LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Southend United

Stan to save Shrimpers as Roots Hall uproot on hold

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

If any club is in a complete mess, it’s Southend United. Drowning in lagoons of debt, often unable to pay staff, dangerously incapable of satisfying the taxman, this once lively club on the seaside coast of Essex is facing disaster. Two relegations in two seasons have hardly helped, the Shrimpers falling out of the Football League for the first time in 101 years in 2021.

Back in early 1992, under former Chelsea star David Webb, Southend topped the old Second Division, just as the Premier League was being launched. Promotion didn’t happen, Webb left and the club fell back into lower-tier football underscored by financial mishap.

A move from the perennial home of Roots Hall to a new-build near the training ground at Fossetts Farm has long been mooted but not yet occurred.

Blue Boar/Peterjon Cresswell

If it were to happen, it would take club away from its place of birth, the Blue Boar pub by Roots Hall. Founded there in 1906, Southend United were forced to move in 1919 after the war had commandeered their ground for essential cultivation.

Relocation to the seaside Kursaal entertainment complex coincided with the formation of the Third Division, comprised of sides from the Southern League Southend had joined from the off.

A decade later, the club moved again, to the greyhound track of Southend Stadium, opened in 1933. Roots Hall, though, remained United’s spiritual home. After the war, as supporters raised funds to rebuild their old ground, Southend’s form improved thanks to mercurial inside-forward Irish international Jimmy McAlinden and army fitness instructor Sandy Anderson, a Scot at full-back.

Revamped from a land-fill site, the new Roots Hall then shipped water as badly as United’s defence, the club finishing ever further down the Third Division table. Relegation came in 1966.

Shrimpers Bar/Peterjon Cresswell

Two inspired signings brought a smile back to the club: Billy Best, a tricky and prolific Scots forward, partnered by the imposing figure of Bill Garner. Southend gained promotion in 1972.

A narrow home defeat by high-flying Chelsea in the League Cup showed Garner at his bullish best and the opposition snapped him up. A year later, home-grown prospect Peter Taylor went to Crystal Palace, for another attractive fee.

Relegated, then promoted with goals from Northern Ireland international Derek Spence, then relegated, Southend bounced between third and fourth tiers as debts piled up. Butcher-cum-music promoter Anton Johnson, the man who brought Fleetwood Mac to Thurrock, bought the cash-strapped club then persuaded (how?) Bobby Moore to leave America for Roots Hall.

Nearly losing their league status entirely, Southend played to awfully low crowds until the explosive arrival of bargain-basement quicksilver striker Richard Cadette, whose four goals against previous team Orient must be some kind of record for any club debut.

Shrimpers Bar/Peterjon Cresswell

Helping United gain promotion in 1987, Cadette was sold and the club slid back. An unexpected revival was driven by Moore’s initial replacement, David Webb. Galvanising a relegated side, Webb garnered popular support with a 3-2 home-leg win over Spurs in the League Cup, then won promotion in his first full season.

For his second, he brought in striker Brett Angell and flankman Chris Powell. It worked. Consecutive promotions saw the club reach the second flight for the first time. Then thrive, despite the Webb’s surprise departure in the spring of 1992.

The next season, spectacular goals from Stan Collymore kept United afloat, his emotional farewell in his relegation-saving last game against Luton living long in the memory. Former jailbird Ricky Otto became the next Roots Hall hero, again short-lived, before player-manager Ronnie Whelan spent big to achieve little but relegation – repeated under Alvin Martin in 1998.

It was time, again, for Webb but the playing talent at his disposal was scant, his stay short. In his coaching team was dedicated professional Steve Tilson, a local boy who had sparkled in Southend’s midfield during Webb’s previous sojourn.

Southend United tickets/Peterjon Cresswell

Tilson matched Webb’s achievement of back-to-back promotions, goals from later Welsh international forward Freddy Eastwood the vital factor. His extra-time opener in the 2005 League Two play-off final with Lincoln was all but overshadowed by a storming run and strike from full back Duncan Jupp. Quite incredibly, Tilson’s United then went and won League One outright as champions, popular Bermudian international Shaun Goater superb in a farewell-season cameo.

The Championship proved a step too far, though 2006-07 also saw Eastwood’s 30-yard free-kick at Old Trafford to beat Manchester United in the League Cup. Spurs were then taken to the full 120 minutes in the next round.

With Eastwood sold to Wolves, Tilson’s later seasons were marked by poor league form and financial upheaval, a last-minute headed equaliser by Peter Clarke at Stamford Bridge a rare highlight of cup magic. Clarke, too, was then sold.

Paul Sturrock worked near miracles with no budget and a skeleton staff, his reward the sack in 2013. Incoming Phil Brown then took United to the League Two play-offs two seasons running, winning through to League One with two dramatic games, an extra-time win over Stevenage followed by an extraordinary Wembley final against Wycombe. Trailing to an extra-time deflection, Southend equalised through Joe Pigott on 120 minutes. Goalkeeper Daniel Bentley, whose 11-game unbeaten run had set a club record in the regular season, then pushed Wycombe’s decisive shoot-out penalty onto a post.

Roots Hall/Peterjon Cresswell

After the delirium had subsided, Brown led Southend to within a point of the League One play-offs in 2016-17 before moving on. United, meanwhile, sank to new depths, a litany of winding-up orders, unpaid salaries and relegations. Rock-bottom for much of the horrendous 2020-21 campaign, Southend somehow persuaded Phil Brown to return in April, his task nigh on impossible. Local rivals Colchester then hammered the first nail in the coffin shut with a 2-0 derby win.

Their beloved club having lost its League status, fans turned on long-term owner Ron Martin as former player Stan Collymore offered to buy him out. Brown stayed on as manager but a dreadful start to life in the National League led many to doubt the club’s survival. Collymore was then given an advisory role as another old boy, former Ireland U-21 international Kevin Maher, stepped in as manager.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Quaint and quirky to the point of shabby, Roots Hall looks like a football ground from a previous era. Although all-seated, with a capacity of 12,400, its features and floodlights echo the 1970s, the main East Stand and home South Stand end adding a slight touch of modernity – from the 1990s. The old-school clock on the South Stand, towered over by residential blocks, doesn’t look out of place.

The Shrimpers Bar, its corridor lined with a mural of old programmes, is equally archaic, but in a homely way. Allocated the North Stand (through gates 13-16), away fans are usually welcome for a pint.

With the South Stand half-given over to families, the loudest of Southend’s vocal element is found in the larger West Stand.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

From London, the easiest way to Roots Hall is the train from Liverpool Street to Prittlewell. From there, turn right at the bridge over the tracks, past The Railway pub, to the junction with Victoria Avenue. Across the road is the Blue Boar, to the right the ground. Allow 8-10mins.

If you’re in Southend, buses head up from Southend Travel Centre near Southend Central station, and run up Victoria Avenue from the Interchange at Southend Victoria. They then call at the Blue Boar, two stops from Victoria, actually right by the ground and not the pub if coming from town. The most frequent are Arriva buses 9 and 29 (every 12-20mins Mon-Sat, every 30mins-1hr Sun). Arriva buses 7 and 8 serve the same route less frequently.

First Group buses 20, 21 and 21B also call at the Southend Travel Centre before heading along Victoria Avenue between the Victoria Interchange and the Blue Boar, to a similar schedule.

The sat nav code for Roots Hall is SS2 6NQ. There is no parking at the stadium. The club recommends you use the car park (£5) at Southend High School for Boys on Prittlewell Chase (SS0 0RD), a 10min walk to the ground. Another option is the Civic Centre on Victoria Avenue/Carnarvon Road (SS2 6LR), halfway between Southend Victoria station and Roots Hall. Charges are £1/hr, free after 6pm. It’s a one-stop hop on the bus or a 7-8min walk to the ground.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

The ticket office (Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm, match-day Sat 10am-kick-off & 30mins after final whistle) is part of the club shop at the main entrance to Roots Hall, 50 yards from the Spread Eagle pub.

There are also telephone bookings on (UK only) 08444 770 077 and online. The collection point on match days is where the North and East Stands meet, otherwise, from the Blues Box Office at the shop. Bring your booking reference number.

Unless there’s it’s a bank-holiday fixture, availability is not an issue. There are cash-only sales for visiting fans by the away entrance.

Prices are set at £18 across the ground, £13 for over-60s and 17-22s, £8 for 9-16s and £3 for under-8s. A £2 supplement is charged for match-day purchases in every category, including children’s.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

At the gates of the main entrance, the club shop (Mon-Fri 9.30am-5pm, match-day Sat 10am-3pm) stocks the home, away and third-choice kits, all with mesmeric wavy patterns down the arms. The first-choice is dark blue with white-and-blue sleeves, change strip white with white-and-blue, alternative yellow with blue.

Otherwise, SUFC hardly stretch the brand with amazing merchandise, and you won’t find a retro top or quirky coffee mug anywhere. Logically, if the club has struggled to pay staff and the taxman, suppliers are way down the priority list.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Arriving into Prittlewell station, The Railway is an old Southend haunt, done out in signed shirts and mod iconography, with a pool table at one end.

At the junction with Victoria Avenue, the Blue Boar, while being the very site where Southend United were formed (note the plaque outside), welcomes neutrals and away fans not in colours. It’s a lively local, with sport on TV and occasional live music.

Over the crossing, the Spread Eagle has TVs for sport everywhere you look, plus scenes from football history framed and mounted. It’s hard-core Southend, not a minute’s walk from the main entrance.

Within the ground are several bars, the main one being The Shrimpers, a quite wonderful find under the East Stand – just look out for the Caffrey’s sign. Usually welcoming away fans, it’s accessed down a small passageway lined with a phenomenal collection of match programmes down the years, home and away, that face a wall of fame of club legends, each given a detailed bio. Carrying on the charming retro theme, the large main bar is lined with pennants of opposing teams, including obscure European ones such as Salernitana, Pescara and Southend’s hosts on the club’s bizarre tour of the Soviet Union in 1971.

The other outlets, the pub-like Groundsman’s Bar between turnstiles 8-12 and the Far Post Bar by the Shrimpers Bar are generally for home fans only, the Blues Lounge for guests.

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