have to say that game against West Ham on the last day of the season, when we needed something to stay up. I scored a free-kick and a penalty, and I set up Neil Maddison for the other goal, so it was two goals and an assist in a 3-3 draw to stay up on the final day of the season. That performance under that kind of pressure was about as good as I could’ve done.
Best team performance?
I would say, given the position we were in, the game against Man United when Dave Merrington was manager and they changed their shirts at half time. We were staring relegation in the face and they were going for the title, but we were 3-0 up at half time. We absolutely blitzed them with that first-half performance. We were thinking, ‘wow, where has that come from?’ I’m not sure I even noticed they’d changed kits until someone pointed it out to me after the game! It was a diversionary tactic, but I wasn’t that fussed by it. Funnily enough I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson about it recently. He said to me: “I had a lady who told me, ‘you’ll never win wearing those grey shirts’. When I saw the grey shirts and the way we played in that first half, it took me back to what she said, and I just had to get the grey shirts off the players. That’s why we changed the kit.”
Best opposition team?
That Liverpool team of the late ‘80s. They were pretty special, and that’s why that win against them was so amazing. It would be a toss-up between them and the Man United team of Cantona, Giggs, Scholes… those kinds of players. But I’d probably just say the Liverpool team.
Best opposition player?
Thierry Henry. He came in ’99, and I was playing in the game when he scored his first Arsenal goal. He didn’t start particularly great, but you just saw the improvement. It was like, ‘wow, how do you stop that?’ Sometimes he was like a man playing in boys’ football – he was that good. It was like he floated on the air without even touching the ground.
Best away day?
I enjoyed going to White Hart Lane, being a Spurs fan as a kid, and I scored there quite a few times, which was nice. I must admit I loved playing at Anfield – we didn’t really get many results up there, but the atmosphere and being on the pitch at five to three when the Kop start singing "You’ll Never Walk Alone" was a pretty special moment.
Best thing about Southampton?
The best thing about the club in my mind would be the fans. From the first minute I got into the first-team squad as a skinny 17-year-old, they were so supportive of me, willing me to do so well. They played a huge part in the reason why I stayed here for so long. They created such a brilliant atmosphere at The Dell, especially in those run-ins when we were in relegation scraps. I’ve spoken to opposition players who say, ‘we hated coming to your place when it was like that. They made it so intimidating’. The fans were a huge help in those relegation battles – I’m not sure they even realise themselves quite how much they helped the players.