Former midfielder reminisces over his successful two years at the club
Another Southend United legend made a welcome return to Roots Hall against Oldham in April, a game which Blues ran out 3-0 winners.
Mark Bentley was a lynchpin in midfield alongside Kevin Maher in the 2005 promotion from League Two and was then equally integral as Blues were promoted to the Championship in 2006.
Part of such a successful era in the club’s history, Bentley has nothing but great memories of his time at Roots Hall.
“It was just the best ever throughout my football career,” he said.
“It was the start of a professional career. Southend were the first team to give me the opportunity to play professional football.
“It looked like it could be doom and gloom at the beginning because we were near the bottom of League Two fighting to stay in the league when I joined in the January, but Tilly managed to build up a squad over pre-season.
“We had great togetherness and managed to get the back-to-back promotions.”
Looking back on the extra-time win over Lincoln City, Bentley said Steve Tilson’s squad had the perfect balance.
“The big memory is the Play-Off Final win at the Millennium Stadium,” he added.
“The team had a bit of everything. You had the special players like Freddy [Eastwood], Kev [Maher], Mark Gower, Adam Barrett, Daryl Flahavan – Flav’s won us many points that season.
“And then you had the unsung heroes; the grafters. I would probably include myself in that, Che Wilson, Lawrie Dudfield and Duncan Jupp. They probably go unnoticed a bit.
“We had a great spine with Spencer Prior, Adam Barrett and Andy Edwards.
“There was a mixture of young and experienced players and a massive hunger to do well.
“Tilly gave us the freedom. Coming into training every day was fun and he gave us the motivation to go out and express ourselves. That’s what we did.”
And Southend still holds a place in the 39-year-old’s heart.
“Everyone I played for I’ve always looked out to see how they get on. Even from my days at Aveley and Enfield.
“I’ve been back a couple of times and every time you drive past it brings back the memories. You get a little bit of a buzz.”