Matt Le Tissier: One-on-One
It's a crisp, sunny August morning and FFT finds itself in the unlikely surroundings of a golf course in Dorset. Thankfully, we weren't here to talk five-irons and fairways, although from what we'd heard Matt Le Tissier would happily chat about his new sporting love all day long. As an outrageously gifted footballer who's best remembered for chipping and driving the ball about effortlessly without actually having to move too much, perhaps this should come as no surprise, but thankfully when Matt emerges from the clubhouse, he's only interested in two things: his breakfast and your questions.
With his sausage bap polished off in no time, 'Le God' (as he'll forever be known round these parts) gets his teeth into Hoddle, Keown and The Sun, shares the secrets of his insane penalty-taking record, and reveals why he has no regrets over spending his entire career down on the coast...
Having been born in Guernsey, you could have played for any of the home nations, or even France. Did you ever consider shunning England – especially for Les Bleus?!
Danny Decarlo, via email
Firstly, the France thing was a load of rubbish. I wasn't qualified to play for France, even though my dad received some phonecalls from Gerard Houllier in the early '90s. The French FA thought I might be able to play for them and Houllier was ringing my dad to ask him to try and persuade me, but I didn't have any French relatives so it was a non-starter. All I wanted to do growing up was to play for England, so no other country ever crossed my mind.
As a Saints fan, your chip against Man United was my favourite Le Tiss goal. Of all the goals you scored, which was your best?
Suzie Francis, Bristol
The best was the one I scored at Blackburn: about 35 yards out past my old mate Timmy Flowers. [FFT: Even ahead of the double chip and shot v Newcastle?] Yeah, that Newcastle one I mis-hit in the end. It bobbled into the corner, which wasn't how it was supposed to go in, so that took the gloss off it a bit for me.
You worked under nine Saints managers and you've always said Alan Ball was the best because he let you play your natural game. Which manager's approach least fitted into your way of playing?
Mike Wolff, via email
Ian Branfoot, without a doubt. The way he wanted to play the game was totally alien to everything I believed in, so it was a long two years. Under Chris Nicholl, we were an attack-minded team. Then suddenly we just wanted to be solid and smack the ball to the corners for the forwards to chase. That wasn't my idea of fun.
What did you think of Graeme Souness as Saints boss – especially when he substituted you for that useless lump Ali Dia?
Brian Sperling, London
I got on all right with Graeme. He was quite calm when he came to us, but that might have been because he'd just had his heart bypass – I think the drugs might have calmed him down!
The Ali Dia incident was strange though – I'm surprised it didn't cause more of a kerfuffle. He trained with us the day before the game and we were like, "What's this geezer doing? He's hopeless." And then on the Saturday Graeme named him as a sub and we couldn't believe it. I got injured after 20 minutes and when I saw him warming up, I'm going, "Surely not?" Graeme put him on and he was f***ing hopeless, so he took him off again. It was crazy. Ali came in for treatment on the Sunday, then f***ed off without paying his hotel bill.
My friend Dave often boasts about selling you a tin of baked beans in a service station once. How integral were baked beans to your success on the pitch?
James Irwin, via Facebook
He's probably right as� I did like my beans, but I wouldn't say they were integral! I'd often eat unhealthy stuff, fish and chips or whatever, the night before a match, but never on a matchday. My pre-match meal would be an omelette or something similar. In my early days at Southampton you could have a steak if you wanted but it was a bit chewy for me; a bit too much like hard work!
My diet as a player wasn't great – there's no two ways about it – but as long as my weight was OK, that's all I cared about. [FFT: Which manager let you get away with the most?] Oh, Bally [Alan Ball]. If you were doing it on the Saturday he didn't give a s*** what you did in the week. The 18 months that he was there was the best time of my career. I scored 45 goals in 64 games for him, and that was from midfield. Bally let me get away with a lot more than the other players. There were players who didn't like him but if you weren't producing Bally would get on your back. It would have been the same with me.
I seem to recall a story about some antics involving Alan Ball on a tour to Northern Ireland. What happened on that trip?
Rachel Halcomb, Bexhill
[Laughs] Well, we were given the day off on this pre-season trip to do whatever we wanted. So four of us are waiting in reception to go and play golf when Bally comes down and suggests we all go for a drink. We never made the golf; we just sat in the pub for seven hours getting p***ed. When we finally leave to return for our evening meal, Bally's all over the place and goes straight to bed.
So with the boss out of it, eight of us head into town and later we end up back at this nightclub right next to our hotel. As we walk in the DJ's introducing us over the mic, but what we didn't realise was that Bally's bedroom backed onto the nightclub and he's heard everything the DJ's been saying! So when we crawl in at 2am, there's Bally, standing in reception. I'm the last one back and as I walk in he's giving a massive bollocking to Dave Beasant, Iain Dowie and Jim Magilton. But when he sees me, he sends the others to bed before taking me aside and saying, "Our senior players are setting a bad example... but the way you're playing, you can do what you like!" That's how he was with me.
Much was made of your fitness. How would you have coped in today's game? Would you have had to work on your fitness more – and would you have been willing to?
Terry Eason, Tadworth
Yes and yes. If being fitter was what was needed to get me to be able to play football, I'd have done it. Basically, I didn't enjoy fitness. I'd train all day if there was a ball involved, but on pre-season you just ran for two weeks, and that bored the s*** out of me. I knew I should have worked on my fitness more, but I also knew I had the ability to change games without being as fit as the other players on the pitch.
Honestly, Matt, do you have any regrets about sacrificing top-level honours to be a one-club man?
Andy Lim Wee Kwok, via Facebook
I've no regrets whatsoever. From seven years old I had an ambition to be a professional footballer and I had an ambition to play for England, and I fulfilled both at Southampton. Yes, I knew I probably wouldn't win any honours, but when you're at a club that size, staying in the Premier League for 16 years gave me as much pleasure as winning a medal if I'd gone somewhere else. No one expected us to stay up there for that long. I was so chuffed to be a part of that.
I remember when your brother revealed to a radio station that you were in the England line-up to play Italy in 1997. Did his actions affect your performance? What did you say to him when you found out?
Ralph Ladd, Wycombe
My brother was stitched up. The team was actually printed in The Sun that day, because one of t�he players who wasn't in the team had leaked it. So a reporter went to where my brother works and said, "Here's the team – isn't it great Matt's playing?" And my brother's gone, "Yeah, I'm really chuffed for him" and all of a sudden everyone assumes it's true and is blaming him. It didn't affect my performance. I've watched that game back and I think I was the person who looked most likely to score.
You won only eight caps, which is a scandal. Which do you think hampered your chances of playing for England more: playing for the Saints or the type of player you were?
Matt Rumble, via Facebook
My reputation for being lazy hampered me more than staying at Southampton. It was during my best spell, under Bally, that I was dropped from Terry Venables' squad, so that was frustrating. I think maybe England managers weren't brave enough to change their formation to accommodate me.
You netted a hat-trick in an England B game vs Russia that was seen as a final eliminator for the France 98 squad. What were your feelings after that game? How disappointed were you to miss out on the World Cup?
Liam Smith, via fourfourtwo.com
What I thought I had done was to make Glenn's initial squad of 30. When I didn't make that, it knocked the stuffing out of me. I really thought I'd played well enough against Russia under pressure to have made it, and then maybe give myself a chance to impress enough to make the final cut. But Glenn picked Gazza for the 30, so I thought he must prefer him to me; Gazza's who he wants as his creative player. When he then dropped Gazza, I couldn't believe it. I was madder than when Glenn left me out, because I thought Gazza was the reason I didn't go.
Glenn Hoddle became your club boss in 2000. What did you think when you heard he was going to take over from Dave Jones?
Philip Sage, via email
I had mixed feelings, because Glenn was my hero as a boy as I was a Spurs fan. So I was still a bit excited that he was taking over but this was tempered with what happened at England. We didn't see eye to eye, but we have cleared the air since, having been on golf trips together. [FFT: Do you usually beat him at golf?] [smiles] It's fair to say I beat him more than he beats me!
I read a story that you have a plane in Guernsey named after you! How did that come about?
Briggsy, via Twitter
That's right. I'm a community ambassador for Flybe – who used to sponsor Southampton – back in Guernsey, so they stuck a picture of me on the side of one of their planes. They did an official naming of the aircraft back in Guernsey and Lawrie McMenemy was there to say a few words on behalf of the club. He stood up in front of everyone and said to the Flybe staff: "I don't know if you realise what you've done – you've just named an aeroplane after someone who wasn't very quick on the ground and was rubbish in the air!" Thanks for that, Lawrie!
Loads of footballers are golf nuts, but you seem to be more than most. What's your handicap? And have you met any footballers more golf-mad than you?
Jeff Riddick, Chicago
I play off seven, but I've had it down to five. I've met footballers who were better at football than me, but I don't think I've met any better golfers who are ex-footballers. My old team-mate Paul Telfer is the only footballer I know who is madder about it than me. He actually wasn't that interested in football; he was far more into golf. Paul would even play a round on Saturday morning before a game! I never got to that extreme.
As a Spurs fan, I'd have loved to see you at the Lane. Why did you pull out of the deal?
Tom Shackleton, Poole
That was in 1990 and it was pretty much a done deal; I'd agreed terms on the contract and everything. But I pulled out of it because I was about to get married and my fiancée at the time didn't fancy living in London.
Your penalty record was unreal – you scored 47 out of 48. What was your secret and could you be of help to England?
Keith Hitchcock, via Facebook
I think I could probably help England out, yeah. My approach was that it was the best chance I was going to get to score a goal in a game. It was a free shot from 12 yards and I'd always back myself. My penalty record was a mixture of confidence, a little bit of ego because I knew the whole stadium was looking at me and I liked that, and positive mental attitude: I used to visualise the crowd erupting as the ball hit the net. And after that it was all down to technique. I was fortunate in that I could side-foot a ball quite hard - almost as hard as I could strike it – so I could keep the accuracy yet still have decent power.
This might be a strange question, Matt, but do you ever get mistaken for Phil Tufnell?
Luke Lee, via Facebook
[Laughs] Yes, many times in fact, especially at cricket grounds as I like my cricket. I've even had people ask me for my autograph thinking I'm him! I signed one and saw them looking at it afterwards. I knew what they were thinking: "That doesn't say Phil Tufnell!"
Xavi described you as one of his childhood idols. How does it feel to hear comments like that? Did you ever think about moving abroad, where your skills might have been better appreciated?
Keith Meyer, Lincoln
I was on an ex-footballer's golf trip in La Manga when I saw the Xavi story. I went all the way down the bus, going, 'Lads, have a look at this!' and as I was in Spain, I thought I'd get a T-shirt done up saying 'Xavi loves me!' and walk around with it all week. I couldn't have played abroad, no – I was too much of a homeboy. It was a big deal for me leaving Guernsey.
The last game at The Dell when you scored a late winner against Arsenal is my top Le Tiss memory. Did you cry?
Roy Allen, London
I don't think I cried but it was very emotional. My lad didn't come and watch me play that often, but he came to that game. After I scored I ran towards the stand where he was, then all the lads piled on me! It was a hell of a moment. We had a few minutes to hold on, but right at the end Chris Marsden had a shot which looked like it was going in, and the Arsenal goalkeeper's tipped it over. I nearly ran and hugged the keeper because I so wanted to be the last scorer at The Dell. To be honest, If I'd been anywhere near that shot I think I'd have tried to save it myself!
You used to give defenders a torrid time, but was there a defender who never fell for your tricks, who gave you a torrid time?
Cora Tu, via email
Des Walker. I hated playing against him. He was so quick it was ridiculous. Then there was Martin Keown – he was horrible. He'd man-mark me and would do lots of really narky things, like pinch you and tread on your toes. Martin didn't talk, there was no banter; it was all actions to annoy the s*** out of you. And it worked.
Who do you think is to blame for the demise of your old club in recent years?
Kath B, via Twitter
I don't think Rupert Lowe helped the club on the field, although he did some good things off it. But the season we were relegated from the Premier League we went through three managers. You can't chop and change like that and expect the team to play well, and I think Rupert made some big mistakes in his managerial appointments.
But saying that, the players at the time have to take some responsibility because despite everything that happened that season, we still had a chance to stay up by beat�ing Man United at home on the last day of the season. United had nothing to play for and we went one-nil up, yet we still lost. The Southampton sides that I played in would not have rolled over like that. We would have won that game, no question, because we had the right mental attitude and the right desire. But the players out there that day didn't have that. I was commentating on the game and I hardly said anything in the last 20 minutes. It was just horrible.
I can't imagine you in the dugout, Matt, even at St Mary's. Am I wrong?
Dan Smith, Staines
You're probably right: it's never been a great ambition of mine. I tried to take my coaching badges a few years ago and it just drove me crackers. I got bored s***less and gave up on it. I actually don't think I'd be a bad manager, I think I can manage people, but I wouldn't be that good at coaching. To get into management now, you need all the badges, and I just can't see myself going through all that to get qualified. I think a lot of it is a bit pointless to be honest.
“I’ll never forget you playing in goal in my testimonial, Matt. You did well! Did you ever consider a career between the sticks?”
Francis Benali, former Southampton team-mate
I didn’t seriously consider it because obviously I was so good out on the pitch. Now this sounds really horrible, but back in the days when you didn’t have sub goalies, I was desperate for our keeper to get injured, just so I could go in goal for once!
The only time I got to play in goal in something resembling a proper match was Franny’s testimonial. I had the best time. I made three or four saves from Shearer and Flowers – Tim was playing outfield – and I loved every minute of it. Flowers scored a penalty against me – after my goal past him against Blackburn, he loved that.
The closest I came in a league game was when Charlton stuffed us 5-0 at The Valley [in 1998]. Our keeper was sent off and we’d already made three subs so I was sure that was my moment. But David Howells had the same aspirations as me, and he managed to peg it back quicker than I could to grab the gloves and jersey!
In last month's FFT, your Soccer Saturday pal Charlie Nicholas said you can eat absolutely anything ["You should watch Le Tiss inhale omelette and chips – I've never seen anything like it!"] Do you really eat food that quickly?
Jon Weston, Reigate
Charlie said that?! Well, we only get the advert breaks to eat our food; that's two-and-a-half minutes – it's got to go quick!
What is there more chance of in the near future: Saints overtaking Pompey or Jeff Stelling's Hartlepool usurping Saints? How unbearable would that be?
Roger Vines, Glasgow
That would be incredibly unbearable! I was at the Saints vs Hartlepool game at St Mary's last season and I was texting Jeff throughout the game, giving him a load of stick! But there's more chance of us overtaking Portsmouth, and I think it will happen very soon, considering their troubles. It's a shame. I'd love Portsmouth to stay in the Championship and we'll join them next season for a couple of derbies. That would be nice on our way back up to the Premier League.
What's happened to Portsmouth is sad. When your club's been through that you do have a bit of sympathy for them, even if they are your biggest rivals.
My mate told me you were after Stelling's job on Countdown. Is that right? I saw you on Dictionary Corner. You seemed more qualified than Chris Kamara – what were they thinking?
Steve Jeffries, via email
I wasn't after Jeff's job! I just wanted to go on Dictionary Corner. But what I really want to do is be a contestant. I know Clarke Carlisle went on it and Jeff's suggested a head-to-head between us, which would be fun. I just love the show and I've always watched it. [FFT: How good are you?] I can get some quite long words. And I get the odd conundrum as well. When I was on Dictionary Corner, I answered a numbers game that Rachel Riley didn't get! That's my claim to fame now. I'd fancy myself at Countdown against Kammy any day. [FFT: And Paul Merson?] I don't think Merse would accept that invitation, to be fair. He knows his limitations.