Life is never usually dull beside the seaside and Southend-on-Sea doesn’t buck that trend.
Eastenders recently filmed some of their ‘world famous dramatic’ scenes on the pier, while boozy nights are omnipresent, along with ‘chuggers’ on the High Street. Boyracers congregate by the seafront and show off their shiny new motors and the bass reverberates, shaking the sand which has drifted onto the roads.
There’s even ‘Adventure Island’, a quaint theme park to entertain the endless amount of thrill-seekers. Here you can take a ride on the Sea Serpents, or maybe, if you fancy, you can have a fright at the hands of the Pharaoh’s Fury.
It’s a multi-coloured puzzle of metal which splits miles of beach and excited screams pierce the fresh sea air.
Life just two miles inland from the beach has definitely been a rollercoaster ride for Shrimpers fans at Roots Hall over the last two years.
2010 saw the Blues descend into League Two dogged by financial troubles and having to register almost a whole new team of players just days before the start of the 2010/11 campaign. There were mid-season revelations that the club were losing £100,000 per game but there were also revelations on the pitch.
Unknown French-Tunisian defender Bilel Mohsni put in some imperious performances at the back and occasionally up front when needed. He was also the subject of a £250,000 bid from Premier League Seasiders Blackpool, which was politely knocked back.
Left-winger Ryan Hall proved pivotal with some game changing performances from the flank, ending the season with the most assists in League Two. And 18-year-old starlet Kane Ferdinand (a cousin of the famous clan, although it appears they aren’t in contact much) proved he was more than able and put in some shifts that belied his age.
In the end, after an incredibly up and down season the Shrimpers finished up in 13th place, and after the fiscal woes consolidation was exactly what was needed. This season the club, players and fans are all hoping that flirtations with the play-off positions last season can be turned into a solid promotion push.
Manager Paul Sturrock has had longer to run the rule over new-signings, playing friendlies with plenty of trialists involved, including ex-Tottenham star Rohan Ricketts who despite initial promise proved to lack what was needed for him to earn a contract.
Ryan Leonard joins on free transfer from Plymouth Argyle, the 19-year-old right-back thrilled the Shrimpers fans and Sturrock with some solid displays and three sensational strikes from long range. The first, a drilled shot from 30-yards against Dartford which didn’t stop rising until it thrashed the back the net. His second, a day later, was a lob from fully 50-yards against Great Wakering Rovers and the final netbuster came, once again, from 30-yards, against Braintree Town.
And Sturrock’s move for Leonard’s isn’t just to bolster the squad but to create competition for places; squad depth is an issue for the Blues and it’s good to see Sturrock addressing it.
25-year-old striker Liam Dickinson also arrived on a free and will certainly bring a new dimension to Sturrock’s strike force, bearing in mind he stands at six foot four. Alongside Barry Corr, himself a commanding six foot three, who netted a fine eighteen goals in the league last season and of course Neil Harris who joins his boyhood club from Millwall; the Shrimpers appear to have an embarrassment of attacking options.
There was also the arrival of fleet-footed winger Jemal Johnson from CSKA Sofia and defensive midfielder Jean-Paul Kalala who some may remember for his goal scoring heroics against Tottenham for Grimsby in the League Cup in 2005 as the minnows sent Spurs crashing out.
The only incoming loanee Alassane N’Diaye has, however, already split opinion after some extremely below-par performances to put it politely since signing from Crystal Palace for the season.
One key factor which in all honesty I believe will fire the Shrimpers to at least the play-offs is their team spirit, which seems incredibly high at Roots Hall currently. Neil Harris’ new column ‘Neil by mouth’ in the Southend Echo has brought revelations and stories which will certainly raise the hopes of a good season.
Firstly the Shrimpers’ pre-season was livened up with some Highland hijinks. The four day ‘tour’ of Scotland saw a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Dundee United and a 0-0 draw with Raith Rovers but it was the shenanigans off the field which were refreshing to hear.
Youngster Merrick James-Lewis was the butt of the jokes after turning up to dinner wearing his pyjamas, while Peter Gilbert was mocked universally when his passport revealed his real name to be Eric. Also just this week Southend’s training ground was attacked by the Ice Cream Bandit as Barry Corr’s car was plastered with a cone of the town’s finest.
Some of the lads took part in some MMA (Mixed Martial Arts to those not in the know) amongst other bouts, Chris Barker fought against Blair Sturrock while Bilel Mohsni and goal-machine Barry Corr also battled it out.
Maybe the tussle will have helped to get some aggression out of Mohsni who needs to learn how to control his temper after getting into a spot of bother in the 1-1 draw with Ipswich. The French-Tunisian also had disciplinary issues last season getting sent off once while collecting yellow cards as hobby during one ill tempered period!
Hopefully for all concerned a push for promotion isn’t just fantasy for us. Holding on to some of our star performers, so far, brings great confidence and the signings made by Sturrock look like they will be pushing the club in the right direction.
If things don’t go well and mid-table mediocrity or worse beckons for the Shrimpers it might be a very long walk off a very long pier for Sturrock.
Written by Anton Stanley, We Are Going Up’s Southend United Blogger
Anton tweets at @antonstanley