Growing up in Basingstoke presented an interesting conundrum. Unless a club was forced upon you by a parent, sibling or friend you were likely to follow the herd into supporting Manchester United, Liverpool or another similarly renowned ‘big’ club.
Basingstoke’s football club wasn’t up to much and the mystique was taken away early on for me comparing the ability of the guys on the hallowed Camrose pitch with the gilded likes of Robbie Fowler, Eric Cantona and Alan Shearer on my best mate’s Sky TV.
Alongside the fans of the bigger clubs there was always a steady contingent of Southampton supporters locally, something which baffled me at first but which I later understood to be directly attributable to the Saints being the closest Premier League team, but also for being able to call upon the magic of their star man.
I say magic, because that really is the most accurate description of Matthew Le Tissier’s mesmerising skills on the pitch. The guy was constantly at it, a perfectly weighted flick here, a deceptive dink there.
‘Le God’ was the danger man, he showed no respect for reputation – it wasn’t intentional, he just didn’t care. The opposition could have been internationals or amateurs but most of the time they were treated as mere obstacles in the way of putting the ball in the net.
His trademark was the outlandish, the things that other players wouldn’t dream of doing let alone try. But this wasn’t the only thing he was unique for; he also spent the whole of his career in Southampton’s red and white.
This isn’t comparable to John Terry or Ryan Giggs being one-club men showered with accolades and trophies season after season. Le Tissier chose to exchange personal glory, he had the opportunity to move to Chelsea or Spurs, he had the chance to earn more, play on a bigger stage, get more recognition and probably play more for England but he put Southampton above it all.
He didn’t really have an all-round game because he didn’t need to but that only added to his legend. He was notoriously unfit, didn’t really like running and looked like he enjoyed a McDonalds or two in his time. He was also inconsistent but it was ok because he was intelligent.
Constantly aware of what opposition players were doing as well as his own teammates, goalkeepers and defenders would be beaten mercilessly if they stepped an inch out of position, in any direction.
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.
Due to this, much of Southampton’s tactics and game plan were built around Le Tissier’s brilliance but his team mates didn’t mind. You could tell that they knew they were in the presence of someone truly special who could make something happen at any given moment.
As a young lad growing up it was actually a treat to watch him on TV. I feel lucky to have been around to see him playing although regrettably I never saw him play in the flesh.
This series has paid tribute to the likes of John Barnes, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Alessandro Del Piero, but for me Le Tissier always has, and always will be that little bit more special.
His legacy can still be seen today – witness David Jones of Wolves aping his free-kick to great effect against Stoke on the opening day. This won’t be the last time you see shades of the great man in the top-flight this season. The legend will live on.