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PL25: Southampton 3-2 Arsenal – Farewell to The Dell

Leaving football grounds behind has become somewhat of a parade, pageant or simply a chance for the likes of Sky Sports to remind you just how dull your life would be if they hadn’t been at Upton Park for you all those times over the years.

However, there was a time when it was left simply to the football to give stadia a right and proper send-off.

For the large part of their history, Southampton have manifested themselves as the also-rans of English football, however, there are few fans old enough to remember it who don’t have a vivid memory of the ground they left in 2001, The Dell.

Things have, in relative terms, been pretty good at Southampton of late. After an experimental trip down to the lower reaches of the Football League, the southerners have been inside the Premier League’s top eight for the last four season on the bounce, after finishing 14th in their first season back after consecutive promotions from League One.

Many younger fans will feel that, in hosting and beating the likes of Inter Milan last season as well as reaching a rare major cup final, the club are perhaps enjoying some of their most successful years. However, those of a certain vintage will remember the, if you will, glory days on south coast.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Saints were on the up under the stewardship of Lawrie McMenemy. In 1976, still in the Second Divison, McMenemy’s side beat Manchester United 1-0 at Wembley Stadium to win their first and only FA Cup, and remain the last side to be presented the famous old trophy by Queen Elizabeth II.

Two years later and they were back in the big time, having finished runners-up to Bolton in the 1977-78 Second Divison. Fast forward another two years and the club brought in then European Player of the Year Kevin Keegan from Hamburg, to the astonishment of all in football.

In 1984, McMenemy’s penultimate season at the club, having lost Keegan two years previous but brought in another big name in Peter Shilton, the club finished runners up to Liverpool in the First Divsion, their highest League finish to date.

One constant across all those glory years, aside from McMenemy himself, and those that followed was Southampton’s famous old home, The Dell.

While the likes of Ted Bates, Peter Osgood and Keegan had dazzled the fans at The Dell from the 1930s all the way through to the heights of English football in the ’80s, perhaps the ground’s most famous son would also be one of it’s last.

No-one quite captured the imagination at The Dell more than enigmatic midfielder Matt Le Tissier, however, having been laboured with fitness and injury problems in their last season before moving to St. Mary’s the Saints legend, or Le God, was left on the bench by Stuart Gray for their encounter with Arsenal.

While the Saints officially said goodbye to The Dell with a friendly against Brighton, who were their first ever opponents on that ground in September 1898, their last competitive game was bound to be an emotional one.

In typical Southampton fashion, Gray’s side spurned chances and were behind to the Gunners at the break thanks to a goal from a 20-year-old Ashley Cole.

After the interval, however, Moroccan midfielder Hassan Kachloul – who left the club at the end of the season – pounced on a poor clearance and levelled the match, before a textbook Arsenal counterattack, rounded off by Freddie Ljungberg had Arsene Wenger’s side back in front again.

Minutes later, though, and having not scored in eight months leading up to the game Kachloul had a second when he tapped home into an open net after ‘keeper Alex Manninger fumbled his rush out to collect the ball.

The stage was set, Le Tissier made his way onto the hallowed turf at The Dell for one last time with just 17 minutes left as he replaced Kevin Davies, and – after a goal-line clearance from Dean Richards denied the visitors the lead for a third time, it was his moment.

In the 89th minute a long ball up from Saints glovesman Paul Jones was nodded down into the path of Chris Marsden by striker James Beattie but, with Marsden shaping to hammer home the winner, Le God swivelled on the spot and rattled a spectacular volley into the top corner, a strike never to be forgotten by those on the south coast.

It was perhaps even more fitting given that, having made the ground his own and grabbed the final word on the final day, Le Tissier never scored another goal for the club after their move to St. Mary’s.

The Dell may not have the significance of a White Hart Lane or Upton Park in the chronicles of English football, however, on 19th May 2001 there was no better place to be.

Article title: PL25: Southampton 3-2 Arsenal – Farewell to The Dell

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