Back in 1996, long before the days of YouTube and Wikipedia. Footballers were often signed on a whim solely on a recommendation. It was a system that left manager’s in a very vulnerable position as was evidenced in one of football’s greatest ever hoaxes.
With Graeme Souness’s Southampton struggling in the bottom half of the table having registered just three wins from their opening thirteen matches, Saints fans began preparations for another relegation battle .
When the club received a mysterious phone call from a certain George Weah, World Football Of The Year and global superstar, staff at The Dell became intrigued by the proposition that Weah’s cousin had personally expressed interest in joining the Premiership strugglers.
And why wouldn’t they be? The striker in question, Ali Dia, was a Senegalese international whom had scored a brace for his country just two days previously. Furthermore, the 6ft4 goal machine had played alongside his cousin George at Paris Saint Germain and had a glowing recommendation from the AC Milan idol.
Surely this was too good to be true? Yes, yes it was, but that didn’t stop Souey from snapping the striker up immediately in order to starve off the presumably fierce competition from a long line of clubs frantically chasing his signature. But that madness didn’t stop there as Dia found himself on The Saint’s subs bench for their Saturday fixture with Leeds having only arrived at the club 24 hours earlier.
Half hour into the match and this fascinating saga reaches an astonishing conclusion as Southampton hero Matt Le Tissier is forced off through injury; only to be replaced by the new name on everyone’s lips: Ali Dia. Taking to the field as The Saint’s new number 33, Dia’s fifteen minutes of fame had arrived.
Almost immediately it became evident that Mr Dia was anything but an International marksman of a similar standing to his cousin George and after fifty three minutes of running like Bambi on ice, a red faced Souness had no choice but to admit defeat and sub the substitute. Southampton lost the game, along with their pride.
It turned out that George Weah had never even heard of Mr Dia and in fact the unknown caller had been none other than Dia himself. Likewise, the man from Dakar hadn’t held a regular first team spot in France; nor had he ever represented his country. The truth was that Ali Dia had actually come from English non-league outfit Blyth Spartans, where he’d been released for not being of the required standard. Yet, somehow the cheeky chancer had miraculously pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes and bagged himself a Premier League appearance.
After receiving his marching orders Dia made a swift exit from The Dell before a brief stint at Gateshead of the then Conference League North, where the former Saint netted twice during his eight appearances. Shortly after it was time for fans to mourn the retirement of one the sports greatest jokers as Ali Dia decided that the world wasn’t quite ready for a hero of his magnitude and instead opted to study business at University.
Ali Dia’s time in the spotlight was brilliantly brief, and his face may never have be seen around Southampton again. However, his legend will forever remain in football folklore as one of the greatest cult hero’s of all time.
Southampton survived on the final day, and I think we can safely say it was down exclusively thanks to the monumental impact of Ali Dia.