I have been a lifelong fan of Southend United Football Club (SUFC), ever since my dad took me along to games as a nine year old and watching odd games from then on. Southend has always been a third or fourth division club with brief periods in the second tier (now the Championship) and it has been hampered from progressing further by a lack of ambition and money, but even so – I still support them. I am not a particularly good fan, admittedly, given I have not watched a live game for over three years, but even when it was unfashionable to do so, when asked which football team I supported, I would invariably, unhesitatingly respond: Southend.
Not having family remotely interested in watching Southend play or friends I could tag along with and there being other calls on my time etc., I can quite see why this long gap watching as well as my relative ignorance about club matters. But today the house was empty and I was a free man. When earlier in the week I came across Phil Brown (SUFC manager) tweet encouraging supporters to come along to today’s game, I thought why not? I went to the club shop to get my ticket (I thought £15 for an OAP was a good deal) and by a stroke of luck some kind soul with a spare ticket decided to donate it to me.
So today I went (I have only recently returned). I walked there and back to soak up the atmosphere. I was moderately impressed with the family friendliness, helpfulness of stewards, stuff going on outside the game, helpful although not too clear loudspeaker commentary etc. and I settled in my seat, doing my customary reading of the day’s program ahead of the kick off. The old adage that football is a game of two halves certainly applied here. The first half was pretty even and tame as well as a bit scrappy, with a nil – nil at the end of the half being a fair reflection of proceedings thus far. Perhaps the best entertainment came from watching an impassioned Southend manager in full flow on the side lines. My half-time experience was on the whole positive, although I was not too impressed with the over priced food bar and the state of the toilets. I can see why the club would want to relocate to a modern stadium, something that has been in the offing for many a year, from the improved but still antiquated one I attended today. These days it is all seater etc. but not so different to when I was a boy.
Things began to liven up in the second half and fans grew steadily more passionate. Southend seemed to be piling on pressure. Indeed, one professional foul by the opposition that might have warranted a red card (in the end it was yellow) did get the crowd going and took up ref baiting mode, although I thought the referee had a good game. Things took a significant turn half way in the second half. A Southend player was sent off for what the ref deemed as a serious foul, much to the disgust of home fans (although I couldn’t help feeling there was play acting from both sides when fouls were claimed). I thought then with a man short Southend would play for a draw. Tactically, I felt the manager got it right, especially with the substitutions. Instead of shutting up shop as one might expect, they stepped up a gear and ended up scoring three goals, with their opponents not scoring any, and were comprehensive and deserved victors – an outcome few would have predicted after the sending off.
The crowd were jubilant with this unlikely outcome and Southend were able to consolidate their league position regarding the play offs. I can quite get why people get excited over football and would want to support their (ideally local) team, but whether it is three years before I get to see Southend play again, who knows? On reflection, I felt attending today’s game was a good move and SUFC had put on a good show. All I can now add is: “come on you Blues”.