It’s fair to say that there cannot be too many football fans that, when attending their first ever game, have not only met but been given a guided tour of the ground by a World Cup winning captain, but this was Andy Long’s introduction to Roots Hall for the match against Peterborough United in March 1986 & the beginning of his lifelong love of Southend United.
As Andy explained: “I was 14-years-old and one of the team of paper delivery boys working for the Yellow Advertiser at the time and as the paper was sponsoring the match, we were all invited along as guests for the day for lunch (sandwiches in the old double decker bus in the car park) and a pre match meeting with manager Bobby Moore, where he gave us a talk before personally showing us around the ground.
“Despite losing 1-0, it was a brilliant experience to meet him and see my first game live. Prior to that, as my dad was a QPR fan, I followed their results but from that day on it was only Southend for me. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I went to the next home game the following Friday night v Torquay United too, another loss unfortunately (1-2) but I was hooked and that was it,” he laughed.
“Over the following seasons my best mate Tim and myself started to go regularly to matches, joined then by my brother Dave, who would drive us to away games with another mate of ours, Paul. I loved the Friday night atmosphere at Roots Hall under the lights and miss those times as they were really special indeed.”
Like all those fans who have followed the club over a number of years, Andy has experienced many highs and lows as a Southend fan. “The relegation season of 88/89 was quite traumatic to my younger self and being in the crowd at Selhurst Park to see us lose 8-0 to Crystal Palace in the Rumbelows Cup is not a great memory either, though I have to say that our fans were brilliant that night and sang throughout the game and were behind the team to the very end. Anyone who was there will remember the Pac-Man scoreboard too,” he added.
“Some of the fearsome hidings we took at away games during the 1987/88 season will live long in the memory too – Gillingham (lost 8-1) Port Vale (lost 6-1) and Sunderland (lost 7-0) as well as the whole disastrous Dick Bate era. The past few seasons have been really bad too and you can only hope that the club can turn itself round soon as it is so sad to see the position Southend find themselves in now.”
When asked about his best memories of following the club, Andy had no hesitation in replying. “The back to back promotions of 1989/1990 and 1990/1991” as well as “the 4-0 win over Newcastle United at Roots Hall on New Years Day 1992 that took Southend to the top of the old Division 2 table. It was so disappointing that Dave Webb left the club soon after as I am certain had he stayed, he would have got us promoted to the top division as he was a top class manager & certainly had the players to be able do so”.
“Special games I have seen? The Torquay United 7-0 win in the Leyland Daf Trophy, with all seven goals coming in the second half, the 10-1 win over Aldershot also in the Leyland Daf, beating Spurs 3-2 in the League Cup only to go out on away goals, obviously Manchester United, though I couldn’t get a ticket and watched it in the Spread outside the ground and Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley in the 2015 Play-Off Final, undoubtedly the most tense I have ever felt at a game for sure.”
“Another great memory I have of my time following Southend is the Fifth Round FA Cup match against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough in 1993 and looking at our fans behind the goal with the Leppings Lane End full and the masses & masses of yellow and blue balloons flying in the air, made me really proud to be a Shrimper. They called us “The Friendly Army” and I still have the double page spread photo that was printed of us all in the Echo to this very day.”
Whilst working as a Sports Booking Clerk at Basildon Council from 1992 to 1995, Andy was in charge of booking out the football pitches and as pre Boots and Laces, Southend would train at Gloucester Park, he regularly dealt with then SUFC youth team manager Danny Greaves (“a really nice guy”) to arrange training facilities for the club, especially the astroturf pitch – then one of the few available within the Essex area. “I often saw manager Colin Murphy and assistant manager Bob Houghton there, but they never ever wanted to deal with me, only my boss,” he laughed.
“I always loved to see and chat to Ray Davy Snr. after matches to talk about the club’s fortunes, how we had gone on that day etc. and he was a lovely man. Mr Southend through and through and is much missed by me and so many for the person he was and all he did for the club over so many years. He even let me in at half time once when I got to a match late,” he remembered.
A huge collector of sports autographs and memorabilia, he owns an extremely impressive collection of player’s shirts picked up over a number of years, including some of the greatest players in Southend United history. “I always wanted to own a SUFC player’s match worn shirt and I was lucky enough to get one of Danny Webb’s. Since then I have been fortunate enough to acquire around 20 or so, including those of Adam Barrett, Bilel Mohsni, Darryl Flahavan, Simon Cox, Stan Collymore, Efe Sodje, Douggie Freedman & Lee Barnard”.
When asked his all-time favourite Southend player of all time, without hesitating he replies “100% Stan Collymore – the best player I have ever seen in a SUFC shirt without a doubt. Chris Powell is the most consistent and in my opinion Paul Sansome was a top class keeper, who never gets the recognition he deserves and is probably the most underrated player I have seen in my time following the club.”
“My greatest XI? 1. Paul Sansome, 2. Dean Austin, 3. Chris Powell, 4. Peter Butler, 5. Adam Barrett, 6. Spencer Prior, 7. Steve Tilson, 8. Kevin Maher, 9. Stan Collymore, 10. Freddy Eastwood, 11. Brett Angell (4-3-3) – Substitutes 12. Darryl Flahavan, 13. Dave Martin, 14. Paul Clark, 15. Andy Ansah, 16. Ian Benjamin, 17. David Crown, 18. Roy McDonough. Manager – Dave Webb or Paul Sturrock. Either one – Webby for his exciting style of football and for being probably our greatest manager ever or Paul for putting the club back together again when he first came to Southend in 2010. He was also desperately unlucky not to take us to promotion in 2011/2012 despite finishing with 83 points. We owe him so much.”
A truly great team put together by a truly great Shrimper. Andy Long has been a credit to this club for many years now and long may that continue to be so. #COYB
Article taken from the Forest Green Rovers matchday programme. Click here to purchase a copy.
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