Tributes have been paid to former Saints staffer and “gentle giant” Les Broughton, who passed away earlier this week.

Supporters have recalled seeing ‘Big Les’, as he was affectionately known, on the pitch at the Dell well over 20 years ago.

Les, who passed away at the age of 72, was part of the team at Saints for more than 30 years, holding various roles.

He began as a steward looking after lounges at the Dell before helping out the kit team - where supporters would have spotted him, perhaps catching balls kicked by the goalkeepers in a sack.

In 2011, he became an official member of the kit and equipment team and one of his duties was to serve as a link man to the opposition teams that visited.

Daily Echo: Big LesBig Les (Image: Rob and Magdalena Price)

Head of kit and equipment at Saints, Mark Forbes told the Daily Echo: “He was much-loved and respected by the players and families.

“He was also much-loved and respected by all the physios, coaches and support staff of the first team.

“But what really speaks volumes is that there have been a number of tributes paid on social media and privately messaged to me.

“Our room was next to the away dressing room, so you would have José Mourinho come in, Sir Alex Ferguson - and we would have the horse racing on the television for them.

“It was very much a place like United Nations neutral territory, sometimes both gaffers would come in and watch the 2.30 at Kempton Park.

“On a very cold day, there was a little nip of something that Les would offer to put in the tea to keep everyone warm!”

Les was well respected by Saints staff and players, opposition managers and the visiting media.

Forbes recalls broadcasting legend John Motson, with whom Les was very close, asking him on his final visit to St Mary’s: “Is your permanent fixture still here?”

Daily Echo: Big Les maintained a strong relationship with broadcasting legend John MotsonBig Les maintained a strong relationship with broadcasting legend John Motson (Image: PA)

Forbes added: “It got to the point where we would meet up as a kit team on a Saturday and Les would have a checklist ready for what he would do for the opposition.

“It became a role that evolved based on his knowledge of what that other team would need.”

Les went on to work at the train depot in St Deny’s, near to where he lived, recently helping arrange a group visit to the war graves in Normandy with pals. 

In his younger years, Les could be found at social functions for football, cricket and golf - and had connections at plenty of the local sides.

He treasured close friends Rob and Magdalena Price, and even after deciding to depart Saints in the post-Covid world, the club remained close to him.

Forbes said: “I am thrilled that we were able to present a special signed shirt to Les last year.

“We got a beautiful shirt signed by all the players with Big Les on the back and gave it to him at the Crystal Palace game.

“We asked him what game he wanted to go to, and we didn’t know he was born very near to Palace. He had a lovely day, I kept in touch with him regularly.”

Saints legend Franny Benali, who played for the club until 2004, told the Daily Echo: “It was very sad news to hear about Les, known as ‘Big Les’ to all of us.

“He was at the club for so many years and was there through my time as well. We knew him well and he was fondly thought of. He was a gentle giant.”

Saints hero Matt Le Tissier also commented, telling us: "The best thing I can tell you about Big Les is that I never came across anyone that had a bad word to say about him.

"He was one of the most selfless people I’ve met and was never happier than when he was doing a favour for someone else." 

On social media, Saints supporter Jacqui added: "Very sad news, Big Les was a familiar face at the Dell."

Another supporter, Mark said: "I spent a lot of time with Les growing up in Lordshill. He was a gentle giant that would help anyone."