Scott still hopeful, although concerns continue to mount

I think it is fair to say that followers of Southend United Football Club have enjoyed better times and life-long supporter, Scott Peters, is no exception.

The 35-year-old is widely recognised throughout the Blues community. Sometimes outspoken, but always with the club very much at heart.

Peters has followed Southend since 1991. There have been plenty of ups and downs during that 30-year-stint, but recent campaigns have been as bad as it has got.

Nevertheless, there is a passion in his voice as he spoke to Yellow Sport: “I’ve always been an optimist. While it is still mathematically possible, then you’ve always got a chance,” he responds when I ask him if he believes the Blues can avoid the drop into non-league football.

“You’ve only got to look at great escapes that have happened in the past – Jimmy Glass at Carlisle, that sort of thing.

“At the moment we are not cast adrift. We had the run which brought us back into contention. Yes, we’ve lost the last four, but Mark Molesley did bring us right back into the fold. And luckily, the two clubs above us have not pulled away.

“I think it might become a battle between three, maybe four at the bottom. As long as we stay in touch – going into the last five games of the season, then anything can happen.”

But Southend’s slide isn’t a recent thing. Scott offers his thoughts behind the 115-year-old clubs’ plummeting fortunes: “I think a lot of it comes down to two factors. Firstly, is the choice of managers. Secondly, how the club is run,” he adds.

“I’m a big believer that in business, relationships are everything. Credibility is everything. If you can’t credibly run your business, don’t expect support from other businesses or people in the industry.

“The late payment to players and staff in the past – that information gets around to other players – it gets around to prospective players who have an option to play for Southend.

“At the moment, if you have an option to come to Southend or goi to a club a top-five National League club with a clean reputation, you are seriously going to be thinking of heading there instead.

“Players are not going to potentially uproot their life when they are aware of the issues at Southend. We are not an attractive proposition.

“As a club – fan-base, we have huge potential. I’ve seen that grow throughout the years. There is a big following for the big London clubs in this area due to the migration from the capital to Essex over the years. But now, people like me – born here – and our kids, are growing up as Southend supporters.

“I think this is a reason why from the late nineties to the mid-2000s, Southend’s fan-base grew. Back then, a derby crowd of 4,000 against the likes of Leyton Orient was seen as a good turn out. But now, on a good day, we’d attract double that for a big match.

Peters continued: “The most heartbreaking thing is that the potential is there. As much as we love Roots Hall, the cost of upkeep is not realistic. If done right, in a new stadium playing decent football, I could see us achieving crowd figures between 10 and 15,000.

“That is more than doable, but it starts with the credibility – it starts with treating your fans with respect – it’s bringing your fans into the fold and making them feel they are a part of the effort.

“I think the Chairman talks down to the fans. As if we are not trusted with information, treated with kid gloves – like we are stupid. Some of our fans run high-flying businesses in London. Some of our fans are just as successful, if not more so than Ron Martin. Are they stupid as well?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that relationships are the key issue.

“If you look back at the league tables over the past ten to twenty years – at clubs we were playing in the bottom league – Hull, Cardiff, Swansea – that’s just three, Blackpool and Brighton another couple – they all went on to the Premier League. We were playing those sort of clubs week in, week out. Players like Roberto Marinez playing at Roots Hall. I remember these things and look where these clubs have gone. In common, they all at the time had proper investment and new stadiums – In Blackpool’s case, a rebuild.

“They got their stadiums, galvanised their support and made them an attractive proposition to incoming players. The minute a player takes to the surroundings and thinks they’ve hit the big time, a step up the ladder – again, it is about appearances.

“I understand some fans are sentimental and don’t want to move from Roots Hall. But football isn’t that way anymore. You’ve got to roll with the times if you want success.”

Southend United’s dream of a new stadium has been ongoing for more than three decades. Peters is reasonably confident but aired on the side of caution when quizzed as to whether he thought the project would go ahead: “I believe it will happen, providing we can survive financially until the stadium is built,” he said.

“It’s difficult. I believe the stadium is a done deal. Ron is dealing with Southend Borough Council. Once you are doing work with the council – government money – your money is as good as honoured.
From what I’ve seen from the council meetings, there is a consensus that they want this to happen. There are a couple of dissenting voices, worrying about traffic and such like, but that’s stuff that can be sorted out.

“I think back in the Vic Jobson days, the council wasn’t very receptive. I think Ron has worked some of his magic – and it is magic because Ron has an ability to get people on side, although for some reason that doesn’t always seem to stick.

“But the council are more than receptive and I think they realise now that the town benefits from having a professional football club. It puts us on the map. Couple that with the airport, the transf=port links into London. It comes down to Southend being a good prospect.

“I do believe that everything is in place and that everything is going well, in terms of it happening. Of course, time will tell and getting relegated out of the Football League does throw some doubt in my mind. But I don’t think that will waver the council because, at the end of the day, the stadium is not just about Southend United playing football, it is about the training facilities, community usage. It is about the land at Roots Hall being converted into much-needed housing. That is the main prize for the council.

“For all parties, Ron has achieved a win-win deal here in my respects. The thing that worries me, is after it is built, there is no retail, from what I can see, no non-matchday income. Where is that coming from? And that worries me.

“If that is the case, we end up in a situation where Southend United are back to square one because the whole reason for moving was to support the club financially going forward.

When asked whether he thought Ron had the club at heart, Scott said: “I believe when he first came in that this was purely a business deal. A property developer coming in and saying ‘we can do this – new ground – sell this land – all done’ and then he rides off into the sunset.

“And to be honest, if done properly, that isn’t a bad thing for the football club because all they are doing is using someone’s capital, their buying power and connections in the trade to do this. Then they sell it to whoever, walk away, hopefully with a supporters group having a share or a place on the board. That in itself could be a good thing.

“But what has happened – and I do believe this – I never used to be that critical of Ron but I am now, I do believe he cares to a certain extent. He’s bought the club, he’s done all this and he’s got the bug for it.

“He’s not a Chairman that doesn’t show up. He’s there every game. He goes to away games. If he was someone just looking to do this, that and the other and swan off into the sunset, he’d probably go to a few home games to keep up appearances with those coming down on the corporate side.

“To travel away, he must care to a certain extent. As critical as I am, I’ve seen Ron at Carlisle, places like that. He doesn’t have to travel all that distance. Sure, he might have someone drive him up there, but he’s still showing the commitment to do that. To a certain degree, he does care. From the first instance, he cares about his investment, but I think he’s fell in love with the football side of it. Perhaps that conflict of interests between the love of it and the business side of it has in a way distorted him?

“The club has, in a way, become his baby. At no point has he said we could put the club up for sale, we could attract new ownership to the club and I walk away with a shedload of money and go.

“But I think at times, Ron is his own worst enemy. Communication is everything and I think to a certain degree he is terrible at that. He’ll post a long-winded message on the clubs’ social media channels, talking in a formal way, a bit like an MP writing to you. It’s not down to earth or on the level. But then when he tries to make it down to earth, it comes across even worse. For example, he’ll put out a professional statement and instead of writing ‘McCormack’ he’ll put ‘Maccer’ – It reminds me a little of when Tony Blair came into power. All flash, all bravado, trying to be like the man on the street when you are not. By trying that, you make things worse.

“I don’t think Ron had this problem at the start. But since he’s been at the club, the internet and social media has exploded and become a force. Nothing like this was around in 1998.

“The club now has a huge online community, bigger than a lot of other clubs at our level. I don’t think Ron has moved with the times in that aspect – he doesn’t like the criticism. But the problem is that he doesn’t reveal enough to avoid the criticism. As I said, he won’t trust the supporters with the information – the fans get critical and Ron gets upset. It’s a vicious circle.

Mark Moseley’s appointment certainly raised a few eyebrows amongst supporters who knew very little about him. Scott suggested the new boss could only be judged under the altogether more normal circumstance to the ones he currently finds himself under at Roots Hall: “I think as football fans we all think we can do better. But sometimes I wonder just how much impact does a manager really have? What percentage is it down to the players? What weight does each hold?

“Mark won back-to-back promotions with Weymouth, which is a great achievement. He has proved that he can get success on a limited budget.

“But when you say back-to-back promotions, look at Steve Tilson. Personally, when it came down to Tilson, I always thought Paul Brush was the driving force of the operation, for which he didn’t get enough credit.

“Every season after our Championship campaign, Southend got progressively worse and we ended up back where we started from.

“I make the comparison because Tilson’s managerial career nosedived after Southend. Back-to-back promotions at one club do not mean to say you’ll be waving the magic wand at another.

“You need to make some astute signings, but you need to have one or two landing in your lap. For example, Tilson had Freddie Eastwood. That initially brought about a feel-good factor at the club.

“We’ve not really seen the astute or lucky signings from Molesley yet. But what I like is that he’s a manager who knows what he wants. He has brought his own backroom team, which Ron should get credit for, allowing and paying out for sizable additional staff.

“I like a manager who surrounds himself with people he trusts – a team. Too many managers come into clubs and want to do it all themselves. I think Phil Brown was one of those managers. But saying that, he was the last manager I felt Southend were safe with.

“There was a lot of bravado with Phil, but as long as results were coming on the pitch, most fans wouldn’t care. I guess it is the same with the likes of Steve Evans. If he’s your manager, you let him get on with it.

The recruitment of players has been questionable at Roots Hall for some time. Peters offered his own opinion, adding: “

I think it’s a combination of things. Wrong managerial appointments mainly. Kevin Bond kept us up. We made a meal of it, but we stayed up. Now Ron has always been loyal to his managers, I get that. He doesn’t make knee-jerk reactions when it comes to managers. But that can be your downfall as well.

It wasn’t working with Bond. We got lucky with the Sunderland result and that over-shone everything, it papered over the cracks. Bond had worked with Harry Redknapp at the other end of the scale – a totally different game in every respect. I think he wanted to play a brand of football our players simply were not capable of. He wanted to play a brand of football only suited to those technically minded to it. Better players. That is why it works for them.

In the lower leagues, it needs to be simpler – a lot more basic and to the point, ‘go out and get it done’ football. It was the same under Sol Campbell. OK, he kept Macclesfield up and I think it was Ron trying to make a marquee statement.

But big names don’t necessarily mean success. Personally, I think Sol thought he was too big for the club. At the start of lockdown, I understand he wasn’t in contact with the players – not even putting a ’virtual arm’ around them I think his appointment was a huge mistake.

“As I said before about Ron with the business side of the club, it is the same for a manager as well. Hearts and minds. You want to get players playing for you. You’re not just going to get players playing for you simply because you are Sol Campbell.”

But Southend has been in the relegation zone for the best part of two and a half years in whatever division they have been in. Peters insisted the only way forward from here is to be bold: “It’s reached the point where we’ve got to go for broke.

“Had we been in mid-table and fairly safe, I’d have steered clear of signing Nile Ranger. But the fact is, we are where we are. Assuming he is fit , I would sign him and have him in the starting line-up for the next game.

“We have to be bold and take some gambles. Playing safe is no longer enough. It’s not in our hands any more. If Grimsby and Stevenage hit some form, we are done for.

“I’d get Nile in the building. What is the worst that can happen?”

Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]