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B team plan not even good enough for the reserves

7 May

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.


Friday nights and the gates are low?

30 Jan

Roots Hall floodlight

Friday night games are popular – but how popular?

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.
Table correct as of November 2013

Table correct as of November 2013

Using the excellent Southend United Database (, 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.
Andrew Roach

Looking back – A rare happy memory of Hull

23 Jan

THE 2002/03 season can be grouped in with many in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before the arrival of Steve Tilson, as utterly forgettable. Fortunately I was away at university in Stoke for much of it, although I remember still being as excited at going to Roots Hall to watch the likes of Barrington Belgrave and Steven Clark as I always was, which is a bit concerning.
My university always used to have a very long Christmas break, so despite our home clash with Hull coming in early February, I was still back in Essex and it was to be my last match before returning to Staffordshire. I do remember sitting in the East Stand with my mate and regular travelling companion Si, whose recent marriage and mortgage keep him away from Roots Hall more often than not these days.
Blues, under the stewardship of Rob Newman, were utterly mid-table at the time and our opponents had been tipped for great things at the start of the season – I remember travelling to the opening game at Boothferry Park when 10,000 fans had been in attendance only for Tes Bramble to score a deflected late equaliser to deflate all but the 400 or so joyous souls at the old “supermarket end”. However, the Tigers had failed to live up to their early-season hype, despite replacing the underachieving Jan Molby with Peter Taylor and moving into the KC Stadium over Christmas.
After 22 minutes, one of the leading lights of that Southend side, Jay Smith, fired a terrific shot into the top corner to give us the lead. Mark Rawle added a second goal on 41 minutes, and on the stroke of half time loanee Danny Marney was felled in the box, and Smith again stepped up in front of the travelling Tigers to rub salt into the wound.
The records show that Tes Bramble was sent off for us in first-half stoppage time. My memory is of him getting into a tangle with Damien Delaney, although that could well not be the case. A trawl through Youtube has failed to yield anything from this fixture, although you can “enjoy” clips of Hull winning at Roots Hall in successive seasons in the late 1990s – both thoroughly miserable occasions as I remember.
Despite being down to 10 men and their opponents featuring the likes of Jamie Forrester, Stuart Elliot and Ryan Williams in their line-up, Southend saw the game out comfortably and it is one of the more memorable results from this most mediocre of seasons. Hull failed to get out of the bottom division on this occasion, but the following season they finally succeeded, finishing second and waving goodbye to the fourth division for the last time. It seems surreal to see them so far ahead of us in the pyramid – indeed the sides were to meet again in the Championship in 2006/2007 – but they were a side we rarely seemed to beat at home or away in those bottom tier days, despite us often finishing higher in the table.
The Phil Brown factor and Hull’s lofty status make this a tasty one for the media this weekend, but back in 2002/03, the only people that really gave a shit about this fixture were the hardy 4,500 or so inside Roots Hall.

Roy McDonough interview

29 Nov

CULT hero Roy McDonough returned to England from Spain earlier this season to talk about his book, Red Card Roy. All At Sea took the opportunity to catch up with him and get the inside track on his time at Blues.

You’re probably the only player revered in both north and south Essex. How does that feel?
It’s great. People call you a legend and the word sometimes is used quite cheaply. People say ‘you’re a Southend United and Colchester United legend’ which, as a working player is a great compliment.
I had great years at Southend, but I will be remembered most in Essex for taking Colchester to Wembley and out of the Vauxhall Conference so as a player manager, that’s also a big thing for me. But I’ve got great memories of both clubs and if they want to call me a legend, feel free.

What’s your best memory of your time at Southend? We had some big games. We had some promotions but, for me, obviously Gascoigne, Lineker and the Tottenham game. I pulled my party piece and got sent off with three minutes to go for good measure. I terrorised the back four that night. Terry Venables said to the reserve coach, “crikey, your mate is a handful isn’t he?”. Which was a compliment from Mr Venables.
That was a great night and we actually won the game. I think I won the crowd over, which was a big thing for me because there were people who didn’t particularly like me.
At Southend, I met many great players and great people. Bobby Moore – unbelievable. Vic Jobson kept the club afloat for ten years and did a magnificent job. I met some great lads and great players. That’s my fondest memory, because I played for some clubs I didn’t give a monkey’s for.

Who were the biggest drinkers at Roots Hall back in your day? Big drinkers were David Martin – Paul Roberts used to try and hang in there and would struggle. Jim Stannard was a big drinker, our drinking squad was shocking but the team we had with the Dave Martins, the Paul Clarks, myself, Crownie (David Crown), was great.
Crownie was great fun, he’d try and stick in there with you but he’d have eight or nine pints and start getting giggly, which was great for us because we could have a laugh at his expense. He also tried to stay with the big boys.
Me and Dave Martin were two of the big drinkers, 20 pints plus. (reference to the new David Martin); Is there another one now? Nah, there’s only one Davey Martin, that’s for sure.

Is it true you were lined up to be the face of Red Card energy drink but it fell through? Yes. Red Card was a Britvic drink and we launched it at Chelmsford where I was manager at the time. Wayne Hemmingway, I had photos with him in all the national papers and Chelmsford went from claret to red for the first time ever.
But that didn’t last and it went pear-shaped. The unfortunate thing was, it went up on all billboards in Essex and London, but on the day of the photoshoot, I was working away, which was a bit of a shame.

Did any managers try and tame you? Webby did, twice he put me on the transfer list. He once threatened me in the office. Because me and Dave Webb for three years didn’t see eye to eye. The sole reason being I met him at Bournemouth but signed for Chelsea. And he held a grudge. I didn’t shake hands on the deal to go to Bournemouth. I was out of contract at Walsall, but it was a no brainer for a 21-year-old kid. Chelsea or Bournemouth? I went to Chelsea.
But he held that grudge when he came here as a manager, for a couple of years. We used to fight like cat and dog on the training ground. Players being players, in five-a-sides, when Dave Webb was near me, would purposely roll balls short of me so Webby could boot me, cos they wanted me to beat him up. And to be fair it would have been a good fight, I think.
But it never got that far, apart from when I split his eye. One Friday morning, with an elbow. I think he had three or four stitches. It was the last 20 minutes of the five-a-side. I was the centre forward of the first team, for his team the next day – the only one in the building who could do the job I did – and he was coming at me kung-fu style. He lost the plot. But I was clever enough and smart enough to just keep out of his way. That could have got bloody, quite easily.
But in the end Dave Webb let me go to Colchester, and there was mutual respect I think. Because he knew when I played I did my best.
He made me captain at Burnley once. I got sent off after 19 minutes, what a bummer. I was dead chuffed to be made captain of SUFC up at Burnley, playing centre half. That one kippered me. It was the worst sending off of my life. I could have trod all over the bloke’s (Roger Eli) head and I purposefully avoided his head by about an inch. I just stamped, though, to show I could have smashed his face in, and he rolled round so I trod on his face. I wish I had have done. So I got a red card and that was my one and only time as a captain.

Do you keep an eye out for Southend’s results? Always. You know the old teleprinter – when I’ve come off the beach, it’s about 40 degrees, I sit there with a can of beer watching all the results come through. I look out for SUFC, Colchester – I still check Birmingham, because that was my first club – and then the last one is Manchester United.

Did you support Birmingham, growing up? Not really. I was at Aston Villa at a kid and obviously as a schoolboy, that was where my career was going to start so I was a bit of a Villa fan I suppose. But when you play for a club your allegiances change. You’ve got the shirt, you’re now a professional footballer at that club, which is a great position to be in, so you forget about supporting a club.

People say your management career didn’t work out because you were too confrontational, what would you say to that? Bit harsh! You say confrontational but I called a spade a spade. Being a player manager, we weren’t a massive club at Colchester. We got out of the Conference, got back into the Football League and were very close to the playoffs. Bearing in mind I couldn’t play in eight games because I got sent off twice – I got a letter from the board of directors saying if it happens again, they’d have to sack me. So I missed eight games and I’m telling you, if I’d have played four of them games we’d have got the points to get in the playoff, when I had half a squad from the Conference.
After games I’d go to the boardroom because you were expected to. I’d have half a lager, order a bottle of K cider – the strongest drink possible in front of the directors and go and drink with my players because they were my team – they were the people supporting me.
At Colchester, the board of directors gave me no support. They were f**king useless. So I battled against that. Why do you want to stand in a boardroom of directors? What you do is, if you’re clever, you let on “I’m a player manager, I’ve not got any help, I’ve a part-time assistant, I’m running the club on my own, coaching on my own, playing as well.” And people go, “Blimey, he must be doing a good job.” So when I got the sack then maybe someone else would think “let’s give him a go.”
The one thing they got from me was the truth. I was honest. You’d like to think that would stand you in good stead, but it doesn’t.
You’re originally from the Midlands, but you spent most of your career in Essex. Why was that?
I left home to go to Chelsea, it was a massive wrench for me, but of course you couldn’t turn down a move there when you’re out of contract at Walsall and fighting with the manager.
That didn’t work out, and it was then the start of the merry-go-round. Colchester, Southend, Exeter, Cambridge, Southend, Colchester. I enjoyed it in Essex, I like it there.

What do you make of the Only Way Is Essex? I don’t mind a couple of the girls, to be fair. I’d give them a few minutes of my time. It’s nonsense though and I personally don’t think it does Essex a lot of favours. If they did it a bit more tongue in cheek, maybe, but I think they started it for a giggle and now they’ve started to take themselves seriously. That’s the worst thing you can do.

What would you change about football? The money’s crippled it at the top level. Our Premier League is naïve. English fans demand action. Let’s get the ball into the box, let’s see a header at goal or a flying volley at goal. Let’s make the keeper make a save, let’s learn to defend corners and set-pieces because we always launch it into the box. But if you go to the top level – the Spanish level – it’s unbelievable. They play football without a striker. That is off another planet for me. That is the model. It’s similar to a Man Utd system – they pass the ball well, Man Utd – but in Spain, they’ve taken it to another level. Everyone should work towards that.
Our fans demand action, but you give the ball to Spain, you’ll not see it for ten minutes. They don’t give the frigging thing away. So we’ll lump into the box from 70 yards hoping someone wins a header, someone gets on the end of it. Or maybe, Pique gets it, dribbles it past for, rolls it to Iniesta who goes to Xavi, goes to David Villa, and all of a sudden, you haven’t seen the ball for ten minutes.
We’re naïve.

Who’s the hardest player you ever played with or against? With, certainly over my career, David Martin. I call them warriors. Roy Keane on his day, Graeme Souness. They were warriors. Against, Tony Adams and Steve Bruce were no nonsense, proper centre halves. They never said a word, you could headbutt them, tread on them, you could set fire to them probably and they still would never say a word because they were there to win the next ball. But David Martin, honestly, was legendary. Tough as old boots. I smashed Tony Adams right on the bugle. It hurt my arm, that’s how much I caught him. He never said a word. Not a dickie bird. He got me back, and we laughed about it afterwards because he launched me onto the track. So I went, “fair play, you can have that one back”.

Interview by Jamie ForsythRoy McDonough’s autobiography, Red Card Roy, is available now in all good bookshops.

Euro 2012: Panorama paranoia

29 May

AAS editor Jamie Forsyth is travelling to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, and will be providing a series of blogs from the tournament. He’s starting early with a look at the reaction provoked by Monday night’s Panorama special, Stadiums of Hate, which looked into the reception foreign fans may get from supporters of the host nations.

MASS hysteria greeted the Panorama documentary into the violent, right-wing thugs lying in wait for England’s supporters during next month’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
In truth, the film did provide some disturbing moments, but for the most part, did not tell seasoned, educated football supporters anything they did not know. We could all have tuned into Danny Dyer’s Real Football Factories five years ago and seen exactly the same thing, except accompanied by some hammed-up cock-er-ney phrases like “proper nawty” and “I’m well out of my manor” instead of “Bloody hell, bloody hell I’m getting out of here”, Chris Rogers’ entirely understandable but charmingly British reaction to a fight occurring in the row of seats behind him at a Metalist Kharkiv game. Not the environment a former Newsround presenter thrives in, that.
For example, we are aware that Poland and Ukraine, along with much of Eastern Europe, a largely homogenous region where whites make up the vast majority of the population, has a section of society with right-wing views. We know there is a problem in some matches with violence between rival gangs. We did not need a BBC documentary two weeks before the finals to tell us this.
What Panorama failed to consider was that violence in domestic league matches does not directly correlate with the risk of violence in one of the most prestigious competitions on Earth.
Firstly, the Ultras that are striking such fear into the hearts of Monday night’s viewers, will be priced out of the game. It is sad to use the term “priced out”, speaking as we do about a working class sport. But the football fan has long since been a secondary consideration for the likes of Blatter and Platini as they look to dedicate great swathes of stadia to corporate tickets and the “football family”. Those tickets that are left, whilst reduced in price to make them “accessible” to the Ukrainian and Polish public, are still a minimum of 30Euros for a group game, rising higher for the knockout stages. We could compare this “pricing out” of troublesome groups to the English game. Just because hooligans and racists cannot afford a ticket to Premier League fixtures, does not mean they do not exist in our society. I know they do because I bumped into a coachload of EDL activists at a service station on my way to an away game at Morecambe in February. They were not going to a football match, but they must have been going somewhere.
Even if some do scrimp and save for a ticket, the demand for seats and the way tickets are sold by UEFA will mean the ultras cannot just gather together in a section of the stadium of their choosing to demonstrate their unpleasant displays and song repertoire. Games in the Polish and Ukrainian top leagues are rarely sold out and indeed clubs often encourage the Ultras, paying for their travel or for their colourful displays – as they are the die-hard fans of the club and therefore the lifeblood. So inside the stadium, the level of danger will be no more than a top flight game in England.
Having been to a game in Poland (at one of the clubs featured in Panorama, Wisla Krakow), I unintentionally ended up in the stand with the Ultras due to confusion with the language at the ticket office. It was an unnerving experience, but there seemed to be no racist chanting directed at the black players on show (there were a couple). There were no Nazi salutes or fights, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, myself included.
Outside the stadium, of course there will always be a risk that you could wander into the wrong place at the wrong time. As could any visitor to London, where far more violent crime occurs than in any of the host cities of Euro 2012, during the Olympic games. Isolated incidents may happen but the police and tournament organisers will know the eyes of Europe is on them, and waiting for them to slip up. Competence by the authorities did not come exactly shine through in Panorama, but at least we should be reassured they are making an extra special effort for this tournament – even if that is of little comfort to the group of Indian students they spectacularly failed to protect during the documentary.
Panorama failed to showcase any of the benefits of hosting the tournament in Poland and Ukraine. The fantastic stadiums, many built from scratch for the event, the unique experience of travelling to countries that are not on the usual tourist trail, cheap and high quality beer (the awful UK staples Fosters and Carling will be blissfully absent although Carlsberg is an official sponsor so there may be no getting away from that), not to mention the beautiful women.
There is no getting away from the fact both countries have problems with racism and anti-Semitism, but for Sol Campbell to advise black and Asian fans they may be returning in a coffin on the strength of a documentary that clearly worked to a negative agenda is rash and over the top. Sol, you are deserving of respect as a great defender and former England captain but you are not the Foreign Office (which does advise supporters from ethnic minorities to take extra care – it does not tell them not to travel).
Let’s not forget the overwhelming population of both these countries are friendly and welcoming. They love football and see the tournament as a fantastic opportunity to provide infrastructure and new facilities in countries that arguably need them more than Western nations. Having visited both countries, my feeling is the biggest problems faced by England fans will be border queues if travelling into the Ukraine from Poland, trying to buy a train ticket at a station in the Ukraine (it’s a real experience if you speak no Russian or Ukrainian), possible hot water shortages in some of the hostels that are springing up for the tournament, or being ripped off by unscrupulous taxi drivers looking to make a quick buck from the “rich” Westerners. None of which are especially likely to end up with you returning to Blighty in a coffin. I’ve got my tickets, the flights are booked and I’m still raring to go, no matter what the BBC says.

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

A postcard from India

29 Feb

Ed Beavan tells of his travails of following the Blues in the subcontinent after his recent move to India
Some of you may know that in January I made quite a few significant life changes. Firstly I married the lovely Kirsten, and secondly I moved to the foothills of the Himalayas to work at Woodstock School, a leading international Christian boarding school in northern India, where my wife grew up.
As I write there are monkeys frolicking around on the roof while passing cars blare their horns as they career along the mountain road which is my new walk to work. It sure beats the Tube for a commute.
But how has this impacted on my ability to follow my beloved Shrimpers, and football in general, I hear you cry?
Well actually in terms of the Premier League, I now have football on tap. On Saturdays the early kick off is shown, then two 3 o’clock games simultaneously, and then the late game. Both Sunday games are also shown. FA Cup and League Cup matches are shown on a film channel (don’t ask me why). Added to this there is live Bundesleiga, Serie A, and SPL, so you could actually not leave the house all weekend watching wall-to-wall footy. The other day I found myself watching Motherwell v Dundee United, a spectacle so dull even the commentator sounded bored, although it was nice to see former Blues’ left back Steven Hammell still going strong.
Interestingly football is starting to make some headway in India. Although it will be difficult to dislodge cricket as the number one sport, an Indian Premier Soccer League, a franchised-based league similar to the Indian Premier Leaguge in cricket, was recently launched with an auction including Robert Pires, Robbie Fowler, Hernan Crespo and Jay-Jay Okacha.
Here at the school, English football is very popular, and predictably all the kids support Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal. The other day I chatted to a kid in a Chelsea top, asking him about his thoughts on their season, to which he replied, “Oh I support Man Utd now, because they’re better this year”. I feel I need to give an assembly on the joys of supporting the underdog and the virtue of loyalty (and that 100 per cent win record we have against United!).
As for following Southend, well obviously the internet is a lifeline helping me keep constantly in touch. Because of the time difference (we are five and a half hours ahead), I frequently have to excuse myself at dinner parties on Saturday night to go and check the score from Roots Hall. Midweek results I check first thing at my desk on a Wednesday, and I can still waste plenty of time on all the usual Shrimpers-related forums and websites. I can also listen to FiveLive online (but not BBC Essex). So all in all it’s not too arduous.
The only downside is not being able to see our goals, as the BBC website and iplayer do not have the rights to show Football League goals here, which is a real shame. And of course I miss the banter of being at a game, the camaraderie of the away trips with the AAS crew, and the joy of being at Roots Hall, in all its dilapidated charm.
So for now my quest to get to the 92 league grounds is on hold, and it is with bated breath from afar this sole Shrimper in India (are there any more? If so please get in touch) is eagerly keeping tabs on our run in. Here’s hoping we can clinch promotion, preferably avoiding the play offs.
And if you want to come spread the good word of the Shrimpers to India, please come and visit this fascinating land of curry, cricket and karma. Check out the school website and see you soon!

All At Sea goes to Scotland – July 2011

27 Oct

Is this fun? Is it?

SOME of you will remember, if you are inclined to ever watch the awful television channel Bravo, a programme called Football’s Hardest Away Days.
This show followed hardcore football fans on trips that were either dicey, illadvised,
or just plain arduous. The latter was certainly the case when they followed a Luton-based East Fife fan, and the rigmarole he faced to make it to home games. During the show they
showed the New Bayview ground, practically on the North Sea shore, with a hulking
great disused coal power station overlooking one side of the ground. Immediately, I adopted them as my Scottish team of choice. So when the opportunity to watch Southend up there in a four-team tournament came up, I wasn’t going to pass it up.
Not all fans welcomed the opportunity for a trip north of the border. The Shrimpers Trust agreed to put up £10,000 following a plea by the club. Personally I think this is exactly the sort of thing the Trust should be doing, but a few members voiced disapproval, so a ballot was taken which produced a convincing result for the “Yes” camp. Trains and accommodation in Edinburgh were booked before you could say haggis.
Having arrived on the Friday night and spent the evening in the capital chewing the fat with the Echo reporter Chris Phillips, I set off the following morning to get to Methil in plenty of time for the 1pm kick off.
Methil is, to put it politely, a fucking dump. Cut off from road and rail, the
journey from civilisation (Kirkcaldy) is a mere eight miles, but the bus takes 40 minutes (or an hour if you happen to get the wrong one or want a tour of the various estates of the Levenmouth area).
Industry declined in the 60s and nothing really took its place. Left now are grotty and buildings defended by ugly shutters and barbed wire, hideous tower blocks, some of which have had windows put in by the local yobs, and pubs where it looks a very bad idea to order a pint in an English accent. As a bit of a disaster tourist (I’ve been to Chernobyl), this only added to the appeal of this tournament.
By the time I arrived in Leven – a five minute walk from the ground – it was about 11.30am so I had a quick look around the town centre. Considering it was a Saturday morning there weren’t many people about, the place had an eerie feel to it. The weather was “changeable” so after a bracing walk on the grotty seafront, it seemed a good idea to get into the ground and chat to some fellow Shrimpers. Sadly, the power station had been demolished in April so we missed out on that bizarre backdrop to the action.
The first game saw a scoreless draw between the hosts East Fife and Raith Rovers, which the hosts won on penalties, much to their delight. The clubs aren’t far apart (Raith play their games in Kirkcaldy) but I was told by the reporter for their local paper that most of the Fifer’s venom is reserved for Cowdenbeath. Sadly, the New Bayview ground holds a mere 2,000 supporters. In the old days, the club played at a foursided ground similar to many seen in the lower leagues of England, and enjoyed attendances of around 8-10,000. But they apparently took the cash and moved to this small stadium, seemingly consigning themselves to the lower leagues of Scottish football forever.
After a short break, Blues took to the field in their voltage cherry outfit to play against Dundee, the biggest of the three clubs we were competing against and probably favourites. However, it was well against the run of play that they took the lead when a lapse from Gilbert down the Blues left allowed their winger to square the ball into the six yard box for an easy tap in for the Dundee number 11.
Blues responded well and had several good chances to equalise but could not put the ball in the net. Their punishment was to concede a second late on when a mix-up between Rohan Ricketts and Sean Clohessy on the left once again led to a ball being squared across the box for an easy finish. After the game a few of us headed back to Kirkcaldy, where we went in search of a pub. The streets were deserted, but on stumbling upon a Wetherspoons, we soon realised why – this being Scotland, they
were all in the boozer. We then had a cracking curry in a nearby restaurant
before I had to head back on the last train back to Edinburgh. In hindsight, Kirkcaldy would have been a more sensible base.
Having lost the first game, it meant Southend started off the second day against Raith in the third place playoff.
This was a considerably weaker Southend side and the game was a lot more even,
but still the Shrimpers were poor in front of goal, with Asante and Crawford failing to impress as a partnership. Neil Harris made a difference and we had a few chances when he came on in the second half, but the game finished goalless and much to fans annoyance, both teams opted against penalties. This was a bit of a poor show as Blues fans had shelled out a lot of money and seen very little in the way of entertainment.
A long journey back began straight after the final whistle. I had been due to get the
night bus back from Edinburgh and go straight to work in the morning. However,
it dawned on me how hideous this would be so with Blues finishing early enough to
catch a train, I chose to do just that. The champions were the underdogs East Fife,
the lowest ranked side, who beat Dundee 1-0 in the final, I found out later.
Southend were arguably favourites and the best side judging by the Dundee game, but technically finished last. Bah.
Still, I expect I can speak for the majority if not all of the fans that travelled up by
saying it was a cracking weekend. The football wasn’t great, but Blues fans know better than to rely on that. I had never been to Scotland before and it certainly beat the usual fairly dull trips to Essex satellite towns for our pre-season campaign.
How about somewhere a bit hotter next year though, eh?

League Two pre-season predictions

4 Aug

1 Crawley Town
2 Bristol Rovers
3 Shrewsbury Town
4 Oxford United
5 Northampton Town
6 Southend United
7 Gillingham
8 Accrington Stanley
9 Port Vale
10 Bradford City
11 Barnet
12 Rotherham United
13 Hereford United
14 Torquay United
15 Crewe Alexandra
16 Swindon Town
17 Aldershot
18 Dagenham & Redbridge
19 Burton Albion
20 AFC Wimbledon
21 Plymouth Argyle
22 Morecambe
23 Cheltenham Town
24 Macclesfield Town

Happy St Angell’s day

7 Apr

WITH all the doom and gloom around Roots Hall at the moment, it’s time we enjoyed a great moment from our past.
18 years ago this night, Stan Collymore burst down the left and put in a low cross for Brett Angell to slam the ball into the roof of the west ham net.
The game finished 1-0 and sparked a run of form that would see Blues escape from relegation on the last day of the campaign with a 2-1 win over Luton Town.
The crowd at Roots Hall that night was 12,813, a significant increase on two weeks earlier when 3,840 had seen us draw 3-3 with Millwall.