There’s a crowd of over nine thousand people at Roots Hall for the Shrimpers clash against Morecambe yesterday afternoon. I know because I was one of the nine thousand plus, drawn in by the ‘Top of the Table Clash’ billing and the fiver for a ticket.
It’s an engaging match. What the Shrimpers lack in finesse, some of the squad make up for in heart, or workrate. It can be hard to separate the two on first acquaintance. Whatever it is, it only yields a Morecambe own goal equaliser in the second-half (the Southend first-half equaliser already disallowed).
Whilst Southend United sport a shrimp in the lower left quarter of their club badge (the upper left carries the three seaxes of the County of Essex, the rest is hopefully self-explanatory), Morecambe entertain a lonely, but giant shrimp on theirs. They are the Red shrimpers, Southend are the Blues.
It’s a slightly edgy Shrimp Stand-Off. Morecambe have a man sent off and there’s a mildly diverting ruckus on the pitch subsequently. The ebb and flow of the play and the attendant side dramas speed up GMT. At one point, some fans remove their shoes and wave them. Is it cobblers I wonder; they stop short of throwing them on the pitch.
I am reminded of the shoes thrown at George Bush in Iraq.
The man behind me starts a ‘BLUE ARMY’ chant intermittently. Sometimes his timing doesn’t match the mood of the home fans and when no-one heeds his battlecry he immediately falls silent, shaking his head softly. When Southend are having a good spell his eyes shine with fervent ardour. His chant is a palpable hunk of burning love for this collective of eleven men, men he might not give the dirt off his sole for as individuals. He hearts his team, but his fellow fans are evidently an often-disappointment.
Blue and white balloons are punched around the West Stand. The ball sails twenty, thirty feet in the air above the box, over and over and over again. It’s not at all like watching performing seals, but yet… We clap them anyway. Cheerleaders perform at half-time in the sunshine facing the East. A mascot does what mascots do, that thing no-one who is not a mascot can relate to – ever. There’s an unseen live lady singer with a dodgy mike and a sense of humour about it who segues into the PA man who is virtually inaudible most of the time. Maybe they sit next to each other, out of sight.
Southend’s sustained attacking efforts in the last quarter of the match at the end furthest away from where I sit, or stand depending on the adrenaline levels in the crowd, yield a rash of corners and free kicks, some nearish misses, but no goals.
Morecambe earn three bookings: two yellows and a red. A long way to come: across the length and breadth of the country for three bookings, a one-nil lead and an own goal equaliser. All this for a fiver.
Even with six extra minutes added on to the 90 minutes, and Morecambe down to ten men, Southend can’t quite find the net. Still only a fiver. It all equals to nada by the final whistle, but the match stands as a complete antithesis to an all-snore-bore draw. It is a draw with bells on.
As the crowd shuffle out, the air is thick with the fags of a thousand men with tattered nerves. The women don’t seem to smoke: their nerves long since shot perhaps. They are holding hands, with kids mainly. One is pushing a wheelchair with a child. Another is bellowing for signatures to be added to a petition. Bring Back Our Lollipop Ladies. I sign. A boy was killed in a hit and run outside school on Monday. She said he was meant to be at the match; his first match. Six years of life snuffed out before it could really get going. Six minutes of extra time. The petition-collector with balls of steel roars at the men to sign; bawls for just a minute of their time. Her own child sits quietly amongst the crush in an old-fashioned pushchair.
Now we are not pressed against each other like transported livestock, there’s a chance to look at other fans for a moment, even through the fug of smoke. One man sets a mean pace in one huge misshapen boot, leaning on crutches. Children stare. Ssshhhhhh, loudly. A sun-broiled shrimper wears a sleeveless vest with a high-vis jacket. Skip Hire is printed on the back. Bare arms reveal his shedding skin. The tattoo of a woman, on what’s left of his right bicep, looks untroubled by the state of her nation.
We are funnelled left up a residential street. A terraced house declares itself The Mad House via a makeshift sign hung on the porch wall. Alongside, another sign warns ‘Twin Rottweilers’. The front-room nets scallop in an upward arc like so many Shrimper balls seen over the box. The television screen faces into the room, and on out of the window. One Rottweiler sits upright watching the Scottish Premier Results Table. It shares its tired grey sofa with a man. Momentarily, the dog turns his black and tan head to his master who gives him a smacker on its furry forehead. Perhaps their team won.
Southend 1 – Morecambe 1. Crawley win to go top of League 2 in England. The crowd disperses. Southend’s star striker remains on community service for affray (suspended sentence).
Frankel wins his race that should have been at Newmarket, at Ascot. Wales lose the Rugby World Cup semi-final to France by one teeth-gnashing point. There is more, but, ça suffit.