Southend United 1 Crewe Alexandra 1
Payne (90+4 pen) Cooper (86)
Football League Division One
5,444 (Crewe 117)
The final ground in my ‘Doing the 92’ journey was Roots Hall, home of the Shrimpers, Southend United. It had been planned that way as my good friend Andy “The Shrimper” had agreed to book a table in the Blue Lounge for a little celebration on the appointed day although we didn’t know which game it would be until recently of course. The fact it was Crewe was perfect for me as not only are they the closest league club to home but I also travelled with the Crewe supporters to their game at Colchester not long ago.
Mrs W was with me for this trip which also took in a one night stop in Reigate in Surrey to visit our son Adam and then a night in Brighton for the Leeds game at the Amex. From Brighton we drove to Southend for the Crewe game. It was an exhausting trip anyway but wasn’t helped by a very late night in the bar after the Leeds game with 3 lads who’d also be at Southend with me. We’d chanced upon a bloke in the bar who had been proposed to by his girlfriend earlier in the day (it being 29th February of course!) and he was happy to spend a few hours with us celebrating while we drowned our sorrows following an embarrassing 4 – 0 defeat by the Seagulls. Quite what the lad’s girlfriend was doing while his nibs was getting drunk with us, we don’t really know! Anyway, we went to bed around 3am.
Having never been to Southend before, Mrs W and I were looking forward to walking the length of the famous mile long pier before the game but when we arrived there we spotted a notice saying it was only open Wednesday to Sunday during the winter! We made do with a coffee in Alfresco, around the corner from the end of the pier and watched as a JCB hurled huge boulders into the estuary as they worked on the new lagoon they are building. From there it was a quick dash back to the Westcliff Hotel for a change of clothes and then we met up at the Olde Trout Pub in London Road. There were six of us, all Leeds fans albeit two live in Southend. If you go there I can recommend the house beer – Trout Ale! After a swift one (or a swift two if you’re name was Keith!) we made our way to Roots Hall where The Shrimper was waiting for us.
We’d driven past the ground in the daylight earlier in the day and it looks every bit what it is… an old ground built mainly in the 1950’s. Hence there is plenty of wood and corrugated iron to be found in Roots Hall! Just one stand is more modern and dates from the 1990s; the quirky double decker South Stand, which The Shrimper tells me replaced a magnificent monster of a banked terrace that once held 16,000 fans! We were sat to the right of centre in the East Stand on old wooden slab seats that reminded me of the away end at Turf Moor, although these were a tad narrower making it very intimate! Opposite was the very dodgy looking TV gantry that appeared to be on stilts and looked slightly “wonky”! Completing a very traditional 1950s looking stadium are four floodlight towers.
We were wined and dined in the Blue Lounge, a small function room in the East Stand that was overseen by former Southend striker David Crown who did a fantastic job in keeping us and the other guests amused. Don’t be thinking too grand here mind… my lounge and dining room is bigger when the dividing doors are open! I was presented with a signed match ball and The Shrimper had organised a lovely “92 cake” for the occasion as well; we all joined in trying to answer the quiz questions while tucking into our cottage pie or chicken breast. It was good old fashioned football hospitality. The only drawback was that every time you needed a pee you had to go out into the main body of the stand to scrimmage with the rest of the fans! Our table of Leeds fans was of course an easy target for David Crown’s quick wit with that 4 – 0 thumping the previous night still fresh in everyone’s memory.
For the record, it was a decent game in which Crewe looked the more polished side – strange as they languished near the foot of the table while The Shrimpers were knocking on the play off door. Having said that, the home side should have gone in a goal to the good when a soft looking penalty was awarded them but the Crewe keeper pulled of a fine save diving away to his right.
In the second half, it was starting to look like this was going to be a nil-nil draw and that for me would have been fairly unusual! Indeed, I had gone 44 consecutive games in this “92” journey without seeing a goalless game; the last one being Leeds drawing 0-0 at what is now the King Power Stadium in Leicester. It would be a shame! Thankfully, referee Peter Bankes was doing his best to help out in this respect and next he gave a late free kick to Crewe, about 35 yards out. He then proceeded to pace out the 10 yards but he clearly took eleven paces! Now, had he been a little fellow that could be excused, but Peter Bankes is a big strapping bloke and the home crowd was calculating he’d given Crewe a working distance of around 15 yards! The Southend players thought so too and little David Worrall paced out his own ten paces and came up well short of the refs measure… he was quickly booked for showing dissent! Predictably, with loads of space to work with, George Cooper curled a perfect left foot free kick over the wall into the top corner! The 117 Crewe fans went bonkers behind the goal to our right, celebrating what would surely be a vital and not undeserved three points. There were only 4 minutes plus added time to go.
But we were forgetting about Mr Bankes, and with only seconds of added time left, Jamar Loza went down in the box and Mr Bankes was pointing at the spot yet again! This time Jack Payne made no mistake, the home crowd went wild and finally Mr Bankes blew for full time. It was full time for me too, the 92 was complete.
After the game, the Southend left back Ben Coker came into the lounge still in his kit except he’d swapped his boots for a pair of flip flops! You wouldn’t get that in the Premier League! What a great lad he is though and he went round having his picture taken with us all. He’s a decent full back too who would be worth Leeds looking at!
So that was it, 92 grounds, the first at Elland road in 1968 and the last at Southend in 2016; 48 years between the two. Prior to when I began watching Leeds home and away some 6 years ago, I’d managed just 17 grounds of the current 92 (although a significant number of others that are no longer in use such as Maine Road, Roker Park, Ayresome Park, Highbury and the like as well). 271 goals were scored in my 92 games and I saw 5 nil-nil draws.
Next August I will be back down to 91 for sure as West Ham move to their new home and possibly 89 if say, Cheltenham and Forest Green come up, neither of which I’ve done before. Maybe I’ll be lucky and Tranmere will scrape in, I still find it ironic that I rushed to do that one at the end of last season and then they dropped out of the league!