Decides to help out Guernsey
9 April ~ Guernsey FC have an unprecedented fixture backlog, caused by postponements due to severe weather and a successful FA Vase run. Aiming for promotion from the Combined Counties League, they are 19 points behind leaders Egham Town with seven games in hand and have 17 matches to play in a month. So they welcomed the offer made by their honorary president, former Southampton player Matthew Le Tissier, to play for them aged 44. However, this is not the first time Le Tissier has decided to help out a friend.
A Hampshire Senior Cup second round tie on a gloomy late October evening wouldn't be expected to lure more than a trickle of spectators let alone 2,000. But that was the gate predicted by local paper the Daily Echo for a clash between Wessex League club Eastleigh and Newport (IOW) of the Southern League in 2002. Eastleigh manager Paul Doswell even urged potential spectators to set off in good time – possibly imagining a scene from the baseball film Field of Dreams in which a huge trail of car headlights snakes back into the distance. The cause of such excitement was the Eastleigh debut of the player billed by Doswell in his programme notes as "the biggest non-League signing ever".
It was just after calling time on his Southampton career (540 appearances and 209 goals – many of them spectacular) that Le Tissier agreed to play a small amount of games for Eastleigh. The deal appeared to be arranged during a golf match with another former Saint, newly appointed Eastleigh assistant manager David Hughes. Coincidentally it was also on his way back from a round of golf that Le Tissier received the gameplan for the Hampshire Senior Cup game during a chance encounter with Doswell at a set of traffic lights. According to Le Tissier, the Eastleigh manager told him through his car window that he'd line up behind the strikers in a 3-5-2 formation.
The gate was slightly less than predicted at 536 but still spectacular for a midweek Hampshire Cup tie and Eastleigh's biggest for some time. Le Tissier obliged those hoping for one last glimpse of his talent early on with a free-kick from the corner of the area which the Echo's observer reported as being "delivered with whip, pace and bend". Blocked by Newport goalkeeper Joe McCormack the rattle of the crossbar was enough to stir collective memories.
Le Tissier's appearance ended on 60 minutes without a goal (by his own admission he was not in peak condition, commenting before the game that the main part of his exercise regime was five rounds of golf a week). But as the Echo's match report recorded, in addition to helping Eastleigh to book their place in the next round with a 3-0 win "his touch and vision helped to illuminate a dank evening for an hour".
Le Tissier would go on to make several more appearances for Eastleigh over the course of 2002-03, with the club winning the Wessex League championship. In his autobiography he says that it was no more than "just doing a mate a favour" in helping to raise the profile of Eastleigh, who moved up three levels to the Conference South in the space of a few seasons, However, Hughes would later say that, far from being a publicity stunt, Le Tissier's involvement helped to lay foundations for the club's subsequent success. Guernsey will no doubt be hoping Le Tissier can do the same for them but in the meantime there's a few fixtures to get through. Neil Cotton