Peter Miles takes a look at Southend United's history. Part Seven:
The 2000/01 season had not started particularly well for Southend United and despite a rally of three successive 1-0 wins in late September, Alan Little was replaced as manager by David Webb. His third stint in charge at Roots Hall saw 1,000 Shrimpers trek to Blackpool to welcome back one of the club’s most successful managers ever.
Blues challenged for promotion for much of the season but in the closing months too many drawn games and a lack of goals meant a final position of 11th. The paucity of goals was reflected in Martin Carruthers, who had left for Scunthorpe United in March, sharing the top scorer’s mantle with Ben Abbey and David Lee on ten apiece.
For once the season had been notable for cup performances. In the FA Cup the Shrimpers drew neighbours Canvey Island in the second round. The tie was switched to Roots Hall and a big crowd of 11,402 saw the Blues win by two goals to one. Unusually the club were drawn against another non-league side, Kingstonian, in round three but went down to an ignominious 1-0 defeat, only the second time the club had succumbed to a non-league side at home in the FA Cup. In the Leyland DAF Cup the Blues enjoyed a win over Swindon Town on the briefly employed “golden goal” rule en route to the Area final. In the two legged area final though, Brentford proved too strong winning 4-2 on aggregate.
By October 2001 Webb had resigned from Roots Hall for a third time citing health problems as the reason. Veteran player Rob Newman, popular with the Roots Hall crowd for his whole hearted play, was handed the job of trying to get the Blues out of the basement division. It was another average season however despite the arrival of several new players like Leon Cort, Barrington Belgrave and Steve Clark. Away form yet again proved problematic with just three wins on the road. The 2002/03 campaign was also a real struggle for the club and although never in real danger of relegation to the Conference, the clubs low position in the table saw Newman relived of his duties in March 2003. Ex Arsenal midfielder, Stewart Robson had been bought in to assist Newman with coaching and was handed the job on a caretaker basis until Steve Wignall was ushered in as the new manager.
Wignall’s stay at Roots Hall lasted just 23 matches, the Blues had won just two of the first twelve games of the 2003/04 season. Dave Webb returned briefly this time for a four game fourth spell as manager before former player Steve Tilson was given the chance to manage the club he had served so well as a player. The Shrimpers flirted with relegation to the Conference all season despite Leon Constantine’s proficiency in front of goal. The striker’s 21 League goals meant he was the first player to score twenty League goals in a season since Brett Angell more than a decade previously.
The FA Cup saw the club reach the third round and a 1-1 draw at Roots Hall against non-league Scarborough saw the incentive of a fourth round tie against Chelsea awaiting the replay winners. Scarborough won the replay by a solitary goal. In the LDV trophy however the Blues put together an impressive run, including a brilliant 4-0 defeat of QPR. The tireless workhorse of a centre forward, Drewe Broughton, became a cult hero as the Blues defeated arch rivals Colchester United in an all Essex Area final. The Shrimpers had qualified for their first ever major final and although the game would be staged at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, as Wembley was being rebuilt, cup final fever gripped the town. Blackpool stood in between Southend and, given League form, an unlikely victory. However the team froze on the big day went behind early and lost 2-0 in front of a crowd of 34,031.
Tilson revamped his squad for the 2004/05 season with many expecting another difficult campaign. His key signing though came in October when he bought in youngster Freddy Eastwood, initially on loan, from non-leaguers Grays Athletic. He announced himself in the best possibly way with a debut hat-trick against Swansea City, the first coming after just 7.7 seconds of the game. The LDV trophy again proved successful with the club reaching the final for the second consecutive season. However, Wrexham proved to be the better side in the final and won by two goals to nil.
Tilson had galvanised his team and automatic promotion looked a real possibility until a late season wobble meant the play-offs beckoned. In a tight semi-final against Northampton Town, only a Freddy Eastwood penalty separated the sides after two legs. The Blues were heading to Cardiff for the third time in 15 months, surely it would be a case of third time lucky? Lincoln City manfully stood up to the Blues for ninety minutes before an unlikely hero emerged in extra time. In the 105th minute Freddy Eastwood had given the Blues a narrow lead but promotion was gloriously confirmed five minutes later when full back Duncan Jupp ran fully seventy yards in searing heat to dispatch the ball masterfully into the Lincoln net. It was his first senior goal in ten years and secured promotion to League One.
After seven seasons in the basement division, many would have settled for a season of consolidation, Steve Tilson though had other ideas. He bought in some experienced players like Efe Sodje and former Manchester City legend Shaun Goater, while Spencer Prior returned to the club where he started his career. The acquisition of the veteran Goater proved a masterstroke, a knowledgeable foil for the rampant youngster Freddy Eastwood. The club topped the table on January 2nd and stayed there until the end of the season to win the championship in fine style. The Blues needed to win on the last day of the season to deny Essex rivals Colchester United the coveted silverware and a tense game against Bristol City at Roots Hall ensued. Home fans had dressed up in Caribbean style clothing to say farewell to Shaun Goater who had announced his retirement. With a few minutes remaining and the game still goalless, the game paused as the entire crowd, including some 400 Manchester City fans, gave an incredible ovation to an emotional Goater as he walked of a pitch for the last time. His replacement, Wayne Gray, settled the nerves of the home crowd with a goal three minutes from time. Southend United were League One champions and Tilson had achieved back-to-back promotions.
Southend’s stay in the Championship was brief, winning only ten games all season. Tilson’s men had dropped in the bottom three in September and remained in it all season, finishing seven points adrift of safety. The cup competitions proved more heartening however, Bournemouth, Brighton and Leeds United had all been dispatched in the Carling Cup when Southend drew the big one in the fourth round, Manchester United at home. The illustrious visitors respectfully fielded ten internationals including golden boys Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. In the 27th minute Southend were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box, Freddy Eastwood curled the ball past the wall and into the top corner for a goal worthy of winning any game. The visitors battered the Southend goal for the rest of the match but they could not find a way past a superb Darryl Flahavan in goal. Legendary manager, Alex Ferguson rued the “bloody nose” Southend had given his team. Tottenham put the Shrimpers out of the competition in the fifth round, although extra time was needed at White Hart Lane to separate the sides. Strangely the side from North London also accounted for the Blues in the FA Cup as well that season, winning a fourth round tie by 3-1 at White Hart Lane.
It was back to League One for the 2007/08 season with Tilson bringing some astute signings throughout the campaign, notably Leon Clarke, Nicky Bailey and Lee Barnard. Meanwhile, Freddy Eastwood had departed to Wolves for a fee of £1,500,000. The club were on the periphery of the promotion picture all season and it was no surprise that the regular season ended with a position in the play-offs. A resurgent Doncaster Rovers were the semi-final opponents and it was they who progressed to the final after a limp second leg performance by the Blues resulted in a 5-1 mauling.
The following season was more of the same, some great spells of form but ultimately falling five points short of another play-off adventure. The undoubted highlight of the 2008/09 season was an FA Cup third draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Fuelled by endless oil money Chelsea was a truly tough opponent for the Shrimpers and 6,000 supporters headed towards West London for the glamorous tie. Predictably Chelsea launched a barrage of attacks but only had a Salomon Kalou header to show for their efforts. Southend’s Peter Clarke, celebrating his 27th birthday, scored a 90th minute equaliser to silence the home crowd. Remarkably in injury time the same player saw a header hit the crossbar as the Shrimpers pressed for an unlikely winner. The replay at Roots Hall bought welcome cash into the coffers, but there was to be no fairytale ending as Chelsea cantered to a 4-1 victory.
The last season of the decade was to prove dispiriting, the club had lost some key players, Peter Clarke went to Huddersfield and in January top scorer Lee Barnard moved to Southampton for £175,000. He would remain the clubs leading goalscorer despite playing only half the campaign. A lack of goals and low confidence saw the side relegated to League Two with only Stockport County below them in the table. After seven highly entertaining seasons in charge Steve Tilson was replaced at the helm by Paul Sturrock.
By Peter Miles