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Episode 16 - 1921-22 The worst season ever until NOW


The PL League Boss
Apr 28, 2006
PL Headquarters Hullbridge
Episode 1 - 1921-22 The worst season ever until NOW

Before we start looking at the day to day goings of our beloved football club it’s worth thinking about the situation in 1921 particularly in view of the current situation with the Coronavirus.

The horrors of the First World War 1914-1919 are well documented but the casualties are estimated at between 20.5 million and 22 million, of which about half were military personal the other half were civilian largely dying from famine and disease.

If that wasn’t bad enough there was a Flu Pandemic from 1918 to December 1920 (Spanish Flu) the death total from this is estimated anywhere between 11.5 million and 50 million and some even go as high 100 million.

So with the world struggling to get to terms with all this you would have thought that football was the last thing on peoples minds, but one thing that the returning troops wanted to keep their football clubs alive. Season 1919-20 saw Southend United in the Southern League but the entire Division was transferred to the Third Division in 1920-21 which now brings us to Season 1921-22………………...

In preparation for the annual meeting the annual report and balance sheet for the Southend United club has just been issued. The report states that the share holders are to be congratulated upon the financial success of the company during the past season which has resulted in a net profit of £371 10s 1d (£371.50) which is carried forward. The results from a playing standpoint were in many respects disappointing although the players are to be commended for their success in the Football association Cup competition which resulted in the club reaching the third round for the first time, ultimately being beaten by winners of the cup.

The profit and loss account for the season contains some interesting and illuminating information which spectators and supporters would do well to bear in mind. Despite record receipts, the clubs unprecedented success in the English Cup and the excellent weather which favoured home gates, the outstanding feature of the balance sheet, is that but for the amount received in Transfer fees the club would not have paid it’s way last season. The sum received for players transfers was £3,922 0s 9d (£3,922.04) and even allowing for £3,196 2s 3d (£3,196.13) spent on ground maintenance and improvements - not likely to recur to anything like this extent for some years - there is still a considerable deficiency. When criticising the management and Directors for not embarking on a more enterprising policy for the future, supporters must not lose sight of the fact that they themselves have not as yet made the club self supporting. It is up to them by increased attendance to do so.
From the Southend Standard 25th August 1921

As always the expectations of the Southend public had been much greater than their achievements and fighting off re-election fears had not gone down at all well. Manager Tom Mather was very much aware of this and did his best to boost the squad with more experienced players, this looking to South Wales as well as the North. However getting in players is one thing, getting them to play well together is another

The demand for Season Tickets this year is exceptional and a large number of the seats in the centre stand have been disposed of. Spectators this season will appreciate that their seats are numbered and reserved for them so that they may occupy the same seats all season. The seats for the centre stand are £3 12s 6d and for the ground £1 2s 6d including tax. The plan of the stand can be seen at the ground or at a local stationer in Victoria Avenue.
From the Southend Standard 18th August 1921

To give some idea of these prices before the war in 1914 the minimum wage was 16/9d (84p) for a 58 hour week, wages and inflation reaching a peak in the summer of 1921 when the minimum wage was £2 6s 10d (£2.34), but wages dropped dramatically to £1 13s 9d (£1.69) in a short space of time, although this was now for a 50 hour week. A pint of beer had been 3d before the war rose to 5d just after the war and by 1921 had risen again to 7d.

So basically the working man had more time or his hands for entertainment, admission to the Kursaal at 1/- (5p) was cheaper than two pints of beer at 1/2d (6p), a standing season ticket (£1.13p) was about half the minimum weekly wage (£2.34) while a seat in the stand was about a week and a halves wages.
So at the start of the season prices were very reasonable, but a depression was on it’s way


Of the previous season’s players, Jimmy Evans, Tom Capper, Blakey Martin, George Nicholls, Henage Wileman, Harry Allen, James Lawson, Tommy Nuttall and Harry Baldwin had been retained. However Joe Dorset and Joe Walters had both joined Millwall, Arthur Whalley had moved on to Charlton and Andrew Newton had been transferred to Accrington, also Bob Reid and Jim Henderson had left the club. The side needed rebuilding and in May 1921 Fred Halstead and Stephen Howard were both signed from Blackpool. In June 1921 Stan Dellow was signed from Bradford City, Billy Evans from Swansea, David Reid from Aston Villa, Tommy Jones from Bristol City and an amateur from Leigh Ramblers Henry White. In July 1921 Fred Harris joined from Swansea, Billy Kettle from Ebbw Vale, Alex Elliott from Wigan Borough, Billy Ruddock from the Wednesday and another amateur Syd Jefferies. One more signing followed in August 1921 George Lawrence also signed from Darlington. It was a lot of new signings it remained to be seen how they would perform.


.Tom Capper had been retained with Joe Hall for cover.
Full Backs .The consistent Jimmy Evans had been retained and joined by Stan Dellow and Billy Evans
Centre Half
, Two new centre halves were signed George Lawrence and Fred Halstead.
Half Backs, Henage Wileman and Blakey Martin were supported by new signing Bob Reid.
Harry Baldwin had been retained with new Signings Billy Kettle, Fred Harris and Harry Allen.
Inside Forwards Tommy Nuttall had been retained and new signing Stephen Howard
Centre Forward
. New signings Billy Ruddock supported by amateurs Alf Flowers and Henry White


Pre season friendlies were usually in house affairs, Blues v Whites or Blues v Stripes, but as a contest they were lacking both as a stern test for the players or as real entertainment for the spectators. They would more often than not be two matches the first one experimental with a few amateurs thrown into the pot, and the second the probable first team against the best of what was left.

13th August 1921
As a curtain raiser for the system, a trial match for amateurs was arranged with the Blues v Stripes at the Kursaal and was well attended by about 1,500 spectators despite the heavy rain of the morning and early afternoon. The Blues were convincing winners by 6-1 in an entertaining if somewhat crude match, but of course the Blues had no reserve team the preceding season.

22nd August 1921
The second friendly was the Blues, who were the possible first team played the Stripes, who were the remainder of the squad and a few Amateurs. After a decidedly tame exhibition the blues won by two goals to one.

Moderate and lacking in incident exchanges were the outstanding features. It was obvious that some of the men were not displaying form of the standard required. I do not consider that the material that the club has at its disposal at the present is sufficiently to make a successful match winning side.
From the Southend Standard 25th August 1921”


Many dozen times or so this season I have been asked my personal opinion of the prospects of the United club for the tournament at which we now stand on the threshold. The answer has always been “you can’t tell how they will shape until you see them against strong opposition
From the Southend Standard 25th August 1921

Next Monday Episode 2:
The Season starts
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