Piers Hewitt – May 2012

16 May

THERE was a time when I was a teenager, assessing my career options, that I considered being a musician (my current job) as a complete no-go on the basis that I didn’t want my Saturdays ruined. I didn’t want to have give up watching my boys in return for probably dressing up as a Beatle on Saturday evenings and probably getting good money for it. Phil Gridelet had that much of a pull on me. As time went on, and we got increasingly crap, I realised that it was OK to miss the odd game (missing Oxford away in August 1996 would have been nice), around the same time that I realised that, well, I couldn’t really do anything else. So applied for a contemporary music college in London, and the rest is slow and sluggish history.
As you all know, I am in a band, and with that comes a few sacrifices. Not knowing how much money you’re going to earn one year to the next is one, but also, and obviously far more importantly when it comes to my Saturday man dates, not being able to control your diary is another. Trying to get time off for my own wedding was hard enough. Trying to get time off to go to Accrington away can sometimes be as likely as seeing Margaret Thatcher working at a strip bar.
In a weird twist of fate, my band’s career ups and downs have vaguely followed Southend’s but in the reverse direction, and in retrospect, I count myself lucky to have been present at a large amount of our recent successes. We were signed to Universal around 2003 and 2004 time and spent a lot of time on the road. I saw a few games that year, and massively lucked out on our big occasion when I discovered that on the weekend of our first LDV final, we played in Bath on the Saturday night, and Exeter on the Sunday, just about being able to fit in a trip to Cardiff on the Sunday lunchtime. I thought that was as lucky as it would have got, but I have to say it was very nice of Universal to consider us ripe for being another indie band dropped on the major label scrap heap around the beginning of 2005. Little did they know, in them creating the band’s first massive trough, they were giving me completely unexpected access to two of the most successful years at the club. I dusted down being dropped in the week of album release (classy) by watching Southend get promoted at Cardiff. I couldn’t have been happier.
We conveniently took about three years to get our feet back under the table and have a new album ready after that. You’re probably thinking, three years? Why so long? Well, don’t worry about the whys. For I was as happy as John Terry at a swingers party. In those years, I managed to go everywhere I wanted watching Southend. I missed 7 games in the league 1 title year, and not a single win was I not present for. I realise this probably isn’t that impressive for some people, but this was unprecedented for me. And then in the Championship season I went about ticking off ground after ground, watching us concede 4 goals here and 4 goals there. And I didn’t even care too much at the time because, well, we were always going to go down anyway, and I knew I was on borrowed time. I either had to be part of a successful band, or I had to move on and do something else. I stopped the bus, I got off, I had a great time, the players obliged and then when we started thinking we needed to play Matt Harrold every week, I thought it was time to get back on the bus.

I talk of the proverbial bus, though obviously, as a touring musician, I spend most of my time on an actual bus, with like-minded musical people. This is all well and good, but when it comes to football, my support network is about as stable as the Greek economy. Around 2008-09, we bucked our ideas up, sold some records, and in turn, got back on the actual bus. A lot. I have still lucked out and been at some memorable games since then. I made a last-minute-winning limo trip with the boys to Carlisle. I cried, lost my hat, and nearly wet myself in the away end at Chelsea. I even went to Aldershot twice this year. But I knew I would get dealt the hand I deserve one day, I really thought this time was it.

I am currently in the 6th week of an 8 week tour of America. I arrive back on the Friday before play off final day. This tour I have known about for some time. In fact I have known about it for long enough that when it was announced I was harbouring ridiculously selfish ambitions that we might secure promotion before the end of March, in which case, well, I wouldn’t have to miss anything much. Admittedly, this was in the middle of November where I was starting to think even Harry Crawford might even be able to turn water into wine. Obviously, we all know how things turned out in the end, and come my departure for these shores after the Cheltenham game I think even Houdini himself had gone down the pub, giving up on us being in the top 3. In my own pathetic self-indulgent world, I was fine. If we were going to go up, at least I would be there, having spent the last 3 or 4 months thinking I wouldn’t.

Imagine my suprise then, when I discovered fairly on in this tour that the Southend defence had had a little chat on the training ground and worked out that if we stop conceding goals, it gives us more of a chance of winning games. Imagine my suprise at watching live BBC text commentary (bad times), and discovering Bilel go back from zero to hero. Imagine my suprise when come this time last week, I was reading twitter feeds and facebook feeds from people claiming that Saturday could be the greatest day in 6 years. And after all the great days I have been lucky to witness, I finally have to follow the scores on a pathetic little screen, in the middle of nowhere and with no chance of being able to see the goals.
I had no idea how this scenario would make me feel. It’s never really happened to me before. The most important afternoon in the club’s recent history going on, whilst I am the other side of the world, in a van, at 9am, checking scores, surrounded by people who care more about playing Fruit Ninja on their devices than Southend going up. Well, I’ll tell how it made me feel. Absolutely awful. I had high emotions. It was definitely extremely tense, far more tense than being at the game itself, because at the game you get a sense of how things are panning out. It was even more awful when I discovered Crawley had scored because I had no-one. The biggest saviour of a bad afternoon, or even relegation is that you’re all in it together. It’s ok, there’s always someone to put an arm round you. I’d say at that time, 40 per cent of my van company were asleep. 40 per cent were watching TV, and the other 20 per cent was staring out of the window taking pictures. Then the selfish side of me kicked in, completely unexpectedly. After all the games I have seen this year (about 25-30) this is not how I want to see us go up. If it had happened that afternoon, people would be throwing down Jagerbombs like there was no tomorrow in Southend, whilst I would have closed my laptop and probably gone to sleep. Of course, I wanted to see us go up – I think we’ve all had enough of league 2 – but right there, the weirdness and pain if you like, of not being there was almost as unbearable as seeing Crawley snatch it away from us.
This is not a pity article, neither is it meant to be funny. It’s a snapshot of how not being at such an important game, or being anywhere near it, makes you feel. In the cold light of day, I was really disappointed we were sent to 4th place, but what still hasn’t left is this weird feeling about being happy that I’ll see us go up if we do get promoted. This feels straight-up selfish, but I think it’s just an example of how football can make you feel. It’s hard to explain, in the same way it’s hard to explain to a post-1999 Chelsea knuckle-dragger why you support Southend.
I’m happy sad, but mostly sad. And I’m desperately hoping that a trip to Wembley will rectify that, no laptop necessary.

Piers Hewitt


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