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Blues History: 1906-1949

19 May 2016

Peter Miles gives us a history of Southend United Football Club. Part One:

Organised football in the Borough of Southend-on-Sea really started taking hold in the late 1890's. Clubs such as Southend Victoria, Southend Amateurs, Southend Corinthians, Southend Ramblers and even Southend Wesleyans were on the local scene at this time. A team called Southend United were recorded as early as 1898 but it is not known where they played. One thing is for sure is that they are in no way related to our club. At the same time over at Marine Park, which incorporated a football pitch among its attractions, Southend-on-Sea Football Club were establishing a reputation as a top amateur side.

The clubs' colours were white shirts and blue ' knickers ‘. By 1900 this side has changed its' name to Southend Athletic, and although Marine Park was later to become The Kursaal, Athletics’ ground was radically different to the one occupied by Southend United in their early Football League days. It consisted of a railed off pitch surrounded by a 'trotting’ track and a large pavilion with absolutely no spectator accommodation. Also during 1900 a new pitch was laid out adjacent to the large property in Victoria Avenue called Roots Hall. Ironically one of the first teams to stage games there was Southend Athletic. However the face of football in the Borough was to change forever following a meeting held in the Blue Boar Public House on May 19th 1906.  

It is well documented that Southend United were formed at this meeting convened by landlord Oliver Trigg and a band of fellow enthusiasts. 

Oliver Trigg - Landlord at the Blue Boar

The fledgling club usurped the prominence of the established Southend Athletic club, who were to disband soon after, and gained election to the professional Southern League Second Division. Their opponents were mainly reserve teams but also included the likes of Hastings and St Leonards, Tunbridge Wells Rangers and Salisbury City. The Southern League Division Two title was won twice in succession in the club's first two seasons. Bob Jack's side, led by goal machine Harold Halse and the mercurial inside forward Prince Blott, lost only five matches in that time. In later Southern League campaigns The Blues were forced on long trips to deepest Wales to fulfil fixtures against the likes of Mardy, Treharris and Mid Rhondda. The FA Cup was entered for the first time in 1907 with a match against East Ham. Early ties included games against long lost teams such as London Caledonians, Walthamstow Grange, Southend Amateurs, Custom House and the 4th Kings Royal Rifles.

Bob Jack - Blues' first manager

The First World War intervened and Roots Hall’s fixtures and fittings were sold off and the ground requisitioned for allotments to aid the war effort. The wooden 200 seater stand that had been erected on the east side of the ground by a local firm, Ducat's, was dismantled with the wood being given to a local timber yard whose buildings had been damaged by enemy bombs. When hostilities ceased and football resumed in 1919 the Roots Hall site was deemed unusable and Southend United's only option was to move across town to the former Marine Park, now known as The Kursaal.

In 1920 the Southern League clubs, including Southend United, were elected en bloc to form the new Third Division of the Football League. A year later this became the Third Division South as a northern section had also been introduced. The honour of scoring Southend’s first ever goal in the Football League fell to Albert Fairclough. 

Despite having to apply for re-election to the League in only the second season, the Shrimpers really progressed when Ted Birnie became manager in January 1922. He turned a mid table club into one that challenged for promotion, though he never managed to get the club into the Second Division.

Prominent players in the Birnie era were Jim McClelland who was sold to Middlesbrough for a sizable fee, Billy Hick and Jimmy Shankly, older brother of Bill Shankly. One of the most notable matches in this period was the 4-1 trouncing of Second Division leaders Derby County in the FA Cup 4th round at The Kursaal.

Ted Birnie’s departure at the end of the 1933/34 season after twelve years ushered in a new era at the club. The Blues moved across town to the Southend Stadium in Grainger Road which was primarily a greyhound racing track, albeit with a larger capacity than The Kursaal. The old ground was demolished within two years of vacation. The new start also saw David Jack, son of Bob Jack, Southend’s first manager, take over the team. He had been the pre-eminent player of the time, having captained England and winning many honours with Bolton and Arsenal. 

Blues Squad 1934/35

The team struggled along in mid-table under Jack although The Blues gave Tottenham Hotspur a fright in the FA Cup of 1935/6, drawing a dramatic game 4-4 at White Hart Lane. The replay at the Stadium was lost 2-1 but the crowd of 23,634 was a new club record.

Among Southend’s best players of the 1930’s were Len Bolan, Billy Moore, Leo Stevens and Irish internationals George McKenzie and Charlie Turner.

The 1939/40 season was abandoned after just three games after the outbreak of war with Germany. David Jack was called to London to work in a bank and after the war took up the manager’s job at Middlesbrough. Southend was a restricted area and the team had to relocate to Chelmsford City’s New Writtle Street ground. City’s manager became manager of both sides, although in war time matches the Southend side was effectively a combined side anyway. 

Warren stayed as manager of Southend when the Blues returned to The Stadium for the 1946/47 campaign. He had put together a useful, free scoring side and in that first season Cyril Thompson, Frank Dudley, Harry Lane and Alf Smirk all hit double figures for goals. 

Blues Squad 1946/1947

The club suffered a blip in the 1948/49 season finishing fourth bottom of the table and narrowly missing the dreaded re-election vote. Warren had pulled off a masterstroke that season though, signing Irish midfield maestro Jimmy McAlinden who was to prove to be the fulcrum of the team for several seasons. The following campaign with “Jimmy Mac” in imperious form saw the Shrimpers challenging for promotion all season. However, a disastrous run of no wins in the last four games saw the team miss out finishing third behind Notts County and Northampton Town.

By Peter Miles

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