A football fan for as long as I can remember, I grew up supporting Arsenal and Southend United. Arsenal because my mate Timmy Hardwicke supported them, his dad would take us to home games occasionally and, crucially, because they used to reach the Cup final every year; and Southend because they were my local club and my dad used to take me to their home games, which usually fell on Friday evenings. (Even now Friday feels more like football time to me than the traditional Saturday afternoon, despite the fact that it was only us and Tranmere who used to play our home games on that particular weeknight.)
Anyway, a lot of my strongest childhood memories are associated with going to Southend's ground, Roots Hall:
At my first game, aged 7, thinking that the vendor carrying round a tray of snacks at half time was giving them away, and helping myself to a bag of his crisps - or at least trying to before dad explained that they actually cost money and I had to put them back. So naive!
Being a ballboy, along with the rest of my junior team, Larches FC, for a home game in late 1982 against Bristol Rovers, who included in their ranks Mick Channon, an aging ex-England international. As we formed a guard of honour for the players as they took to the pitch, Channon pinched the cheek of one of my teammates as he ran through, to which some waggish club official joked to the kid that "I bet you won't wash that for a week now!". No one laughed.
Seeing then Division 3 (in old money) Southend holding the mighty Liverpool to a goalless draw in the 3rd Round of the F.A. Cup in front of 30,000 fans (about 25,000 more than we were used to getting for league games), before racing back to the car in a bid to get home in time for the highlights on Sportsnight. This was back in the pre-Sky & Setanta days when your local, lower-division team being on the telly was still something of a novelty.
At the risk of plagiarising Arthur Fonzarelli, happy days!
Alas, my enthusiasm for the Shrimpers waned when we moved away from the area in 1983 and didn't renew our season tickets, and I've not actually been back to Roots Hall since about 1992 or 93. So definitely a lapsed fan.
But all the old memories came flooding back last Saturday when the team I used to watch as a kid (who, incidentally, are back in the same division they were way back then, albeit it's now called League 1 rather than Division 3 - don't you just love pointless rebranding?) somehow managed to come away from Stamford Bridge with a 1-1 draw against the mighty Chelsea, once again in the third round of the F.A. Cup, despite the fact that Chelsea are owned by a Russian billionaire and have a squad worth about a squillion times more than ours. Amazing.
As if all this weren't exciting enough, the replay will be shown live on ITV next Wednesday, at 8.00pm. So, for possibly the first and last time ever - the club are due to relocate to a brand new stadium in a couple of years time - a Southend United game from Roots Hall will be screened live on network TV at primetime - against the team who were the width of a post away from becoming Champions of Europe last year. It's this sort of thing that makes the F.A. Cup so utterly bloody fantastic - even if Chelsea do, as they probably will, go on to win the replay at a canter.
Anyway, here's a song that, although actually being about a slum landlord, is curiously appropriate for today's post as it contains the line From Lands End to Southend and Chelsea (just forget the Lands End bit). Also, the titular Sheriff hails from Leigh On Sea, which is just down the road from Southend. A mere coincidence? I think not!
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine - Sheriff Fatman mp3
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