Peter Miles gives us a history of Southend United Football Club. Part Five:
If Southend’s relegation at the end of the 1979/80 season was a shock to the system, Dave Smith and his small squad provided the perfect antidote in the following campaign.
Club records tumbled as Southend won the Division Four title in fine style. Using only seventeen players all season, three of whom only made fleeting appearances, Southend won their first ever major trophy as a Football League club. The team was built on a rock solid defence and an amazing home record. The team won nineteen and drew four of its 23 home games and in the ten home games between August 22nd and November 15th didn’t even concede a League goal at Roots Hall. Goalkeeper Mervyn Cawston went 985 minutes unbeaten in home games until Bradford City’s Bobby Campbell finally ended the run. It was two points for a win in those days, but under the present system, Southend would have clocked up a staggering 97 points as they headed the table from the likes of Lincoln City, Doncaster Rovers and the old Wimbledon club. Although it was a real team effort top scorer Derek Spence was voted Player of the Year and also won caps for Northern Ireland whilst with the Blues.
Southend United – Division Four Champion 1980/81
Southend looked, at times, good prospects for a second straight promotion in the following season. However, inexplicable losses of form such as six straight draws in February and no wins in the final four matches, saw the club finish a creditable if somewhat disappointing seventh in Division Three.
The 1982/83 was to prove to be the end of a golden era. If the departure of Derek Spence in the close season caused raised eyebrows the sale of Dave Cusack and Anton Otulakowski to Millwall in March for a meagre combined fee of £60,000 was alarming. A bad run of form after the sales saw the Blues slump to 15th in the table. Steve Phillips, an admirable replacement for Spence, topped scored with a creditable 20 goals whilst veteran midfielder Ronnie Pountney was the clubs Player of the Year for an unprecedented third time.
These were troubled times off the field for Southend, long standing owners the Rubin family had sold out to local butcher turned entrepreneur Anton Johnson. Popular manager Dave Smith was dismissed whilst on holiday in Tenerife only to stage a lock-in in his office at the club when he returned. He would successfully sue the club for damages. The turmoil meant new incumbent, Peter Morris, was appointed late in the close season and had little time to muster a decent squad. He had inherited just ten contracted players, two of which were goalkeepers.
Southend United 1983/84
Morris would last only until February, his dismissal was formerly announced on the cover of the Associate Member’s Cup game at home to Reading, a tie the Blues would emphatically win 5-0. The new man in charge was already at the club and was a household name. England’s World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore was a member of the board at Southend and accepted the request to step into the breach following Morris’ departure. However, the great man could not stop the rot and after only ten wins all season Blues slid into the bottom four some five points adrift of safety.
Moore would preside over arguably Southend’s worst ever season of 1984/85. Money was going missing at an alarming rate and crowds dwindle to an all-time low, home crowds averaged fewer than 2,000 for the first and only time in the clubs history. An experiment with Rugby League at Roots Hall under the guise of Southend Invicta was also leaking money hand over fist. Just 85 people paid to watch the game against Huddersfield Barracudas.
Five defeats in a row without a single goal being scored saw the Blues going into the final match of the season at home to rock bottom Torquay United with a win absolutely essential. Anything less and the club would be pitched into the lottery of the re-election battle where clubs in the bottom four would go cap in hand to League members in the hope they would garner more votes than any would be newcomers from the non-league world. Rivals for the fourth spot Halifax Town had won at home on the Friday night against Swindon Town to finish with 50 points. Southend were now fourth bottom on 47 points (it was now three points for a win), but a marginally better goal difference meant a win would suffice. A Steve Phillips penalty secured a much needed 1-0 win for Southend. The threat of re-election proved academic as Gola League champions Wealdstone withdrew their application and the bottom four clubs were re-elected unopposed. Meanwhile debts at the club had trebled during the season, and although Anton Johnson had been ousted and also banned from involvement in football, Southend under new chairman Vic Jobson faced a considerable period of rebuilding.
Bobby Moore bought in seasoned veterans Frank Lampard and Barry Silkman whilst Roy McDonough returned to Roots Hall from Exeter. At £4,000 the purchase of Richard Cadette from Leyton Orient would prove to be a steal. The young forward announced himself emphatically with a four goal salvo on his full League debut against his old team at Roots Hall.
Crowds were still a concern though, just seven years after the new attendance record was set against Liverpool a nadir was reached in March when just 1,006 watched the League game at home to Halifax Town, the lowest home League gate ever. Worse still was the “crowd” for the home Freight Rover Trophy tie Northampton Town, just 683 hardy souls attending. Blues did, however, mount a challenge for promotion with Cadette scoring 25 goals, but some wretchedly inconsistent results saw the team fall away to a final position of ninth. However, Bobby Moore had already announced his decision to resign from the manager’s post.
The new man at the helm was Dave Webb who set about dismantling Moore’s squad. In came the likes of Peter Johnson, Derek Hall and Dave Martin.
Blues challenged for promotion all season and enjoyed a big League Cup tie with Manchester City which was narrowly lost 2-1 on aggregate. In March the club was rocked by Dave Webb’s resignation, citing interference from the board as his reason.
Stalwart player Paul Clark stepped into the void and attempted to finish the promotion job off. A vital win at home to Wolverhampton in late April in front of over 10,000 people meant a top three finish was achievable. A Friday night trip to Stockport in the final game meant a win would mean Wolves could not overtake the Blues by winning the following day. Goals from Glenn Pennyfather and Richard Cadette, his 31st of the campaign, ensured the required points came back to Essex.
The 1987/88 season saw Clark return to playing duties as Vic Jobson ushered in a new manager, Dick Bate, who though untried at League level, had a reputation as an outstanding coach.
Southend United 1987/88
Cadette had been sold to Sheffield United and Bate bought in the likes of Chris Ramsey, Eric Steele and Richard Young. The appointment was to prove disastrous, aside from a League Cup win against Brentford, Bate failed to win any of his twelve League games in charge. By September he was gone and Clark once again stepped in to steady the ship. One of his best moments as boss came quickly, a memorable 1-0 win over First Division Derby County in the League Cup. A Roy McDonough penalty against England goalkeeper Peter Shilton settled the tie. Clark’s capture of David Crown in November would prove pivotal in a remarkable escape from relegation after such an appalling start to the season.
The 1988/89 season, however, proved to be a real struggle. Even the re-introduction of Webb as manager in December could not halt the downward slide. A disastrous run of six games without a win in the run in to the end of the season meant a final day home win over Chester was not enough as the Blues went down by goal difference having secured a decent tally of 54 points.
The disappointment of relegation was short-lived however as Webb rallied the troops for another tilt at promotion. The season started well, a great two legged League Cup win over Colchester earned Southend a plum tie against Tottenham Hotspur. A narrow 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane meant there was all to play for in the second leg at Roots Hall. Goals from Gary Bennett (2) and Dave Martin, ensured a shock 3-2 win on the night, but the Londoners sneaked through on the away goals rule.
League form gathered momentum, and even a shock FA Cup defeat at Aylesbury United could not detract from the target of an immediate return to the Third Division. A magnificent brace from 23 goal top scorer David Crown on the final day of the season at Peterborough United ensured third place in the table behind champions Exeter City and Grimsby Town. Southend would finish a tempestuous decade as they had started it with promotion to the third tier.
By Peter Miles