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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Too late for Le Tissier
The Titanic, on its departure from Southampton
Southampton's last big event was the Titanic leaving

England's bandwagon rolled into Southampton two years too late for Matthew Le Tissier.

It probably needed a plaster-thick layer of make-up to hide the envious green tinge around Le Tissier's gills as the Football Association's guest of honour was introduced before England's match with Macedonia.

Le Tissier rung the curtain down at The Dell in his own inimitable style with the last ever goal at the dear old ground.

But just as Moses was denied access to the Promised Land, so Le Tissier was tantalisingly unable to grace the ground his goals had effectively provided the bricks and mortar for.

Almost single-handedly at times, Le Tissier kept Southampton in the top flight. Had they dropped out, the sparkly, spanking St Mary's Stadium would probably never have been built.

Ellen MacArthur tends to get more publicity than football in Southampton
Southampton is more famous for sailing than football

His longest appearance on the St Mary's pitch was ironically his swansong, his testimonial at the end of Southampton's first season in their new home.

One of those mercurial talents from the same school as Alan Hudson and Tony Currie never quite trusted by England managers, Le Tissier never won his share of England caps.

Even if it is difficult to quantify, he would have been proud of the part he played in bringing a European Championship qualifier to Southampton, just over five years since the ink was still wet on the blueprints.

Southampton's achievement is quite remarkable in an area where perhaps the sailing feats of Ellen MacArthur might excite the chattering classes more.

The last big event held in the city was the departure of the Titanic. Unlike her, though, St Mary's seems destined to sail on.

With their biggest story to tell since the Titanic's run-in with a chunk of ice, the local paper went to town.

Football hotbed or not, tickets sold out in less than two hours and, despite the beefing from the local media over lack of access to ticket for local fans, the FA confirmed that 64% of the 32,000 sell-out crowd were from the Southampton area.

Retail therapy

The England roadshow is a lumbering, swaggering monolith, that is welcome wherever it shows up.

In Southampton, local politicians were out in force alongside businessmen extolling how much it meant to the local economy.

The Macedonian media certainly contributed their part, taking the opportunity for some retail therapy.

A funeral pyre-sized pile of designer-label carrier bags in the press room had a few stadium safety officials casting worried glances.

But not as worried as England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson as the clock ticked on to an embarrassing draw.

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Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier
"Substituting Wayne Bridge was a mistake"
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