The part Paul Sturrock played in the total rebuild of Southend United following his appointment as manager, just prior to the start at the 2010/2011 season, should never be underestimated nor forgotten.
Following the mass exodus after relegation at the end of the previous season and just a handful of players still at the club only weeks prior to the first match, Sturrock needed to move quickly to assemble a squad.
Utilising his extensive network of contacts, his first signing for Southend would be a man who had previously played under him at both Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon Town, who would not only go on to be top scorer that season with 21 goals, but thereafter achieve almost legendary status as one of the finest & most beloved players to ever wear our beautiful blue shirt - Barry Corr.
It was my pleasure to catch up with Barry recently and speak to him, not only about his five years as a Shrimper but also his dual roles as a development coach at Cambridge United and manager at St. Neots Town, where he has also recently resumed playing again – as a centre back.
“Following my release from Exeter City, I had been speaking to Gillingham with a view to signing but my agent told me to hang fire for a bit longer as he had something coming up that I would certainly be interested in. A couple of days later the phone rang and it was Paul.
“He explained he had just taken over at Southend and made me an offer to sign. I told him that it was less money than Gillingham had offered to which he replied “Barry, I’ll ******* see you tomorrow at 8am,” and hung up. As a sign of the great respect that I hold him in, I was there at 8am and signed a pre contract prior to signing officially as the club was under an embargo at the time.
“I remember turning up for my first training session and it was only myself, Anthony Grant, Johnny Herd and Scott Spencer there and wondering what I had let myself in for? Paul soon brought the players in to make us competitive and to me, what he achieved that season is up there with his finest achievements as a manager, promotions etc. as it would have been so easy for Southend to have slipped into non-league had he got it wrong.”
After being top scorer in his first season at Southend, Barry was certainly looking to build upon that success in 2011/2012, only for a serious knee injury to cruelly rule him out for the whole campaign. “Undoubtedly my biggest disappointment at Southend,” he added.
“It was a long hard road back and I owe Ben Clarkson so much for all he did to get me fit, playing and back out on the pitch again the next season. It was during the time I was injured that Paul Sturrock started to make me think about the coaching side of things and encouraged me to start to take my coaching badges.
“I presently hold my UEFA A Licence and hope to go on to do my UEFA Pro Licence in the future too. I am certainly ambitious and want to manage at the very highest level I can.”
So how did the opportunity to manage St Neots Town come about and what was behind his decision to resume playing again?
“After I retired at Cambridge United, I was appointed as development coach at the club with responsibility for managing the transition of players from the youth team into senior football. We have a partnership tie up with St Neots and several of our players are loaned to the club by Cambridge, so they can gain experience of men’s football at that level.
“The chance to take charge of St Neots came about from the two clubs’ close association and seems to be working very well. I have seven players on loan at the moment, all of whom train with me from Monday to Friday at Cambridge and I then manage at St Neots too.
“I made the decision to play again and fill in at centre back due to the fact that we are such a young side and at times we were getting bullied in matches due to our lack of experience. I physically cannot play in all the games now, so have to limit my appearances and I only intend it to be a short-term thing until I can sign somebody - hopefully soon,” he laughed.
Barry’s time at Southend certainly contained many great moments but the highlight of his time at Roots Hall is, unsurprisingly, the Play-Off win v Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley in 2015, when his headed knock down for Joe Pigott set up the dramatic equaliser with just 20 seconds left on the clock.
“People ask me about it all the time. When Dan saved the last penalty, it was such a brilliant moment and I just can’t even begin to explain the feeling. I just ran about not knowing what to do. I’ve seen it a few times since as it is on Sky quite regularly still. Such a great day!”
When asked about the goals he scored for Southend, Barry remembered his winner in a 1-0-win v Stevenage at Roots Hall (his 20th goal of the 2010/11 season), “A bullet header from a corner that almost broke the net”, as his favourite goal for the club with “probably the equaliser v Leyton Orient in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy that played its part in taking Southend to the Wembley final” as the most important during his time as a Shrimper.
“The final itself was a massive disappointment, however. The team totally lacked balance on the day. Phil Brown had to pick the side so soon after taking over as manager and still wasn’t totally familiar with all the players' strengths and weaknesses. In hindsight, we would have had a far better chance of winning the cup had Paul Sturrock still been in charge. That said, the experience of playing at Wembley helped us to prepare much better & know what to expect when we played there again in 2015,” he added.
“When you start out on your career, you hope that one day you’ll get to play for your country and in the Premier League but obviously not everyone gets to do that. Being recognised as having made a mark at a club is very special to me, though, and I was especially pleased to have been voted into the 'Evening Echo Southend Team of The Decade' by the fans. I was also voted into the Cambridge United equivalent too and I was so proud to be able to tell my kids that the supporters of both the clubs I played for during that time had selected their daddy as part of their best team from that era. A great honour for me, for sure.
“It is only when your career is over you realise that nothing gives you the same buzz as playing. I always knew it was matchday as I would wake up feeling sick and had to eat quite quickly but I miss feeling nervous before games.
“Nothing makes me nervous anymore now. I wish sometimes I had taken things in more during my time as a player and it’s perhaps only now I have retired that I can finally appreciate what I achieved in the game.
“I think a lot of players don’t actually enjoy their careers due to the pressure that is constantly on them. Social media and fans forums have also added to that too. All the players will tell you that they never read them, but I know for a fact that most do. I certainly did and it was always the negative comments that stuck in your head afterwards, unfortunately.
“In my coaching role today, I always try to emphasise to my players the importance of their discipline on the pitch as early in my career I was sent off several times leading to me missing far too many games due to suspension. I decided that had to change and I needed to be more in control of my emotions on the pitch. I remember a game at Burton Albion where the centre half head-butted me early on and kept niggling me throughout the game, it took all my self-control not to retaliate as I knew that if I did, I would be the one to get caught and shown the red card. The fact that I played and scored in the next three games proved I was right to keep my head as if I had been sent off, I would have missed all those matches and it was a big lesson learned for me.”
Some will remember Barry being sent off against Southend playing for Exeter City in 2009/2010. When reminded of the incident, he said: “It’s a bit vague now, but I think it was for a little kick out against Anthony Grant going for 50/50 ball. Something of nothing really,” he laughed.
Remembering the players he played with at Southend and being asked to select his best XI from his time at Roots Hall, after much discussion Barry (declining the opportunity to include himself), “with apologies to anyone I have forgotten, my memory is terrible”, chose the following to play in a 4-3-3 formation: Dan Bentley, John White, Bilel Mohsni, Luke Prosser, Ben Coker, Anthony Grant, Ryan Leonard, Michael Timlin, David Worrall, Britt Assombalonga and Ryan Hall. Substitutes: Paul Smith, Adam Barrett, Kevan Hurst, Will Atkinson, Jack Payne and Joe Pigott. Manager: Paul Sturrock.
“A pretty decent team and a lot of good guys in there. Bilel was probably one of the best players I have ever played with, technically very good, great in the air and with brilliant feet and touch. He really could & should have played at a much higher level. Lenny was our outstanding player in the promotion season without a doubt. I only played for a short time with Adam Barrett so only chose to leave him out to include the two lads I played the more games with.
“I have great memories of my time at Southend and it makes me really sad to see them where they are at the foot of L2. I don’t know any of the players apart from John White now but hopefully they can turn things round and stay up. Southend are such a proper club and it would be terrible to see them drop into non-league.”
63 goals (the 13th highest total in the club’s history) in 185 games certainly bear testimony to Barry’s undoubted right to be regarded as one of the greatest players to ever play for Southend United, but they alone do not tell the whole story. He will always be lovingly remembered by the fans as a top-class pro who never failed to give anything less than 100% for the cause, truly cared and always wore our shirt with immense pride. A fine epitaph indeed.
Thank you to Barry for giving up his time to speak to me and kindly agreeing to be featured in the programme today. I think it’s only fitting that the final word is left to the man himself: “I love football and I like the fact that I am remembered as making an impression at the club, as ultimately it was always my pleasure to represent Southend United.”
By Dave Bishop
Taken from the Colchester United matchday programme. Click here to purchase a copy.