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Southend United v Chertsey Town – Emirates FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round – Roots Hall Stadium – Saturday (3pm) – Preview
Oh Lord, where did the feeling go? Oh Lord, I never felt so low…
I often take inspiration (if that, in this case, the correct term) from song lyrics for an article. To be honest, reflecting upon last Saturday afternoon at Roots Hall Stadium, the chorus from Big Country’s masterpiece, ironically labelled ‘Chance’ seems reasonably suitable to my current mood and that of Southend United Football Club in its present unhealthy state.
Personally, I didn’t expect great things against promotion-chasing Chesterfield. After all, let’s be honest, Blues are currently relegation material – a million miles from the vibrant model of a football club displayed by our visitors from Derbyshire.
But, oh, it was so much worse than that. Starting on the pitch, Blues finished third in a two-horse race. The Spireites ran all over us. The distance in class was quite alarming, and that wasn’t the only thing.
Regardless of whether you support or disapprove of the subsequent pitch invasion after the fourth goal, what can’t be ignored is that one mans’ actions have caused all this. When the match resumed after a fourteen-minute delay, it seemed as if Chesterfield, who had looked good for another couple of goals, were simply going through the motions, playing keep-ball, almost sympathetically doing their utmost not to inflame the situation further. The Spireites are no strangers to eternal struggles themselves. The solidarity displayed by the visiting support to their Southend counterparts was a sign in itself that the Southend United story is now in the national domain. That was to escalate further when Mr Martin took to the TalkSport airwaves two days later.
But let’s concentrate on the fallout from Saturday. Along with a counterpart from another local news outlet, we found ourselves consoling a tearful member of the Blues staff, who is also a life-long fan, emotionally drained by the whole situation.
I know the person in question reasonably well and have always thought of her as a bomb-proof character and someone whose love and commitment to the football club goes without saying.
I must say, I actually found this more disturbing than Phil Brown’s subsequent sacking. I had my suspicions on what was to come when the Blues boss, recently so prompt for his post-match pressers, didn’t swiftly appear. Again, regardless of your thoughts on Mr Brown, it can’t be ignored that he, along with Craig Fagan, has been working in a toxic environment that shows little signs of diminishing any time soon.
Initially, I wasn’t surprised when Brown returned to Southend. I’m not a huge fan of his football but do believe had he been appointed five games earlier, the club would have preserved its EFL place. But it became apparent very quickly that the National League was somewhat foreign to him. He seemed to run out of ideas very quickly while excuses rotated and became a little uncomfortable. I wish him, and Fagan, well for the future, although I suspect his race in the hot seat might well now be run.
So whose next? My personal choice would be former Bromley manager, Neil Smith.
The 50-year-old first properly came to my attention whilst working on ‘The Bromley Boys’ movie. Getting closer to the football club gave me an insight as to the former Gillingham, Fulham and Reading midfielders capabilities.
During five years at Bromley, Smith led the Ravens to an FA Trophy final as well as steady league finishes on a regular basis. His brand of football was efficient and entertaining. He has a good knowledge of the National League, can provide good contacts and above all, he’s available.
Of course, walking into the fiery pit that is Southend United will undoubtedly throw up a series of conundrums for any manager. But just concentrating on the playing side for a minute, at a time when the club desperately requires stabilisation, Smith has the right credentials for the task at hand.
In the meantime, I understand Jason Demetriou headed up training ahead of Chertsey’s visit on Saturday. Whether a new man is in place by then remains to be seen. Again, whoever is brave enough to embrace the role, I wish them well.
Incredibly, in terms of fallout from the weekend, we’ve only just scratched the surface. Fans favourite, Stan Collymore called an impromptu zoom meeting with supporters groups on Sunday evening.
The former frontman confirmed his enthusiasm for the Blues and reiterated his support in achieving a stable football club, of that, I have little doubt. Some will question the whole scenario, but let’s be quite honest, with the last four years in mind and the future appearing pretty bleak, is there any alternative?
Talk of the new stadium and potential takeovers were off-topic. However, he explained that along with Gary Lockett, Tom Lawrence and Mr Martin, they would make up a select committee, overseeing the process of appointing the new manager.
A number of concerns and subjects were covered. Collymore called for the supporters to believe in him and clearly has a structure in mind going forward (the meeting, in full, can be found below). Stan also called for unity between the respective supporter’s groups and the hierarchy, something echoed by Mr Martin during his own radio appearance.
Taking on board everything that has gone before, and bearing in mind that Stan and Ron’s popularity with the fans is at completely opposite ends of the echelon, I think the request will largely fall on deaf ears. I understand that a new manager will want to work without distractions, but some serious progress in the clubs’ position off the field would have to be achieved for a change of mindset from the Roots Hall faithful. The Chairman didn’t help matter on that front by stating: “For all the people that are making a lot of noise in the stadium, I get an equal number of people saying the opposite.”
I must admit, I was taken aback by Mr Martin’s comment. A unanimous majority of ninety-five per cent provided a vote of no confidence in the Chairman via an open poll set up by the Shrimpers Trust. The hard evidence is there, right before our eyes. To suggest otherwise, without facts to back it up comes across as a little desperate, and once again, provides an air of arrogance towards the very people he should be moving heaven and earth to build bridges with.
Let’s not paper over the cracks anymore. Had Southend United beaten Chesterfield 4-0 as opposed to the opposite, it wouldn’t have changed the dire situation we find ourselves in off the field. Any reassurances and promises need to be backed up with cold, hard facts and immediate action. A change of manager might see an upturn in fortune on the pitch, but it no longer masks the long-term concerns of almost every Blues fan, left thoroughly fed up and depressed by this whole situation.
I realise that Ron Martin isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but he must take on board that actions speak louder than his word, of which, that ninety-five per cent no longer swallow. The management situation is only a small step in the right direction. Another wrong appointment will be catastrophic for the club. Personally, from my vantage point, I don’t believe Ron’s relationship with the fans is salvageable, with or without Collymore’s help. Having said that, taking responsibility and allowing football-minded people, interested in the longevity of Southend United, to take some of the weight will at least help redevelop the clubs’ standing, both in the game and the community. The title of the song inspiring this article is ‘Chance’ – this might well be the last one Ron and Southend United have to make things a little more palatable.
Anyway, plenty to divulge. What about football? Southend United host Pitching In Isthmian League South Central Division outfit, Chertsey Town at the fourth qualifying round stage of the Emirates FA Cup.
The Curfews are a club very much on the up in recent seasons, unbeaten in their league and perhaps not so much seeing this as a free hit but more an opportunity to enhance their own standing by causing an upset.
In truth, Southend, even in this dire position, should have enough to get through. It is could be seen as a clean slate for the current squad, although another unimpressive performance will heighten supporters concerns that they simply aren’t good enough.
But whatever the outcome, these are critical times for Southend United. It’s not only the local community that are aware of the clubs’ plight but the wider footballing nation. It should be remembered that Bury was winning football matches at the time of their demise. I don’t expect Blues fans to quail their remonstrations with Mr Martin and suspect this whole sorry saga still has some way to run.
Jeevesie’s prediction: Southend United 2-0 Chertsey Town