My First Game – Southend United

Southend United 1 Manchester United 0
Roots Hall,
Southend-on-Sea (att: 11,532)
League Cup
7th November 2006

Alex Johnson

In regards to being a football fan, I was undeniably a late-bloomer. When I was in primary school, I remember that whilst every other boy in my year rushed to school early to watch the 2002 World Cup on the big screen in the assembly hall, I stayed at home and played Pokemon on my Game Boy.

So, it is safe to say, I was not enamoured with the game like many others were at that age. However, when I became a teenager, and feeling that I needed to get in on the conversation, I had a change of heart. Undoubtedly, this was because Southend were playing Manchester United. Usually, my local team – having bounced between the two bottom leagues for a couple of decades – played against opponents neither myself nor even my football-addicted friends had heard of. But, even I had heard of Manchester United and knew how cool it would be to see them or, looking back, how cool it would be to tell people I had seen them.

Thankfully my dad, probably elated that I had finally shown some interest in his beloved Shrimpers, was happy to get us both tickets and did not question me about my motivations. I remember walking to the stadium and how, slowly but surely, fans converged around us along the way. It was like trickling streams all running into a powerful river. By the time we entered Roots Hall, we were surrounded and the anticipation was palpable.

Manchester United, who are currently 40/1 to win the 2014/15 Premier League, according to the football betting, were playing Southend for the first time. This was when Manchester United were at the height of their powers. Sir Alex Ferguson (pictured below) had just celebrated 20 years in charge at Old Trafford and the club were the defending champions of the League Cup after beating Wigan Athletic in the 2006 final. It was a fourth-round match and one which was not expected to be anything special; that is if you were not talking to a Southend fan.

My dad, ever the optimist, was convinced Southend had a shot and he was one of the more reserved fans that day. I remember everyone reassuring each other and pumping each other up as we went to our seats. It felt as if everyone had to keep talking up Southend’s chances or we would realise what we were up against.

I do not remember much of the match. I recall the throb of the crowd and the tense feeling that threatened to crack at any moment. In my mind, Southend were constantly inches from going down on the scoreboard during the first half. It was like watching a bull ram a rickety old fence, with the breaking of the defences being a matter of when not if.

Then it happened. Jamal Campbell-Ryce was fouled and Southend’s Freddie Eastwood stepped up for a free-kick. If I close my eyes I can still see how Eastwood’s shot seemed to defy gravity as it curled into the top corner of the net, hooking past the outstretched goalkeeper’s hand like a boomerang.

There was a moment of silence, like nobody dared quite believe what had happened. Then, the crowd exploded and my dad nearly sent me soaring into the row in front of us.

What followed, after half-time, was perhaps the tensest 45 minutes of my life. In my mind, Southend pretty much lined-up in a human wall during the second-half and it seemed that Manchester’s attacks were bombarding them every second. There were close-calls, near misses and pretty much everything in between. I think no-one dared hope that it could happen, that we could stay at 1-0. The look of relief on my Dad’s face when the final whistle blew is forever etched in my mind.

It was dramatic, eventful and historic. It was Southend’s first goal against a Premier League team and scored them a winning head-to-head with Manchester United, which still stands to this day. Moreover, I can honestly say, if it wasn’t such a significant match – and one showing the best that the sport has to offer – I would not be a fan today.

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