A look at the importance of loyalty and continuity in sport in the context of one of the greatest Channel Island sports persons, Matt Le Tissier.

I was privileged to speak recently with Matt Le Tissier, ex Southampton FC and England professional footballer and now TV pundit on the Sky Sports programme, ​Soccer Saturday​. He told me he was getting ready for his latest project, which is a role in the very popular TV programme called “​Harry’s Heroes: The Full English​”. They are currently filming the next programme somewhere in Europe and we were discussing the importance of health, both physical and mental. Both aspects are clearly critical to a well-balanced life, whether you are a sportsman or not, but for me there is one aspect to life that I think is often overlooked, which is exemplified by the career of Matt Le Tissier – that of continuity and loyalty. Just how important is it for one to build up a home, a career, a life and a “social space” somewhere that you feel you belong to and where you are recognized for your contribution? How important is it to have roots and a place you can genuinely call home? How important is it to support your employer and help them develop their business model? What price do you put on feeling comfortable and belonging to something? I think it actually means everything, and that is why I also think Matt’s great achievement, apart from that of his spectacular professional career, was that of only playing primarily for one single professional club throughout his life…but more on that anon.

In the context of his achievements, is Matt “Le God” Le Tissier in fact the greatest Channel Island Sports Person of all time? There are a number of very illustrious contenders to that title, who include the following:

Harry Vardon (Jersey) – Golfer

Born in 1870 in Grouville, Jersey, Harry Vardon is arguably the greatest English golfer of all time, not just Channel Island. He won 6 British Open Championships in his time, which is still a record today, and his US Open Championship win in 1900 means that he is only one of three English players to have ever achieved the Open Double. One of these others is Tony Jacklin, who also lived in Jersey (but not born there). Harry is a true legend.

His other claim to fame is the “Vardon Grip” – the club grip adopted and used by most professional golfers today – whereby the golfer places the little finger of the upper hand between the index and middle finger of the lower hand while gripping the club.

Len Duquemin (Guernsey) – Footballer

Born in 1924 in Cobo, Guernsey, Leonard Stanley Duquemin was the first famous Channel Island Footballer. Between 1946 and 1957, he made over 300 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur FC, scoring 134 goals. A regular and reliable stalwart of the team that was known for its “push and run” style, he played alongside the future great managers, Sir Alf Ramsey and Bill Nicholson.

Martine Le Moignan, MBE (Guernsey) – Squash Player

Born in Guernsey in 1962, Martine Le Moignan was a professional squash player and one of the leading world players in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. She won the World Championship in 1989 in an epic match against Susan Devoy, of New Zealand, and also 4 World Team Championships between 1985 and 1990.

Graham Le Saux (Jersey) – Footballer

Perhaps the finest footballer to have originated from Jersey, Graham Le Saux was born in St Helier, Jersey in 1968. He went on to play professional football with Chelsea FC and England. In a fine career, he made over 400 appearances, scoring 20 goals. As an England international, he made 36 appearances and played in all four England line-ups in the World Cup Finals in France in 1998. On his return to play again for Chelsea FC, his transfer fee of £5 million made him the most expensive defender in English football.

Heather Watson (Guernsey) – Tennis Player

Heather Miriam Watson was born in Guernsey in 1992 and went on to become the British No 1 professional tennis player. In 2016 she won the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title, with Henri Kontinen. In 2015, in the third round at Wimbledon, she came within two points of knocking out the world number 1, the mighty Serena Williams, in an epic contest.

Andy Priaulx, MBE (Guernsey) – Motor Racing Driver

Born Andrew Graham Priaulx in Guernsey in 1974, Andy is a European Touring Car Championship champion, three times World Touring Car Championship champion and the only FIA Touring Car champion to win an international-level championship for four consecutive years (2004 to 2007). Still competing today, he currently drives for the Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK.

Matthew Le Tissier (Guernsey) – Footballer

Born in Guernsey in 1968, Matt played professionally for Southampton FC from 1986 to 2002, making 443 appearances and scoring over 160 goals. Also capped 8 times for England, he became the first midfielder in the Premier League to score 100 goals.
A creative, attacking midfielder with incredible technical skills and an eye for goal, he became a legend at his home ground, The Dell, where his loyalty and skills gained total respect from the fans, and the nickname of “Le God”. He once won the BBC Match Of The Day “Goal Of The Season” for a spectacular goal against Blackburn Rovers. He also holds a notable record for scoring 47 times out of 48 penalty kicks. Awesome.

I personally will never forget the day I took my son to watch Southampton play in a league match at The Dell. Matt scored another of his amazing volley goals that winter’s day, pivoting near the half-way line and then driving the ball into the top far corner of the opponents’ goal. Breathtaking, and the roar of the crowd took minutes to subside: “God! God! God!” the cry rang around the stadium.

So there is my personal list of the top Channel Island Sports persons.

Of course, lists like these are pretty subjective and open to endless debate, and they can never hope to do justice to all the other amazing talent out there. Furthermore, I believe that the assessment of greatness lies within the context of how and when it was achieved. Harry Vardon, for example, won his numerous titles in a world where the competition was not quite as fierce or diverse as it is nowadays. That said, I would not wish to detract from his extraordinary achievements, and for that reason I have no qualms in awarding him the title of my greatest Channel Island Sports Person of all time.

However, for me, the title of greatest Guernsey Sports Person must surely go to Matt Le Tissier. His exemplary record speaks for itself, but it is how he has managed his career and life that speaks volumes. He remained with his club, Southampton, throughout the bulk of his professional career, living and working in that community with his family. He also had his island family within easy reach, just across the water, in Guernsey. At the height of his career, there was much talk and speculation about his move to a top team such as Manchester United, Arsenal or even overseas to Real Madrid or Juventus. And over the years, commentators have said that he should have made the move, for the sake of his career and his wallet.

Finances aside, I beg to differ on this point. The fact that he stayed loyal and true to his club is one key reason why he developed such an incredible following and such glowing adulation from the fans. They loved him. No, they worshipped him. Not just because of his skills and goal-scoring prowess, but his decision to stand by the club, come good or bad times. Indeed, it has been said that Matt single-handedly saved the club from relegation on a number of occasions. Clearly, he was happy and settled there playing for his local team and I am sure he has no regrets whatsoever about that decision.

My worry for so many players these days is the fact that they do not necessarily experience that settled feeling that comes with allowing your roots to grow down deeply into the community of their chosen club. No sooner have they transferred to another club than they are already looking at their next move. Perhaps driven by their agents’ need to maximize their asset? Is the constant moving of players really to their benefit and that of their clubs? And how does that impact on their relationships, not to mention their mental health and that of their loved ones? In the current climate, perhaps we should be encouraging players to settle down and do a “Le Tissier”. For me, he is a great role model not only to the youth of today, but possibly also to the current crop of professionals. The money may well be better, but will they be happier?

José Luis Romanillos MA TEP Copyright: J L Romanillos Ltd, 2019