‘Did you bring your boots?’ jokes one steward as Mail Sport wanders down the tunnel at Roots Hall. The reason is Southend United are so depleted, they have named just two substitutes for the visit of Chesterfield, the National League leaders who are unbeaten in their last 13 outings.
The door to the home dressing room is open and the players present, semi-clad as they get changed, are listening to Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis. There is no sense of nerves among this diminished group, even though TNT Sport cameras are in town to tell the Southend story.
It is a sorry story for such a hospitable and historic club. They have been under a transfer ban since September 2022. They were deducted 10 points at the start of this season after failing to clear a £275,000 HMRC debt.
Their request for Saturday’s game to be postponed was rejected despite losing three players to international call-ups — Noor Husin for Afghanistan, Daniel Kanu for Sierra Leone and Mauro Vilhete for Sao Tome and Principe.
Southend fans cannot wait to see the back of their owner Ron Martin. Roots Hall is a neglected ground in need of love with graffiti outside telling him to ‘f*** off’. The letter ‘S’ is missing above the directors’ entrance, leaving only ‘UFC’, and the hope here is that Martin will never slither through those blue doors again.
Southend United stormed to a surprising 2-1 win over National League leaders Chesterfield
Southend have been under a transfer ban since September 2022 and were deducted 10 points at the start of this season after failing to clear a £275,000 HMRC debt
The club requested for Saturday’s game to be postponed after they lost three players to international call-ups however, their request was rejected
Your browser does not support iframes.
John Still, the club’s head of football, sitting in the stadium’s plastic seats, confirms a takeover is imminent following further talks with a consortium led by the Australian IT millionaire Justin Rees.
That news is why Dave, one of 7,782 Southend fans filing through the turnstiles for this clash, has turned up dressed as a kangaroo, complete with an Australian flag draped over his shoulders and a yellow scarf which reads: ‘Ron the Rat.’
He speaks of hope for the future and love of the manager Kevin Maher, someone who does not need his wallet to buy a drink in this Essex town by the sea.
Maher is a miracle worker, overseeing his 100th National League game here. Chatting before kick-off, he says: ‘There’s a togetherness. Adversity can be a foundation. That’s what we talk about with the group. You can feel there is excitement at what might be around the corner.’
Mail Sport visits TNT presenter Matt Smith and pundits Aaron McLean and Chris Hargreaves in their trailer. They talk of the responsibility they feel to tell Southend’s story, with Smith, experienced in working Premier League and Champions League games, saying: ‘We’ve had the glamour and success of Wrexham and to some extent Notts County.
‘The investment and happy endings and Hollywoodness of it all. Then at the other end, you’ve got a big club with a loyal fanbase like Southend who are teetering on going out of business.’
Smith and Co cover the story perfectly while also showing Paul Cook’s Chesterfield — a classy club who look destined for the Football League — the respect they deserve. Southend hope for promotion themselves and they take the game to the visitors from the start. They pass out from the back, press from the front, and believe they can be the first team to beat the visitors since August.
Southend named just two substitutes against Chesterfield, but went on to win 2-1
Southend United face severe player shortage, naming only two substitutes for a match
Chesterfield score first through Will Grigg and Southend send their two substitutes to warm up. When asked why, from his dugout Maher explains some of his players are struggling with tiredness. Understandable, as not once have they been able to name a full bench this season.
There is treatment for tight quads and hamstrings at half-time, but Southend fight back in the second half, equalising through a Jack Bridge penalty and scoring their winner in front of the TNT cameras when Darren Oldaker deflects Wesley Fonguck’s cross into his own goal.
Back in the home dressing room, the 13 players are celebrating beating the table toppers. ‘Incredible,’ says Maher, his voice now croaky as we are reminded they would be in the play-off positions without that 10-point deduction.
The Premier League may be a polished product but the National League is where you get authenticity. The reality of this level has been felt at Roots Hall and then some, but it is hoped a bright new future awaits Southend.
Watch the Vanarama National League on TNT Sports or through its streaming platform discovery+ Visit: tntsports.co.uk/football