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Le God speaks ahead of A Tribute to Matthew Le Tissier night at The Mayflower in Southampton
HE’S the man who needs no introduction in Southampton.
Devoting 16 glorious years to the Saints, he scored 209 times in 541 games in the red and white stripes, famously converting 47 out of 48 penalty attempts and scoring some of the most remarkable goals of all time.
That’s why if you spot him on one of Hampshire’s golf courses, dining out or wandering through the shops, he’s sure to be surrounded by a bevy of admirers.
They still bow down in the jovial ‘we’re not worthy’ pose Saints fans adopted when the player they knew as Le God took corners.
Pets across the city are named Tiss and he was the inspiration for an explosion of ‘Matthews’ born in his 90s heyday.
Le Tissier had a pub and a plane named after him and his induction last week into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame was preceded by the award of the Freedom of the City of Southampton, an honour that allows him to drive sheep through the city’s Bargate.
Matt Le Tissier enjoying a game of golf
“I always wondered what benefits I would get from that,” he laughs. “I thought I’d be able to park anywhere, but I’ve tried that a couple of times and got tickets! It was a lovely honour though and a very proud day for me.
“I’ve always found it quite flattering when people come and say ‘hi’. It’s nice that 11 years after I stopped playing, they come up and thank me for the pleasure they had watching my career.
“It always makes me feel very proud and I’ve never had a problem with it.”
The Saints love affair began in 1985 when a shy 16-year-old from Guernsey turned up at The Dell, signing professionally and making his debut just a year later and going on to play a major role in keeping his club in the top flight throughout his career.
These days the married father-of-three can be found in living rooms across the UK as a Sky Sports pundit – and he always has a close eye on the Saints match, alongside the game he is covering, even if he can’t make it to St Mary’s as often as he’d like.
“I think they’ll do alright this season,” Matt tells me.
“With the investment that’s been made, I’m sure this season we’ll finish in the top ten. With the money spent, we should probably be looking four or five places higher than last season.
“I was working there at the West Ham game and I’m hoping to get there more this season, depending on work.
I went seven or eight times last year either working for Sky or I was invited into my friend’s box so I only managed one game in my own seat. That was quite an expensive game, so having a season ticket didn’t really stack up. But I’ll go and buy a ticket on the day if and when I’m able to go and support them.”
Matt is a popular pundit on Sky's Soccer Saturday programme
Away from TV, 44-year-old Matt is a hit on the after dinner circuit having been booked for appearances in everywhere from non league clubhouses and Masonic lodges up to the Grosvenor House Hotel in London to 1,000 people at the Professional Footballers Awards.
This time he’s hoping to fill The Mayflower when A Tribute Night to Matthew Le Tissier hits the stage on Wednesday.
Matt will be joined by special guests from the world of football, both on screen and in the theatre, for an exclusive tribute to Matt, hosted by Sky Sports’ Ed Chamberlain.
It promises to delve a little deeper than the usual fans’ questions he is posed – the best goal he ever scored (the 35-yard corker past his friend and old teammate Tim Flowers, between the sticks for Blackburn), his favourite manager (Alan Ball, who gave him free rein during his spell at Saints) and his golf handicap (it’s been as low as four; Matt’s more than a quarter of a million Twitter followers will be well aware of his golf obsession.) An audience of thousands is expected to pay tribute to their idol.
But who are their hero’s heroes?
“They’ve changed over the years. Growing up I was a Spurs fan and Glenn Hoddle was my hero. I was sports mad though and I had a different hero for different sports. “My cricket hero was Ian Botham, snooker was Jimmy White and golf was Ernie Els.
“When I got into music I loved Shakin’ Stevens from the start, so I guess he’s my musical hero.
Matt has met them all – he appeared on BBC1’s sports quiz A Question of Sport alongside ‘Beefy’ Botham, chatted to Ernie Els while caddying for his pal Richard Bland on the European Tour, played poker with Jimmy White and golf with Shaky for the singer’s charity.
But have they lived up to their billing?
“Most of them. All but one,” Matt laughs.
He is, of course, referring to Glenn Hoddle, the talented footballer turned England and Saints manager who didn’t appreciate the mercurial talents of a player in his own mould.
Matt in a rare appearance for England
He seemed reluctant to indulge in more than one ‘luxury’ player, a label Paul Gascoigne could also be given, and eventually took neither to the 1998 World Cup despite Le Tissier’s hat-trick in an England B international in the run up to the tournament in France.
Today, Rickie Lambert is the name on the lips of every Saints and England fan, even earning the odd comparison to Saints legendary number 7.
In typically generous fashion, Matt has backed Rickie, until recently his near neighbour in the Test Valley, to be in England's World Cup squad if they qualify for Brazil 2014.
“He’s done a good job, two goals in three games is a decent return and he should keep himself in the manager’s thoughts that way.
“We don’t live far away from each other and I’ve met him a few times, he’s one of the most humble down to earth footballers around, which is refreshing.
“He has his feet on the ground and won’t get too carried away with what’s happened.
Hopefully he can get back to scoring goals for Saints and try to get on that plane to Brazil.”
It’s all Matt himself ever tried to do.
Final day great escapes, a double chip and shot against Newcastle, a memorable testimonial and dozens of soaring set pieces aside, my favourite Matt moment was his stunning volley in the final ever game at The Dell in 2001.
Matt scores the final goal at the Dell against Arsenal in 2001
In true Roy of the Rovers style, Le Tissier, by then past his prime, came off the bench to score the last ever competitive goal at the historic ground, reducing grown men to tears all around me.
There is no doubt he left an indelible impression at Southampton, one that is never likely to be matched.
“I played the game the way I wanted to play it, and had I gone on to a bigger club, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that.
“I have no regrets. People often say ‘why didn’t you go to a bigger club?’, but it was never my objective to win medals.
“Football to me is an entertainment industry and I hope I entertained.”
He most certainly did.
- See Matt take to the stage at The Mayflower on Wednesday. For tickets, visit mayflower.org.uk or call 023 8071 1811.