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Saturday 25th November 2017 ko 15.00

League 1


OXFORD UNITED 1 (Thomas 22)

Att 6,797 (566 away)

Entry – Complimentary

Programme £3

It would be a mistake to lump Roots Hall into the category of venerable UK football grounds. I’ve covered visits to the likes of Fulham and Brentford here, but Roots Hall has only been home to Southend United since 1955, although the original Southend United did play games on a pitch on this site on formation in 1906. But until 1988 when Scunthorpe United moved from the Old Showground to the hideous Glanford Park, Roots Hall was the youngest ground in the Football League.

Perhaps Roots Hall’s appeal lies in the fact it looks a lot older. In your mind’s eye demolish the two-tier South Stand, and reinstate the old open terrace, once 72 steps high, which was reduced in size in 1988 when the club in straightened times sold much of the land it stood on. I stood on the reduced version of it on my first visit here in 1992 to watch Southend lose 3-0 to Oxford United. The new stand was built in 1994.

Ever since my visits have involved a trip to the North Stand with its barrel roof and the seats sourced from Maine Road, bolted on to the former terrace in 1992 to allow the ground to fulfil the needs of the Taylor Report and become all-seater. There’s little in the way of legroom but since the away fans seldom seem to sit down here it doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue! I did see the most bizarre moment I have ever seen at a match from here. Again it was a Southend vs Oxford game, this time in March 1997.

Here Southend, and future Oxford United centre-half Leo Roget was sent off for tangling with Oxford’s Paul Moody at a corner. Future Premier League referee Steve Bennett was the referee in question, and he sent off the wrong man, the culprit was Jeroen Boere. But this wasn’t a simple case of mistaken identity- Roget is black and Boere was white…. Even Moody tried to plead Roget’s innocence, although Moody himself was sent off in a separate incident only a minute or two later!

So when two tickets were made available to me, I wondered where Robyn and I would be sitting?. I wondered whether the main East Stand with it’s classic pitched roof which never ceases to remind me of the Beech Road stand of Oxford’s lost spiritual home of the Manor Ground. However tickets for the West Stand served to allow us to sample a classic of the Football League, who couldn’t enjoy a double-barrel roofed stand accessed via a gap between the houses?

It’s clear than once upon a time the stand was a terrace covered only for its rear few rows. The extra barrel-roof was added in the 1960’s and extended in 1995 to meet it’s northern and southern equivalents. The seats arrived, like in the away end in 1992.

It is a glorious hotch-potch of developments, and just like at Brentford’s Griffin Park, it’s not suitable for a club for a club whose ambitions are for a return to Championship football. The site of the new ground is at Fossett’s Farm, unsurprisingly on the outskirts of town, with the stadium designed by HOK the architects behind the Emirates Stadium and StadiumMK , the problem is that the plans have been in place since 2000.

The difficulty is, as ever for a smaller club exactly how the development is going to be funded. On one level any project like this, the finance is going to be highly geared, and the principle issue here is also that another tenant, Sainsbury’s due to be present in the adjoining retail development pulled out. On arrival it is clear that the club are still very much pushing the Fossett’s Farm development, seeing the club as having no future in staying put, but at best the time-scales for the move have been put back into the indefinate future if not kicked into the long grass altogether.

Certainly Roots Hall is suitable for League 1 football, and while the old, new lady of Essex still stands, it remains a must visit for anyone who likes their grounds quirky. Unless, though you happen to be an Oxford United fan!

In recent years our record against the Blues has been dreadful. We celebrated Southend’s last promotion from League 2 as with ourselves still in the EFL’s basement we knew that was another 6 points up for grabs! The next season achieved automatic promotion by a point, I thank Southend’s lack of participation for our success!

So the approach was simple, enjoy the ground and try not to give the locals any idea that I was an away fan by wincing too obviously as Southend scored their goals. Obviously it didn’t quite work out quite like that.

Other than the final score, the most relevant statistic was that every single outfield defender on both sides was over 30. Southend’s goal rather proved the point, with a diagonal ball allowing Stephen McLoughlin to steal in front of a static Oxford back four to cross for former swindon striker Simon Cox to tap home.

Was I the only Oxford fan to be surprised at the U’s quick response? Brazilian left back Ricardinho may be 33 but his passing is still excellent. His through ball bypassed everyone except Wesley Thomas, who did well to hold off Anton Ferdinand to equalise and silence the home fans momentarily.

What followed was in many ways the classic third division game, with its usual mixture of endeavour, skill and mistakes, Southend, as is the Phil Brown way play the percentages, and minimise errors. Oxford seem far more indulgent of those errors but often over-elaborate. The visitors managed to hit the cross-bar twice, and the hosts had two goals disallowed for offside. In the end both sets of fans were probably content with a share of the spoils.

It was breathless stuff, and as 7,000 or so fans disappeared into the cold evening, even the floodlights seemed to breath out, the steam condensing in the night air. Can there be a better recommendation than that?