At the turn of the twentieth century, there were many clubs competing for the support of the public of Southend-on-Sea, the vast majority of them at an amateur level. Its senior representative was Southend Athletic, who played in red shirts and were based at The Marine Park. The lure of professional contracts tempted many of Athletics’ players to move across town to join the other club, Southend United, in 1906. The Athletic club were so depleted that their only way of surviving was by merging with fellow amateur side Southend Victoria. The events left bitter acrimony between the two clubs for many years.
United chose for their home matches the grounds of an 18th century house, Roots Hall, in the suburb of Prittlewell, a ground that interestingly Athletic had also used at one time. The limited facilities and the pitch, which although being described at the time as a “capital one” had a pronounced longitudinal slope forced United to look for a new home.
This was found in 1919 at the aforementioned Marine Park, which in the meantime had been transformed into an amusement park by the name of The Kursaal, holding a ballroom, a scenic railway, an ice rink and numerous other attractions to entertain the holidaymakers. A new football ground had also been incorporated, partly overlaying the original one. The club’s stay at The Kursaal lasted until the end of the 1933/34 season.
A new venue was found at a recently built arena called The Southend Stadium, a multi-sports facility with a greyhound track laid around the pitch. But the club always wanted a ground of their own, and after twenty years as a tenant, Southend United were finally able to move to a suitable site. By strange coincidence the best land available was at Roots Hall, so United made their final move to where they had started. Southend United are the only club in the League to have started their life at, and are currently using in effect the same ground, despite alternatives in the intervening period.
In the early days The Shrimpers, a nickname obviously inspired by maritime industry, chose blue shirts and white shorts to distinguish themselves from The Athletic, the colours equally perhaps referring to the proximity of Southend to the sea. A change of strip was tried in 1960- an all-white shirt trimmed with blue. There were to be more changes to the club’s outfit. Variations of colour ranged from a royal-blue to a quite dark blue. Blue shirts became white with blue sleeves. Then the blue returned, trimmed with red, only to be replaced in the mid-1980s by a striking yellow trim in the form of a chestband and at one point a large and spectacular “starburst” design.
Their chairman Vic Jobson had a major position in the building firm Laing who became the club’s sponsor. Laing’s corporate colour was yellow on advertising hoardings and was therefore introduced as part of the club colours, remaining until Jobson’s departure in 1997 when the club returned to the traditional blue and white colours.
From 1950 till 1968 Southend United identified themselves with the town by adopting the shield and the crest of the coat of arms, granted in 1915. They only appeared on the shirts in 1963 and 1967. What we see is a trefoil, an anchor, a grid-iron, a lily and a ship’s mast combined with a mural crown. And we know you want to know what it means. Here we go.
A Cluniac Priory was founded at Prittlewell around 1110, dedicated to St. Mary. It became the centre of religious and social life of the surrounding area. The accidental discovery of the value of the foreshore as a feeding ground for oysters around 1700 by a fisherman named Outing, led to the growth of a fishing community at the south end of Prittlewell parish. The first record of the name “Southende” is found in a will dated 1481. In the late eighteenth century a syndicate established a seaside resort at New South End. The venture was not an immediate success despite royal patronage. In time however the resort flourished and borough status was granted in 1892. The lily emblem of St. Mary represents the mother parish of Prittlewell, from the thirteenth century seal of the priory. In 1897 the borough was extended to include Southchurch. The parish church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity represented by the trefoil.
The grid-iron, emblem of St. Lawrence, to whom the parish church is dedicated, represents the Parish of Eastwood. The grid-iron was the instrument of his martyrdom. The Parish and Urban District of Leigh was incorporated into the Borough in 1913, and is represented by the anchor, emblem of St. Clement, to whom that parish church is dedicated.
Legend has it that St. Clement was bound to an anchor and cast into the sea. Leigh’s former fame as a port as well as the borough’s other maritime associations are recalled by the ship’s mast combined with a mural crown, a common symbol of civic government.
Leigh was originally a fishing village, which grew into a flourishing port, naval base and ship building centre and many local men achieved fame as admirals and Masters of Trinity House. In time, as ships became larger and could not be accommodated at the port, Leigh declined in importance and relied more on fishing and oyster cultivation.
The late Sixties saw the introduction of a new badge, a shield divided into four sections, and it was worn on shirts from 1968 till 1970. However, it was in official use until 1985. We see the three seaxes, or notched swords, of Essex, (which also appear in the badge of Brentford FC), a football, a shrimp and three wavy lines, representing the relation with the seaside location of Southend. There is a certain amount of mystery as to why Essex adopted three seaxes for its arms, but they were in use in forms similar to the official grant long before it was made. It has been suggested that the weapons were chosen as a pun on the name of the county, which was called Eastseaxe in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Middlesex also uses these swords in its badge.
During the Seventies Southend United also experimented with an “SUFC” monogram, a single shrimp motif and a quite hideous “ boot” design, forming the club’s letters. During Jobson’s controversial reign he also changed the club’s badge. In 1985 the shrimp and the ball gave way for a fearsome looking lion and a less fearsome looking (unless you are St Clement) anchor. This was done in the all too familiar fashion of not consulting the fans and of course with no explanation given. Jobson has gone, but the fans are still there. So is the new badge, at a closer glance in fact a delightful return to the icon used from 1968 till 1985. It includes the long waited return to the shrimp on the club crest. ‘Blues’ fans had been campaigning for more than a decade to have the motif returned to the Seasiders’ shirts at the expense of the lion. Millwall and Chelsea are identified by this symbol, not our ‘Shrimpers’ !