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.