Peter Miles gives us a history of Southend United Football Club. Part Four:
Arthur Rowley’s first full season in charge at Roots Hall proved to be a spectacular disappointment. His three year contract with the club came with one of the highest salaries in the lower divisions. What was expected to be a promotion contending season faltered early on, the Blues winning just three of their opening thirteen encounters. Strangely for a record goalscorer like Rowley, his charges mustered only seven goals in that run. While his own signings took time to settle, it was Ernie Shepherd’s final signing that caught the eye. Young winger, Peter Taylor, a £100 signing from Canvey Island, gained some rave reviews when he broke into the team towards the end of the campaign. Prolific front man Billy Best top scored for the third successive campaign.
In the build up to the 1971/72 season the Blues undertook a historic tour to Russia. Although all four matches played ended in narrow defeats, the tour was a resounding success and gained the club positive headlines.
Blues take on Shinnik Yarosavi
Rowley had rebuilt his team for the new season, notably in defence with Ray Ternent and Brian Albeson joining the club. After another slow start the side picked up substantial momentum in the League and also enjoyed an FA Cup success against eventual Third Division champions, Aston Villa. The club had a super run of seventeen unbeaten matches in March and April and looked strong bets for the title. However, a vital home game against Cambridge United was lost when goalkeeper Derek Bellotti was injured early on in the game. A further three draws handed the title to Grimsby Town but second place ensured a return to the Third Division. Long serving defender, Tony Bentley, was rewarded with a second testimonial match against Stoke City.
The new season saw an excellent signing arriving at the club, Alan Moody signed from Middlesbrough and would go on to set the club’s all time appearance record of 507 games. However, after a League Cup tie with Chelsea in September, the Shrimpers accepted a club record bid of £80,000 for Bill Garner from the Stamford Bridge club. Goals proved hard to come by without Garner and Gary Moore went a dozen matches with out a goal. In November Rowley bought in Chris Guthrie from Newcastle to help Best with the burden of goalscoring. He obliged with 15 goals in 25 games and steered the Blues to mid-table safety.
The next two seasons under Rowley proved to be a disappointment with the club failing to progress up the table, indeed an 18th placing in 1974/75 saw the Blues avoid relegation by a mere four points. Prodigious talent Peter Taylor had been sold to Crystal Palace for a record fee of £120,000 and would eventually win full England caps. Rowley had secured some very decent signings, Stuart Brace top scored in the 73/74 season and Tony Hadley and Ronnie Pountney would enjoy lengthy careers at Roots Hall.
If those seasons were disappointing the 1975/76 campaign was an unmitigated disaster and would prove to be Rowley’s last at the helm. While the FA Cup proved to be a welcome distraction, Swansea, Dover, Brighton and Cardiff were beaten in a run to the fifth round, League form slid alarming during the season. A run of just two wins in the final thirteen games of the campaign ensured the Blues finished second bottom and dropped back to Division Four.
The 1975/76 Squad
Scotsman Dave Smith was the man charged with reviving Southend’s fortunes. He cleared out a number of Rowley’s men and signed the likes of Neil Freeman, Ken Price and Micky Laverick. While a tenth place finish in the League was viewed as a disappointment, the club reached the third round of the FA Cup for the fourth successive campaign.
Manager Dave Smith
Smith pruned his squad further, preferring to work with a smaller tightly knitted team. The fulcrum of the team, Alan Moody, Derrick Parker and Colin Morris would play every game while Laverick and Frankie Banks would only miss five games between them. While the Blues finished some distance behind champions Watford, excellent home form ensured promotion was always on the cards for the Shrimpers.
The 1978/79 Squad that took on the European Champions
Smith reinforced his defence for the challenges of the third tier by recruiting Micky Stead, Dave Cusack and Mervyn Cawston. All three would make a significant impact on the club. The team were marooned in mid-table for the whole campaign, with goalscoring problems hampering any hopes a good finish to the season. The previously reliable Derrick Parker, mustered only a dozen goals, yet this would be five strikes more than his nearest team mate.
Blues ran Liverpool close at Roots Hall
The undoubted highlight of the campaign would be the FA Cup which saw the Blues drawn at home to European champions Liverpool at home in the third round. On an icy pitch, the original date having been frozen off, the Blues gave their famous guest a hell of a fright and held them to a goalless draw in front of a record Roots Hall gate of 31,033. While the replay at Anfield was lost, legendary Liverpool manager Bob Paisley was full of praise for Dave Smith’s men.
The last season of the decade would prove to be a real shock for Smith’s men and would result in relegation. Pre-season was difficult after the whole squad went down with food poisoning following a game at Dover. When the season proper started it appeared to start well, a League Cup run had seen the club defeat First Division opposition away from home for the first time ever when Bolton Wanderers fell to two goals from Colin Morris. The third round saw a three game epic against West Ham United with a crowd of 22,429 watching the first replay at Roots Hall. The FA Cup though would prove the antithesis this however, the Blues suffering the ignominy of a defeat to Isthmian Leaguers Harlow Town.
Smith altered his strike force mid season, trading Colin Morris for Derek Spence from Blackpool and buying Keith Mercer for £80,000 from Watford. The new strike partnership could not halt the slide and a run of one win in the last five matches of the season meant the Blues finished two points short of safety. The new decade would start in the basement division once again.
By Peter Miles