On This Day In History - 19th May 2001 The Greatest Goal Ever !
Tuesday, 19th May 2020 11:00
Hard to believe that on this day 19 years ago we were preparing to play the last ever competitive match at the Dell, little did we know that if we had dreamt the perfect fairytale ending the night before, we were about to get it.
Sometimes it feels like yesterday that we left the Dell, it is hard to imagine that a very large and growing fast percentage of a crowd at St Mary's have never set foot inside the Dell as a football stadium.
For anyone under the age of 19 its a physical impossibility, but how old was the youngest supporters in the crowd for the visit of Arsenal on 19th May 2001 ? I would hazard a guess that although there might have been a few under the age of 5 or so, that they would struggle to remember that day,
So in simple terms anyone under the age of around 25 will not have any memories of the old ground, to them it is just history, they will not remember some of the lesser known members of the Saints team that day, they will know Garry Monk as a football manager not realise he once played 10 games plus another 3 as sub for the team in 5 years as a first team squad member, one of those games was the most famous to be played at the stadium.
Saints fans had been looking forward to the game all season, their enthusiasm only temporarily tainted by the controversial departure of Glenn Hoddle two months earlier, back then Saints were 8th and had hopes of Europe, but after Hoddle had gone we had failed to win in the 7 league games under caretaker boss Stuart Gray, taking only 2 points in that spell.
Gray had won his first game the previous week against Manchester United at the Dell and now had the chance to make it two in a row, but the bad run had cost us dearly, Chelsea had qualified for the UEFA Cup in 6th place only 9 points ahead of us, given one of those defeats was against them, it was not an impossible task to have made 6th if Hoddle had stayed.
But all that was of little consequence now all we had to play for now was pride, and a few million in prize money. Oh by the way it was Arsenal who were the opponents.
The dream of every Saints fan the previous night was of a Saints winning goal by Mathew Le Tissier, on this day that mattered more than anything.
Le God would start the day on the bench and apparently Stuart Gray had promised him that as long as the state of play in the game allowed it he would put him on for a final goodbye to the Old Ground after all Le Tissier's goals throughout the last decade or so had done more to keep us in the top flight and thus enable St Mary's to be built than any other man who had worn a Saints shirt in that time.
As the fans geared up to party, the message from the club was clear, although this was the last League game there were still two other games to be played on the ground, Jason Dodd's testimonial and the final ever game against Brighton, fans were asked not to take any of the pitch or any part of the ground, they could do that after the Brighton game.
The line up for the game was as follows
No one cared about the result it was just a constant barrage of noise and fans in a party mood, many had worn old Saints shirts for the day so we had a variety of old strips rather than just the current shirt.
It was Arsenal who quietened the crowd, albeit for a minute or so when Ashley Cole scored on 27 minutes and that was the score at the break.
After the re start Saints were level after only a minute and it is fair to say that the scorer Hassan Katchloul or Cashloul as he had been dubbed was the scorer, he had spent the entire season refusing a new contract and determined to exercise his right to leave on a free transfer, with the usual talk of winning things and playing at a high level, ironically he agreed to join Ipswich but pulled out at the last moment to join Aston Villa, at 28 he should have been at the peak of his career, he had played in 32 of the 38 Premier League games this season, but he would play only 22 Premier League games for Villa plus 4 at loan at Wolves in his 3 seasons at the club, many Saints fans felt some justice there.
But the lead lasted just 9 minutes before Freddie Ljungberg restored the visitors lead, however up stepped Katchloul again on the hour to prod the ball home after James Beattie had challenged Manninger in the Gunners goal.
Now at 2-2 the crowd wanted to see only one thing and the sight of Matt Le Tissier getting up from the bench and warming up raised the roof, his final appearance on the ground he had graced for 15 years since his home debut in September 1986, his first goal on the ground in November of the same year when he scored a brace against Manchester United to get Ron Atkinson the sack and Alex Ferguson the job at Old Trafford, all we wanted now was his last !
He came on with 16 minutes to go for Kevin Davies with a double substitution El Tahar Khalej on for Monk, everytime he got near the ball the roar was up from the crowd.
With ten minutes left came another roar of approval when another legend of the 1990's Francis Benali came of for Katchloul, if Le Tiss epitomised the grace and footballing prowess of the various teams that had graced the pitch, then Francis Benali captured the fighting spirit of every Saints team that the fans had watched, Lawrie McMenemy once said that in any team you need hod carriers as well as Violinists and that was true, If Le Tiss was not going to score the winner then the fans would have taken Benali as an alternative.
But as the game ticked into it's final minute it looked like the fairytale ending wasn't going to happen, then time seemed to go into slow motion.
The ball fell to Matt on the edge of the area, as I say it seemed to be happening very slowly ( OK no jokes here we know he was never noted for his speed, respect for our greatest legend please) he swivelled, he shot, it was in the net, for one brief second, it seemed longer silence, the open mouthed crowd could not believe what they had seen, then pandemonium.
I have not a clue what Le Tiss did next, everyone was too busy hugging each other, tears were flowing, hairs were standing on the neck it was just like a dream.
All that now remained was for Arsena not to poop the party, but it was one of our own players who nearly did that , Chris Marsden in a similar position to Le Tiss hit a shot just as crisp, but only inches over, Le Tissier commented afterwards that his heart was in his mouth as Marsden shot, he needn't have worried one of the Saints fans would have cleared it off the line if it had been on target.
The final whistle saw thousands swarm on to the pitch, everyone asking each other did that just happen, did Matt Le Tissier in the final ever League game at the Dell just hit a trademark winning goal in the final minute, most expected the alarm clock to go any minute and to find the game was still 7 hours away.
Much celebrating on the pitch, most fans obeyed the club's plea for nothing to be taken and I think that eventually the pitch was cleared and the team did a lap of honour, If they did I don't think I had stayed, I had my final ever memory and I was happy to walk out of the ground with that.
All that now remained was hundreds in and outside the Fitzhugh Pub reliving the game and in shock, songs were sung, beer was drunk, quite simply it was one of the best days ever to be a Saints fan.
Photo: Action Images
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