Southend supporter Brian Jeeves looks at two historic dates, more than a lifetime apart.
On Saturday 6th December 1930, a meagre crowd of just 1,916 turned out at Wembley Stadium to see a Third Division (South) encounter between Clapton Orient and Southend United.
The O’s had been forced to take temporary residence at the national stadium, following an order from the Football League to carry out safety work at their Lea Bridge Road ground, after a complaint from Torquay United about the close proximity of wooden perimeter fencing to the pitch. The Gulls, who’d been beaten by four goals to nil, claimed that the somewhat cosy surroundings had affected their play, the powers that be agreed. Southend’s visit was the second of two league fixtures Orient would stage at Wembley. The first on 22nd November had seen O’s defeat Brentford 3-0 in front of a healthy 8,319 curious spectators.
As for Southend’s inaugural visit, they got off to the best possible start, taking the lead through Emlyn “Mickey” Jones after twenty-two minutes, however, Orient hit back to claim a less than famous 3-1 victory thanks to goals from Jack Fowler (2) and Reg Tricker.
The Southend Standard reported back...
“A Sorry Display, Southend at Wembley”
Clapton Orient were currently sixteenth and Southend’s performance can only be described as ragged, and it was difficult to form any opinion on the new look experimental side, with positional changes and bringing in players from the reserves.
The experienced right-half Tommy Dixon was dropped as was the popular Les Clenshaw, their places being taken by the inexperienced Bob Ward and Joe Johnson.
If the performance against Torquay had been poor this was even worse, Southend persisted with the “W” formation, which was so well utilised by the Arsenal but not so by the less accomplished Southend forwards.
Perhaps United felt the loneliness of the arena for the pitch was like an oasis in a desert of concrete. In a stadium capable of holding a hundred thousand people, the few hundred seemed lost in the space.
Wembley is famous for an illness known as “cup-tie nerves” and perhaps there was a touch of it in the foggy air. The dull light did not help matters and despite the referee ordering the changeover to made without a half time break, the match was finished in a haze and it was difficult to follow the ball.
The score was 1-1 at the changeover, although Orient had done most of the pressing.
In the second half, Clapton was always equal to anything Southend had to offer, a second was added and then the third appeared to be offside, but while the Blues defence were appealing, the Orient man netted.
Southend’s smaller, trickier men were no match for the overall bigger taller Clapton players. Southend dropped to sixth in the league.
...and that, for 30,073 days of highest highs, lowest low’s, and.er...Sometimes even lower, was that!
On Sunday 7th April 2013, after a wait of 82-years, 4-months and 1-day, Southend United finally made it back to the home of football. A 3-2 aggregate triumph over Orient now Leyton of course, secured a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final meeting with Crewe Alexandra. This would be the club’s first Wembley final and it ended a lifetime of hurt and torment for this particular Shrimper.
The Southern Area Final with the O’s had been the fifth time I’d seen Southend stand on Wembley’s threshold, on each of the previous four the team had choked leaving me wondering if our “day out” would ever happen. This was made particularly frustrating by the fact that Southend had little trouble reaching showpiece games at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium; Three times, we had travelled to the Valley’s during Wembley’s wilderness years.
Nevertheless, Wembley pain went back a lot further for me. My dad, an East Londoner in exile by the seaside, was at West Ham United’s 1964 FA Cup Final win over Preston North End. Tales of that triumph were recited to me on a frequent basis. On top of that, as a kid, I had sat in front of the telly every cup final day and listened to him say, “I’ll take you to Wembley if Southend ever get there”. Of course, the old man was smart cookies; always looking to save a quid or two. The tight-fisted old git knew that the Shrimpers didn’t have a cat in hells chance of reaching a major cup final, thus saving him a few bob on a promise he would never have to keep, without having to break my heart in the process.
In fact the nearest we’d come to a father/son visit to the twin towers was when I was about seven years old. The old man had to collect a flat pack greenhouse from the surrounding industrial estate. I agreed to go with him, much in the hope of getting my first glimpse of English football’s Mecca. Unfortunately, this came at a cost. Once dad’s aging Ford Anglia had been loaded with his new glasshouse, there was nowhere for me to sit. As a result, I had to spend the two-hour journey home lying on the aging jalopy floor, beneath a clutch of crudely stacked boxes. By the time we arrived back home I was, shall we say “more than green around the gills” and all I’d seen of Wembley was a flagpole on top of a largely obscured tower!
Despite not seeing a game at the home of football with dad, I still had some wonderful memories of going to matches with him. Sadly, by the time Southend chose to end their Wembley exile, he had been gone from this world for almost 10-years.
Crewe v Southend might not have every footballing purist brimming with enthusiasm, so I’ll put this into some personal perspective. Since my somewhat deprived Wembley childhood, I have been lucky enough to witness FA Cup Finals, internationals with the likes of Brazil and Germany, and Stuart Pearce dispatching “that” Euro 96 penalty past Spain before sending shivers down a nation of spines with a crescendo of emotions. All memorable occasions, nevertheless, seeing my beloved Shrimpers grace the hallowed turf, well that surpassed the lot!
The 2013 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final captured the imagination on the Essex Rivera far larger than the Shrimpers previous visit more than a lifetime ago. Some 32,000 people (out of an attendance of 43,842) travelled from the seaside to say, “I was there” 26,000 more than would see a run of the mill League Two fixture and three times the capacity of Roots Hall!
There was no fairytale ending to this particular Wembley dream. Goals early in each half from Max Clayton and Luke Murphy gave a decent Crewe side a 2-0 victory. Shrimpers’ supporters believed they had ended their mammoth wait for a Wembley goal when Britt Assombalonga found the net, only to be thwarted by an assistant’s flag. A poignant moment came in the sixth minute when fans of both club gave an emotional minutes applause in memory of young son of Crewe defender Adam Dugdale. Considering Southend had conceded the first goal only seconds before, this single act of solidarity was living proof that there are times when life is more important than football.
Although I left the home of football disappointed, the day had given me the opportunity to take my children to see Southend United at Wembley, something my father had never been able to do for me. However, just so the old man could in some way keep his promise, I took his photograph and 1964 West Ham rosette so he could in some way spend the historic day at our side.
Southend United 1930;Billy Moore, Jackie French, Dave Robinson, Bob Ward, Joe Wilson, Bill Johnson, Fred Barnett, Emlyn “Mickey” Jones, Jimmy Shankly, Dickie Donoven, Arthur Crompton.
Southend United 2013; Paul Smith, Sean Clohessy, Luke Prosser, Ryan Cresswell, Chris Barker, Kevan Hurst, Bilel Mohsni, Tamika Mkandawire, Anthony Straker, Gavin Tomlin, Britt Assombalonga.
Substitutions: Barker (replaced by Barry Corr 57 minutes) Mohsni (replaced by Ben Reeves 57 minutes Mkandawire (replaced by Freddy Eastwood 77 minutes) Not used; Daniel Bentley, Mark Phillips.
Southend United Wembley 1930 – 2013 Trivia.
The Clapton Orient v Southend United match in 1930 produced gate receipts of just £100, which would not have covered the cost of TWO highest priced tickets at the 2013 game with Crewe Alexandra (£60 each)!
Clapton Orient player Rollo Jack appeared in the 1930 match at Wembley. His brother, David Jack, scored the Stadium’s opening goal for Bolton Wanderers during the 1923 “White horse” FA Cup Final against West Ham United. David would go on to manage Southend United, following in the footsteps of their father, Bob Jack, who was The Shrimpers first ever manager following their formation in 1906.
The contingent of Southend supporters who travelled to the 2013 final was higher than the record attendance recorded at Roots Hall Stadium, when Liverpool (0-0) visited in January 1979 (31,033)
The attendance of 1,916 at the1930 match is believed to be the lowest recorded for a senior fixture played at Wembley.
A version of this story was published in the brilliant retro football magazine Backpass.