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Blues History: The Sixties

19 May 2016

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

With Eddie Perry leaving Southend United as manager in February 1960, the club finished the campaign with Chairman Major Alf Hay selecting the team. The club finished in a disappointing mid-table position although Duggie Price enjoyed a very successful campaign, claiming 28 league goals in 41 games.

Major Alf Hay MBE

For the first season of the new decade, the club appointed Frank Broome as manager. He had a decent pedigree as a winger with Aston Villa and England and had cut his managerial teeth at Exeter. The board only offered him a week to week contract though and restricted him to just five new players in the close season. Prolific scorer Roy Hollis had moved on and Broome replaced him with Jim Fryatt. However, Broome did land a brilliant signing in young outside-left John McKinven from Raith Rovers. He would thrill Roots Hall for the best part of a decade.

Southend United 1960/1961

Broome’s tenure however was markedly shorter, by Christmas he was gone. Major Hay took the reigns again until the club secured the services of Ted Fenton towards the end of the season. The team finished 20th in the table missing out on relegation to Division Four by a single point.

Ted Fenton

After the controversy of white home shirts for the previous two seasons the club reverted to blue shirts for the 1961/62 season, albeit with a white pinstripe. Tony Bentley, who would spend twelve years with the club, joined from Stoke City. The Blues would improve steadily under Fenton and in the 1962/3 campaign, despite the worst winter weather on record, climbed to a respectable eighth in the final table, Ken Jones top scored for the second season running.

Tony Bentley

Despite an influx of new players for the 1963/4 season in the form of Jimmy Conway, Benny Friel, Bobby Gilfillan, Bobby King and Malcolm Slater the Blues struggled to gel and finished in the bottom half. A poor season was highlighted by an FA Cup first round exit at the hands of non-league Yeovil Town. The club also finished the season with significant debts of £42,000 with gates down by an average of 1,500 people per game.

Fenton left the club at the end of the 1964/5 campaign, another mid table finish resulted in the board deciding on fresh ideas. The new man at the helm was fiery Welshman Alvan Williams, a man who in later life would be charged with attempted murder of a young man outside the public house he ran. He had coached Bangor City to a famous European Cup-Winners Cup run. He spent a club record fee of £10,000 on bringing Italian international Eddie Firmani to Roots Hall from Charlton Athletic. Firmani’s wage packet would divide the dressing room and it became a disastrous campaign. In November, the club lost 9-1 at the Goldstone Ground against Brighton, their worst ever Football League defeat. It was a hopeless cause and the club were relegated for the first time since their Southern League days.

The club stuck with Williams, tightened its belt further, and a tiny squad launched into a first season in the fourth tier. The club faired reasonably well but shocking away form meant the club never really stood a chance of a promotion place. Firmani was sold back to Charlton in March for just £2,000 and a month later Williams decamped to Wrexham amid rumours he was about to be axed. Assistant Ernie Shepherd was promoted to manager and the board backed him with a record fee of £17,000 to bring Phil Chisnall to Roots Hall from Liverpool.

Phil Chisnall

In January of 1968 Shepherd again went to the board asking for money to strengthen his team. A £3,000 fee bought a Glaswegian forward to the club from Northampton Town. His name was Billy Best and would become a hero to a generation at Southend.

Billy Best

Blues looked to be heading for promotion in the 1967/8 season but an inexplicable collapse at the end of the season, that produced one win in the last nine games, saw Southend finish four points adrift of a return to Division Three.

The 1968/69 was a dramatic campaign, again Blues challenged for promotion under Shepherd’s guidance. Billy Best and Gary Moore forged a prolific partnership and Ian “Chico” Hamilton and Eddie Clayton would also reach double figures of goals. It should have been enough to gain promotion, but once again three defeats in the last four games saw the Blues finish five points short in the final reckoning. 

The FA Cup campaign, however, was a record breaking one for the club before a fourth round exit at the hands of Mansfield Town. In the first two rounds the club enjoyed home ties against non-league opponents. Kings Lynn were dispatched by nine goals to nil with Moore and Best sharing hat-tricks. The Shrimpers went one better in round two defeating Brentwood Town by 10-1 with Best hitting five and Moore four. It was the first instance of consecutive hat-tricks by the same players in successive rounds of the competition.

Southend United 1969/70

The final season of the decade proved to be a fragmented campaign. A poor start to the season saw Ernie Shepherd admitting to being on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He resigned in October and Geoff Hudson was bought in as manager. He lasted just 13 League matches, which produced a meagre four wins. The board persuaded Shepherd to hold the fort again while they looked for a new manager yet again. The man they chose was the all time record goalscorer in English League football, Arthur Rowley, who signed a deal in March 1970. However, despite Billy Best netting 23 League goals, the Blues finished in a miserable 17th place in Division Four. Surely things could only get better?

By Peter Miles

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