But an undercover investigation by Strange But False has revealed that there is a menace that has been around for decades, yet remains under the surface – the issue of slavery.
The problem of players being sold into slavery by unscrupulous clubs has been growing over the years, but nobody came forward to speak out, until now.
In an exclusive report, we can reveal that former Southend defender Sean Clohessy was sold into slavery in June 2013.
He was on his way to Roots Hall to sign a new contract with the Shrimpers when a terrifying incident occurred.
A clearly emotional Clohessy said: “I was just walking past Priory Park. There was a spring in my step as I prepared for another couple of years with a great club. Then, from nowhere, a van screeched up. Three men wearing masks got out and bundled me into the back. They put a hood over my head. I didn’t know where they were taking me, but we drove for hours.
“I wound up playing for a team in a third-world country where the standard was so appalling, even Scott Vernon was considered a decent target man.”
But if the marauding right-back thought things were bad at Kilmarnock (“I didn’t know the name of the team, I couldn’t understand a word anyone said”), things were to take an even darker turn.
“One day the boss came to me and told me I had an hour to get my things together. I thought to run away, but you can’t run from these people. I did what he said, but I was still masked and tied up again for a long journey.
“When I got out, I was disorientated and couldn’t focus. I remember a large carpeted room, they made me sign something but I couldn’t read it.”
It was later revealed he had signed a two-year contract with borderline football club Colchester United.
“This place was different, but if anything it was worse. I played dull football in a cheap stadium next to a main road, but the stands were empty. It was like an apocalypse. Fortunately in the town, baseball caps, tracksuit bottoms and bad tattoos were everywhere so at least I had something in common with the locals.”
A spokesperson for Colchester United vehimently denied Sean’s story.
Munching on a piece of straw, the spokesperson said: “This is utter rubbish. He simply has an atrocious agent. I said when we untied him that he’s try a stunt like this.”
END FOOTBALL SLAVERY NOW
WHEN Greg Dyke’s FA Commission came up with its ludicrous B-team plan a few months back, it was noted by most prominent commentators that the most important people did not have a voice. Neither Supporters Direct nor the Football Supporters Federation were considered as important to the future of our national game as Danny Mills.
With Dyke speaking in Parliament about the issue again earlier this week, it is concerning that once again an irrelevant voice has been raised above the rest, notably that of Southend West MP David Amess.
Lucky enough to be a Tory in an area where, unfortunately, you could turn a mop upside-down, put it in a suit and pin a blue rosette to its lapel and it would get voted in, Amess nonetheless is not a particularly popular MP amongst constituents. And his popularity is unlikely to be increased by banging on about his beloved west ham (he is an MP for SOUTHEND) in Westminster and calling for a boycott on Premier League games because there are too many foreigners.
Amess follows in the footsteps of politicians over the years who have spoken out and brought in legislation about a game they know little about and understand even less – who can forget the infamous ID card proposal of Thatcher’s day? The concern must be that the failure of the England team in Brazil will lead to the authorities panicking and making rash statements such as that made by Amess in the House of Commons without actually considering the real issues.
The Right Honourable Gentleman is addressing a symptom, rather than a cause, of the problems facing English football. Supporters will not boycott their teams – if true supporters of teams like Arsenal did that, their seats would just be filled by tourists. The players playing in the Premier League are the envy of the world and sell replica shirts and duvet covers from Tamworth to Timbuktu.
The simple fact is that it is not healthy to have two separate identities, the Premier League and the Football League, splitting the 92 clubs. Wealth distribution is the main factor in why English football has the problems it does now. The Premier League has no interest in ensuring money filters down to the Football League, and the Football League is powerless to stand up to the Premier League. The EPPP was brought in because the Premier League put a gun to the heads of the Football League by threatening to take away what little cash they do hand down. English football produces a lot of decent young players, but too many of them get lost in the void of 60 or 70-man squads of the top five or six most powerful clubs. They develop well until a certain age, then fail to fulfil their potential because of a lack of first-team football. Going on loan is only temporary and does not allow a player to settle.
There are 92 clubs in the Premier League and Football League combined (91 if you, like me, don’t consider the bastard MK Dons to be a legitimate club). The aim has to be to give all those clubs the appropriate facilities to develop good young players, so the promising youngsters don’t feel they have to join the queue at Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United to develop into quality players. Young English players brought through at Football League level, unfortunately, come with a heavy price tag. This is because, while Man Utd can afford to spend £300k per week on Wayne Rooney’s salary, lower league clubs are fighting for their lives and need every penny they can get. A fairer distribution of the TV cash, ring-fenced for coaches or upgrading training facilities, would allow clubs in the lower leagues to develop young talent. It would also lead to a more competitive league structure where the haves and have nots are not so polarised.
Dyke’s B-team plan has its heart in the right place but fails to acknowledge that it would destroy the very environment he wants to send these young players into. If Greg Dyke has ever sat through a reserve game I would be surprised – but I can tell him they are not fun to watch. Injecting a season full of half-hearted affairs in front of a scattering of fans into one of the most passionately supported leagues (the Football League) in the world is not the way to go about things. Trouble is, the alternative involves upsetting the money men, which obviously will never happen. Dyke needs to grow the balls to stand up to the Premier League or step aside for someone who will.
Barry Corr had already seen a thumping header from Hurst’s right-wing free kick, before Hurst himself opened the scoring with an effort worthy of a far bigger stage. Ghosting in between the hapless Town centre backs, Hurst instantly killed a drilled crossfield ball with his first touch, and lifted the ball delicately over the onrushing goalkeeper with his second.
Weston (mysteriously known as Myles Wilton on the error-ridden official teamsheet), doubled the lead when he met a left-wing corner with a glancing header at the near post.
A third followed when a sharp turn from former Spurs winger Romain Michael-Percil in the box deceived two defenders, and his driven cross was diverted over the line by former Gillingham winger Weston, who head earlier missed a gilt-edged chance when through on goal.
Billericay pulled one back when Chris Webber’s excellent 25-yard shot flew low to Paul Smith’s right, but Conor Clifford’s thundering half-volley was within a couple of inches of restoring Southend’s three-goal lead, but instead it cannoned off the angle of post and bar.
The second half was a far less lively affair with the hosts enjoying much more possession without ever threatening to score. The usual raft of changes disrupted the rhythm of the game and goalmouth action was at a premium. Will Atkinson’s well-struck shot did rebound out off the post late on, but the final whistle saw Phil Brown pleased with another decent performance from his side.
TRIALIST WATCH: Romain Michael-Percil, caught the eye down the right flank in the first half but sometimes looked to try to do too much. Nabil Aslam played at centre back for 60 minutes and looked comfortable on the ball but was rarely tested. Craig Fagan came on for the last half hour and showed good experience and one decent run that was halted abruptly by an industrial challenge on the edge of the box. Gavin Hoyte came on at half time for Ben Coker and played on the right, with Ryan Auger switching to the left. Hoyte looked assured and very little came down his flank. Josh Wilson played in midfield for the last half an hour but repeatedly gave the ball away.
SOME ideas just never go away. They simply lie dormant until something happens to trigger a debate once again. One such notion is that of decimating the traditional English 92-club system to suit the larger clubs.
This idea has taken many forms. A few years back, chairmen like Phil Gartside of Bolton talked of a two-tier Premier League with no promotion and relegation, which conceivably could have taken the name “The Pull The Ladder Up and Sod The Rest League Divisions One and Two”. This idea was never really a goer, born as it was in the minds of club chairmen who knew their clubs would only have a limited time in the top flight and wanted to make sure they never endured the hardship of the lower leagues again.
Now we have the Big B Team Plan. This has been championed by managers, many of them foreign (such as Andre Villas-Boas) who believe that Premier League reserve teams should be able to compete in the lower divisions because it would provide young players with more competition and get them to play in front of proper crowds.
These plans always come on the flimsy pretence it would “help the England team” and obviously have nothing to do with the big clubs’ desire to monopolise all the wealth in the English game. The FA chairman, Greg Dyke, should know better. He was non-executive chairman of Brentford FC for seven years. But this did not stop him and the rest of his commission set up to improve the England team (note no fans are on this panel of ‘experts’) pitching the idea to the FA board earlier today, presumably on the back of an assumption that because Villas Boas is Portuguese, and Portugal are better than England, his idea must be revolutionary.
The exact plan is to insert a division between League Two and the Conference, where reserve teams would play. They could win promotion as far up as League One but no further, and they could be relegated as far down as the Conference. They would not be allowed to participate in the FA Cup (ironically where most top clubs play their reserves). So poor old Bristol Rovers would suffer the ignominy of being relegated two divisions in one fell swoop, despite 10,000 supporters attending their last game of the season. Clubs in the Conference, proud ex-league clubs such as Wrexham and Hereford who retain a hardcore support in their respective communities, would suddenly be cut adrift.
Premier League fans in support of the idea have been trotting out wildly inaccurate statements on the bottom half of the internet, claiming it would be good for clubs like ours because more people would come and watch. No they wouldn’t. I for one wouldn’t turn up to see us pit our wits against some side’s reserve team. It would be no more than glorified pre-season friendlies, opposition kids barely trying in case an injury damages their chance of a call-up for the first team. You’d soon get earthy managers like Aidy Boothroyd instructing 32-year-old bruiser centre halves to “make sure that flash kid knows he’s in a game early on”. And how many of these reserve team players are English anyway? A quick scroll through Man City’s Development Squad web pages reveals Spaniards, Belgians, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, a Norwegian and an Austrian.
The logistics simply haven’t been thought through. Would the B-teams play at their club’s home ground? And risk damaging the pitch with a vital Champions League qualifier coming up? No, they’d play at a training ground with no supporter facilities. And what if one of these games was an important one for the opposition? What if Sheffield United turned up with 2,000 away fans to Cobham training ground? What would they eat? Where would they sit? It doesn’t bear thinking about really.
People trot out the line that “it works in Spain”. Well, Spain doesn’t really have the same football culture as we do. Gates in Spain’s second tier aren’t great and there isn’t really a culture of away supporters like there is here. In their third tier, the attendances are proper non-league level. To put it in perspective, Portsmouth had 18,000 for their last home game of the season. Wolves took 9,000 fans to Franchise FC in March. The reason Spain are so good isn’t because their second string gets to play in front of 800 fans against Bergantinos. It’s because the number of qualified coaches outnumbers ours by about 10 to one and they are not yelled at on local pitches from an early age to “just get rid of it” by dads intent on living their dreams through their kids.
Whenever I go abroad and speak to locals about Southend, they are constantly amazed that a team in the fourth tier of English football regularly gets gates of 6,000+. They just can’t comprehend it. Our pyramid system is the envy of the world. Why does our own governing body want to jeopardise that in the hope (and it is just hope) that the England team might achieve more once every four years?
And there’s not just football at stake here. There’s civic pride at risk, communities can be bound together by their football club. How often do you see whole towns turn up for trophy/promotion parades? It gives people of a community, particularly in areas struggling due to the closure of traditional industry, something to unite behind. The support for clubs in towns like Burnley, Huddersfield, Blackburn and Oldham is something to behold considering the amount of wealthy, successful clubs around them. Those supporters are proud of their town and football gives them a vehicle with which to show that. If you take that away, you risk having hordes of young men roaming town centres on a Saturday afternoon with nothing to do and nothing to believe in. Not an ideal combination.
If the best interests of the game were truly at the heart of this, why not ring-fence some of the TV billions for clubs lower down the leagues to hire more coaches and spend more on developing young players? It’s bizarre that four or five clubs should have to coach all the young talent. Squads in the bottom couple of divisions are made up mostly of British players, it is here where there is potential to improve youngsters. Ramping up facilities for smaller clubs would surely be just as beneficial to the England team in the long run.
The whole thing stinks of a plan to kill the lower leagues and get more revenue to the top clubs. But if it does go through, us fans won’t play ball. No self-respecting Southend supporter I know would take the bait and, having seen any form of competition at our level obliterated, suddenly become a duvet cover-buying, half-and-half scarf-waving, Sky Sports-subscribing Chelsea/Spurs/Arsenal enthusiast. We would simply not bother with the game anymore. And certainly not the England team, with whom our empathy as supporters seems to fade with every tabloid story about another £300k-a-week contract to someone already richer than God.
If a half-baked plan like this kills off our club in the name of England, I certainly won’t have any desire to cheer them on anymore. The love of the game in smaller communities across England – and some of those communities themselves – would simply die. Clearly Dyke and co need a plan B. It’s time this idea was filed away for good.
“Barring a collapse, we should be in for an extended season.” – Co-editor Jamie Forsyth, Issue 47 editorial.
WELL, that jinxed it very nicely indeed, didn’t it? Until Monday’s emphatic 3-0 triumph over Oxford, Southend had failed to win since the 18th of January. The feared collapse did indeed come, and now it looks a tall order for us to even make the play-offs.
But fear not, hardy Shrimpers. All At Sea Issue 48 is here to ease the pain. We’re hoping it won’t be our last of the season either, with a play-off special to come if we somehow reverse our shocking form in time to make it.
Within this issue, Martin Cass will attempt to explain the Tuesday night jinx which has seen us fail to win at home in midweek since September 2011;
Historian Peter Baker will look back at when the dog had his final day at Southend Stadium;
Piers Hewitt will come over all optimistic and tell us why we should be positive, despite all the evidence to the contrary;
Steve Dadds and Sam Leveridge assess Phil Brown’s tenure after one year in the job;
James Welham looks back at a wonderful weekend in Cardiff, ten years ago this month, and in this World Cup year, looks back at the Shrimpers who have played on the biggest stage of all;
Ed Beavan tells how his late-night tribulations of looking after his new son Charlie have led him down the dark path of football documentaries on Youtube;
Paul Marshall leads the tributes to ardent, home and away Shrimper Doug Yates, who sadly passed away this month;
And our feisty lady columnist The Missus explains why a bad result for the boys in blue doesn’t just spoil our weekend plans.
It’s all inside this month’s fanzine, and it is priced at just £1. You can buy it before the game on Saturday, and at home games against Wimbledon and Accrington. Alternatively, a few clicks of a button will have it landing on your doormat within a couple of days.
Just visit our online store.
Hurst has been a revelation in a 4-3-3 system under Phil Brown, making his mark as the top scorer at the club with 11 strikes to date.
Hurst joined Southend in 2012 and was a key member of the side that made it to the Wembley final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last season. His existing contract was due to expire in the summer.
FRIDAY night football is a bone of contention at Roots Hall.
Any time there’s a Friday kick off, or even when a match is moved to Friday, message boards and Twitter are full of fans debating the merits of the end of the week fixture.
Many fans, working in London say it makes it more difficult for them to get to the game. Many fans unable to get to games on a Saturday see it as a chance
to get down to the Hall. But is there any difference in the attendances? Is it worthwhile for Southend to keep scheduling games on a Friday night? I decided to look at the attendances of the games to find out.
Using the excellent Southend United Database (sufcdb.co.uk), I looked at all the seasons of the Ron Martin era, comparing attendances of Friday night games and games on the traditional Saturday. I looked at League games only, excluding games on Good Friday as, given that it’s a Bank Holiday, there are more people able to get to games and this could skew the numbers. I included all home games this season up to Fleetwood. The basic findings are:
Since the start of the 2001/02 Season, Southend have played 215 games on a Friday night or a Saturday. Of these, 17.7 per cent (38 in total) were on a Friday night. This is very nearly two whole seasons of Friday night home games.
If you take the average attendance of Saturday games over that period, an average of 6,328 have watched Southend on a Saturday, compared to an average of 6,857 on a Friday night. So on average, over 500 more people go to Friday night games.
Only one season has not featured a Friday night league game, the 2007/2008 season.
Of the 12 seasons that have featured Friday night games, the average attendance of games on a Friday night has been higher than the average attendance of Saturday games six times.
However for three of those seasons, there was just one Friday night game.
The seasons with the most Friday night games were the 2009/10 season, with seven games, and the 2004/2005 season, with six games. In both of these seasons, the average attendance for Friday night games was higher than the average on Saturdays. And by some margin too, by 1,265 in 2009/10, and 979 in 2004/2005.
The season with the biggest margin for a greater Saturday average attendance than a Friday night attendance is currently this season, with 1,061 more on average attending on a Saturday (article published in November). However with only six home games played on a Saturday or Friday night so far, it might be wise to see how the season progresses attendance-wise before drawing any strong conclusions about this year. The biggest margin for a greater Saturday average attendance is 2001/2002, when 818 more saw the Saturday games on average.
Scunthorpe United fans must expect all their fans to either drive long distances or have a large number of supporters in London. Of the six times they’ve played at Roots Hall since 2001/2002, they’ve played on a Friday night four times, including for three seasons in a row. Orient have the second highest number of visits on a Friday night, with three.
Of course the main problem with the attendance stats is season ticket holders. I don’t know if Southend count their attendance as actual people through the turnstiles, or number of tickets actually sold for the game. A season ticket holder has of course bought tickets for every game, so may be counted as attending regardless of whether they are there or not.
So are Friday night games the way forward? It seems difficult to tell. The last three full seasons have seen higher Saturday average attendances
twice, and the time that the Friday night average attendance was higher, this was by the smallest margin of any season I’ve looked at where Friday night had a higher average, just 214 more. It may be that the thrill of Friday night under the floodlights is wearing off. Which for me would be a shame.