Against my better judgement I’m beginning to feel sorry for the Lib Dems. No, wait, hear me out. Obviously, they’re a collective of utter morons. Vince Cable alone would fill the entire quota for idiocy in any other organisation. He is a baffling man – so confident and self-assured in his own intelligence, despite lacking the most basic cerebral capacity. Chris Huhne, meanwhile, seems to have gotten all confused. He looks like John Major, and organises a back-stabbing coup like David Milliband. Simply swap it around Chris, and you’d be the most useful Liberal politician since Charles Kennedy was challenged to a drinking-game.
But I find myself forgiving them some of these ills, because I see a lot of similarities between being a Liberal Democrat, and being a Southend United supporter. For decades we were crap, really staggeringly crap. Then, just like Nick Clegg’s baffling surge in May 2010, we remarkably became good. We went to two national cup finals, won two promotions in a row, and beat Manchester United to get to the League Cup quarter-finals. Unfortunately our spell in the second tier wasn’t to last, and in trying to ensure it did, we overspent both on transfer fees and wages. As investments go, a club Southend United’s size spending £200,000 on Richie Foran in 2007 was like a job-seeker taking out a loan in order to buy Woolworths shares. And we were relegated to League 1 anyway, with big wages, in front of smaller crowds, and receiving less TV money. It was inevitable that these financial problems would spill onto the pitch and Southend were back in the basement division after an appalling 2009/10 campaign, amid genuine fears for the club’s future on and off the field. So, in that our success contributed to our own downfall we’re just like the Lib Dems. And that makes me want to rip my own face off, so onto the football.
Paul Sturrock is Scottish. He is really, really Scottish (look, here’s [proof](http://twitpic.com/4ujxai)). He’s also been managing for decades and suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Hmm, one for the future then. When he arrived at Southend he faced two problems. Firstly, we had four professional footballers. Secondly, and more importantly to Paul, our manager’s office wasn’t painted in the orange and black colours of his beloved Dundee Utd. Things would have to change. Before we knew it Sturrock had signed seventeen players, and sent Ricky Duncan off to B&Q to get some Dulux. Things were looking up.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there came a point when it became obvious why the majority of these players were available for free, so close to the beginning of a new season. Losses at home to the footballing luminaries of Morecambe and Crewe Alexandra were low-points, and a winless November meant looking at relegation as a serious possibility over Christmas. There were signs of promise from Bilel Mohsni, Ryan Hall and Barry Corr, but there were just more bad players than good. Louie Soares deserves special mention here. Southend fans are used to poor footballers – we’ve seen through Tesfaye Bramble, and round Scott Houghton – but even by these farcically low standards, Soares was something special – a man who dribbles with his shin, and shoots with his calf. It’s not just that he doesn’t have a football brain (which let me reiterate: he does not), it’s that even if he did, so haphazard is the control he exerts over his own body, that it wouldn’t do a blind bit of good. It got to the point where anger subsided and you wanted him to be put out of his misery, to be put down. Someone bring a tent and shotgun. Give the glue factory a call, this one’s for the knackers’ yard.
But over time, these bad apples – these rotten, maggot-ridden apples – were rooted out, and the basis of a half-decent team came together. An excellent run over January and February had fans looking at the play-offs, but in truth that was always a step too far for this group of players. The emergence of Kane Ferdinand from our youth team, and speedy winger Ryan Hall in particular have been noted by scouts from higher divisions than League 2. Unfortunately, they’ve also both been noted by the local constabulary. Ryan Hall’s conviction for affray was a worry – for the club and the man he kicked in the face – and Kane Ferdinand’s detention and questioning over a sexual assault in the last week of the season can’t really be construed as a positive. Of course on Ryan Hall’s court appearance did allow Southend United to have an interest in a court case that wasn’t aiming to put the club out of business. Which was nice.
The 2010/11 season is not one that will be talked of in years to come. There was no cup run, no relegation battle, no play-offs. But it has been, in many ways, an historically important season in my beloved club. Finishing 13th in the bottom tier of English football might not sound like much, but it is a phenomenal achievement in our circumstances. So there are reasons for optimism after this campaign, and before the next. For one thing, we’ll be playing our away fixtures in a bright pink kit. And for another, although there are similarities, we are not actually Liberal Democrats, and that’s something to be eternally grateful for.