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  • Southend United and the Holy Grail – Part 2

    Games are coming thick and fast in this condensed season and Southend United have completed another three fixtures since part one of this piece – two league games and an FA Cup first round tie. First, we went up against Port Vale at home and lost 0-2. Vale’s manager added salt to our wound by describing this as the easiest win he’s had since taking charge of Vale in February last year.,

    We then travelled to out of form Bradford City for a midweek fixture where we were our usual charitable selves and helped The Bantams rediscover some confidence, gifting them an easy 3-0 win (all goals coming in an awful first half). Finally, we headed to Boreham Wood of the Conference National. Even though we are still a league club, we went into this game as the underdogs and duly went 2-0 down before waking up and deciding to ‘do football’. We clawed it back to 2-2 and went into extra time… went 3-2 down, pulled it back to 3-3… went to a penalty shootout and… lost!

    So, last time out I arrived at our playoff promotion back to League One in 2015, which led to our owner, Ron Martin getting a bit carried away with his ambitions, relative to our club’s poor financial health.

    We were already in debt to the tune of approximately £16 – £20m when Martin backed Phil Brown in bringing in some expensive signings. Over the next few seasons we signed players like Rob Kiernan (from Glasgow Rangers), Anton Ferdinand (once of West Ham), Michael Kightly (who started his career with Southend before playing in the top two tiers), Simon Cox (Reading) and the troublesome yet talented Nile Ranger (once of Newcastle). These players, many of whom were in the twilight years of their career, or injury prone (or both), were earning a lot of money for our level and Martin himself stated that we had one of the highest wage bills in League One. It is telling that the recruitment plot was truly being lost after the departure of CEO Steve Kavanagh in late 2016.

    When Kavanagh’s pending departure was announced in the local press, Martin stated, “… we obviously need to be able to find a replacement”, but four years on and the post of CEO has still not yet been filled. In fact, Martin has said that he has somebody in mind, but now is not the right time for a CEO! If a time of crisis isn’t the time, then when is? It appears that Martin wants to do it all himself while clearly demonstrating that he can’t.

    In 2016/17 Brown did get us to within one point of the League One playoffs (we stumbled on the last day and Millwall took the final playoff place instead). The promise of this season was not mirrored in 2017/18 and, with the club just a couple of points above the drop zone, Brown was placed on the famed ‘gardening leave’ in January 2018. It seems that the expensive squad lacked discipline and togetherness, which was reflected in the increasingly poor performances and stories were rife of a divided dressing room.

    Ron Martin quickly appointed Chris Powell as Brown’s successor. As a player, Powell was a fan’s favourite at Roots Hall between 1990 and 1996 and his return lifted most of the supporters as well as the club in general. Powell’s passion had an immediate effect on the team and he guided the club to a mid-table finish that season.

    In the summer Powell added to his squad with some useful players (and some not so great) and had a number of Brown’s big earners still on the books but, largely, in the physio’s room rather than on the pitch. However, Powell watched as his team was hit by injury after injury (some of them long term and career threatening). It was an unbelievable run which we still seem to be experiencing. It’s as if we have some kind of injury curse hanging over us. At one point, if memory serves me correctly, Powell had around 14 players out of contention for a spell. With a depleted squad, and Powell seemingly losing his way, Southend found themselves above the relegation zone on goal difference and, in late March 2019, the club were on the lookout for a new manager once again.

    At this point, in comes Harry Redknapp, whispering spells in Martin’s ear and recommending his former assistant, Kevin Bond, as the man for the job. Despite Bond’s lack of pedigree as a first team manager (he had an unimpressive stint at Bournemouth back in 2006-2008), Martin appointed him for the remaining fixtures of the 2018/19 season with the remit of keeping the club in League One (it has since transpired that Redknapp was pretty much pulling the strings behind the scenes). Southend did manage to avoid the drop with a dramatic final day home win against Sunderland.

    You would be forgiven for thinking that this narrow escape would be the catalyst for sweeping change… that everything possible would be done to avoid a repeat of the 2018/19 season. However, it is obvious that this what not to be the case… and worse was yet to come.

    That will take me to part three of what was going to be a two parter. There’s a lot to unpick!



    Article written by Southend Fan and accomplished writer Mark Warner.

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