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OldBlueLady

Junior Blues Co-ordinator
Joined
Dec 27, 2007
Messages
47,288
Location
Benfleet
Nice piece from the Echo's site today (I know there's no paper today), could have gone in the other forum I guess, but thought it kind of went alongside the Hall of Fame stuff we've been doing.

Sing the Blues for stadiums past

12:10am Saturday 30th May 2009
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By Bernie Friend »
THE demolition countdown is ticking faster and faster for one of Southend’s most prominent landmarks.
Not the rickety arm of the world’s longest pier stretching out into the Thames Estuary, or the scaffold-covered Palace Hotel, looking down across its wooden beams.
But Roots Hall. The grey barrel roof, towering floodlight pylons and sneaked glimpse of the East Stand seats, which never fails to conjure mental action replays of memorable football matches every time I drive down Prittlewell Chase.
For as long as I can remember, my whole life in fact, this has been Southend United’s home. It’s the place I spent most Friday nights as a teenager, helplessly spellbound by the illuminated magic of football under floodlights; win, lose or draw.
I’ve shivered overnight inside a sleeping bag in the cold concrete car park, making sure I got tickets for a cup match against Spurs, boasting Gazza, Lineker et al.
There have been promotions and relegations, and as Blues reporter, I used to scribble notes on hundreds of games, from the second tier of English football, through to reserve and youth fixtures, plus a giant-killing feat against Manchester United destined to remain immortal.
But a big chunk of the picture is set to disappear for good. Roots Hall will make way for a new Sainsbury’s and flats, as soon as the Blues relocate to their new 22,000 capacity Fossetts Farm home, currently pencilled in for 2011.
I for one will be sad to see the old ground condemned to soccer’s graveyard. I would never stand in the way of progress, especially the extra cash windfall from on-site retail development.
But it will be hard to say goodbye to a very old friend. This thought left me mortified when I took a bone-digging spin around town, hoping to unearth some sort of legacy from the Shrimpers’ previous two homes in the borough – the Kursaal and Southend Stadium.
There are two significant nods to the Seasiders’ past, most notably the commemorative plaques slapped on the side of the club’s boozy birth place in 1906, the Blue Boar pub opposite Roots Hall, plus the weather-worn house of former manager David Jack, in Hamlet Court Road, Westcliff. Chain smoker David, whose father Bob was Blues’ first ever manager, is a legend himself.
He scored the first goal at Wembley for Bolton in the 1923 White Horse Final, captained England and won three First Division titles with the great Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal side of the Thirties. He held the managerial reins at Blues between 1934 and 1940.
But what of the stadium sites now, the long-expired heart beats of the community, where thousands of fans got behind their team on Saturday afternoons?
Roots Hall is the Blues’ spiritual home, having begun life at what was pretty much a playing field in 1906. At the end of the First World War, a row over rent saw the club move to within a corner kick of the seafront, to the Kursaal, in 1919.
The new windswept base, which frequently suffered from rolling blankets of sea fog, was plonked on the east side of a sprawling fairground.
Covered stands would eventually run along both lengths of the pitch, with one of the goal ends dwarfed by a giant waterchute, backing on to Woodgrange Drive, where fans would gain entry to the ground, as well as another opening in Beresford Road.
In 1921, Southend lost an FA Cup tie 4-1 against Spurs in front of 11,661 supporters, but today it is hard to imagine a ball being kicked here at all.
Now it is home to a three tiered maze of unattractive, dated flats, with hard concrete balconies supporting white plastic chairs, wild pot plants and rotary clothes lines spinning wet socks.
Prospect Close arrows north to south through what would have been the ground’s centre circle. But there is no physical football link, despite flat complexes paying homage to the land’s fun fair past; Ferris, Coaster and Skelter Steps. Even the estate’s community centre has a colourful graffiti rollercoaster sprayed across a wall!
What would have been wrong with a Jim Shankly House? Christened after the striker, whose net-busting exploits at the Kursaal helped earn a joint club record 31 league goals during the 1928/29 season.
The highest crowd at the Kursaal was 18,153 for an FA Cup clash with Nottingham Forest, 12 times greater than the current population of 1,500 residents, spread across 96 houses and 600 flats. All that remains from the glory days, of both fair and football ground, is the famous Kursaal Dome.
A re-jigged board of directors decided to relocate the team once again in 1934 to the newly-built greyhound race track, the Southend Stadium, which replaced an old brickworks next to Grainger Road.
The new home was airy and spacious, and again had two covered stands, but lacked the noisy atmosphere of the tightly-packed Kursaal.
A crowd of nearly 24,000 crammed in for a 2-1 cup replay defeat against Spurs in 1936. But regular supporters remained unimpressed. The fans were further away from the action, and forced to squint across the wide circular racecourse to the central pitch.
It was a case of like it or lump it, as it would be more than 20 years and another world war, before the Shrimpers finally returned to their Roots Hall cradle in 1955.
Like the Kursaal, there is nothing left of the old Stadium, which, plagued by doping rumours, limped on as a racing venue until the Eighties, before a bulldozer helped to make way for the soulless Greyhound Retail Park.
The stands, grass and goal posts have long since been replaced by a blue-rinse brigade magnet in the form of a bingo hall, frozen food store, bed mattress warehouse and supermarket. Not forgetting the boarded up red brick turret of an old video shop.
Even Matalan has missed out on the chance of giving something back, displaying giant posters of women in lingerie and well-toned men modelling suits and boxer shorts. Surely, they could have mounted a blown up black and white print of a long-faced football crowd watching a game through binoculars over the cutlery shelves?
Stadium Road, a quiet cul-de-sac, just about carries a torch for yesteryear, but the embers stopped glowing long ago.
When the Blues do finally up sticks, I hope the current club chiefs learn from the past, and leave some kind of subtle tribute to a fondly-cherished stadium.
In 20 years time, when customers peruse the packaged meats aisle of the new Roots Hall supermarket, they probably won’t even realise their shopping trolleys are covering hallowed ground. A part of Southend which attracted 31,090 spectators for an FA Cup tie against Liverpool in the Seventies – a club record likely never to be beaten.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see a Collymore Close, or Tilson Terrace left behind? Or best of all, a Broomfield Way, in honour of former groundsman Sid, who was the driving force behind transforming a smelly rubbish pit into Southend’s very own theatre of dreams.
 
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