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SZ's SUFC Hall of Fame - Steve Tilson

Does Steve Tilson rank amongst the greatest dozen or so figures in SUFC's History

  • NO - that's not enough

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    70
  • Poll closed .

Yorkshire Blue

Super Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 27, 2003
Messages
34,301
Location
London
The SZ SUFC Hall of Fame has high standards.

It's exclusivity can be judged by the high calibre of those individuals who fell just short: the likes of Paul Sansome, David Crown, Ricky Otto and Ian Benjamin were great but not quite great enough. Indeed even Paul Clark and Ron Pountney only made it at the second attempt.

I think this candidate though has a chance.

A local lad, who everyone knows someone who's allegedly played a round of golf with him, and a Leeds fan who reputedly use to stand on the North Bank on a Friday night. But don't hold rumours of golf against him, he's more renowned as a table tennis player, oh and he played a bit of football as well. He might have made it into the Hall of Fame as a player alone after a glorious 9 year career with Southend which saw the club achieve the unthinkable with consecutive promotions to reach the second tier of English football - a feat we thought never to be repeated - but his Southend story goes further than even that improbable tale.

Stephen Brian Tilson was born in Wickford and started out in local non-league football before Hall of Famer David Webb spotted his talents at Witham Town and signed him aged 21 for Southend in 1988. He got off to an inauspicious start - his first appearance was as sub for Gary Bennett in a 4-0 defeat at Mansfield and the club were relegated that season but young Tilly had made an impression. His first of many goals coming against the mighty Wolves in a barnstorming 3-1 victory under the Friday night lights that had Roots Hall rocking (@SUFC_History do you have this one in your archive?) but my abiding memory of a young Steve Tilson would be his slide tackles when he'd go sliding past the attacker and then hook his leg back to win the ball cleanly by which time he'd be back on his feet and ready to start a counter attack, whilst his opponent's momentum would have carried them past him. I've never really seen anyone slide tackle like this before or after but he was a master. If it wasn't slide tackling, he'd be controlling a cross field pass from Paul Clark on his chest before swinging that ball in with his sweet left foot.

He started the following season suspended after a fracas at a Witham game in which he was a spectator incurred a suspension, but only played sporadically as the Blues gained promotion by finishing third in Division 4, Tilly scoring one goal in 11 starts and 5 sub appearances.

It was 1990-91 that Tilly became a first team regular and what a time to do so in perhaps Southend's greatest ever season. He didn't miss a game until April as Division 3 - and the Leyland Daf - didn't know what had hit them. Tilly banged in 11 of the 97 goals we scored that season - none better than this absolute belter
in the top of the table clash against Grimsby - including a hattrick against Aldershot in the Leyland Daf as the club equalled their biggest ever win by putting 10 past the hapless Shots.

He started division 2 on the bench but it took little more than a half of football to unseat Escape from Victory's Kevin O'Callaghan from the Kevin O'Callaghan memorial deckchair ((c) Roots Hall Roar) and reclaim his spot on the left side of midfield. This time Tilly would appear in every game as little ol' Southend took the second division by storm, going top on New Year's Day with a famous 4-0 win v Newcastle that marked the highwater of the club's time to date. Brett Angell may have got the plaudits with his spell of 9 goals in 7 games but Tilly banged in 5 games during that spell as "Angell, Tilson" became a familiar sight on Division 2 scoresheets. By now he was attracting top flight scouts and a £500,000 bid (which would have been a club record) was reportedly rejected from Coventry, FA Cup winners a few seasons before.

After Webb left the team struggled under the mad Colin Murphy but our games were now occasionally shown live by ITV(!) with commentary from the great Brian Moore and included gems such as the 3-3 v Millwall when Stan ran them ragged and Tilly grabbed a point with two fine finishes

1993-94 saw him relegated to the bench once more, behind a certain Ricky Otto and resulted in him leaving on loan for a month at Brentford for whom he played twice - the only other league club he played for. He then became more of a squad player than an automatic selection for the rest of his Southend career. It was a role in which his versatility came in handy - Port Vale's Jon McCarthy reckoned him a tougher opponent at left-back than Paolo Maldini, who he'd played the previous week against when lining up for Northern Ireland against Italy. He may be the only player to have ever played in goal (after Sammy was sent off v Barnsley), defence, midfield and attack for the Blues. He was still a regular enough player to manage to score own goals on the opening day of the season two years in a row - 1994/95 and 1995/96 but when he was released by Ronnie Whelan, after the custard splat monstrosity that was the 96/97 season, the outrage was felt enough that he was voted as player of the millennium a few years later. Tilly had racked up exactly 200 league starts with a further 40 sub appearances in his 9 years but that wasn't to be the end of Southend's love affair with Steve Tilson...

Tilly departed to non-league Canvey - reportedly rejecting offers from league clubs - where he also became a legend. But he couldn't keep away from Southend for ever. His return in 1999 was low key, as he was appointed Director of the Centre of Excellence, where he laid many of the foundations for Ricky Duncan to build upon, but he still ended up making a further 7 first team appearances (including the match Leon Cort scored his hattrick in). Following Rob Newman's appointment to the first team, his responsibilities widened to include the reserves. Then when Steve Wignall was sacked by Ron Martin - for a lack of passion in his eyes - the dependable Tilly was asked to step in as caretaker. It was only supposed to be a temporary appointment whilst Ron found a more experienced candidate - Ian Atkins was Ron's favoured choice but Tilly kept a relegation threatened side winning so long as he kept donkey Drewe Broughton out the side. Appointed as caretaker in November it wasn't until March that he was made permanent. He celebrated that by steering the side to our first ever cup final and we finished clear of relegation.

Expectations the following season still weren't that high as we were still suffering the hangover from the Alvin Martin era and we started off slowly but if Tilly wasn't great tactically he was a great man manager who players loved playing for, who ran with Webby's blueprint. He enticed his former team mates under Webb Paul Brush and Spencer Prior to join him - Brushy as assistant and Spinner as a player and between them they sorted out the defence, of which a homesick Adam Barrett was nominally part, when he wasn't charging forwards to join the attack. Up front he signed a gem from Grays in Freddy Eastwood - Freddy had fallen out of love with football before landing at Grays but Tilly's arm round the shoulder was just the style of management he needed to get the most out of his wonderful talents. The rest of the team was largely the players Steve Wignall had signed but couldn't get the best out of. But Tilly could get the best out of them and so many produced their best seasons under a player's manager. Players weren't slagged off in the media (other than by Geoff King) and their confidence grew and their performances flourished. That season the Blues got promoted at Cardiff in the play-offs - had they started faster they'd have surely won the title - and reached the JPT final once more.

And it wasn't just the success but the manner of it. His Southend sides were given the confidence to play some of the best football Roots Hall has witnessed. No game encapsulated this better than Yeovil the following season. 1-0 down at ht, we drew level, then took the lead and then played them off the park to win 4-1 with the most exhilarating football I've had the privilege to watch. That was the 6th of 8 consecutive wins (started by soundly beating Col Ewe at Roots Hall) - a new club record and all of a sudden Southend were involved in another promotion push. Best of all the town woke up to the fact that we had something special going on. Over 10,000 squeezed into Roots Hall to see us brush aside Brentford 4-1 in January and crowds of of 6 or 7 thousand became common place where once they had been 3 or 4 thousand. We then faced an early title showdown with Col Ewe who were surprisingly our closest rivals not just geographically but in the table. Southend fans took over Layer Rd once more and within half an hour we were in dreamland 3-0 up against our rivals and title challengers. The humiliation for Col Ewe was such that even Che Wilson scored. Promotion was duly wrapped up at Swansea and then Southend's second ever title (if we ignore Southern League Division 2 and the Essex Senior Cup) with Wayne Gray's late winner against Bristol City at a sun-drench Roots Hall on the last day of the season. We've never had it so good.

The Championship proved a harder nut to crack but that season will live on long for Southend winning a League Cup match. This once in a lifetime event made Freddy Eastwood a hero, as his 2 goals beat helped saw off Bournemouth at Dean Court in the first round. An incredible finish to the second round match v Brighton (4 goals in 4 minutes, including an absolute screamer from Lewis Hurt) as Southend came from 1-0 down with Freddy notching the winner saw us face Leeds, who were seen off with a young Gary Hooper (his sell on fees would be another Tilly legacy) brace. This was now uncharted waters for Southend, as was the next round, a barely mentioned routine win against Rooney and Ronaldo, courtesy of yet another Eastwood goal which saw us into the Quarter Finals of a cup competition for the first time ever. The dream was eventually to end in extra time to an offside goal at Spurs but what a journey. Promotions come and go but the memories of dumping the holders and eventual Premier League champions Man U out of the cup (their record that season: League winners; FA Cup finalists, beaten by Chelsea; League Cup 4th round, beaten by Southend United; Champions League Semi-Finallists, beaten by AC Milan) last a life time.

Alas that was to be the highwater mark of the Steve Tilson years - although the free-scoring (and conceding) side of 2007/08 where we reached the play-offs was our third best finish in the third tier since we returned to Roots Hall in 1955/56 - only behind the 1990/91 side Tilly played in and 2004/05 side he managed! The following year an extremely streaky side (capable of runs of winning 9 in 11 and losing 8 in 11 in the same season) finished 8th - but the sticking plasters Tilly was reduced to deploying to hold it all together were beginning to be visible as the side became increasingly dependent on loan signings. The subsequent end was painful as Tilly had to battle with embargoes and then Ron selling his main striker (Sol will be able to commiserate) in the January window but we're now able to look back past the painful memories of a side disintegrating in trying circumstances to remember the incredible achievements of Tilly as player and manager.

I've no doubt missed out loads he was an integral part of the two most successful teams by some distance in Southend history - so feel free to add your memories, reminisces and videos.

Steve Tilson

Southend United 1988-1998, 2002-04 (as player); 2003-2010 (as manager)

As player 1988-1998, 2002-04
Total Appearances 275 (1st spell 200+40 league, 4 FA Cup, 9+1 League Cup, 12+2 Other; 2nd spell 2+2 League, 2 FA Cup sub and 1 other)
Goals 30 (26 League; 1 FA Cup; 4 Leyland Daf, including three in our record win)
Promotions: 2 (1989-90, (1990-91)
Relegations: 2 (1988-89, 1996-97)
Club records - Record win (10-1 v Aldershot)
FA Cup 5th round 1991-92
Anglo-Italian Cup English runners-up 1993-94

As manager 2003-2010
Promotions
2004-05, 2005-06
Relegations 2006-07, 2009-10
Club records -
League Cup Quarter-finalists 2006-07
JPTrophy runners up 2003-04, 2004-05
Transfers - Recouped over £3m in transfer fees (Eastwood, Bailey, Hooper, Barnard)

Overall Managerial Record P358 W142 D88 L128
 
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