Slow Train Coming

CHAOTIC, controversial, huge unfulfilled potential. While supporters of other clubs are perplexed that a character like Stan Collymore could be a success as a Senior Football Strategist at a National League club, those adjectives could be describing either Collymore or Southend United. Just perhaps, they might be the perfect fit.

We all know the back story. Ron Martin’s dead-handed grip on the club throughout the pandemic prevented any progress. There was no plan, no money. The club was rudderless, run from day to day with a skeleton staff and failing to even do the basics. AAS campaigned long and hard for a chief executive, but Ron wasn’t having any of it, blinded by his own ego and convinced he could do it all – still the spiral continued downwards.

So who does Ron Martin listen to? It’s certainly not supporters, not even the media. But he’s always had a place in his heart for a big name or a returning hero. When Stan Collymore could take it no more and stuck his oar in last May, he was possibly the only person Ron would have listened to (aside from Harry Redknapp and as we all know now, you’re better off getting your football and banking advice from his dog).

Less than a year later and we have a structure in place with people in post who genuinely have the best interests of the club at heart. A Blues-supporting but business-minded CEO poached from a League One club and used to working with an awkward owner, a head coach who made almost 500 appearances during the very best and worst times at Southend United, a Head of Football who has won promotion from the National League more times than anyone else and knows the county like the back of his hand, an assistant boss who was rated as one of the most promising managers in the lower leagues in recent times, and a first-team coach who left his previous club top of the league and is fondly remembered for his all-action midfield displays. OK, you know all this, but it sounds nice to say it again, doesn’t it?

It was with genuine anticipation that supporters awaited the arrival of Collymore in the tired old Shrimpers Bar (not even that old, it was only reopened in the late 1990s). Such was the desire to hear the man speak that the 100 free first-come, first-served tickets had gone in hours, with lots of moaning on internet forums and social media from those who felt entitled to be there but hadn’t been quick enough on the mouse.

I hadn’t either but luckily, I’d grabbed a second-hand ticket from a lovely gent called Laurence and thus it was nice to meet a couple of new people as I arrived, and to be reacquainted with a familiar face in Ken Jarvis who has been in exile for a few years oop north but has been a Shrimpers acquaintance for a couple of decades.

As for the evening itself, it was overwhelmingly positive. There were no revelations or titbits of gossip, but it was heartening to hear in detail how the club is trying to move forward. Recruitment dominated Stan’s thoughts, but it was also refreshing to hear how he wants to make the club ingrained in its community like Everton, who were the first club to introduce a community programme, helping local people with issues that affect them day to day. Southend is a poor town with among the lowest average wages in the country, and the club has not been there for its population in recent years, too often failing to pay suppliers and not treating people with respect. Stan is determined to change this and he mentioned some real inroads that are being made with local businesses. The Yeovil and King’s Lynn games were apparently the biggest commercial moneymakers for the club in several years.

Tom Lawrence and Gary Lockett were there informally and were occasionally invited to answer a question or two, Lockett on the academy and Lawrence on off-field matters. Both spoke well and Tom in particular impressed with his strategy to ensure the club is maximising its performance off the pitch. A 32-point business plan, addressing all aspects of the club, is currently sitting with the board and is aimed at making it clear just how much investment will be needed from Ron’s companies. That will always be needed while we are at Roots Hall, but fewer surprises for Ron probably means less likelihood of nasty little additional surprises like embargoes coming along.

Much was mentioned about how impressive Kevin Maher had been during his interview and how he had not been the pre-match favourite, but impressed sufficiently to be considered head and shoulders above the rest. One of his key concerns was the age of the squad, with not enough players between 23 and 27. We’re already seeing that rectified, with the signings of Husin, Cardwell and Powell all of an age where they are ready to play now, but may still have resale value.

Throughout, Collymore was a tremendous orator, holding the room with no problem, and showing incredible enthusiasm for a club he spent six months with, 30 years ago. You can’t fake that, he just loves his football. Volatile he might be, the odd f-word flew out of his month (all in context and taken in good humour) and he probably induces anxiety for the club’s press officer, but he cares an awful lot about your club. Not enough people have done over the last few years, and his contribution over the course of the last nine months to arresting our brutal decline cannot be underestimated.

As I write, we head to Dover on Saturday, two years and two months since that awful FA Cup defeat at The Crabble. How therapeutic for our fans and what a measure of our recent progress if we were to slay that particular ghost on Saturday.

To the Shrimpers Trust

Paul,


I trust that this finds you well?


Sadly fortunes at SUFC seem to be going from bad to worse….and there is clearly a growing level of discontent amongst supporters aimed at both manager and, as ever, the owner!


As you will have read on Twitter I have been communicating with Councillor Dan Nelson in trying to get a view from another perspective of how the future of SUFC will play out if (and when) we move across to Fossetts and the impact on the club, Southend Council and taxpayers.


It is clear from the subsequent ‘firestorm’ that there is a huge amount of misinformation about the proposed funding model, who will own what, any financial legacies etc etc both from the fans and indeed Councillors perspectives. The only common point accepted by all is that there is only going to be one ‘winner’ Ron Martin.


The whole Fossetts Farm/Roots Hall development continues to drag on and from my perspective has blinded R Martin from giving the club the correct level of focus in recent years (he would of course disagree). This has lead to the present position of the club on and off the pitch.   


With this growing level of discontent, the lack of information emanating from the new CEO or Owner isn’t it time now for a fans representative to sit down with both club and council and truly understand what the proposed funding model means and how it would impact on club, Council, tax payer and R Martin?


Of course SBC and R Martin can quite legitimately hide behind commercial confidentiality, as would be expected, but it is entirely possible to gain commitment to various reassurances that give stakeholders a greater clarity on life post- Fossetts (indeed if it should go ahead).


I am unsure what all of these reassurances/commitments are but am confident that the Trust and its members do and have the best interests of the fans and club at heart.


My angst is that things are going to get worse before they get better and one fear is that we witness the demise of SUFC before our very eyes at the hands of an inept Council and astute building developer. Do we truly need a new sparkly stadium and huge debt at this time?


I am also of the opinion that any forum that brings the main stakeholders to the table should be a formal occasion that is recorded, minuted and chaired independently.
I hope that this is received in the manner that it has been written, solely with the best interests of the club and fans at heart.


Time is now not on our side. 


I look forward to hearing from you shortly.


Regards – Peter

Issue 78 – Stan and deliver

I THINK Stan Collymore is insane. Not insane in a Hannibal Lecter way, more the way that firefighters are right on the borderline of brave/stupid when running into a burning building to save the life of a stanger. It takes a certain kind of person to look at the roaring bin fire that is Southend United Football Club at the moment and thinks “yeah, I’ll have a bit of that”.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I am grateful beyond words that he has strong-armed his way into the football club. Major structural changes have taken place at the club to bring a modern approach to the club away from the playing staff with responsibility removed from the manager in an attempt to create some sort of continuity at the club where not everything runs through two individuals.Stan himself has now joined the club in the newly created position of Senior Football Strategist though one has to feel that if he had asked the fans for their endorsement as he applied for the roll of ‘Head of Counting Clothes Pegs in the Changing Rooms’ he would still have received a clean sweep. Such has been the clear need for a change in the way the club operates that Stan’s warmth, dedication to transparency and genuine affinity for the club make him a true champion for the fans. The man with a chequered personal past has never forgotten us, and those of us that ever saw him play have never been able to forget him.

Stan believes that he can be a unifying force at the football club once again, and based upon his actions so far, it’s hard to disagree with him. In Tom Lawrence and Kevin Maher I absolutely believe that we have strong, capable people with passion that will work hard to improve the situation at the club. I would never say that support and loyalty is a prerequisite for a great candidate getting a job (you only need to look at Pep Guardiola’s career as a coach to see that the cream always rises to the top) but with the club in its current status, people like Lawrence, Maher & Mark Bentley, and now Collymore too, are those that will go the extra mile to find ways of helping the team succeed on the pitch. And that is exactly what we need.

Since Brown has been sacked, the protests aimed at Uncle Ron have become less raucous and, though the sentiment remains, there is now genuine optimism given the council’s decision to finally allow planning permission to develop both Fossett’s Farm and Roots Hall. Maher, Currie and Bentley’s appointments to take charge of the first team as well as the retention of Ricky Duncan in a more familiar role in the club’s youth setup have provided a source of genuine optimism that results on the pitch can mirror those recently seen in the council’s chambers. Sluggish decision making of poor quality has been profound at the club in recent years but since Collymore’s involvement from the end of last season, there may finally be signs that the club is beginning to turn around.

Improving a football club is very chicken and egg. Often a fortunate assembly of players & coaches will generate the results needed to push clubs further up the table (see: Luton or Coventry). This on pitch success enables the revenue generated from prize money of TV rights to be invested in other areas of the organisation as well as reinvested in the playing staff. This doesn’t seem to be Southend’s likely path at this point in time and so a positive, modernising restructure of the football club’s operations are the order of the day. Brentford and Blackpool are two such clubs that are reaping the benefit of better decision making off the field. Their progress has been slow and steady but both teams are now stable, sustainable clubs that have a solid foundation on which to build their success.

The next big question for Southend surrounds Ron Martin. While his fiscal grip remains tighter than Gary Deegan’s shorts, Uncle Ron’s influence on the running of the football club has been eroded by something like 50%. Previously Ron and his famously bulging rolodex would have been the sole arbiter when deciding the next manager; for this most recent, pivotal, appointment, Collymore’s actions over the past 6 months meant that 50% of the panel that decided on Maher and his team were made up of Stan’s appointees to the club. Ron is likely to be 70 by the time the building work across the two sites is complete and his legacy across the town is secured. Perhaps Stan’s greatest contribution in all of this will be a smooth transition of power at what might even be the beginning of the end of the Martin era.

Collymore’s love of the Shrimpers cannot be in doubt; he cites his time at Roots Hall as his happiest in football. Southend fans can be grateful that love makes us do very strange things.

Issue 77 – Everything just stopped

As my then nine-year-old son John and I left Roots Hall on March 7th 2020, all seemed normal. A 3-1 home win against Bristol Rovers wasn’t going to save Southend from relegation, but we’d seen a young Shrimpers team play with enough verve to put a spring in our step. Egbri…Gard…Elvis…we could be on to something here.

Tickets for the following week’s game at Rotherham were collected from the club shop and thoughts turned to John’s match against Bushey & Oxhey the following morning. Then, a few days later, everything changed. Everyone realised Covid-19 was going to pause things for a while (remember that first announcement, when football was only going to be stopped for three weeks?) but we had no idea our next game would be over 14 months away. The whole world was thrown into a fog by the pandemic, and we weren’t alone. Football became something just to be watched on the television, but we knew we’d be back soon enough. If not to Roots Hall, then to a local non-league ground. In the meantime, enjoy Bundesliga and Premier League games as best we could.

But in late August, our world stopped. John awoke on a Tuesday morning feeling a bit ill and by that same afternoon he was in agonising pain. Just a few days later his Mum and I were sitting in a room at Great Ormond Street Hospital with a doctor telling us our son had Burkitt lymphoma. A long road lay ahead for John and GOSH became his home for the next couple of months, with us parents taking turns to sleep on a camp bed alongside him.

Yet football remained a presence in our lives. We decided not to watch Southend games on iFollow, but still followed the results closely every Saturday. It seems ridiculous now, seeing as John was suffering badly from the side effects of his chemotherapy, but when Exeter scored that injury time equaliser on October 10th, both of us reacted in anger and disbelief. Yes, there was a much bigger battle on our hands, but in that moment, Alex Fisher’s goal was a huge deal.

One of John’s many doctors – Torjus – was from Denmark. England played the Danes twice during our time in GOSH, so football gave us something to talk about. They got the better of those autumn battles, much to Torjus’ delight, although that trilogy ended well for us at Wembley in June.

Knowing John loves his football, many friends bought John football shirts, which he wore while in hospital. Again, they provided a talking point, whether it was to comment on how smart his new Milan and Marseille tops looked, or to ask why there was a prawn on the badge of that dark blue one he was wearing. Get well soon cards on display in the room from SUFC and The Shrimpers Trust made his allegiances clear, but that still didn’t stop one nurse giving him a Chelsea bottle and pencil case. That’s the problem with hospitasl – people are so lovely, even when they do something terrible like that, you can’t be angry with them.

Football even became an escape for me. I didn’t tell everyone about John’s illness – including some friends from the pages of this fanzine – as having football to talk about (even in the grimmest of SUFC seasons) was, even briefly, a distraction from the pain of real life. Autumn became winter and eventually John was able to return home. By this stage, his junior football team were playing again, but he was still too poorly to cheer on his team-mates. An hour standing outside in December is not advisable for someone still recovering from a major illness! By March, his recovery was almost complete, and John went through the (incredibly embarrassing for him, incredibly emotional for us parents) hospital tradition of ringing the bell to signal the end of his treatment. It takes a lot to knock May 23rd 2015 off the top of my ‘greatest days ever’ list but…

Junior football was still on hiatus at this point, but on April 11th, he was able to return to action for Hemel Hempstead Town Under 10s Blues. The game ended in a 3-1 home defeat to Tring, but if ever a result didn’t matter, this was the one. Well – it didn’t matter to us and his coaches, just thrilled to see him back out there on the grass. John was fuming, however. He has never been one to take defeat well, despite all the practice he has had following Southend United. Happily, he was able to play in six more games before the season came to an end.

There was still one more football-related step to make in his recovery though – getting to a game.

The opportunity for this didn’t come until late May, when Leverstock Green FC, about a mile from our home, hosted the final of the South Midlands League’s ‘Spring Cup’. Colney Heath v London Lions may not sound like a must-see fixture, but after 14 months away from the terraces, it ticked every box. Burger, chips, tea with three sugars, floodlights, three goals, two red cards and a spot of argy-bargy at full-time as the Lions sought to protect their slender lead with some excellent time-wasting. As we left Pancake Lane, that same spring in our step we’d had the previous March was back, and John’s last words before falling asleep were “I love football, Dad”.

Legendary Italian manager Arrigo Sacchi said that football is “the most important of the unimportant things in life” and that is something I have found myself agreeing with a lot over the last year. Football doesn’t really matter when your son is lying next to you on a morphine drip. But the great game provided us with comfort, support and perhaps most importantly, something to look forward to during the very toughest of times.

James Welham

Issue 76 – End of my teather

I have never written for AAS before, never considered it. But after losing 6-1 to our inbred bitter rivals and reading some of the absolute rubbish on that god-forsaken Facebook Group I felt the need to get my feelings out in some way or another…

I’ve been following Southend home and away for 22/28 years of my life and this past two years it’s safe to say have been comfortably the worst. The loss at Dover was a total humiliation and left me sick to my stomach, Harrogate opening day wasn’t much better! Fans are calling for Mark Molesley’s head, I’d love to know who they want in charge, who in their right mind would take the job, and what exactly he has really done wrong. Comparing him to Kevin Bond is an absolute disgrace. Bond was beyond useless, had no ideas of his own and I have seen first-hand evidence of him asking journalists who he should sign. The guy was clueless and inherited a much better team than the Conference South (generous?) outfit we have now and a budget to recruit.

Let’s start with our squad – our senior pros are either playing through the pain/injured and old/been part of the downward trajectory of the last couple of seasons and devoid of confidence. The youth (bar one or two) will probably never play in the Football League again after this season as they’re so far out of their depth it’s untrue. More fitting for the likes of Harlow Town. Our strike force has gone from Hopper, Cox, Humprhys, Kelman to Acquah, Sterling, Goodship and Rush in the space of a year. That’s the downgrade of several levels,not just one division.

Turning this sinking ship around requires more than a miracle.

I think back to that last minute at Roots Hall when Exeter equalised. If fans were there we’d have won I’m sure of it. If we had a striker who gave half a shit, we’d have won I’m sure of it. If you get the chance to watch that Exeter equaliser back, look at the lack of effort Acquah makes to put their man under pressure before he picks out the forward pass that ultimately leads to the goal. Harsh perhaps but those small moments can make all the difference. That ‘win’ could have made for a very different buzz around the training ground and a very different outcome for all Southend fans’ moods and mindsets right now.

I want to go back to Mark Molesley. People question his passion and commitment – look at the celebration from the bench after that Crawley equaliser, listen to all accounts from players that say he’s at the office till 10pm every night trying to summon a miracle to change the club’s fortunes.

There’s also a number of fans crying for us to play to our strengths…what are our strengths? I’d argue it’s our ball-playing centre mids (both MM signings) Taylor and Olayinka therefore we have to play possession football. “Go direct, get it forward” I hear some of you shout. Why? Acquah is incapable of doing anything with his feet or his head. Play it into his chest he controls the ball then loses it on his second touch. Our wingers aren’t likely to win anything in the air. Egbri misses the ball if it bounces beyond shin height. So that tactical genius shout from our fanbase is ridiculous.

Next let’s look at his recruitment, whilst under an embargo there are numerous rulings that not many are taking into account. Signings have to fit certain criteria if they are to be registered e.g. under a certain age, 75% or less wages than the registered player they are replacing etc. Kyle Taylor, James Olayinka, Ashley Nathaniel George, Shaun Hobson, Simeon Akinola, Alan McCormack – I’d argue 3 are our best players, Akinola needs to be the second coming of Freddy Eastwood, most fans were delighted with Macca returning and Hobson granted looks a calamity. That’s not too sad. With all this being said, there is also a real limited number of options for which we can sign in the areas we need. Target men that are realistic options consist of Calvin Andrew and er… not much else. Underwhelming but probably exactly what we need now. We have had other targets, but if offered a place at any of the other 91 clubs or us – not including overseas – they’re choosing the other understandably.

Fans are crying for Sam Hart, again why!? What’s he realistically going to change. He was horrendous defensively before. No one else wanted Sam Hart. He came to us desperate for a club. In my opinion and several others I know we have a better left back in Tom Clifford. Either way again, we can’t sign him nor register Akinola as we’re under an embargo.

Not one man could turn this sinking ship around, which takes me to my final point on why Mark Molesley deserves more time, it also excruciatingly means I see no end to this misery anytime soon. Ron Martin! The chairman that speaks a good game, spins a yarn and time after time gets away with it. He will not walk away from this club until the Fossetts Farm project is complete. He has invested far too much to not see it through. In doing so his management of the club has fallen by the wayside. Tax bills racking up, failing to pay players, signing off on new players despite being told by the medical team not too, not sticking to promises made with several managers when it comes to recruitment, acting way too slowly as if the club is not a priority.

This multitude of negligent acts has left Mark Molesley with the worst squad in my lifetime, and furthermore it has left a club teetering on the edge of existence. If the Stadium isn’t approved soon, it could be too late for the club I love, a club with 114 years of history. I don’t know what I’d do without Southend, even though I’m sick to death of the constant disappointment every Tuesday and Saturday.

Calum Randall

A United Front

WHILE most of football spent Tuesday evening gleefully rejoicing as, one-by-one, the self-proclaimed Biggest Clubs In The Land™ were forced into an acutely embarrassing climbdown from a proposed European Super League; Southend United fans were witnessing arguably the darkest moment in their club’s 115 year history. 

We don’t need to go into Tuesday night again, suffice to say pouring salt and vinegar into a gaping open wound that had been worked at by a rusty knife over the course of three years might come close to covering it. 

But one lesson we can all take from the humbling of the ESL proposal is the power of a united fans’ position against the very richest club owners in the world. 

With everything that has gone on in the UK in recent years, the widening inequality, the cronyism and corruption in Government, it has intensified the feeling that pretty much anything can be bought and the rest of us are powerless to do anything about it. While the ESL is not going away and those owners will already be plotting their next move against the game, the embarrassing nature of Tuesday’s defeat (no, not that one, the ESL one) was a rare victory for the little man (again, I’m not talking about Colchester here). 

Colchester are safe to once again dream of struggle in League Two in front of crowds of 2,500 but for Southend’s supporters there has been no hope for a long time. Our gradual, painful decline feels terminal. 

The pandemic has forced us all to watch what has passed for football this season from laptops and TV screens, able to see the slaughter but unable to lean on our fellow fans for support. It feels like the supporters have been kicked in the gut every weekend (and of course most Tuesdays in this condensed, zombie season that should never have been played) and this has of course led most of us to lash out. Frustration has boiled over on social media, and it has not been pretty to watch. 

The club’s social media team is unable to post even the most benign message without a volley of abuse, a Twitter parody account has been set up to deride a 20-year-old home-grown striker who went to school in the town, and the arguments about the managerial competence of Mark Molesley reached fever pitch in March and April as the side struggled to turgid goalless draws on an almost weekly basis. 

Just as all hope was lost, a familiar face was willing to stick his head above the parapet. 28 years after almost single-handedly saving the club from relegation to what is now League One, Stan Collymore stepped forward to offer his help. His tweet on Tuesday night, offering to put together a team to buy the club, seemed a well-intended but ultimately empty gesture of solidary and support during hard times. 

However, on Thursday, around 20 fans representing fan groups such as the Shrimpers Trust, AAS, Shrimperzone, The Custard Splat and the newly formed lobby group Save Our Southend gathered on Zoom at the behest of Collymore, who is no stranger to the Shrimperzone forum having posted sporadically over several years. 

What followed was an incredibly articulate, well-organised and passionate discussion, led impressively by Collymore who invited everyone on the call, including legendary former player and manager Steve Tilson, to give their views on what has gone wrong and what they want to happen next. 

The issues were multiple. The football side of the club has been neglected for too long. Seemingly endless winding up orders, failing to pay creditors on time, disrespectful treatment of club staff and players. Late payment of wages, leading to a ruined reputation within the game and resulting in a challenge to recruit. Careless previous recruitment, with absurd weekly wages handed out to average or injury prone players. Starting pre-season late, burdening managers with transfer embargoes, failing to negotiate transfer windows with any kind of competency, sporadic and frankly dishonest communication with supporters, concern about the sustainability of the club at Fossetts Farm. Stan was on a fact-finding mission, patiently asking clear and good questions, and taking meticulous notes, and there were no shortage of facts to find out about. 

Ultimately, the only person who can do anything about any of this is Ron Martin. The board of directors is toothless, between them holding less than 5% of shares in the club. Stan spoke of his passion for a 50+1 ownership model and was clear that in his opinion that did not mean there could be no outside investment (without Ron Martin dipping his hand into his pocket every month, we would undoubtedly be financially scuppered). 

Fans in turn did not resort to slurs or abuse against the owner. It was clear however that while supporters respected Ron Martin’s willingness to bankroll the club and did not begrudge him his bonanza that will arise from the building of 1,300 homes on Roots Hall and Fossetts Farm, he has nevertheless proved himself to be a woeful administrator of a football club. 

It remains fanciful that Ron has come this far, after 23 years, only to sell up when his dream is literally sitting in the council offices waiting for approval. He is tantalisingly close. However, it is very clear that the football side has been left to suffer: there has been no chief executive for four years; there is no club secretary, a vitally important position at any club; he is relying on the goodwill of existing staff to cover these positions and no doubt they are doing the very best they can, but with the greatest of respect, these are positions that need filling urgently, interestingly a point Steve Tilson was vehemently in agreement with. 

Stan Collymore is a divisive figure in football but at Southend United he will always be a hero. Fans have named their children after him (ahem). With his profile and contacts, his help in supporters fighting necessary changes to create a sustainable club that the town can be proud of once again should not be underestimated. It is very easy for Ron Martin to ignore Steve from Westcliff. It is less easy to ignore arguably the greatest and highest profile player to have ever played for Southend United. 

There was some initial cynicism, but Southend United fans can be incredibly grateful to Stan for his passion and his willingness to help the club that he spent a mere six months with. It was a six months that launched the career of one of the most exciting strikers this country has seen in a generation, and for those that witnessed it, it was the most exciting six months of their supporting lives too.  

You can say many things about Stan Collymore, and people are rarely shy to do so. But this is a man who loves football, lives and breathes it, and is passionate about its supporters and the role they have to play in the sport. If the last year has taught us anything, it is that fans are the lifeblood of football even if there are plenty of villains sitting in the wings, plotting to take it away from us. To reclaim the game, and the club we love, we need to be united. We saw that unity come over clearly during the call, and that can give us all hope. 

Stan is hoping for a parlay with the chairman today, and a socially distant, peaceful protest is planned by supporters for tomorrow. While protests for protests sake rarely have the desired effect, it is now clear that supporters have direction and purpose. And football supporters with direction and purpose have a long history of victory. Just ask Charlton Athletic, Blackpool and tomorrow’s opponents, Leyton Orient. 

You only have to look at the clubs in it now to see that the National League is full of biggish former League clubs that have been mismanaged. Southend United will join these ranks imminently. But it is not death. If it is done properly, it can be a place for resurrection. Ask Luton Town, Lincoln City, Oxford United. However, the stories of Wrexham, Stockport and York also show it is a league to be respected. The preparation the club puts in this summer will dictate where we land in our first season outside the Football League since 1920. It is time for Ron to get back his focus, make the changes to the club that are desperately needed, and build the foundations for a return to league football. 

Above the tunnel at Roots Hall, underneath the club crest, is the message #NeverGiveUp. Despite three years of being repeatedly kicked while we were down, the events of the last few days show that the supporters have no intention of doing so. 

To view the full Zoom call with Stan Collymore, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDY8WIS8KnU

All At Sea

Double relegation: The custard splat years

Like many clubs that regularly change their shirts Southend United have periods of their history that is defined by the kit worn at the time.

My first ever Blues’ game in 1969 saw us trying out Chelsea’s kit as a possible replacement for the dark blue home kit soon to be outlawed for being too similar to that of the officials. We won 4-0; a lucky omen I thought and surely a good kit to choose. The club hierarchy thought otherwise and we chose a blue and white striped number that proved ultimately unsuccessful though we did eventually play in a Chelsea-style kit which saw us get promoted.

There followed a number of style changes over the next 25 years, some bad, some good and some very good. The white shirt with blue sleeved kit of the early 1980s was a successful kit if not everyone’s favourite and who could forget the introduction of yellow shorts and trim in the mid-1980s that started off badly but ended so very well.

This brings us to the start of the 1996-7 season and we were about to embark on our sixth consecutive season in the second tier of English football. This coincided with a new kit and having been five years without any yellow in the shirts it was decided to add a splash of yellow back into the kit. And when I say “splash” I really mean it. The kit was first seen at the wonderfully named CTA International Trophy friendly against Spurs who included in their line up a young Sol Campbell. As the Blues ran out, my mate, on seeing the kit, turned to me and said “That’s a relegation kit”. How prophetic were his words.

The close season had seen a number of players leave, notably to Barry Fry’s Peterborough, but manager Ronnie Whelan had brought in three Scandinavian players: John Nielson, Tony Henriksen & Peter Dursun. There were genuine hopes that we could maintain our elevated status for another year and we scored the quickest goal of the opening day when Andy Rammell netted in the first minute of a 1-1 draw against Tranmere. However we made a poor start to the season apart from one extraordinary match against Bolton Wanderers in September. I was in New York at the time so had asked my brother to ring me with the Southend score as well as an update on Essex CCC who were in the Nat West Trophy Final against Lancashire. When I returned to my hotel room I was able to listen to his answerphone message that said we had won 5-2 but Essex had been bowled out for 57. I believed neither.

A 6-1 trashing at Crystal Palace preceded a three month period when we only won three league games. Loan signings were made by Whelan and we won what turned out to be our only away win of the season 1-0 at Stoke. We slipped to the bottom of the table where we would remain. Crowds were disappointing though close to 9,000 saw a Georgi Kinkladze masterclass for Manchester City in a 3-2 defeat for the Blues. One of the most mesmerising displays by an opposition player I have ever seen at Roots Hall.

Having been home and away for many years I was unable to get to any away games and only about 15 at home. I was lucky. We only won eight games all season and were relegated with just 39 points. My mate was right, it was a relegation kit. But there was more to come.

Whelan resigned as the season ended and his replacement was another untried manager Alvin Martin. Surely 1997-8 season would be one of consolidation.

Legends Steve Tilson and Paul Sansome left the club as did Andy Sussex and Mike Lapper. This felt ominous, there was a feeling of foreboding around the club and we still had another season of that kit.

In his first programme notes of the season boss Martin was asking for patience from the fans; he must have known what was to come. One win from the first five games was a warning sign and although we were scraping home wins the omens were not good. To arrest the slide the club brought in Regis Colbault and Pepe N’Diaye from France. Form was average at best but we were keeping our heads above water.

We even managed an FA Cup win at Woking which included a very strange event. On arriving at Woking station we had no idea where the ground was so we asked a gentleman who had just dismounted from his bike. The chap was Dutch and he had no idea where the ground was as he didn’t “follow football”. No problem, we eventually found the ground, walked in and the first person we would see was the Dutchman leaning up against his bike in the away end. Very peculiar. He did come in useful as we asked for some words of “encouragement” we could shout at our own Dutchman Jeroen Boere.

Former Welsh International Neville Southall was brought in on loan from Everton but his arrival preceded a terrible and ultimately terminal run of form. We failed to score in five successive games and although we bolstered our defence by signing the excellent Richard Jobson on loan from Leeds the decline continued. Brief hope was ignited by three home wins including an incredible 5-3 win over Bournemouth that has been 0-0 at half time. Unfortunately after that game we only scored two more league goals in seven games and were relegated, again bottom of the table and this time with 43 points.

So that Blue and Yellow kit that some love and some hate will always been associated with abject failure and it was replaced the following season by a more traditional blue and white number.  However, it’s notoriety continues, it is affectionately known as the “Custard Splat” shirt, has been compared to Lisa Simpson’s hairstyle and has a podcast named after it. It will always evoke memories of two disastrous seasons that until recently was thought could never be matched.

Nick Hart

Another day of reckoning

This Wednesday, hit by a storm of years of neglectful administration, a global pandemic and a long-standing failure to complete a move from Roots Hall, Southend United face a High Court judge over a £493,000 debt and have a very real chance of being only the second Football League club to be wound up in 28 years. 

Most fans believe Ron Martin will, by hook or by crook, find the money to at the very least appease the judge enough to kick the can down the road. However, noises coming out from the club over the last few days indicate that this outcome is uncertain. 

If the worst happens (and some would say given how much fans have suffered over the past two years, it may be a relief) and Southend United FC is wound up on Wednesday, what happens then? The popular opinion among fans of all clubs is normally: simply start again. The story of AFC Wimbledon, due to return to their spiritual home of Plough Lane this year after decades playing outside their home borough of Merton, has shown that a successful resurrection is possible. Perhaps more concerningly, the Dons made it look very easy. 

Unfortunately, in the world of phoenix clubs, Wimbledon’s story remains the exception, rather than the rule. Phoenix clubs now sprinkle the English pyramid, from Maidstone United (the last Football League club to be wound up before Bury in 2019), to Rushden and Diamonds, from Darlington 1885 to Hereford. The harsh reality is that only Chester and Aldershot, greatly assisted by not having been forced into exile to groundshare with another club, have returned to the level of the original club (both have subsequently been relegated), and years of struggle have been the norm. Of all the clubs to meet their demise in the 21st century, AFC Wimbledon is the only club to have returned to the Football League.

Of course, circumstances differ for each club. Bury AFC has been formed and is groundsharing with Radcliffe Borough, while the original club is still owned by its maniac owner Steve Dale and owns Gigg Lane. That particular entity has not yet been liquidated, meaning some fans feel conflicted. Some are reluctant to enter the embrace of the phoenix club while the original club still exists on paper. 

Scarborough Athletic was formed from the ashes of the old Scarborough FC, who folded in 2007, by its supporters trust. However, it took them ten years to return to playing matches in their home town, and 13 years after formation, the club is still playing in the Northern Premier League, three tiers below the EFL. AFC Rushden and Diamonds’ Nene Park home was demolished a few years ago and the club groundshares with Rushden and Higham United. 

Being prepared ahead of time pays dividends. Relegation to the National League was the final straw for Chester City, who had endured a series of bad owners by the time their league status was ended in 2009. Financial issues continued and they were suspended by the league after failing to fulfil a fixture in 2010, when players refused to get on the team coach because they had not been paid. However, members of the board and fans had been planning ahead, forming a trust and making preparations to form a phoenix club. On appeal, the FA were persuaded to allow the new entity, Chester FC, to start again in the 8th tier Northern Premier League, as opposed to the North West Counties League, which it originally ruled. Crucially, the club were even allowed to continue playing at the Deva Stadium, which was owned by the city’s council. In Southend’s case, the ground is owned by Ron Martin’s companies and as such, is unlikely to ever be used again should the worst happen on Wednesday. 

Even if a club does get to play games at its spiritual home, it’s not always straightforward. Hereford FC, former out of the ashes of Hereford United in 2014, were permitted by the council to play their games at Edgar Street, but had to find £130,000 just to bring the ground up to standard and get a new safety certificate. 

If we do come through Wednesday’s hearing unscathed, perhaps the one story we should be most wary of is the cautionary tale of Darlington FC. Taken over by ex-convict George Reynolds amid much fanfare in the early 2000s, the club’s fearsome ambition saw them move into the 25,000-seater Reynolds Arena in 2003. However, the anticipated gate increases did not happen, and as things on the field deteriorated, with the Quakers dropping into the Conference in 2005, the club became unable to afford the running costs of its inappropriately sized new home. The Quakers limped on until 2012, but went into administration and were later expelled by the FA for failing to come up with a creditors voluntary agreement.  

If things continue as they are for Southend United on the field and the club ends up in the National League, the running costs a new 21,000-seater stadium at Fossetts Farm, long lauded as our potential saviour, could well pull us under. 

It may seem appealing as a way to start over again and bring a club back to its community, but launching a phoenix club is not cheap, not easy and requires a lot of hard work, and money from people willing to dip their hands in their pockets. A phoenix club would be semi-professional and therefore would need to be staffed by people willing to give up their time for little or no reward. Splits in the fanbase are common over trivial issues like name, colours and badge, and that is before we even get to the complex issue of where matches will actually be played. Southend United fans may be under the impression that “if we build it, they will come” but building something in the first place is not as easy as most people think.