There are many great footballers who have put on a Saints shirt at some time in their career. Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer, and Peter Shilton come readily to mind.
There’s no question that they were great footballers, but most of their greatest exploits came wearing the shirts of other clubs. When thinking of great Saints, they have to have shown greatness in a Southampton shirt. Shearer started a great top level career at Southampton, and Keegan and Shilton spent part of the end of their careers with the club.
With this in mind there are a number of honourable mentions, and three who stand out as greats. In the former category there are:
* Bobby Stokes, who scored the winning goal in the FA Cup in 1976;
* Claus Lundekvam, who fought hard in a team punching above its weight in the latter years of Southampton’s top flight stay;
* Steve Williams who showed moments of brilliance in the 70s and 80s;
* and the Wallace brothers (Danny, Rod and Ray), all of whom gave a lot to the club.
Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott shone brightly, but for a sadly short period, and have already gone on to greater things.
To my three greats: in chronological order we have, Terry Paine, Mike Channon and Matthew Le Tissier. Terry Paine, a fine winger, played 709 times for the Saints, with only four appearances from the bench. (In those days only one substitute was allowed anyway).
He was the epitome of the ever-present over a remarkable 17 seasons and his skills saw him called up to the England team under Ramsey.
Next there is Mike Channon. Another striker with astonishing silky skills, and one of the few players to make a real impact on the England team while at Southampton. His ability to make fools of his markers going past them as if they were as insubstantial as ghosts will long be remembered, as will his modesty and sense of humour.
Lastly we have Matt Le Tissier. It is difficult to define what kind of player he was. He was mercurial, masterly, and magnificent at his best. Was he a striker or a midfielder? Wherever he played he was remarkable. He scored some of the most sublime goals ever seen.
He was also a one-club man at a time when this was becoming unusual, and stayed with the Saints possibly to the detriment of his England career. The final trait was his unpredictability, which meant teams never knew how to defend against him, but could also see him behave foolishly. He was a roller-coaster ride of a footballer, but the highs were extraordinary and, that’s why, Le Tiss gets my vote as the greatest Saint of all time.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.