#4 – Behind closed doors

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Liam and Jai are joined by season ticket holder and Southend Councillor Trevor Harp to discuss the appointment of Mark Molesley, the pandemic and the future of the club. Amongst some other stuff. As always, not exactly scrabbling for things to talk about in the mad, bad world of SUFC.

Sol, we hardly knew ye

IT’S difficult to shrug off the feeling that, as he watched Nathan Bishop pick the ball out of his net over and over again during the 7-1 defeat against Doncaster, Sol Campbell knew he had made a terrible mistake before the ink had even dried on the contract he had signed earlier that day.

A mate of mine was in the tunnel after the match that night as part of a birthday mascot package for his father, and recalls a senior player approach Sol, probably while the new manager was still processing what he had just seen, to tell him he wouldn’t be in training the following day, because he had a speed awareness test.

Even after spending months at Macclesfield without pay, he could surely not have believed that he would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

After a very tough run of three league games that unsurprisingly saw no points taken by a team that was practically relegated before the clocks went back following the worst start to any team in England since the 1960s, the FA Cup defeat at Dover saw fans turn on the players at the final whistle, launching a tirade of abuse that left those in yellow visibly shocked.

That night, another senior player was filmed in a pub laughing and cheering with Dover players celebrating their win.

January came with the same false hope it brings every year. Sol saw several senior players sold or released from underneath him, leaving him ever more reliant on young players, many of whom were nowhere near ready for first-team football, to bridge the gap. He was promised reinforcements but as it turned out, the club was under a transfer embargo – not that the powers-that-be were saying much about it. Sol did eventually persuade Emmanuel Osadebe and Theo Vassell to leave Macclesfield and sign for the Shrimpers in February but they could not be registered because of the ongoing embargo. Presumably now they never will be.

Campbell cut a sullen and beleagured figure during this period, frequently expressing his bewilderment with the situation. His catchphrases included “I don’t know” and “it is what it is”. It was no doubt embarrassing for such a decorated figure in football to be messed around like he was and then shoved in front of a camera to try and explain it.

There were frequent suggestions that all was not well between Sol and some players. However, many fans rightly pointed out that many of these players had undermined every manager they had played under in recent years, so it probably wasn’t a bad thing that some had to face some home truths.

The global pandemic that curtailed the season in March this year almost came as a blessed relief to Southend fans who had been treated to four wins all season and eight since the start of 2019. Apart from a club statement in April encouraging people to stay safe and to provide a vague update on matters around the club, Sol was not heard from again.

An interview with Mark Milligan recently suggested that nobody from the club had been in touch with him about a new contract or coaching role, which raised question marks about whether the management was communicating with the squad. Out-of-contract players were then informed by letter that they would be released or offered terms.

The only surprising thing about Sol Campbell’s departure was the length of time it took to announce. There have been suggestions that his desk has been cleared for some time.

The club’s statement suggests that Campbell nobly agreed that he was a financial burden in unprecedented times, and valiantly stood aside. It’s a nice PR line that suits all parties. The reality is that Sol Campbell’s position had been untenable for a while through very little fault of his own. Is it really just a coincidence that Ron Martin released a statement through the Echo just this weekend, bemoaning the commitment of certain people at the club?

For all Campbell’s merits – and there were plenty – he appeared aloof to many and rarely appeared to covet a special relationship with the supporters. Some were triggered by his social media antics, which while doubtless intended as light-hearted ways to communicate with his wider following, became less and less humorous as the situation at Southend became more and more serious. After all, if you can’t even bring yourself to pick up a phone to tell a player some bad news, it doesn’t look great to be sat in Chelsea, wearing a straw-hat and telling people you’ve got your thinking cap on.

Sol Campbell will be a success as a manager, of that I have no doubt. He is determined and professional, has no time for slackers and understands the game. He did oversee improvements, had a ground of young players playing with heart by the end, and he leaves the club in a better place than he found it. Unfortunately, it was just the wrong place for him at this time. I wish him all the best, and may his next job be at a club which is much less of a basket case.

Burnley, banners and Black lives

On Monday night a plane flew over Manchester City’s stadium prior to the home team’s 5-0 victory. Trailing behind it was a banner with the words “WHITE LIVES MATTER BURNLEY”. The aeroplane banner has become a strange phenomenon in British football, gaining popularity over the last 10 years since Steve Kean’s unpopular appointment at, ironically enough, Blackburn Rovers. This is perhaps its most sinister deployment. The company responsible is alleged to have said “If an ad is legal and no coarse language is used then we don’t take sides”; perhaps an odd occasion to plump for neutrality when one of those sides is asking that black people aren’t killed by police for allegedly trying to pay for groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill or selling loose cigarettes or holding a BB gun or getting out of your car when told or running away when being stopped driving. Burnley FC released a statement that evening condemning the actions of those that organised the banner and Burnley’s Captain Ben Mee railroaded his own post-match interview to draw attention to his own sense of shame and embarrassment, claiming that those that organised the banner had “missed the point of what the players were trying to achieve” by having Black Lives Matter printed on the shirts. But this event mustn’t scapegoat Burnley, it is a problem present everywhere.

Southend, like Burnley, is a medium sized town with plenty of angry young men who haven’t had a pay rise in 10 years. Like Lancashire, Essex voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU and the man that pissed on the memorial to PC Keith Palmer, the officer that died on duty during a terror attack at Westminster, was from Essex. We have our fair share of things to be embarrassed about whether or not the rest of the country chooses to point the finger at us as they have been known to in the past. Some might question why Brexit has been mentioned and to those people I suggest that you look at the eruption in hate crime 4 years ago after the result of the referendum or the assassination of Jo Cox MP in the days preceding it. White pride, as the plane soaring over everyone’s heads proved, has never been higher on the agenda.

The media will not paint this incident as a nationwide issue, but it is. Anyone that has attended more than a couple of football matches in the last few years will know the distasteful element that each club carries: some of them are in the toilets taking cocaine at half time; some of them are singing 10 German Bombers on away days; some of them are getting in scraps at stations or arguing with retail or pub staff. Ultimately, you’re not responsible for anyone else’s behaviour than your own and so, hopefully, the racists that organised this banner will find out as they’re banned from Turf Moor; some may even lose jobs and friends. Routinely these individuals are denounced as “not real fans” but they are. They’re the fans throwing banana skins at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or the fans hissing as visiting Spurs supporters in mimicry of the gas chambers of WWII. They’re season ticket holders and pumping money into the local economy on match days and keeping the bookies afloat and talking about fantasy football non-stop either side of their game at 3pm. Now they’re here to remind you that white people shouldn’t be forgotten about.

Black Lives Matter is not a competition, there’s an assumption from some that BLM actually means Black Lives Matter More. But it doesn’t say this, deliberately so. There’s no one-upmanship here, the BLM movement is about recognising that the black experience (and other ethnic minorities) is different from the white experience. That’s one of the reasons that saying things like “I don’t see race” is now no longer seen as sufficient by some people. A man in Minnesota was killed by a policeman because he could do it; his colleagues didn’t stop him and the public didn’t confront armed officers. That is part of the black experience. Black people educate their own communities into how to deal with being stopped by police because it happens… A LOT. On the face of it they are playing the same game as the rest of us but are still playing by different rules, history, culture and wealth is stacked against them. BLM is supposed to draw your attention to this so that you can see a policeman kill a man as he begs for his life and that you can correctly say “that’s not right, that shouldn’t have happened”. White lives do matter, but white people aren’t being disproportionately stopped by police or disproportionately dying in police custody or disproportionately fined for breaking lockdown. Those are just examples in the UK; in the US you can add lynching and being killed by the police.

I am a 31 year old white man. I cannot and will never know what it’s like to live the life of BAME people when a police officer is walking towards them on the street. I will never know what it’s like to be a woman walking home alone at night and hear a new set of footsteps behind her. I will never know what it’s like to feel so overwhelmed by shame because of my sexual preference for my own gender that suicide feels like the only way out. These are not my issues and so I can’t speak to them. I have nothing to add to the topics but through the stories of others I have plenty to take from each. I can only be responsible for my own behaviour and so I try to be. When someone tells you that black lives matter are you listening or just waiting for your turn to speak?

Covid-19/20 or: As long as it lasts

THERE has been no football since the 7th of March when 5,806 fans gathered at Roots Hall to see the shrimpers beat Bristol Rovers 3-1. Prior to and since that date the rapid spread of Covid-19, a novel strain of coronavirus with no cure, has brought the entire world to a crawl. Soon, if not already by the time you read this, that attendance figure will have been eclipsed by the UK death toll alone. A vaccine is, in an ideal world, around eighteen months away from distribution. World leaders have not prepared for this. PPE is needed for healthcare workers across the planet, ventilators and oxygen are now limited resources and battlefield triage is being used to decide who is given access. Thousands more will die as the virus cuts scythe-like through the developing world where those who once sewed garments for Primark and H&M live in cramped, squalid conditions unable to effectively isolate themselves or care for those whose immune systems aren’t strong enough to protect them. In this chaos, football means nothing. The industry built upon its back has ground to a halt; the subscribers and advertisers that have been milked suddenly find themselves out of pocket and out of product. It’s for this reason that the premier league will likely finish the 2019/20 season behind closed doors, the idea of a class-action lawsuit from various international broadcasters is a terrifying prospect to an organisation that has put the accumulation of wealth above all else. But where then for the rest of the football pyramid? What happens to Southend?

At the time of writing the premier league, EFL and national league have suspended all fixtures indefinitely and all records for football below the national league north & south has been cancelled with the record books scrubbed for the 2019/20 season. Southend were due to play Rotherham on the 14th of March but it’s hard to predict when that match will ever be played, if at all. The upper echelons of football have moved past the point of needing bums on seats but the financial future of the vast majority of football clubs across the world still depends on ticket revenue. Matches behind closed doors might preserve the integrity of the football league but they will not save Southend United. Uncle Ron, evidently, cannot continue to put his hand in his pocket but will have to if the turnstiles aren’t allowed to open. Games behind closed doors allow the competition to finish, it appeals to our sense of fair play but then there is the safety risk to the players. Football is a contact sport and it might only take one player carrying the virus to spread it to a dozen when crowding the penalty area for a set piece. A dozen new infected players continue to travel across the country infecting others and training with their colleagues and picking up fruit and veg in the shops because they didn’t wear disposable gloves or wash their hands? There’s a risk to players, club staff and the general public for games to go ahead behind closed doors. If the clubs will lose money anyway, who benefits?

So cancel the league then? Well that hardly seems fair. Coventry are currently top of League One, seven points ahead of the playoff spots with a game in hand; Southend as we all know, need 17 points to escape the drop zone with a maximum of 27 available should all the fixtures go ahead. The idea that Southend United might not get relegated this season is, objectively, deeply unfair having established such a deficit after completing 80% of their fixtures. But equally, just like bringing dirty plates to the counter next to the dishwasher but not actually putting them in the dishwasher and turning it on, the job isn’t finished. Arbitrary lines in the sand can’t be draw because it’s convenient. The football season is the season, everyone plays everyone home and away. Until each team has been fairly measured against others in the same league, we cannot move on. Going backwards and starting again feels a rotten solution for the same reasons as finishing the season now. Nothing is finished, and nothing can begin again until it is.

Perhaps then, the key is Qatar.

The winter world cup in Qatar now gives us an event, far enough in the future to manoeuvre around. The intense heat means that the 2022 world cup is due to be held in November and December, over two years from now allowing plenty of time for an adjusted fixture list to complete this season and perhaps one other. In the hope that this season’s fixtures can be fulfilled by the end of 2020 and beginning the following season in Feb 2021 we may see a cycle that allows for summer football in the northern hemisphere before resuming some sort of normality once the world cup and a vaccine can be found. Another idea might be to play cup competitions outside of league fixtures. This would keep players fit and busy but remove the need to squash matches too closely together.

Realistically, there is no timeline here. There is no exit plan and it feels very possible that we will continue in this holding pattern for months or perhaps longer. Social distancing and spectator sports are mutually exclusive so until reliable antibody testing can be rolled out to confirm immunity, we aren’t likely to be returning to Roots Hall soon. Postponing fixtures seemed drastic at the time but the consequences for those that attended the festival at Cheltenham, merely three days later, are beginning to be felt now as the virus continues to be spread across the UK & Ireland by those in attendance. Until that day when we return, the best thing to do is to stay at home and watch the full replay of the 2015 playoff final on sky+.

Now wash your hands.

Liam Ager – @realliamager

Fossetts Farm: The impossible dream

THE optimistic tone of the Echo in announcing that the ‘stadium dream is (finally) going to become reality’ may not be shared by most Southend United supporters. We have all been here before. There always seems to be a spanner in the works. Whether it be the financial crash and the subsequent the decline of retail, discord with local pizza stores or rival schemes muddying the waters. How ironic then, that in the middle of a global pandemic, there seems to have been a breakthrough that clears the path to Blues’ future at Fossetts Farm.

The deal signed by the council, the football club, and Citizen Housing (whose director is Ron Martin’s son, Jack) appears to finally give everybody what they want. Southend Council will be able to meet a big chunk of the borough’s housing requirement and, for an initial outlay, has an opportunity to make a lot of money from renting out the 1,300 homes that will be built on both sites. The headache of justifying leisure developments at both the seafront and at Fossetts Farm is swerved, as is the conflict with High Street retailers fearing a loss of business to the site. Citizen get to enhance their reputation by managing two huge sites, and no doubt will enjoy their own cut of the finances. The football club finally gets its stadium and short-term financial security in the shape of a loan from the Government who, let’s not forget, are bang up for any kind of new housing to be built within 90 minutes of London.

Perhaps the most urgent issue is that Blues current precarious financial position, which was grim before Covid-19 took away all our revenue for the foreseeable future, but would appear to be much rosier thanks to the deal unlocking a loan from Homes England. The deal with the council is something tangible that Ron can borrow against, and the recent measures from the Government for businesses affected by the pandemic may indeed prove extremely useful to the club in their bid to see off the threat from HMRC in court later this month.

One of the downsides is Ron has to go back to the drawing board with the plans, and he’ll need to get these drawn up quickly – if we have learned anything from the world post-financial crash, it’s that things change very fast – but there was clearly an impasse with the previous planning application, which has been sitting gathering dust in the Civic Centre since 2017. But sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards, which any student of effective central midfield play will know.

There is also an opportunity for the club to bring its supporters on board and listen to what they want from their club’s new home. Safe standing is a popular recent development in football, with several clubs trialling rail seating at their home grounds, including League One Shrewsbury. It would be fantastic if the club could incorporate this option in a section of the new stadium.

The replacement of restaurants with housing in the area around the stadium means the club has to make sure its offer within the ground has to be extremely competitive. Could there be opportunities here to bring local breweries etc on board to try and ensure they keep some of the pre and post-match trade? Concourses are not the most salubrious or welcoming boozing environments, so hopefully some thought will go into this. This could finally be the chance to get things right with a new stadium. It’s up to Ron and the club to ensure that, despite the capacity being reduced to 14,000, we get a stadium we and our kids can be proud of, and don’t end up like a breeze-block, soulless out-of-town hovel like at our dear neighbours, Col Ewe.

The big question is, will we actually see these plans come to fruition? Given that all the sticking points seem to have now been eliminated, a decent robust planning application on Fossetts should be passed by councillors. The site has planning precedent for a football stadium with housing on site, so there is unlikely to be the type of Government interference that scuppered the 2008 plans. There are issues around traffic on that side of town, but plans to alleviate this were included in the most recent application, so this shouldn’t be a key issue. Given the retail and leisure element has been removed, the only traffic movements will be from housing and from the football club twice a month.

The conflict of interest with Seaway is no longer an issue and the need for a subsidy for the High Street to appease worried retailers is also avoided. A deal is in place with a housing association, and the council has signed a deal to take on a lease for that housing. The Roots Hall planning application for 500 homes has already been submitted, although it may be the council want both applications decided at the same committee meeting, so a decision on this is likely to be delayed.

It is unclear whether the main stand will still incorporate a hotel, presumably with the removal of the leisure element, well, let’s just say you don’t see too many hotels in the middle of housing estates. But of course, this was designed in for a funding stream and was another potential complication, and if the hotel element is now no longer, it will clear the pathway still further.

There is of course the issue that part of the plans, the training pitches, must be passed by Rochford Council, who aren’t part of this grand deal. This seems the most likely sticking point, but the revised plans may provide an answer to this conundrum.

The coming months will see a planning application for the Fossetts Farm scheme submitted and hopefully this will be ushered quickly through the system with minimal resistance. It’s likely that fans will once again be called upon to write letters of support for the plans, because you can be sure that despite the new arrangement removing the primary causes of most of the grumbles, the NIMBYs will be out in force again. But Ron has certainly got himself into a good position, and this time, the odds look to be in his favour.

Jamie Forsyth – @Jaimundo_ESX

Issue 75 – Transparency

Anton Ferdinand recently gave a heartfelt interview in a podcast about how tough he found things when his mother passed away, how it affected his performances for Southend. Although he rightly pointed out that his situation was relatively public knowledge because of his profile, many supporters would either have been unaware or unable to quite understand how much he was struggling, and he took a lot of stick from fans during that difficult 2017/18 season.

Chris Barker’s death reiterates the need to be wary of the mental health of players who are going through a tough time in their personal lives. Anton said he went to “some dark places” during the months after his mother’s death, but found it difficult to reach out for support even from his wife and team mates.

This got me thinking about how little supporters actually know about what players are going through off the pitch and about things going on at a football club in general. Anthony Wordsworth got a fair bit of stick during his final season at Southend, and even ended up in court following an altercation at the club’s Christmas party, but many supporters were unaware that he was struggling to cope with the death of his brother at the time.

Obviously everyone deals with these issues in their own way, but I can’t help but feeling if supporters were made aware of the struggles that both players were going through, they would have been able to empathise. 

This kind of honestly would not come naturally to most players. From the moment they become professionals, players are media trained and taught to be guarded and say the right things whenever the cameras are present, or they are posting on social media. How many times have you read the usual tropes on Twitter about “we go again” or “fans were great as always”. Generic, dull, safe. 

Some players go against the grain, tell it how it is and are regarded by fans and the media as a breath of fresh air, but you can guarantee they will have had some difficult conversations with chairmen, managers or PR people as a result. From a young age, players are taught to be robots, even though they are human beings and have good days and bad days, family problems and car trouble (insert Michael Timlin joke here) like the rest of us.

It is bizarre and unfathomable when you think about it, how football clubs are utterly unaccountable to their supporters. During January, Southend United undoubtedly spent some time under a transfer embargo. Yet this information was not publicly available, and even Chris Phillips at the Echo had a hard time getting the truth. Ron Martin was never going to disclose it, he is always happy to let his manager take the rod from the fans for not bringing in players. But why does the FA, or EFL, not publicly list information about which clubs are under a transfer embargo? No doubt clubs would be extremely unhappy and would claim it is a competitive disadvantage (as if people inside the game don’t know already or talk to each other) but supporters who are paying upwards of £20 a match to go and watch their team play deserve to know.

The more you visit things like the Southend United Facebook group, the more you realise how little the average football fan knows about the inner workings of a football club. A good example of this is transfer fees. These are usually undisclosed (again, keeping things from fans), but in the case of Tom Hopper, the Echo revealed the fee was approximately £150,000. As a result, fans would think the club has had a much-needed short-term boost and presumably can reinvest in the squad, no? Well actually most transfer fees are paid in instalments, over the course of a player’s contract. And the first instalment may well not arrive instantly. Indeed some chairmen (naming no names) have not been brilliant over the years at paying these instalments on time. So when Ron spun his latest line about paying fees for players in January, some would have scratched their heads as to how that was possible given the players and backroom staff went for a fortnight without their December salaries. But the transfer fees would not have been paid straight away, so actually it’s not a big leap to imagine, especially as the fees would not be substantial.

But if football clubs were a little more transparent about the business they did, then the support base would be more knowledgeable. Perhaps then, club officials would not moan so much about fans not understanding how things work and criticising the wrong people or things. It would also remove the gossip and half-truths that dominate conversations on message boards and social media. Where there is a vacuum of information, particularly these days, it will be filled by someone – correct details or not – and will quickly spread.

Southend United are by no means unique in conducting their day-to-day business shrouded in secrecy. But perhaps it is time for things to change across the game, as it is no longer realistic for clubs to keep everything to themselves. Things leak out, not always with the whole truth, which can be damaging. Clubs are now particularly reliant on their owners, often just one person, and when there is no scrutiny, this leads directly to situations like Bury.

Owners like Andy Holt (Accrington) and Daragh McAnthony (Peterborough) regularly update fans on goings on via social media (and doubtless regularly clash with the EFL over it), but this doesn’t really go far enough. Having a publicly available ledger of transfer business should be possible, especially as agents fees (by club) are regularly published. Players’ salaries could be publicly available. I’d love to see how much Liam Ridgewell has trousered from us for his half-game shitshow against Blackpool. Footballers would see this as a breach of privacy and clubs would worry it would upset dressing room morale, but to be honest most of them know what their team mates earn anyway and it might force clubs to treat players equally.  Disciplinary action against players should be publicly available, and it’s high time that clubs stopped claiming a player is “injured” (hello Simon ‘pelvic injury’ Cox) when they’re imminently off to another club. It’s insulting to our intelligence.

Surely it is time for the Government to take a firmer grip on how the game is being run. Football clubs should also be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. As we all know, the FA have no power and the Premier League is riding roughshod over the EFL, taking everything it can until there’s nothing left (the latest pressure being on FA Cup Fourth round replays due to “too many games” for Pep Guardiola’s poor little beleaguered 70-man squad). 

It’s time for a higher power to intervene, although that’s unlikely under a Conservative government – without to make this article political, and whatever you think of the respective parties overall, there’s no doubt Labour takes a far keener interest in the game and has plenty of very knowledgeable MPs that know how important it is.

Football clubs belong to the supporters. Owners might disagree with that, but we can hope that Southend United will be around for longer that Ron Martin will. The players, managers and staff for the most part are passing through. How can it be right that in 2020, the people who know the least about the inner workings of their clubs, are the ones that will still be there when everyone else is gone?

Jamie Forsyth – @Jaimundo_ESX

Chris Barker

7 APRIL 2013. Southend United’s first ever cup final at Wembley. The man leading out the team that day was left back Chris Barker, who had recovered from an achilles injury to take his place in the line-up selected by new manager Phil Brown.

Sheffield-born Chris was a solid and dependable defender, player of the year two years previously, who had arrived at Southend with the club in desperate need in the summer of 2010. He was a reassuring presence at a turbulent time, popular among fans despite counting Colchester among his former clubs, and respected enough among team mates to be named captain during Paul Sturrock’s reign.

On the 2nd of January 2020 it was announced that Chris Barker had died. He was 39.

He was described by those who knew him as a devoted family man, with a partner and a daughter of primary school age.

Chris arrived at Southend in that extraordinary summer. Initially playing on trial in a friendly at Eastbourne Borough, a deal was done to bring him in on loan from Plymouth ahead of the season opener against Stockport. He wore the iconic number 23 shirt and played initially at left back. The deal was made permanent on a free transfer later in the month, with Chris signing a two-year contract.

As the season wore on, Chris moved to centre half, and turned out to be the anchor in the back line which saw him partner Mark Phillips, Graham Coughlan or Bilel Mohsni. He made 47 appearances in that first season and was named the Shrimpers Trust Player of the Year.

The following season Chris again was a stalwart at the heart of the back four as Blues battled for promotion. Despite amassing 84 points, a late stutter cost Southend an automatic promotion place and the club had to settle for a place in the playoffs where they were defeated by Crewe Alexandra over two legs. Chris played 53 times in all competitions, heading what would turn out to be his only goal for the club in the second leg of that play-off clash at Roots Hall.

In his third season at Blues, the club’s league form was patchy but Chris remained a trustworthy presence in the back line, more often than not reverting to a left back role following the arrival of centre back Ryan Cresswell. His dogged attitude was typified by the JPT Area Final against Leyton Orient, where despite struggling with an injury that would keep him out for the whole of March he, alongside others in the depleted back line, helped Southend reach their first ever Wembley final.

Chris Barker made 142 appearances for Southend, and left the club in August 2013 at the age of 33. He played on for several years, surprising nobody by moving into coaching, initially at Aldershot Town, who he eventually took charge of in a player-manager capacity. He also had roles at Hereford and Weston Super Mare. His brother Richie Barker was a manager himself (currently assistant at Rotherham), and Chris always seemed intelligent and a good leader. In total, Chris made more than 500 professional appearances for Barnsley, Cardiff, QPR, Plymouth, Colchester, Southend and Aldershot.

At the time of his death he was working as an Academy coach for Forest Green and living in Cardiff, for whom he played more games than for any other club, impressing during the club’s spell in the Championship between 2002 and 2007. Tributes rang out from fans of all his clubs, all of whom respected his honesty, professionalism and consistency as a defender.

As recently as December, Chris gave an interview to Cardiff City’s matchday programme where he talked about his career and his time with the Bluebirds, and he returned to Southend earlier in the year when he took his Forest Green U18 side to Boots and Laces.

Chris Barker’s death is a harrowing reminder that nobody is immune to mental health issues. A stoic leader of men, the most dependable, consistent, reliable member of the playing squad on the pitch and a man who appeared thoughtful, rational and professional whenever he spoke off it. He will be missed by those that knew him and those that didn’t.

Rest in peace, Chris.

If you find yourself struggling with your own mental health, you are not weak and you are not alone. If you feel you can’t turn to a loved one for help then contact Mind ( https://www.mind.org.uk/ ) or The Samaritans on 116 123. Please be kind to yourself & don’t suffer in silence.

Issue 74 – Baltic Blues

With the start of a new season bringing the usual mixture of eager anticipation laced with fear and foreboding, especially after last season’s Houdini act. So it was a shock to realise I have been supporting The Blues for nearly 60 years. I am now living in Latvia (probably the only Blues supporter in the Baltics and almost certainly the oldest) but thanks to the iFollow service I can now watch nearly every game in the season, except those that Sky grab! 

But where did those years go? In my case it began at the end of 1960 when as a 16 year old schoolboy, I was uprooted from deepest Wiltshire to hitherto unknown Southend-on-Sea at the behest of E. K. Cole Ltd, for whom my father worked. They made televisions – anyone remember the Ekco brand? – and in an early example of cost cutting and rationalisation they had closed their Malmesbury, Wiltshire operation to move to their HQ in Priory Crescent, Southend. At my new school, Southend High School for Boys, I was taken under the wing of a fervent supporter of the Blues who insisted I should pay a visit to Roots Hall as a matter of priority, far exceeding the attractions of the pier or the Kursaal. 

In my previous location, I had been to a few matches at nearby Swindon, (my best mate at my old school lived in the same street as the legendary Ernie Hunt who was a family friend and in Mike Summerbee they had another player who went on to great things, not to mention a very young teenager called Don Rogers of whom much was expected) but I was never really hooked. Anyway, in a spirit of goodwill and curiosity I turned up one day to see what the fuss was all about. Roots Hall was after all, the newest ground in the football league, bright and shiny and only 5 years old, with recently installed floodlights, not a bit like that run down old County Ground that Swindon called home. A shining example of what could be achieved by a combination of a forward looking board of directors and sheer hard graft by volunteers and supporters in the local community, who had created this ‘Seaside Wembley’ as the Daily Mail put it. Three shillings in old money represented a high proportion of my pocket money and if this was to become a habit, sacrifices in other areas would have to be made, like being more choosy about my purchase of pop records (did I really buy ‘Are You Sure’ by The Allisons?). 

The game was a local derby against Colchester United so a good choice for a baptism, although I had little idea of the implacable hostility that existed between the more dedicated sets of supporters, which I was later to witness on my way out of the ground! I went on my own as my school friend and Blues fanatic was inexplicably unavailable that day. I had no idea where to stand so just headed for the nearest entrance which led me into the northeast corner of the ground. From here I could see at the other end the impressively vast expanse of the South Bank and made a mental note to stand there if I went again. However, for now I took up my position on the small open terrace among a group of what turned out to be largely disgruntled, mostly middle aged supporters obviously soured by the indifferent results of a season that carried the threat of relegation up to the last minute. I soon realised what a sheltered life I had lived until now. I had never heard my father use some of the language flying back and forth and thankfully some of the references and suggestions put to the players passed over my innocent head but I remember thinking if this is what the crowd is like when we are winning…. 

Nearly sixty years later I have a much better, indeed personal, understanding of the frustrations and sufferings of the long term supporter but at the time I was deeply shocked at the intensity and depth of emotion a poor pass or a missed goal opportunity could invoke, especially in a fixture like this with so much local prestige at stake, never mind the three points. If I close my eyes, I can see the commanding Peter Watson at centre half battling against the Colchester centre forward, balding Jimmy Fryatt scoring the first goal for Southend. Bustling, confident young Bobby Kellard, not much more than a schoolboy and a local lad too, frail looking but skilful John McKinven, who scored our second goal (how things changed in later years) and the imperious full back, craggy featured Alexander (but always Sandy) Anderson, a real Roots Hall favourite. Talking of Anderson, when I started working in a local bank the following year, he came in to cash a cheque. My manager, always quick to spot a chance to ingratiate himself, but who had never been to Roots Hall in his life and had no interest in football whatsoever, immediately started a conversation with him as though it was the passion of his life while I was cashing the cheque and it was to my great satisfaction that Sandy winked at me on his way out as if to say “Don’t worry son, I’ve got his number”. 

On my way out, I hastily side stepped some minor scuffling, pushing, shoving and chanting between some of my more exuberant contemporaries and made my way home, basking in the glow of a 2-1 win. I managed a couple or so more visits that season but did not see another win, although we did manage to stay up. The summer passed with swotting for my impending ‘A’ levels but something strange was happening. I gradually became aware that as the weeks passed I was starting to anticipate the new season with unexpectedly keen interest. The seeds scattered randomly in the Spring of 1961 were starting to bear fruit, or to put it another way, I was succumbing to an addiction from which I still haven’t found the cure, or indeed wouldn’t ever really want to.

Gerry Stonestreet

Who can steer the ship?

UNTIL January 2018, the good ship Southend United had been sailing relatively tranquil waters for years, arguably since the crisis of 2010 which saw Steve Tilson lose his job as the financially crippled Shrimpers plunged back down to the depths of League Two.

In those seven and a half years, the hotseat had been occupied by just two men, Paul Sturrock and Phil Brown – and while some clubs seemed to have a constantly revolving door to the manager’s office, there was an element of pride among Shrimpers fans that Ron Martin was a patient chairman willing to give his employees time.

19 months later, we’re about to appoint the third permanent boss since Brown’s departure. The promise of Chris Powell’s early months was cruelly smashed on the rocks last season by a quite abhorrent and unprecedented injury situation that left him without 10-15 players for a large portion of the season. It would have been a huge challenge for anyone – but Powell was broken and went into his shell, his team unable to recover.

Ron reluctantly acted, with the club facing relegation, and made an out-of-left-field appointment in Kevin Bond, doubtless seduced by the potential presence of Harry Redknapp. Arry saw the iceberg early and made haste back to Sandbanks, but Bond’s early bounce kept us up. However, his permanent appointment has proved to be a disaster with careless man-management, baffling formations and total confusion on the pitch leading to a pointless start to the 2019/20 campaign.

Worse for wear but still the boss: Uncle Ron

I mentioned on the AAS end of season podcast that Bond’s appointment was make-or-break for this club. A club that sifts through managers so quickly is only on one path, and we’re already seeing that Bond was a huge mistake. The leaves may still be on the trees, but with the season being cut short due to Bury’s untimely demise, whoever Ron entrusts with the job next has a real fight on their hands to keep the club from dropping into League Two.

Kevin Bond is the fall guy of course, and most fans will acknowledge that he had to go. But the problems began before Bond, and it would appear that, with among the oldest squads in the division, there are a fair few within our ranks that have undermined the last two managers when things haven’t been going well. In fact, the performances of the last few games of Bond’s tenure were downright mutinous and certainly won’t have endeared those players to the supporters, who continue to pay their hard earned money in a town where the average weekly wage is the lowest in the country.

There is once again a poisonous atmosphere around the club which affects everyone, even those few players who have been giving their all. What is clear is that whoever comes in will have to deal with this problem before a ball has even been kicked on the training ground.

For me, Bond’s key mistake was trying to get players of League One ability to play a style which they were clearly not comfortable playing, trying to build from the back, while cycling through a dizzying array of formations and systems when, after the injury-hit last months of last season when Powell could barely name the same starting eleven twice, the team was crying out for a consistent system that suited the players within it.

Bond decided pretty early that wingers were not for him. This will hamper the new manager, who should they want to revert to using all available space on the pitch, will have to rely on the unproven loanee Layton Ndukwu, the out-of-form Stephen McLaughlin, the inexperienced Isaac Hutchinson and the injured Sam Barrett until at least January. Ndukwu in particularly already looks shell-shocked, thrust into a seething dressing room and forced to play in an unfamiliar position in the centre of the park.

So, who’s in the frame for the top job? Certainly there’s been little given away about who the club are actually talking to. An internet rumour citing Barnet’s Darren Currie was quickly swatted away by Echo journalist Chris Phillips, the most trustworthy source around for the inside track on the club. Given Blues’ lack of financial means, and the fact that Ron has never been a poacher, it would seem a move for Currie is a naan starter. Sorry. No, I really am sorry, I don’t know how that slipped out.

Fans have been quick to champion the merits of Phil Parkinson, and given his track record Ron would indeed be foolish to overlook the former Bolton (and Colchester) manager, who has succeeded almost everywhere he has gone and gets his teams organised. However, Parkinson ruled himself out of the running on Tuesday, possibly having his head turned by the far more attractive vacancy at Lincoln City.

Another popular choice would be Adam Barrett, who has completed his UEFA Pro Licence badge, the highest level possible, and has had three years’ experience coaching Millwall, certainly a tough environment to learn. For many fans, Powell’s sacking is a fresh wound which leads them to fear a club legend being tarnished by the possibility of failure. Let’s just be glad Ron didn’t take that attitude back in the winter of 2003.

Barrett has of course been working under Neil Harris, a Millwall legend, and together they have got the Lions punching above their weight in the Championship. Along with Mike Duff (Cheltenham) and Michael Flynn (Newport), he is an example of a popular club figure with no previous managerial experience excelling in the top job. Ex Blues man Graham Coughlan has also shown that a lack of managerial background is no barrier to success, as he continues to impress at Bristol Rovers.

Of course, Adam Barrett is not Chris Powell, who in turn is not Steve Tilson. All three are different men with different qualities and weaknesses. That former players Anton Ferdinand and Ben Coker, both of whom shared a dressing room with Barrett, have come out in support of ‘John’, as he was affectionately known, speaks volumes. Barrett is a natural leader, who commanded respect from every dressing room he has walked into as a player. Whoever comes in will need qualities such as these more than any other.

Finally, given financial constraints, could it be possible that the chairman could look to promote from within? Captain Mark Milligan’s absence from the Australia squad this week got tongues wagging, although his leg injury is apparently genuine. Assistant manager Gary Waddock has managerial experience at QPR, Wycombe and Oxford, but has only really tasted any kind of success with Aldershot. Neither would be particularly popular appointments, associated as they are with Southend’s catastrophic start to the season.

Whoever does come in, there can be no half measures. Bond always had the feel of a stop-gap, even when his position was cemented in the summer. The slate must be wiped clean for the new manager, and that even means sticking with them through relegation, if there are clear signs of improvement from now until May. Ron must get this right – get it wrong and the good ship will sink – and League Two will be the least of our concerns.

Jamie Forsyth – @Jaimundo_ESX