'Supporter Spotlight' on Andrew Leeder...
This Supporter Spotlight was featured in the Tranmere matchday programme last season. Click here to buy a copy.
It was my pleasure to speak to Andrew Leeder recently and chat to him about his time as a Shrimper, his book “Roots to the 92”, the formation of the Southend United Ex Players Association (SUEPA) and indeed, all things Southend.
“I started to become interested in football around the time of the 1970 FA Cup Final and decided there and then that I liked Chelsea,” said Andrew.
“My dad, Tony, bought me a Chelsea kit and I can remember actually feeling a little disappointed when he took me to Roots Hall for my first ever football match on 26th March 1971 v Notts County as I really wanted to go to Stamford Bridge instead.
“Southend won 1-0 with a goal by Terry Johnson and I absolutely loved it. I can still remember the excitement I felt watching the game under the lights and being in such a thrilling environment. It doesn’t seem possible that it was 50 years ago now and although dad and I went to a few classic Chelsea games too thereafter, I was bitten and became a Shrimper.
“Despite leaving South Benfleet in 1978 and living in Plymouth (during my student days), Bristol, Ipswich and now being based in Swanage in Dorset, whilst I have watched local clubs in some of those areas while there, it has always been Southend for me as I was pretty much 100% hooked from that first visit.
“One of my earliest memories is our classic FA Cup win v Aston Villa in 1971 and the pitch invasion by both sets of fans in their flared trousers. Other games that really stand out in my early years were v Chelsea in the League Cup in 1972 (Bill Garner was magnificent) both the FA Cup matches away at Derby County in the mid 70’s (it just seemed like a different world up there and felt great to be part of a travelling army of support) and that wonderful night in the snow in 1979 v Liverpool.
“The Torquay United game at Plainmoor towards the end of the 1980/81 title winning season has special significance for me too as I was one of the fans that chaired Derek Spence from the field that evening, something that actually played a huge part in the formation of SUEPA nearly 36 years later. Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in 2009 and Clarkey’s 90th minute equaliser was such a magnificent moment and actually eclipses the excitement of Wembley 2015 for me and along with everyone else, I know I totally lost myself in the celebrations at both of those!
“The Bristol City match on the last day of the 2005/06 season with us clinching the League One championship is probably my best ever day at football however – a full ground, the Manchester City fans in with us and even those from Bristol paying homage to the Goat in his last game, Wayne Gray’s goal, Tilly singing at the end of the game – it just had everything.”
“Throughout the years I have lived away, I have always regularly been back to watch Southend at both Roots Hall and away, but when I was in Plymouth from 1980 to 1983, I saw many Argyle matches at Home Park, joined the Green’s London Supporters Branch and made friendships then that exist to this day.
"My time in Bristol also saw me as a regular at Eastville to watch Bristol Rovers and, Roots Hall aside, I think it will always be my favourite ground. Totally bonkers as a stadium and hosting three sports, though it has to be said, doing none particularly well! In addition to football, both speedway and greyhound racing took place there and to cater for all needs, a real mish mash of stands existed, including a huge tote board and even flowers around the pitch as the groundsman it seems was a keen gardener. It was demolished years ago and now sadly the site houses an Ikea; I just hope that the ghosts of all those Gas Heads from the past haunt it regularly now.
“Though I was never in any hurry to do it I had always harboured an ambition to visit all 92 current league grounds and also to write a book, though what on I had never been totally sure. In 2015 I realised I was only eight short of the holy grail of 92 so I sat down with my son Jim, the only one of my three sons for whom the football bug bit, to formulate a plan to go to those that I had still hadn’t been to.
“A few long hauls to the North-East were ticked off over a few months, with Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road being the last one left. I decided to turn reaching the 92 into something special and travelled up with a party of friends I’d been to games with over the years to make a weekend of it, including my old schoolfriend Harvey Bond (his dad worked with my dad and we would all go to matches together in those early years). Also, I knew Derek Spence worked at Blackpool at that time and bearing in mind my memory of chairing him off at Torquay, I contacted the club and invited Derek for a drink with us while we there. Being the great man that he is, he came along and stayed for a couple of beers with us, albeit not recalling being chaired off at Plainmoor.
“In the run up to completing the 92 and using one ambition to fulfil another, I decided to write a book about my travels over the years and very quickly after the Blackpool game in April 2016 'Roots to the 92' was published. It was dedicated to my dad and even though he was by then in the late stages of Parkinson’s, I was proud to be able to read him some passages from the book before he sadly passed away just two months later.
“Derek was kind enough to write the book’s foreword for me and to date it has sold over 1600 copies and remains available on Amazon with profits now going to the Carli Lansley Foundation and ‘Final Chance for Henry’ - a local Swanage charity.
“To thank Derek for writing the foreword, I invited him to visit Roots Hall for a game and he came back with Keith Mercer. Both were introduced to the crowd on the pitch before the match and we had a great day. It was while they were here that we talked about Alan Moody and how he had recently had to undergo life changing surgery, and this got me thinking that perhaps we could do something to help Alan.
“Following a letter to Ron Martin and discussion with the club, the 'Moody Blues' appeal was launched to help fund a specially adapted car for Alan. An online donation facility, bucket collection at the ground (which raised over £3,000) facilitated by the Shrimpers Trust, various auctions and a cricket match arranged by Jim “Jazzy” Jones, all combined to help raise over £11,500 for Alan and was an overwhelming success. The whole campaign was such a huge buzz and created a real feel-good factor amongst all involved.
“The Moody Blues appeal sowed the first seeds of the idea of an ex-players association being started by the Shrimpers Trust (of which Andrew now sits on the Board) and since its formation early in 2018, SUEPA has continued to grow to the point where we believe it is now the largest former player group in the country in terms of membership numbers, having welcomed Marc-Antoine Fortune as our 300th member just a couple of weeks ago (when published in the programme in March).
“Regular events at matches were held prior to lockdown restrictions, with the return of twenty players from the Dave Smith era being a particularly memorable day. An appeal to landscape and renovate the garden of former Shrimper Bobby King, who had been going through some difficult times, has also been a great success with the landscaping work now completed and planting expected to take place now later this month.
“It is my ambition going forward to help set up a national association of former players groups and working jointly with the Blackpool FPA, we are spearheading discussions with the Professional Footballers Association to see if this can be progressed. There is a great, albeit perhaps disjointed, network of groups out there which are similar to SUEPA and I strongly feel that what they can do is a win-win for all concerned. Indeed, we have even been asked by Leyton Orient to provide advice on how to start such a group up.”
When asked what his all-time Southend XI was, Andrew said:
Goalkeeper - Mervyn Cawston
Defender – Dave Worthington
Defender – Alan Moody
Defender – Dave Cusack
Defender – Steve Yates
Midfielder – Ron Pountney
Midfielder – Paul Clark
Midfielder – Gary Nelson
Forward – Dave Crown
Forward – Bill Garner
Forward – Stan Collymore
Substitutes – Neil Freeman, Derek Spence, Stuart Parker, Micky Stead, Billy Best, Michael Timlin and Terry Johnson.
“My favourite ever player is Dave Worthington. A hard as nails full back who played with passion, and him fist pumping towards the West Stand to gee up the crowd is perhaps my earliest true memory of watching the team.”
Andrew Leeder is not only a truly great Shrimper but a fan and an enthusiast that football in general can be extremely proud of indeed. #COYB