Saturday 3rd April 2010
Southend-on-Sea is a district borough and seaside resort in Essex. The borough covers the districts of Chalkwell, Eastwood, Leigh-on-Sea, Shoeburyness, Southchurch, Westcliff-on-Sea, Thorpe Bay and of course Prittlewell - which is where you’ll find Roots Hall - the home of Southend United.
The town has the worlds longest pleasure pier, stretching 1.34 mile and is a popular destination for “chirpy cock-a-nees” looking for a day away from the smoke for a spot of sand, sea air and fresh jellied eels.
Southend United have played at Roots Hall since 1955, although they originally played on the same site almost 50 years earlier.
The pitch was within the grounds of an 18th century house called Roots Hall, first used by Southend Athletic until the ground was taking over by the newly formed United in 1906.
Plans for United to purchase the ground were halted by World War I, the land was used for storage to aid the war effort, so when the club reformed after the conflict they moved to a new home on the sea front beside the amusement park, known as The Kursaal.
United joined the Football League in 1920, playing at the Kursaal until 1933, leaving after the opportunity arose to move to The Southend Stadium, the town’s newly built greyhound stadium.
When the lease was due to expire at the greyhound stadium, the club looked at a return to their roots at Roots Hall, which was now a being used as a rubbish tip.
The Main East Stand didn’t run pitch length until 1967, the lower standing paddock was replaced with seats in 1992. The stand has a pitched roof with executive boxes along the back and two glass press boxes in the centre above the pitch entrance. There isn’t any dugouts, just a few seats with a small section of seats for subs behind a brick wall.
A trust fund was set up in 1950, involving the mayor, the club board and supporters club with the aim of raising £11,258 to purchase the land from the local council.
In March 1953 work finally began, mainly thanks to donations of building materials and voluntary labour from the local community. After five years of negotiations and hard work The Shrimpers finally played their first game at Roots Hall on the 20th August 1955. The Division Three South fixture against Norwich City was watched by a crowd of 17,700.
The ground once opened became a work-in-progress for a number of years. The West Stand roof became double-barrelled and extended in length in 1956, floodlights were added in 1959 and the man made 72 step South Bank kop was finally completed in 1964.
In the early days the main problem was the drainage of the pitch, which was built upon thousands of tonnes of rubbish which meant the surface became a swamp in the winter months, so prior to the 1956-57 season the pitch was re-laid with a new drainage system which is still in use today.
I sat in the West Stand which became all seated in 1992 with blue plastic flip seats with SUFC picked out in yellow. The stand has its own bar at the back and once inside you can clearly see the two sections of barrelled roofs and how it was extended in 1995 to meet the North and South Stands.
In 1988 the South Stand terrace was reduced to make way for a property development with 86 flats going up behind the terrace. The flats look over towards the North goal but I never noticed anyone taking advantage of a free view of the game. In 1994 it became all seated with a new double-decker stand. The seats are equally divided between blue and yellow with the top tier slightly overhanging the bottom section with the Frank Walton Stand clock perched centrally on the top deck roof.
The North Stand had seats bolted on to the terrace in 1995. The stand is shared between the Southend singing section (and drummer) in the yellow seats and the away fans in the blue seats, there’s also an electric scoreboard directly above the goal.
Roots Hall at its peak catered for 35,000 spectators, with over 15,000 on the old South Bank Kop, the record attendance stands at 31,090 for an FA Cup third round tie with Liverpool in January 1979.
Minutes later a gentleman appeared from the office who looked like he was ‘the gaffer’ saying “Are you the one from Newcastle?” before letting me into the ground to snap away at my hearts content before meeting in front of the Main Stand, taking a picture of me in the stand and walking back through the exit via the players tunnel.
My ten minutes free time inside the ground was my Roots Hall highlight as the action on the pitch a few hours later failed to live up to the big relegation six pointer.
Southend’s good scoring run of eight goals in the last three games dried up in front of your truly. The game was open with both teams trying their best to play good football, however it was in the last third where it all went wrong as both defences had a trouble free afternoon.
Southend’s biggest threat came from Johnny Herd’s long throw-ins and substitute Francis Laurent did his best to open up the Yeovil defence with his long mazy runs. The best chances fell to the visitors late in the game with efforts from Welsh and Smith producing good saves from Mildenhall.
The Shrimpers won’t be happy dropping valuable points at home with their last remaining fixtures including some tough away games, but there’s also some winnable home ties where maximum points are a must in their bid to avoid the drop.
This years Easter break was spent in a part of the country which was previously unexplored by the Smudgers. We travelled from north-east to the south-east down to the Essex coast, staying in Clacton-on-Sea. As we were in the area I thought it would be a good idea to bag the two League grounds in that part of Essex; the two United’s in Southend and Colchester. So did these two games over a family weekend away happen to be a coincidence or maybe a piece of good planning on my part? …Well what do you think? Those who know me will know. ;-)