There hasn’t been much to smile about for Southend fans over the last couple of years.
For a start they have been watching a team cobbled together from a handful of contracted players, a smattering of youth team players and a rotating door of loanees. This in itself is difficult enough for a manger to cope with.
But against the back drop of multiple winding up orders, non-payment of player wages, transfer embargoes, and the unceremonious sacking of assistant manager Paul Brush, it made managing Southend United a virtually impossible job for then manager Steve Tilson, and so it proved as the season climaxed with relegation.
Understandable then, the fans angry reactions to seeing their local hero being placed on gardening leave by chairman Ron Martin, the man widely viewed as the villain of the piece.
However, into the fray stepped newly appointed manager Paul Sturrock, accompanied by his new assistant Tommy Widdrington. Neither has officially signed as the embargo is still in place.
However, this hasn’t stopped a flurry of transfer activity, and Blues fans starved of good news and new players for so long, are suddenly gorging themselves on the plethora of players auditioning and winning parts in Sturrock’s plans for re-inventing Southend United.
It hasn’t all been good news for Sturrock mind, a mini exodus of players, following the mutual cancellation of their contracts. A result of the players having become disillusioned with the clubs current regime, regular arrears in paying player wages, (some of which are still believed to be outstanding) the main concern.
Pre-season, hasn’t exactly gone to plan either, the big opening game against Roy Keane’s Ipswich, and local side Canvey Island having to be cancelled at Sturrock’s request. Sturrock stating he needed to build on the seven players he inherited before playing any pre-season friendlies.
Although the conspiracy theorists amongst Southend’s popular online forum Shrimperzone, believe the protest against Martin’s running of the club, in plan for the Ipswich game played its part in the fixture not taking place.
Southend, with Sturrock at the helm, have now replenished their ranks, albeit on pre-contracts, that pesky embargo still hindering true progress, and have even got a couple of pre-season friendlies under their belt.
A 2-0 loss at non-league Dartford and a far more impressive 1-1 draw with championship side Derby the outcomes so far. It’s through these games that Southend’s extremely loyal, and battle hardened fans are daring to allow themselves a glimmer of hope.
Impressive performances from newly crowned club captain Craig Easton, alongside Anthony Grant in the centre of the park. Ryan Hall, snapped up from non-league Bromley has impressed on the wings with his directness and clever runs. Zaboub and Soares have both showed promising glimpses of their ability too.
Meanwhile at the back, Peter Gilbert, Bilel, Clohessy and Coughlan displayed a strong pedigree, conceding only the once against opposition two tiers above. Experienced Rhys Evans has also signed a pre-contract to cover the goalkeeping position.
With this influx of players comes hope, although fans are realistic too, they understand with the embargo still in place and the results of the HMRC audit to be revealed August 2nd, the rug could yet be pulled from under them. And with under a week between this pivotal date and the start of the season, it truly is a critical decision.
Chairman Martin realises this, and will be hoping with the backing of Sainsbury’s, the club can overcome yet another hurdle.
It will take a lot more though before he wins back the trust of the excellent fan base he has been very lucky to inherit, but a fan base, that if examined closely, will betray a slight new spring in their step; let’s hope they get the outcome they truly deserve, on and off the pitch.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.