Dom talks about the glory of Southend 2004
When Wayne Hatswell scored a 73rd minute equaliser for Kidderminster at Plainmoor on 1st May 2004, there was a collective sigh of disappointment amongst the vast majority of the big 5,515 crowd. The Division 3 2003-04 campaign had been one of the best at Torquay in many a year, and we went to TQ1 not only expecting to win, but expecting to win in style. It made us all dream of promotion and with destiny in our hands and David Graham scoring just before half time to put us 1-0 up, that dream was inching closer. But along came Mr Hatswell to put a spanner in the works. In the Grandstand heads were shook, and our exit from the ground saw discussion turn to the final day fixture at Southend. “Are we going then” I said (I can’t remember the exact wording it was 19 years ago). “I’m not sure after that” replied my good friend Rich. “We’re going” I said, probably quite firmly.
Luckily for Rich he agreed. One week later the Yellow Army set off early, and we jumped aboard a cautiously optimistic Travel Club coach, maybe travelling more in hope than expectation. Only one thing was definite and that was I’d eat my packed sandwiches by about 10.30. The very simple equation was that we had to do better than 3rd placed Huddersfield Town, who made the trip to Cheltenham Town. We had visited Whaddon Road two weeks earlier and schooled The Robins with a Gulls masterclass. Could they do better against The Terriers? Could we find the necessary result at Roots Hall? Hurry up driver let’s just get to Essex and find out.
Tickets needed to be purchased at the Roots Hall ticket office before kick off (no online options then people). This task was charged to my sister and nephew who were meeting us there. They had under-estimated the call for tickets and got there fairly late, which meant that our seats ended up being in the top right hand corner of the stand. Failure to procure the tickets would have caused a family feud that could have still been bubbling to this day, so at least we were in! I don’t remember a pre-match pint for some reason, but to be honest supporters were just keen to get into the ground. No wonder when the pre-match entertainment included Romania’s premiere singing duo ‘The Cheeky Girls’!
Also in attendance of course was our very own Helen Chamberlain, who was filming the afternoon for Sky Sports. With a mass Yellow Army following gripped in anticipation at what could be, the clock found it’s way to 3pm and the game kicked off. And what a start by the Gulls! We were two up before Southend could say ‘Cheeky Cheeky’. The goals were down the other end but that didn’t curb our raucous celebrations. A Steve Woods trademark back post strike and a Davie Graham header had us 2-0 up and cruising after only 11 minutes. It’s happening isn’t it?? Everybody stood up in the stand, too stressed and wired to sit, with my young nephew having to stand on his seat all game to get a glimpse of the action.
But then a goal for Huddersfield. Experienced striker Andy Booth scored his 100th for the Terriers, the news coming through someone’s radio as it did back in those days! Supporters with radios had power to burn…more about them later. That was followed by the second punch to our guts, a goal for Southend, Lawrie Dudfield the scorer. 17 minutes in we were already emotional wrecks and kicking every ball like it was the last. This truly meant everything to the Yellow hoards.
The Gulls started to tense up towards half time, and then after the break Southend looked to turn the screw as they attacked our end. Composure lost, United frustratingly backtracked far too much and just started to cling onto their lead. Meanwhile at Whaddon Road, home striker Damian Spencer was sent off. You idiot. Was that our hopes dashed? But then a cheer and shout from some that the 10 men Robins had found an equaliser, the radio supremo had got it wrong this time. F##king hell don’t do that to us.
Another cheer minutes later, Cheltenham had scored? Are you bloody sure? Yes, yes they actually had, cheers in the stands, emotions swinging again and supporters fidgeting uncontrollably. On the pitch the Gulls looked dazed and confused. Wave after wave of Southend attacks were repelled by Woodsy and Taylor, but there was never any feeling of comfort and never have I experienced such a tense last 10 minutes (Ashton Gate was very close). Rich turned his back to the game, he couldn’t face to look, whilst my nephew was knackered from standing on the seat. This was HUGE.
Then The Shrimpers made headway down their left hand side, trusty Reuben Hazell dashed over to clear the danger but clattered the striker instead. This moment transformed into slow motion. Is this the equaliser? Would the ref point to the spot and would one of our greatest days be ruined? Referee Tony Leake was unmoved, why I’ll never know but I love him for it. This was our day wasn’t it? United defended in numbers, the clock ticked away, Huddersfield ended 1-1 and the best ever final whistle was blown by ‘Sir’ Tony.
Cue unbelievable scenes of joy. Massive hugs and jubilation all round, looks of disbelief and tears from plenty who could not believe what had just taken place. The players and crowd celebrating as one, we could have stayed there all night long! Van Heusden, Big Kev, Lee, Reeuuben, McGlinchey, Woodsy, Taylor, Liam, Russ, Jason, Joe, Hilly, Hockers, Davie G, Gritts, Beds, Woozley – take a bow lads. And of course Leroy Rosenior, a managerial maestro who will always have a special place in our hearts – even his cool exterior was blown away by this crazy couple of hours.
Straight back onto the coach, happy faces on every seat, everybody in a state of joy, but also in shock and utterly knackered by what had just gone on. Days don’t get any better supporting this football club, and when you’re facing the prospect of NLS football it’s hard not to pine for moments like these. Back when we had a team to be proud of, a team that played football the right way and encouraged me after 15 years of supporting United to eventually become a season ticket holder. 19 years later the ticket will be renewed once again this summer, and my fire and passion for this club is stronger than ever. Thanks for the memories Leeeeroy, 8th May 2004 – Southend (A) will never be forgotten.
One thought on “MEMORY LANE – SOUTHEND 2004 by Dom Roman”
OMG a never to be forgotten season topped off with the drama of Southend ! It’s a long way back to those glory days. How many years will it take …if ever ?
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