We’re down lads…

Southend United v Chesterfield – Vanarama National League – Roots Hall Stadium – Saturday (3pm) – Preview

Absence makes the heart grow fonder…

As you are well aware, my job often directs me away from Roots Hall Stadium. It’s part and parcel, some people get it, some don’t, I understand that. Nevertheless, it’s good when an opportunity comes along to catch up with old friends and chew the fat over Southend United Football Club.

Tuesday evening provided such an occasion. Unfortunately, the fans I came across felt downtrodden, depressed and downright angry.

Let’s start with the positives;

Thanks to a decent second-half strike from Nathan Ferguson, the Blues won a Vanarama National League match for the first time in seven attempts. Sure, the football was crude, rustic and rumbustious – the three points somewhat more appetising. 

And, well, erm… Well, that’s about it. Our Theatre of Shrimps has been the epicentre of discontent in the past, and this was no exception. The main talking point of the evening wasn’t the football or Ferguson’s crystalised match-winner.

After chairman, Ron Martin had confronted disgruntled supporters at Solihull three days, the Roots Hall faithful responded. Blues were watched by a crowd almost 1,700 lower than any of their previous home games this season, while banners were displayed and calls – which gained velocity throughout the evening – were made for Mr Martin’s departure.

Around 250 supporters took to the pitch at the final whistle, congregating in front of the director’s box and making their feelings very clear.

Though I can confirm that former Blues frontman, Stan Collymore was present. One can only speculate as to whether it was a fleeting visit, or to offer the beleaguered Blues chairman an olive branch. Only they know the answer In the meantime, concern and negativity remain the two main factors uniting the fanbase, particularly after a recent poll suggested that 95 per cent of them have no confidence in Mr Martin’s stewardship of the club or his ability to turn it around. 

Anyway, other stuff. Have I ever told you about my obsession with airships? October 5, 1930 – 91 years ago, this week…

Tragedy over northern France as the Airship R101 was forced down just outside Allonne to the south-east of Beauvais, northern France and immediately exploded.

I’ve always been fascinated by these frighteningly glorious monsters of the sky. Hugely ambitious, glamorous but floored and ultimately distrusted by the public. The tragedy signalled the end of the British Airship industry. A realisation that the project was not financially viable as well as being largely unreliable.

I just wondered, has that touched a nerve with anyone? No? Okay, swiftly moving along, the latest episode of celebrity squares, with Mr Martin and Blues CEO, Tom Lawrence the centre of attention. The hugely ambitious, glamorous, expensive – well, you get it – Fossetts Farm project amongst the topics on the agenda.

As you can imagine, it is difficult to cram a ninety-minute meeting into this column, so let me have a go at summing up; Awkward silences, contradiction, head-shaking, the rolling of eyes, several references to Gillingham, but ultimately a wedge between Chairman and supporters as wide as the North Sea… or perhaps, the Thames, should you reside west of the Pier. Oh, and it’s worth noting, Ron didn’t see the hotdog either (I guess you had to be there – I’m afraid, I wasn’t).

Finally, the various supporter’s groups seem completely united. Kerry Fairless conducted the meeting flawlessly, while the questioning remained intense and on the money throughout.

In responding, the chairman appeared uncomfortable and his explosive, foul-mouthed reaction to Shane Chapman was completely unnecessary and unprofessional. Sure, Mr Martin apologised for his eye opening tirade. But so swiftly off the back of his actions at Solihull and remembering similar incidents towards Save Our Southend’s Scott Peters and Jack Allen several months ago, it was uncomfortable viewing and is hardly likely to have gained him any sympathy at a time when allies are becoming increasingly difficult to come by.

Similarly unwelcome was Mr Martin suggesting that the club would fold if he turned his back on it, stating: “Because there’s a debt owed to me of twenty million and I would like that back.” What with manager, Phil Brown, telling the media that the club was ‘facing oblivion’ following the defeat at Solihull, supporters concerns are now at fever pitch. On a couple of occasions during the meeting, Mr Martin suggested that he loves the club and we all want the same thing. But it remains a mystery why a businessman and property developer, who by his own admission won’t recover his investment, remains defiant when quizzed over whether he’d consider selling up?

Oh, by the way. Remember the R101? Among the passengers killed was Lord Thomson of Cardington, the Air Minister who championed the maiden, and ultimately catastrophic, voyage from Cardington, Bedfordshire to India despite concerns over the ships’ ability, handling and long-term reliability, from the crew. It was believed by some that he had an ulterior political motive to push ahead with the project, Thompson’s own standing within his peers masking the hazards and reality and ultimately proving costly. 

Sorry, going off on one about airships again. Where was I? Oh yes, why would a man champions an uncertain and exorbitant project for more than twenty years, despite suggesting there’s nothing in it for him? 

Vanity? His love of the club – as he vigorously pointed out during the meeting, this after suggesting he had once supported Liverpool? Whatever it is, the fans don’t appear to be buying it. 

As mentioned, my job is to report. Well, I’ve spoken to plenty of supporters who believe the new stadium project is for the benefit of Ron Martin and not Southend United. This was also implied by Richard Smith during the meeting. Naturally, the chairman, again appearing rattled, vigorously denied that particular accusation. But as yet, his proposed ‘legacy for the fans of the club’ seems about as distant and likely as Karachi did from Cardington for the R101!

For the vast majority of Southend supporters, it was the chairman’s response to questioning from Mr Peters which signalled further alarm. When asked why the club is seen by the wider footballing fraternity as a laughing stock? “I don’t know the answer, because if I knew the answer we’d put it right,” was his concerning reply following a lengthy pause.

Mr Peters also asked why the chairman couldn’t write off accrued debts immediately. Initially, Mr Martin said; “It will happen when we move.

When Mr Fairless pressed for further enlightenment, the chairman hesitantly said: “The last time we wrote it off there was a reason behind why we did it. We’ll be looking at that over the next year or so. It’s got to be in the best efficient way for the football club. Let us do what we are doing.” I looked at the facial expressions of those involved in the meeting. No guys, me neither? 

Anyway, we shouldn’t forget that Southend United – now one without defeat – have a football match to play on Saturday afternoon.

High-flying Chesterfield comes to Roots Hall. A club in recovery themselves, appearing healthy and ready to challenge for a place back in the EFL.

The Spireites are currently amongst the play-off contenders despite a three-match winless sequence. Mr Martin suggested the unrest inside Roots Hall has affected the players. But from what I witnessed on Tuesday evening, the Blues support were firmly behind the team – He was the only target of criticism, the atmosphere was brought about by his actions.

Once again, I fully expect the home crowd to back the team, though whether we have the quality to win the game is another question entirely. However, I’d imagine the heat on the chairman displayed on Tuesday evening will be a degree or two hotter, not only come 3pm but over the coming weeks to boot.

Oh, here I go again. In the early hours of October 5, 1930, the stricken Airship R101 gently came to rest on the edge of a hillside. Moments before it exploded, Chief Coxswain Hunt sent out the warning; “We’re down lads.” The warning and subsequent fight for survival came too late. I’m troubled. There are far too many parallels between my two unhealthy obsessions, both predictably tragic in their own separate ways. 

Jeevesie’s prediction: Southend United 0-2 Chesterfield 

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Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]