It doesn’t happen too often anymore, but the rule of thumb was if a player devoted ten years of service to a club, they’d have a testimonial. A celebration of the player and ultimately a bit of fun.
It seems strange now with player’s wages as high as they are, but in the nineties this would’ve been a fundraiser for the player with the gate returns ensuring a comfortable start to retirement.
My first game was a celebration of Southampton’s notoriously average, moustache bearing full back, Francis Benali. Taking place at the Saints’ old home of The Dell, the 15,000 capacity ‘proper’ football ground was bouncing. I realise now that the raw emotion of a league or cup tie was lacking due to the fun nature of the event. There’s only so much competition you’ll get out of a Benali XI vs Southampton XI after all. Playing out a 7-7 thriller, every goal was cheered like a last minute winner. Not that I could see much, standing at 4 feet tall, during a game where no-one fancied sitting down.
My outstanding memory was my dad picking me up and standing me on the bench (no seats in the stand apparently - proper ground) to see Wimbledon cup hero and Southampton keeper, Dave Beasant bearing an unfamiliar outfield shirt and sticking the ball up his shirt from a centre. From here, I’m not sure which XI it was for, but the team in Red and White surround Beasant and run him from one end of the pitch to the other, before Beasant pulls out a trick or two and puts it in the net.
A piece of creative genius that even Matt Le Tissier would’ve been proud of, although I can’t ever see him choosing to run the full length of a pitch. As a stickler for the rules, this goal threw me…was this even allowed? It’s safe to say I’ll never see anything like it again and I definitely wanted my Sunday team to replicate it. Although I didn’t see much that day, I knew I wanted to go back, but I never did and eventually went on to support Arsenal - nice time though.