I was warned ahead of this journey that the lads I would be sharing a minibus with for the day weren’t “too keen on bloggers” so I was advised not to mention the fact I am one. I felt a bit like American journalist Matt Buckner (played by Elijah Wood) in the film Green Street, where he can’t let the West Ham fans he’s befriended know what his true motives are. The York fans knew I supported Bolton and that I was from Lancashire, so surely nothing could have been worse than that for them?
So far this season I had done two away trips with York, to Hartlepool and Wycombe respectively. The trip to the North East was done on the train on a budget, while Wycombe was extortionate thanks to York City’s travel providers aiming to rip off fans at any given opportunity. Ben had mentioned to me that I could do Southend on a separate mini bus for just £18. I had already arranged to go home for the weekend as the Atherton Beer Bash was in full flow and the Collieries were at home to Chadderton, but I just had to tick off a new ground which had always intrigued me. In the end I dodged a bullet as our match at home to Chadderton was postponed with a waterlogged pitch.
Admittedly, I was in the pub having had one too many when I replied to Ben agreeing to go to Southend but I didn’t mind. On the Wednesday before the trip, I finished my placement at a local school and hot footed it down to Bootham Crescent before the club shut for the evening. I went to purchase my ticket and it cost me £12 after I eventually found the relevant office hidden away behind a takeaway like counter in the Main Stand.
As always, I went out into York on the Friday night but had to leave my mates early so I could be up at some stupid time to travel across the country to watch a match I didn’t particularly care about. I left one of my favourite places, The Lowther, on the banks of the River Ouse, at around 23:00 and I was up just over six hours later to be picked up by a mysterious minibus at Morrisons. Apparently my mobile number and Facebook profile picture had been handed over to the organisers so they knew who they were looking for.
As I left my flat at 06:15, it struck me that once again I hadn’t looked at the weather before setting out. It was snowing heavily, so I had to run back upstairs to get some more layers on. Just as well that I did as I was close to freezing following my short walk down the River Foss. I did feel sorry for the geese that were sleeping on the pavement, but I only had an Atherton Collieries hat to keep them warm and I was not wasting that.
Seeking refuge next to a trolley park it wasn’t long before the bus picked me up. It was full of flags, drums and alcohol. I had a couple of jagerbombs for my breakfast and the sun hadn’t yet risen. I could tell it would be a long day and it looked to be an even longer one when we made another pickup in the Hunters Bar area of Sheffield.
It hadn’t snowed that much in Sheffield city centre, but towards the outskirts it was ridiculous. The minibus headed down an estate which was full of hills and all was going well until a car made the bus move to the side. When we went to set off the tyres were spinning everywhere. Ten minutes of pushing and spinning and we were finally back on our way down south, with the next stop being Peterborough services.
The lads seemed excited at the prospect of visiting Peterborough services. One passenger was even quoted as saying “Peterborough Services. It has everything you want in life and more. It’s a place where dreams are made. It’s not just the best service station in the world, but it’s the best place in the world.” It’s safe to say that I was now looking forward to this stop off. The thick snow followed us all the way down to Peterborough as did the Rotherham and Scunthorpe fans who were also on their way down south.
We arrived at the services four minutes before the infamous 10:30 McDonald’s Breakfast cut off point, as previously mentioned in my Swansea and Portsmouth blogs. I celebrated victoriously as my Bacon and Egg McMuffin was handed over as the menu was being changed over.
In all honesty, yes, Peterborough services was good, but it didn’t have a Waitrose so I was unable to flirt with the girls who work behind the tills like I did at Leicester Forest Services a few weeks beforehand. Waitrose girls have a certain charm and humour that girls who work in Morrisons don’t possess. In fact, I’m putting it out there now, if there are any girls reading this that work for Waitrose who fancy sharing their staff discount and endless romantic meals then comment below and I’ll be in touch.
More jagerbombs and beers were opened as we continued down south, stopping for a quick break in Bishop’s Stortford before arriving in Southend-on-Sea just before 13:00. Southend, of course, is a famous seaside resort in Essex, meaning that this is probably the furthest east I have travelled in the country to watch football. Unlike my trip to Colwyn Bay last month, I didn’t get to explore much of the seaside town meaning I didn’t get to see the world’s longest leisure pier which is over a mile long.
One of my favourite artists is Morrissey and in his song ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’ which is filmed in Southend, he sings “This is the coastal town, that they forgot to shut down”. While Morrissey is never the bringer of joy and pessimism I did have these lyrics circling around my head as we drove down through the grey streets of Southend. It is worth noting however, that another one of my favourite Manchester music contributors are Oasis, and they recorded their video for “Rock n Roll Star” in the town, so all may not be that bad.
I was then curious as to which other music videos had been filmed in Southend… and there are hundreds! My favourite dubstep band – if you can have such a thing – Modestep, also filmed one of their videos here and it portrays a far more light hearted and adventurous side to Southend. It follows a group of pensioners going around town drinking and doing as many illegal things as they could. As much as I enjoy a music video with a 72 year old woman doing laughing gas and other banned substances, I didn’t think I’d see such a thing on today’s excursion.
Having mentioned music, there is no way that I could move on without mentioning Southend band, Busted. I can’t find any videos filmed in the town, but they provided many hit songs for our Primary School discos back in the day. Most notably ‘Year 3000’ which I learnt all the words to when I was ten. To this day they regularly feature on a night out in York and their novelty value seems to be increasing year upon year!
Having seen and heard many contrasting opinions about Southend through music, the only songs I could hear pulling up at Roots Hall were those from inside the ground. Awful modern music remixed with steward safety announcements.
The stewards allowed us to park the minibus behind the away end and we set off in search of a pub. We were pointed around the corner to the Blue Boar which was pretty quiet when we arrived and in all honesty it didn’t get that much busier during the hour that we spent in it. It was a nice pub but it was £3.70 for a pint of Fosters, so I bought one and then topped it up with a can of Fosters that was in my bag. I am a poor student after all and I’m used to paying £1.50 for a pint back home in Atherton.
The Blue Boar pub was in fact the building in which Southend United FC was founded. In May 1906 pub landlord Oliver Trigg organised a meeting with local football enthusiasts and the current club was set up, soon surpassing the achievements of established neighbours Southend Athletic.
The club originally played at Roots Hall, which sits opposite the pub until the outbreak of the First World War. The small stands were dismantled and sold off and the pitch was turned into allotments to aid the war effort. When the war was over in 1919, the facility was unusable and the club moved to the Kursaal where they remained until 1933. The football club stayed at this venue until 1955 when they returned home to where it all started; Roots Hall.
My first impressions of Roots Hall were positive. The away end looked so old and run down that it won me over straight away. A typical, old fashioned ground of which there aren’t many left of this standard. Despite the ground being renovated in large parts during the 1990’s it still retains the feel of an old ground, and the buildings which tower over the South Stand give the feel of a compact arena.
Us away fans were placed in one half of the North Stand with just over 200 making the journey from Yorkshire. This more than doubled the number which the bloke had predicted at the ticket office at Bootham Crescent when I asked him how many he reckoned would make the journey. I think the weather and distance put quite a few off.
I always make a joke about how poor York are when I see them play and today was no different. They once again failed to score, meaning I have now seen eight York City games and they’ve found the back of the net in just one of those matches. The Minstermen did look more lively on this occasion with the recent introduction of striker Emile Sinclair who I used to rate highly during his days at Macclesfield Town.
Another one of my favourite League Two players over the time I’ve been groundhopping is David Worrall who featured on the right wing for Southend. Worrall was part of the Bury side that won promotion a few years back and he played over 150 matches for the Shakers either side of a move to West Bromwich Albion which didn’t quite work for him. In fact, I used to have a poster of Worrall up in my bedroom at home next to my framed Bolton Wanderers shirt signed by Gary Cahill. It was no surprise that when Worrall was substituted in the second half I clapped him off much to the bemusement of the York fans around me.
Going into the match, the home side sat in fifth place, five points behind league leaders Wycombe Wanderers. York meanwhile sat sixth bottom, just one point above second bottom placed Carlisle United. If the season so far is anything to go by then it is going to go down to the wire in League Two at both ends of the table.
It was the struggling visitors who started off brightly with Luke Summerfield testing goalkeeper Daniel Bentley from the edge of the box. The goalkeeper – dressed in the same gear as one of the argumentative stewards – held on to the ball well before Emile Sinclair was the next to have an attempt on goal. Once again Bentley was equal to it, keeping the scoreline goalless.
The visitors then had three successive corners and Russell Penn headed the final one just wide of the post. It has taken a few matches, but I have decided that Penn has one of the best songs in football.
He’s not a ballpoint,
He’s not a felt tip,
He’s not a biro,
He’s not a bic
(NOT A BIC!)
We’ve got a better pen,
He wears our number ten,
So let’s sing for Russell Penn!
That to me, is up there with the song about Lennel John-Lewis sharing his name with a well known shop. In truth, the York fans have a small core and creating new songs is done pretty easily. They either meet in a pub or on the coach to the match and then put words to cheesy pop songs (generally). It’s all great fun and the fans don’t seem to take themselves too seriously which is always nice to see.
York right back Brad Halliday then bombed forward, beating numerous Southend players before firing just wide of the left hand post. Jake Hyde had an easier opportunity to score a rare York goal but his effort was well kept out by Daniel Bentley.
With two minutes of the first half remaining both sides had further opportunities to break the deadlock, with the snow still swirling down in Southend-on-Sea. Joe Piggot was denied by Bobby Olejnik before John McCombe, Jake Hyde and Keith Lowe all had close range efforts denied for the Minstermen.
As former Bolton Wanderers favourite Phil Brown led his troops down the tunnel at the interval I headed to the school style canteen found in the away end. Everybody was forming an orderly queue as I decided what I would purchase to warm myself up. It made sense that in a week when the emergency bovril cubes had been broken into in our student flat that I carried this practice on. It could be argued that the conditions at this match were warmer than inside my student flat where we regularly huddle around the oven or leave the showers running to bring some warmth to our bodies.
The organisation of the refreshments area during the break was nothing short of chaotic as the two poor sods who were working in the open kitchen had only started preparing food as the whistle went. I had witnessed chaos at dinner time regularly over the past few months, having helped Year 2 chop up their dinners while on placement so I was becoming quite used to it. At one stage I did feel the need to go around checking plates to see whether the York fans could move on to their deserts but then I remembered I wasn’t on dinner duty.
Subsiding slowly the snow welcomed the players back on to the pitch for the second half. Phil Brown’s side looked far better following the interval and attacked with intent from the off; Michael Timlin testing Olejnik first. Minutes later and Joe Pigott squandered another chance when he headed off target from close range from a Ben Coker cross.
As it looked as though I had travelled all this way for a dreaded 0-0 Piggot was hauled down in the area by York defender Halliday. Substitute Shaquile Coulthirst slotted the penalty past Olejnik to secure the three points for the home side in what had been another poor York performance.
We left the ground and piled on to the minibus making a swift exit from Roots Hall. Stops at Bishop’s Stortford and the wonderful world of Peterborough awaited us before a long, winding journey back north continued. Somebody had decided to close part of the A1 meaning that we had to make a diversion through Sherwood Forest, travelling on very little diesel. Fortunately we had the dulcet tones of Phil Collins filling the bus, so if we did get stranded and ultimately die in the forests of Nottinghamshire we’d have done it against all odds…
Most of the lads on the bus got dropped off in Sheffield as they were going for a night out for one of their birthdays. By the time we arrived back in York one of them had already won a PopWorld onesie, a must have fashion accessory in the depths of Yorkshire.
My favourite conversation of the day came about when we were leaving Sheffield and talking about my favoured side Bolton Wanderers. I was waxing lyrical about Big Sam when one of the lads stated that the current West Ham manager “brought tactics and formations to the game”. There was stunned silence followed by hysterical laughter as we pondered what football was like before Sam Allardyce invented formations.
While in large parts of the day I was questioning my sanity and wondering why on earth I had travelled all this way it was a great day out. Roots Hall is a ground I would definitely visit again and I’d love to explore more of Southend itself, as lovely as the Blue Boar Pub was. It was nice of Ben to actually come along to this away day after bailing me on the last trip to Wycombe, so a big well done to Ben!
I arrived back in my flat in York at 23:00 and stumbled over a group of girls on the kitchen floor who were having a film night. At first I thought they were a group of squatters and I was punching in the accommodation team to remove them but we concluded my jagermeister breakfast had made me tired, hindering my decision making and I was sent off to bed.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 225 miles
- ADMISSION: £12 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3