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Blues History: The Fifties

19 May 2016

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

Southend United headed into the 1950’s with the considerable optimism that gripped post-War Britain. In April 1950 Sandy Anderson joined the club from Newburgh Juniors and became a defensive stalwart for 12 seasons. He made 452 league appearances for the Blues; no man has played more. His overall total of 483 matches was only beaten in the 1980’s by Alan Moody.

Sandy Anderson

Crowds soared and under the consistent, long-term management of Harry Warren, the Blues entered a period where high scoring matches were a regular occurrence. At the Stadium in February 1951, Southend found themselves 2-0 down to Swindon Town early in a game. It was down to inspirational captain, Jimmy McAlinden, that the team galvanised themselves, completely swamping the visitors and winning by eight goals to two.

A season later the FA Cup proved a highlight with an impressive run to the fifth round. Bournemouth, Oldham, Southampton and Bristol Rovers had been dispatched in the previous rounds with sixteen goals being scored. A crowd of nearly 22,000 gathered at the Stadium for the visit of Second Division Sheffield United. Despite taking the lead through Albert Wakefield, the Shrimpers bowed out of the competition by a score of 2-1.

Jack French scores an FA Cup goal vs. Bristol Rovers 

In this season both Jack French and Les Stubbs were selected for an Olympic Trial match at Highbury. Both Southend men scored in the game. Stubbs would join Chelsea for a not inconsiderable fee at the time of £10,000.

Les Stubbs

Towards the end of the 1953/54 a heartfelt standing ovation at the Stadium saw Southend say goodbye to its retiring captain, Jimmy McAlinden. In February 1953 Warren signed a gangly, skinny centre forward from Tottenham Hotspur reserves. The signing of Roy Hollis was a master stroke as he went on to score 135 goals in six years with the Blues. His record tally still stands today.

Southend United 1954/55 season. Roy Hollis is in the middle of the bottom row.

The 1955/56 campaign was to prove one of the most pivotal in the club’s history. After 21 years at the largely unpopular Southend Stadium the Blues moved into their new home. The new Roots Hall had been built entirely by internal labour with Sid Broomfield leading a small band of men to build the stadium we know and love today. The entire cost of the stadium, save for a small grant from the Football Association, was met by the Supporters Club and their extensive fund-raising programme.

The opening day fixture against Norwich City attracted 17,700 to the new stadium, built on the site of the old Roots Hall ground the club had used between 1906 and 1915. The move had the desired effect, home league crowds averaged in excess of 10,000, some 2,500 up on the last campaign at Grainger Road.

Programme from the first game at the new Roots Hall.

The season ended on a low however when after sixteen years in charge of the club Harry Warren left for an ill-fated spell at Coventry City. Welshman Eddie Perry took over at the helm and failed to win any of his first ten games in charge. However, he steadied the ship and guided the club to three top ten finishes in Division Three without ever really challenging for promotion.

Training session at the new Roots Hall.

It was a shame that promotion could not be achieved as Southend boasted some excellent players in this era. Arthur Williamson, a consistent Scottish full back who played in a record 229 consecutive matches for the club. There was also the likes of Sam McCrory who was capped by Northern Ireland, John McGuigan, Jimmy Stirling and Lou Costello. Eccentric goalkeeper Harry Threadgold was a crowd favourite although the advent of floodlights at Roots Hall in 1959 would restrict his appearances as he claimed he struggled to see the ball under their glare.

Eddie Perry would leave his post at the club in February 1960 so the Blues would enter the new decade looking for a new manager.

By Peter Miles

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