Result: Southend United 2-0 Rotherham United (EFL League One)
Venue: Roots Hall (Saturday 24th March 2018, 3pm)
A trip a fair while in the making, the penultimate weekend of the month saw me heading down to the seaside. I’d always wanted to visit Roots Hall – having been intrigued for ages by the small two-tiered stand at Southend’s home – and with league grounds taking more of a precedent this season, the question of “Well, why not?” came around and train tickets were duly purchased and, on a surprisingly decent morning, I was heading down to the capital once again prior to catching the connection over to Southend. Well, I thought it was going to be that simple, anyway….
Upon my arrival into Euston, I headed over towards Euston Square for the underground which would take me over to Fenchurch Street where I would catch said connection. However, here’s where things took a turn. The station was shut and it soon became apparent that this wasn’t a localised problem. No, both lines I could’ve used to get me over to Fenchurch Street were both off and so I had a real dilemma, which was only exacerbated when I wasn’t allowed to grab a train from St. Pancras as it “wasn’t valid”. No common sense sometimes.
After a moment of thinking my plans may have to change, I reckoned this could still be doable, I just had to play it smartly. So, having grabbed the underground to Bank, I jumped on the Docklands Railway service to Limehouse where I’d be able to intercept a slightly later train than I was planning on originally. The guard here took pity on my plight and allowed me to do so (the common sense was strong with this one) and so I was soon en route, well and truly, to Southend. Unfortunately, I still managed to bottle it, by panicking on my arrival at the station and jumping on the first train that pulled in showing Southend as its destination. It turned out this was the far slower stopping service and not the quicker Shoeburyness-bound one I planned on grabbing. Ah.
Eventually arriving a good half-hour later than I should’ve done, I quickly made my way to the front and embarked on a whistle-stop tour of two nearby pubs, both of which handily neighboured each other. My time constraints weren’t helped by the fact the first of the pair, The Borough Hotel, was a popular haunt for many on this early afternoon and so a wait of around five minutes or so was endured prior to me quickly downing my Dark Fruits (had to keep it on the easy side) and heading next door to the interesting-looking Papillon, complete with sailor/pirate figure out front. It was just as interesting inside too, with someone on the other end of a phone call being in trouble for not being entirely faithful. I wasn’t earwigging, I honestly couldn’t have not heard! Anyway, I politely decided I should leave before I heard too much and polished off my pint of Amstel before climbing up the steep incline of Pier Hill which, would you believe, is near the pier and jogging the short distance to the bus stop where, with time rapidly running out, I’d catch the 29 service up to Roots Hall for the princely sum of £1, which myself and a couple of others were allowed on for (the full single fare was only £1.60 anyway, as I discovered on the way back).
The bus driver was surprised at the amount of traffic outside the ground and quizzed me on how the fortunes of Rotherham were this season and if that was the cause. I answered they were doing ok, but I couldn’t imagine that the visitors, with all due respect, were the reason for drawing in the crowds. Anyway, we soon beat the lights and I was headed for the ground which I eventually reached with around ten minutes to kick-off. Having had no luck in finding a home-end cash sales point which looked as though you wouldn’t have to register, I instead plumped for the away end, as I’d basically entered that way as it was and so was the easiest option. After purchasing the programme from the hutch just outside the turnstile (£3) and paying the £24 entrance fee at the cash window, I was into Roots Hall. And what a ground it is!
A real classic (in my eyes anyway), Roots Hall is an (unsurprisingly) all-seater affair and consists of four stands, including the legendary (I may be biased) two-tiered stand. The Main Stand, to the left of the away end, is a one-tiered construction and houses executive boxes to the rear of it and the dugouts and tunnel too. Opposite stands the West Stand which dates from the 1950’s and has a pretty unique barrel-shaped roof, as does the North Stand that the decent number of travelling away fans were located in today. Both stands are linked by the corner of the ground between them having been filled in with more seating. The West Stand also plays host to the TV gantry, which doesn’t exactly give the feel of somewhere you’d want to be on a particularly windy day! At the far end from us, the two-tiered South Stand is the most modern part of the ground (dating from 1994) It also plays host to a clock on the roof which is named after the Shrimpers’ former player, director and chairman Frank Walton. The floodlights are a traditional quartet too, which are always a delight to see. That’s Roots Hall in a nutshell and this is Southend United in a little more detail…..!
Southend United Football Club was founded in 1906 and immediately joined the Southern League’s 2nd Division which the Shrimpers won on both of their first two campaigns, with only the latter giving the club promotion to the top division. Their first stint lasted for three seasons prior to relegation, before a Second Division runners-up placing in 1913 saw a second attempt at Division 1 embarked upon. They would continue to be a feature towards the lower-end of the table (as they were first time around) prior to the outbreak of World War One and the suspension of football.
1919 saw the club back in the Southern League and an eleventh placed finished in their first post-war season preceded a move up into the Football League ranks, becoming a founding member of the Third Division. Their first league campaign ended with a 17th placed finish after the division was regionalised into a North/South split before United’s debut season, with Southend, unsurprisingly, allocated a place in the Southern section. They would go on to remain here through to 1958, becoming a more regular feature in the top-half, recording a best finish of third on two occasions (1932 & 1950), whilst also winning a total of five Essex Professional Cups during this period (1950, ’53-’55 & 1957).
Upon the reorganisation of the Football League in 1958, the Division 3 was again nationalised and a Division 4 was created, with Southend taking a place in the former. However, despite recording a further three Essex Professional Cups during their stay (1962, ’65 & ’67), they rarely featured in the top-half of the league table and were relegated to Division 4 in 1966. It would take a whole six seasons for the club to return, achieving their first ever promotion in 1972 via a runners-up placing, whilst also lifting their ninth Essex Professional Cup and adding their tenth the following year in a successful defence of the trophy.
After a four-year stint back in Division 3, the Shrimpers were again relegated in 1976, but this time their return to the bottom-tier was only a brief one, the club taking two seasons to again return to Division 3 which again came with a second-placed finish. From here the club began something of a yo-yo existence, dropping down again in 1980 before immediately winning the Division 4 title the following year and spending the next three seasons in the third-tier, along with winning their first Essex Senior Cup in 1983, prior to again returning to the foot of the Football League’s system in 1984, after a season which, at one point, saw Southend’s squad numbering a total of ten players and Bobby Moore installed as the club’s chief executive and later manager. Another three-season spell would follow, with their first season seeing Southend just avoid the need to seek re-election with a 20th placed finish, before the club again found themselves back in the familiar surroundings of the Third Division, after finishing third in Division 4, but again they couldn’t cement their position here and were relegated once more to round off the 1988-’89 season, but only on goal-difference.
However things soon took a turn for the better and United secured promotion again in 1990, along with the Essex Thameside Trophy, prior to a first promotion to the Division 2 the next season as runners-up, which was again paired with silverware, this time in the form of the club’s second Essex Senior Cup. 1992 duly saw Southend record their highest league finish to date, with 12th in Division 2 – after a season which had seen the club top the table at New Year, only to fall away in the second half of the campaign and miss out on the chance to become a founding Premiership member.
Upon the creation of the Premiership, Division 2 became Division 1 and Southend would remain here for the next five seasons before dropping into the “new” Division 2 after finishing bottom of the table, though the season was again given some positivity, with a third Essex Senior Cup arriving at Roots Hall. The club certainly didn’t hold on to any kind of good vibrations this may have given as their stay in the Division 2 would last just a sole season before United were relegated again the following year, returning to Division 3 once more.
After a long period of instability in the manager’s post, Steve Tilson, brought a more stable feeling to the hot-seat and guided the club to their first national cup final in 2004, but the Football League Trophy would elude them as they were defeated 2-0 by Blackpool at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. This would prove a precursor to better times and 2005 duly saw United win promotion to the now-named ‘League One’ after a fourth placed finish and subsequent successful play-off campaign which saw the club overcome Lincoln City in the final back in Cardiff, despite having missed out on the Football League Trophy for a second time at the same stadium a short time earlier in the season. The following year then saw the club return to the second tier, Southend winning the League One title to achieve promotion to the Championship with the final appearance of Shaun Goater’s professional career being marked in style.
Unfortunately for the club, they’d only last the next year in the Championship before returning back to League One. Their returning seasons did see them reach the League One play-offs again, but this time they bowed out at the semi-final stage to Doncaster Rovers. 2008 would see the club’s penultimate silverware to date be attained in the form of their fourth Essex Senior Cup, before 2010 saw a downturn in form end with relegation to League 2 suffered and the departure of Tilson soon followed, the club having suffered from a 2009 transfer embargo and a brush with administration.
Paul Sturrock arrived as his replacement and, with Southend under another transfer embargo and a second brush with administration having just been had, managed to assemble a squad of just seventeen players initially, eventually finishing 13th. The next year saw the club return to the upper reaches of the table, leading the way for a time prior to eventually finishing up fourth and earning a spot in the play-offs. Again, the club fell at the semi-final hurdle, this time to Crewe Alexandra. A further transfer embargo was enforced upon the club before the 2012-’13 season which again meant a depleted squad was assembled, but Southend performed well despite this and looked on course for a play-off place once again for a while, before form fell away and Sturrock was dismissed just two weeks before the club’s third Football League Trophy appearance. Despite this, he was asked to manage the side in the coming final – an offer Sturrock refused – and again it was Crewe who handed out disappointment to those of a Shrimpers persuasion, running out 2-0 winners.
Phil Brown was next to take the reins and he also led Southend to a play-off place in 2015, with this one ending in success via a penalty shoot-out win over Wycombe Wanderers to achieve promotion back to League One. After finishing their first season back at the third-tier in 14th, last season saw the club finish up seventh, missing out on a place in the play-offs by a solitary point. They currently sit in a comfortable mid-table place in League One and look to be remaining there into next season too, with Chris Powell currently overseeing things on the field.
Not long after I’d joined the ranks of the travelling Millers faithful, the players were heading out of the tunnel and onto the Roots Hall pitch. Underway soon after, the first true chance of the game also brought the first goal. Seven minutes in, Simon Cox forced his way into the area and played the ball across goal for Stephen McLaughlin and the Irishman fired beyond Rotherham ‘keeper Lewis Price to give the hosts the dream start.
The remainder of the half saw a fairly turgid affair begin to take place, with Southend having the better of what chances there were. Dru Yearwood’s stinging drive from range was well tipped over by Price, before Marc-Antoine Fortuné had his appeals for a penalty rightly turned away, with the Millers stopper having just beaten the forward to the ball. This was then followed by Fortuné almost adding to the score-line around half-way through the half, his header having to be cleared off the line by David Ball.
However, having not really forced Mark Oxley in the home goal into any action of note, the visitors almost grabbed a leveller just before the break. The aforementioned Ball received the ball at the side of the box and flashed a cross-cum-shot across the goalmouth, but no-one of a pink-shirted persuasion was on hand to turn the ball over the line. So, shortly after I’d visited the food bar in what appeared to be a part-time classroom at some points for a rather sizable sausage roll (£3~), the whistle blew to signal half-time and I hoped the second half would be an improvement.
It began well enough with Rotherham again going close when Richie Towell’s low shot was parried by Oxley into the path of the onrushing Jerry Yates. However, Yates couldn’t quite sort his feet out to unleash an effort, falling over instead and the chance was gone.
From then on, the game worsened from a neutral viewpoint as Rotherham had the majority of the play but did almost nothing with it and, thusly, this allowed Southend the chance to net the crucial second goal and secure the three points. And they did just that with ten minutes left on the clock when a long punt up-field by Oxley was latched onto by Simon Cox, the striker beating Semi Ajayi – which summed up his below-par performance on the day – and smartly firing past Price and into the near corner before celebrating with some relief! Two-nil to the hosts and that looked to be game, set and match.
Indeed it was, though it didn’t come without a late scare or two. Indeed, this second seemed to awaken the play-off chasing visitors and only in the last five minutes did they ever look like they’d manage to breach the Southend defences. An initial chance was cleared off the line, Towell’s deep cross bounced back off the top of the crossbar and Ajayi also saw a well-struck shot cleared on the post by Michael Timlin as Chris Powell’s side ensured a clean sheet would go along with a fine performance. Full-Time arrived shortly afterwards and a quick exit to the bus stop outside ensured I could catch the nicely timed five-to-five service back to the town centre where I headed for a very, very swift Hooch in the Last Post Wetherspoons directly opposite the station prior to heading for the faster service back into London.
The journey was complete without a hitch and, after being re-directed around a film set and getting slightly lost in the poorly-signposted Bank station while trying to locate the Northern Line (the arrow had been painted out for some reason), I eventually got back into Euston with time in hand for a final drink in the bastion that is the Doric Arch before heading for the train back to Manchester. Again, no problems were encountered on the return leg and so ends another lengthy trip.
All in all the day had been a bit of a pain, but at least I’d got around to visiting Roots Hall. As I alluded to earlier, the ground is a brilliant, more traditional place with a real throwback feeling. Southend itself seemed ok from the little I saw of it in my fleeting visit and all else went well enough, so no real complaints though the game wasn’t the greatest I’ve seen. But so is this game. Onto the Easter weekend then, starting with a trip to South Wales….
Value For Money: 5