Time Machine: Matthew Le Tissier scores Southampton’s last goal at the Dell

19 May 2001, The Dell: Southampton 3 Arsenal 2

When you think of ‘Mr Southampton’ from the late 80s, 90s and the new millennium, there are only two people who can come to mind.

One is left-back Francis Benali – 389 games for the club starting in 1988 and ending in 2004.

The other is probably more memorable for a global audience.

Matthew Le Tissier was one of the pistol players of the early Premier League era.

At a time in football when there was rarely room for skillful, creative and game-changing midfielders – especially when they weren’t a big fan of doing defensive stuff – Le Tissier shone as a absolute fanatic.

Buy this iconic Matt Le Tissier poster from the Football Bloody Hell store
Buy this iconic Matt Le Tissier poster from the Football Bloody Hell store

You could easily argue that his top 10 Premier League goals for Saints wouldn’t seem out of place if they were considered the top 10 Premier League goals of all time.

Licensed under Alan Ball in particular, Le Tissier was rightly considered as Le Dieu.

So when it came to scoring the Saints’ last goal on their historic ground, there was only one person fit to dream of doing it. Sorry, Francois.

Dell’s History

As the world moved into the 21st century, Southampton Football Club knew it had to come home.

As wonderful, unique, intimate and historic as the Dell had been for them since 1898, the final capped capacity of 15,200 was not enough for the club to foresee a stable financial future.

After many years of planning, rejections and re-submissions, they finally announced they would be moving to a new 32,600-seat facility on the town’s former gasworks – it would be called St Mary’s.

103 years of history had to be said goodbye – the Saints played their first game at the Dell against Brighton on September 3, 1898.

With the lack of suggested ideas for the name of the land, the Dell was chosen – the Dell being a small valley surrounded by trees. In the modern era, marketing companies would charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for such creativity.

The ground proved to bode well for the club – four Southern League titles won, four FA Cup semi-finals reached (as a non-league side) winning two of them, winning but losing in the FA Cup final.

In 1927, the directors commissioned the famous stadium architect Archibald Leitch to redesign their east stand. Leitch pioneered modern stadium design in this era – but even a great architect can’t protect a pitch from someone dropping a cigarette and setting the new stand on fire.

After a bomb hit it in World War II, Southampton had to play away from the Dell for two seasons – becoming tenants at Fratton Park, Portsmouth. A bomb had landed in the Milton Road penalty area, leaving an 18ft hole. That’s what it took for the Saints to seek help from their arch-rivals.

The club returned home in 1941.

In 1950 it was the first ground to have permanent floodlights installed – the club becoming modern again as it continued its rise through the football leagues.

October 1969 saw record attendance at the Dell, as 31,044 people watched European Cup winners Manchester United, including George Best and Bobby Charlton, beat the home side 3-0.


In the end, after various periods of refurbishment – ​​particularly due to the post-Hillsborough Taylor report – the Dell was a famous ground for fans being above the players. Compact and imposing, it was an away day that most teams weren’t looking forward to. Especially if they were wearing the wrong shirts, as Alex Ferguson’s United side proved in the mid-1990s.

And on May 19, 2001, they were to say goodbye to their 103-year-old home.

Southampton 3 Arsenal 2 v FA Premier League, May 19, 2001

Arsenal were the visitors. Manager Arsene Wenger knew the value of the old ground, saying;

“It’s always been a tough place to go, and when they move to a bigger stadium with a bigger pitch, they can also be less afraid of opponents. It’s a nice pitch and, when you look at the board, we know we will have done well to score points. No matter how good Southampton are, you know you will play against Southampton and the crowd here.

Le Tissier was just fit enough for the bench. He had been battling injuries for some time, but there was no way on Earth that he would miss the goodbye. Speaking to Graham Hunter on his podcast, Le Tiss described how he spent the week feeling like he would mark the winner – a premonition perhaps, or the visualization of something in existence.

Arsenal had led twice by Ashley Cole and Freddie Ljungberg and had been caught twice by Hassan Kachloul.

The match seemed to drift into a 2-2 draw until the legendary Southampton magician was called off the bench in the 74th minute, replacing Kevin Davies.

In the last minute of football at the historic home, James Beattie won an aerial duel with Tony Adams. Martin Keown failed to manage the situation and the ball fell on Le Tissier in the box. He wrapped his left boot around the ball and hit a clinical half-volley past Arsenal keeper Alex Manninger.

The ground erupted, at the last minute of their hero in the last game at their home. What better ending?

The Tiss was mobbed by teammates and recovered to say after the final whistle;

“It’s very special to score the last goal and I couldn’t have imagined a better ending. But I don’t see why I can’t also score the first goal in the new stadium!”

Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get that wish – a one-year contract followed, but injuries were really catching up with him at this stage and appearances were very limited.

The Tiss have never scored at St Mary’s but will always have the last professional goal at the Dell – and deservedly so.

“Who better to say goodbye than one of the best players to wear red and white?”

The words of Jon Champion, the BBC Match of the Day commentator – indeed.

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