Stan Collymore opens up about his time working with National League Southend United and how the former Premier League striker views the future of English football.
By Amos Murphy
Collymore return signals turning point for sinking Shrimpers
Hammered 4-0 at home to Chesterfield in mid-October, the future looked bleak for Southend United. Fans were protesting on the pitch, anti-Ron Martin sentiment was at its highest and the once-adored now much-maligned Phil Brown had been sacked.
After back-to-back relegations saw them drop out of the Football League for the first time in 101 years, Southend were once again scratching around at the wrong end of the league table, with drastic change needed to secure the future of the club.
Introducing Stan Collymore. A former professional footballer with over 280 career appearances to his name, there are few players more experienced in the English game than the one-time Liverpool forward, with his latest challenge to save a club that was collapsing in on itself.
Saving Southend from the ruins is something Collymore had previous experience doing, having scored 15 goals in a seven-month loan spell with the Shrimpers, whilst securing survival in the First Division during the process.
Officially appointed as Southend’s first-ever Senior Football Strategist in early November, Collymore had spent the best part of three weeks before taking up the role, implementing a cease-fire between a disgruntled fanbase and the failing ownership of the club. Now, his job was to restructure the fabric of the club itself.
Collymore keen to see restructure in leagues, but not Guardiola’s ‘B-team’ plans
Having overseen a number of off-the-pitch changes at Southend – including new Head Coach Kevin Maher and Head of Football John Still – self-proclaimed ‘football geek’ Collymore has urged the governing bodies to consider how the Football League is structured:
“It would make absolute sense to have an EFL League Three, if the supporters, administrators and governing bodies supported it.
“The National League has the clubs, it has the organisation within those clubs, the standard of football is vibrant, academy systems are there, it has the crowds and the stadiums are getting better”.
From Romania to Romford, Collymore has studied hundreds of clubs across Europe and is certain England’s fifth-tier could survive as a stand-alone full-time professional league:
“For me the National League is one of the most competitive leagues in Europe and I am personally delighted to be a part of it”.
Speaking proudly on the history of English football’s rich pyramid boasts, Collymore was assertive in his dismissal of proposed ‘B-teams’ competing in the lower leagues:
“It annoys the hell out of me when Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola talks about parachuting under-23 teams into the lower leagues or non-league. It’s an embarrassing comment.
“There’s a reason we’re the only country on the planet that has 100+ professional teams and it’s because of how strong the football fabric is.
“It works for Barcelona or Real Madrid in the Spanish second or third tier, because there aren’t enough pro clubs”.
Experience through the door key factor in saving Southend
One of Collymore’s main job roles is to ensure Southend remain a part of the National League next season and the 50-year-old admits after some time, he is finally happy with how the club has restructured:
“I think we’re there… the appointment of John (Still) concludes the business in the football department.
For Collymore and Southend the next steps are to formulate a plan that not only brings stability to Southend but also provides the groundwork to create success:
“I am an unashamed fan of the work Matthew Benham has done with Brentford… they saw the size of their club, they didn't copy anyone else and found their unique selling points.
“From that perspective, we now have the people… John Still knows the division inside out, I have had dealings with clubs up and down the country from Premier League and Category 1 academies, and Kevin Maher was a candidate with the best insight and the best plan”.
“The idea is to build a football club that when Fossetts Farm is built in the next two or three years, Southend United are in a position that fits the 23,000 seater stadium environment, compared to clubs like York City and Wrexham”.
Stan quick to distance himself from the ‘messiah man’ tag
Collymore’s arrival marked a turning point for many Shrimpers supporters, yet the former-Southend striker has urged fans not to see him as a saviour for their football club:
“I really rail against the messiah mentality, purely because they don’t and never have existed.
“You have to be able to work with lots of other people to be able to push the club forward… the added value comes from existing relationships with ex-players because they want to do more".
Ensuring Southend fans are aware there will be no quick fix to the current problems within the club is crucial for the project to succeed, believes Collymore:
“I am confident that we will be able to make it succeed, with the amount of experience we have involved it would almost be an impossibility for it not to.
“But fans can’t expect us to be targeting Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on free contracts. No, we need to be patient. If we’re going to build something that’s worthwhile, then it will take time”.
Despite the obvious limitations in implementing the foundations for success, Collymore has wasted no time in beginning the search for players (even if Messi and Ronaldo aren’t shortlisted):
“I have been in contact with more than one head of loan departments at clubs in the Premier League and the Championship.
“When I spoke to supporters, I made it clear Southend United should be at the front of the queue for the best non-league players, the best gems nobody has noticed and the best players we can loan from Premier League or Football League clubs”.
It’s impossible to say if Collymore and Southend will achieve their intended goal of success, whilst returning the Shrimpers back to the Football League.
However, it is safe to say the Southend that trudged off the Roots Hall pitch after October’s drubbing to Chesterfield, are a completely different outfit to the one they are today.