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Soup of This Day #58: And The Moon Is The Only Light We’ll See

August 29, 2011

David Ortiz
Big Papi points to the heavens after another home run – Photo: Toasterb, 2007. Toasterb is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I never wanted Matt Le Tissier to join Liverpool FC.

Born in 1968 in Saint Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey, Le Tissier signed for Southampton FC in 1986. Thereafter he made 443 appearances for the Saints, scoring 162 goals, including some of the best you will ever see. His touch was sublime, his technique so economical that he often gave the impression of laziness – Rather than run closer to goal he’d flick it up and curl it in from 35 out. In later years Southampton seemed to use him as a ‘supersub’, the guy, slightly overweight and seemingly passed it who was brought on with 10 left on the clock. He’d invariably slide around a couple of waxwork defenders before lofting a 40 yard shot off both posts and the bar for a goal. He’d then go sit in the corner, have a ciggie and a pie, maybe chat to the linesman and wait and see if his team needed him to score again.

In short, the man was a footballing genius and I wanted to play like him. I wanted to waft through a back line, leaving defenders with bewildered expressions of ‘Where the fuck did he go?’ writ large on moonpie faces. I wanted to score sumptuous goals, celebrating with a simple raised arms and a nod, as if it was all in a day’s work. Because I meant to drift that shot in from 25 out with my back to goal.

Yep, he was simply the best footballer I’d ever seen.

But I seriously didn’t want him to join Liverpool.

See, Matt Le Tissier anywhere else than Southampton’s The Dell didn’t seem right. He was there, in Southampton’s red stripes, April 13, 1996 when Man U visited, wearing a pale grey strip. With The Saints having an early 2-0 lead Le Tissier deftly flicked the ball away from a despairing Peter Schmeichel in goal for Man U and slotted home the 3rd to make it 3-0 just before half-time. Man U’s Alec Ferguson famously blamed that 1st half belting on the grey shirts and sent his team out for the 2nd stanza in a blue striped shirt. A proper bloke, who could have cared less about the colour of the shirts, Le Tissier reckoned it took 15 minutes for him to even notice that they’d changed and anyway, while it arguably netted the Red Devils a goal, it made no difference to the outcome with 3-1 being the final score.

6 months later, in October of 1996, Man U returned to The Dell, this time starting the match in the blue stripes. Again they started poorly and again Le Tissier was brilliant, putting the Saints 2 up after an extraordinarily audacious chip from the edge of the area, that arrived after he’d glided through the heart of the defence. Man U were to fight it back to 3-2, helped by a David Beckham free-kick special but 4 goals in the last 10 minutes, including 3 to a rampant Saints saw the match end 6-3. Fergie couldn’t blame that on the shirts.

Le Tissier was still there in 2001 when the Saints played their last league game after 103 years at the Dell. Not in the starting 11 due to ‘problems with his fitness’ Le Tissier was sentimentally subbed on with 17 left on the clock to farewell his spiritual home. At that stage Southampton was level at 2 apiece with then powerhouse Arsenal. Fittingly Le Tissier made a mockery of his ‘fitness’ and in the 89th minute volleyed home on the turn to give his beloved ground a triumphant send-off with a 3-2 win. He’d played there for 15 years and fittingly 1 of the apartment blocks which subsequently replaced the pitch where he had presided is named Le Tissier Court.

The next season saw Southampton move to a new home at St Mary’s. Le Tissier moved with them but he made just the 4 appearances that season and in March of 2002 called time on a 16 year career, having last played in a competitive fixture against West Ham, January 30, 2002. He’d reportedly been targeted by Tottenham in 1990 and Chelsea in 1996 but he’d stayed loyal to the end.

Matt Le Tissier comes to mind of late because loyalty in the big leagues seems to have been bought and sold. Examples abound: At Liverpool last season, superstar Fernando Torres, who allegedly wears a ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ tattoo in tribute to Liverpool, had his head turned by Chelsea. Leaving in January for an eye-watering 50 million, Torres suggested lamely that he was on his way because he wanted to win trophies.

Unlike at Liverpool where he’d wanted to… win nothing… I guess?

The inescapable conclusion is that winning stuff at Liverpool was too hard. At the Chelsea presser he muttered all of the right things about how big Chelsea were and how they are going places etc They were much the same things he said at his 1st Liverpool presser. He at least skipped the almost mandatory ‘dream come true’.

Which is more than can be said for Robbie Keane. The former Wolves, Coventry, Internazionale, Leeds, Spurs, Liverpool, Spurs (again), Celtic and West Ham striker has made the move across the Atlantic the age of 31 to the LA Galaxy.

‘I have always wanted to come and play in MLS so it’s the perfect combination for me and a dream come true,’ he announced.‘This is a massive opportunity for me in my career. I aim to grab it with both hands and hopefully help give the Galaxy fans what they want.’

Some years ago I was watching the final game of an EPL season (2003/04). Man City were hosting Everton and had narrowly avoided relegation, guaranteeing safety only the match before when competitors had stumbled. Everton too had narrowly escaped and against the party mood at the stadium a hand-painted banner sounded a cautionary note. Aimed at the players it had a simple and plaintive message that was something like ‘God raised you up to play as we dream’. For the record, City won that day 5-1, finishing a bowel-clenching 16th, 1 place above Everton. Nowadays the blue Mancunians are 1 of the super rich elite challenging for the title, overflowing with such a turnover of extravagant, mercenary talent that it’s hard to remember who exactly plays for them.

None of this is where the inspiration for this post comes from. That honour goes to David Ortiz, Big Papi, the DH for the Sox and a hero for his at bats in the 2004 ALCS. His lumbering frame has achieved cult status amongst fans, mostly for his propensity to propel the ball over the fence at key times but partly for his Ali-esque ruminations. He’s not a noted base runner. At the Twins on August 8th this year he barreled for home, having ignored a hold sign at 3rd. He should have been out but the catcher blooped him off the hook. Post-game the big guy said:

‘He heard the big elephant coming.’

Cue a helpful graphic to explain this:

Elephant squashes bicycle
The elephant is Big Papi, bearing down on home. The bike is Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Bikes don’t catch well, having no arms and all. It doesn’t end well for the bike – Photo: moblog.net. moblog.net is not affiliated with Longworth72.

The line is great copy for bloggers with a stockpile of elephant vs transport images but more relevant here is a comment made earlier in the same presser:

‘I’ve been gone for years already,’ Ortiz said, ‘In this business, sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong.’

See, Big Papi started out as a Twin in 97. It wasn’t until 2003 that he became a Red Sox slugger. And now there’s talk that he’s unhappy in Boston and he’s threatening a move to the Yankees. There are factors in play that I don’t know about but here’s something that can’t be denied – Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane are good players. The stuff I wrote about Matt Le Tissier though was based on a heartfelt and genuine admiration for a great player who did as I and many others dreamed. There’s a key difference there and I guess it’s down to Big Papi which way it comes out for him down the line, right or wrong.

Some housekeeping before the wrap: The title for this post is a lyric from Ben E. King’s Stand By Me. 1 of King’s co-writers, Jerry Lieber, passed away a handful of days ago. On the same day Nickolas Ashford, who co-wrote Ain’t No Mountain High Enough for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, passed on too. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is the title of Soup of This Day #38.

A last Matt Le Tissier fact: Taking a penalty kick is a heart-stopping lottery – The goal mouth appears miniscule from 11m yet keepers conversely look enormous. Success means keeping your nerve and accurately drilling the shot, hoping that you hit a spot that the giant stopper can’t reach. For professionals a return of 80% is decent – In the 2005/06 EPL season for instance it was 72% and so far this season, after 10 attempts, it’s just 30%.

Matt Le Tissier took 48 penalties in his career. He scored 47 of them, missing just the once in 1993.

He was rightly called Le God.

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