The day Thommo sent Town fans wild at Roots Hall – Carl Marston’s Travels with Town
PUBLISHED: 19:00 24 October 2019
Football writer Carl Marston has visited 120 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he spotlights Southend United’s Roots Hall
My first memorable visits to Roots Hall, the home of Southend United, were during the dynamic season of 1991-92, when two clubs from East Anglia were vying for promotion to the soon-to-be Premier League, and the Shrimpers were intent on derailing their respective bandwagons.
I say 'visits,' as opposed to 'visit,' because I was down on the Essex side of the Thames estuary to report on the fortunes of both Ipswich Town and Cambridge United that season.
I had a foot in both camps, following the fortunes of both John Lyall's Ipswich and John Beck's Cambridge.
They were heady times, crazy times, exciting times, successful times - in an era before the onset of regular football club web-sites, Twitter (founded in 2006) and YouTube (founded in 2005).
I phoned my long-winded but lovingly-composed match reports through to the copytakers back in the office during those days, rather than grapple with a lap-top.
But I digress.
The previous season, both Cambridge (champions) and Southend (runners-up) had been promoted from the old Third Division, into the Second Division, so joining a Town side who had finished a disappointing 14th in the second tier table.
That 1991-92 season was a thriller, and remains one of the best campaigns I have ever followed.
Town were crowned champions, thanks mainly to a superb home record - 16 wins from 23 at Portman Road - with Middlesbrough in the second automatic promotion slot.
Cambridge eventually drifted to fifth, and were beaten by Leicester City in the play-off semi-finals, although it was Kenny Dalglish's Blackburn Rovers who joined Town and 'Boro in the newly-established Premier League.
Town doubled Southend, which helped them to the title; by contrast, Cambridge took just one point from six against their old foe, via a 1-1 draw at Roots Hall in December.
Town's visit to Southend, on April 4, 1992, had a sensational ending. More of that later - but what a strike from Neil Thompson! Worthy of winning any match, twice-over.
Club: Southend United
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Formed: 1906 (113 years ago)
Ground: Roots Hall
Town's 1st visit: 0-0 draw on April 19, 1939
Town's last visit: 3-1 away win on October 21, 2006
Town's overall record at Roots Hall: P15 W2 D5 L7
The Shrimpers have had five different homes, starting with the original Roots Hall, followed by the Kursaal (one of the world's oldest purpose-built amusement arcades), the Southend Stadium (former venue for greyhound racing) and then New Writtle Street (tenants at the former home of Chelmsford City).
The current Roots Hall, built on the site of their first home at a lower level, did not have a very glamorous past. The land had been previously used as a sand quarry, a landfill site and as a base for the local gas board.
Football was first played at the new venue in 1955, with a Division Three South win over Norwich City, although the stadium was still undergoing construction at the time.
Southend United fans have seen some good football, over the years, especially when the club enjoyed promotion to the Championship (in 2006), but they have also seen some rubbish, quite literally!
There were drainage problems in the early days, due to the pitch having been laid on an expanse of compacted rubbish.
The drainage has improved, but has the football? Certainly, the Essex club's plight in League One suggests there is still a good deal of 'rubbish' on the pitch.
Carl's experience/Town's visit
Town's last gasp 2-1 win at Southend, who had slender play-off hopes, rubber-stamped their title credentials on April 4, 1992.
Centre-half Phil Whelan marked his Town debut with the opening goal - Whelan scored in his next appearance as well, a win over Wolves three days later, but ironically never scored again in a Town shirt.
Spencer Prior equalised for David Webb's hosts, but a point would have still been a welcome outcome for Town.
Yet left-back Neil Thompson had other thoughts, curling a stunning long-range shot from wide out on the left, into the top corner. The away following, among a crowd of 10,003, went wild.