Brown’s shot at redemption

wembleySOUTHEND’S play-off push has inevitably thrust Phil Brown back into the national football spotlight, a place where he appears quite comfortable. Interviews with the manager always seem to focus on his past failings, and trying to rebuild a career now unfairly known for singing Sloop John B, alfresco bollockings and sunbed-abuse.
However, his biggest point to prove next weekend is to the Southend supporters themselves. As their team takes the field for its second ever appearance at the home of English football, there will be few fans who hold happy memories of the first.
Brown’s start to his managerial career at Roots Hall did little to appease fans who were cynical of his appointment in the first place. Surrendering a two-goal lead to Bradford in his first game, he had one game at Roots Hall, an uninspiring draw with Fleetwood, to warm up for this Wembley appearance. The build up had already descended into farce with the man responsible for getting the team there fired in the most undignified, drawn-out manner.
Brown’s team selection on the day left me incredulous. Six defenders named in the starting line up plus a defensive midfielder in Tamika Mkandawire, yet no place for Mark Phillips whose heroics in the Area Final were a key reason the club’s fans did have something to celebrate in an otherwise forgettable season. Bilel Mohsni, who had spent most of the season sulking in France and basically got Paul Sturrock sacked, was not only allowed to gatecrash our showpiece cup final, but was played in an alien central midfield role.
As it was, the contest was effectively over inside five minutes thanks to an inexplicable short free kick deep inside enemy territory from Mohsni which gifted Crewe a corner, which led to a goal. It didn’t get much better, and the 33,000 fans who had packed out the west side of Wembley were silenced.
Whilst it was great to see so many people supporting the club that day, my memories of what should have been a fantastic occasion were severely tainted and it has taken me a long time to forgive Phil Brown for that. Yes, the team selection may have been influenced by his coaching staff and he had only been in the job a couple of weeks, but the performance and the farcical situation leading up to the game left a sour taste in the mouth. We had waited all our lives to see our beloved club at Wembley and it had been ruined.
Two years on, Brown will lead what is undoubtedly his team out at the national stadium once more. Only one player who featured that day in 2013 is likely to be in the starting line-up (Barry Corr, who came on in the second half). This time, it will follow a season in which club records for clean sheets have tumbed, the team has tasted victory 12 times on the road and seen themselves beaten on home soil just three times. The 84 points amassed would have been good enough to get us promoted 9 times out of the last 10 years and even tops the 83 achieved by Paul Sturrock’s 2011/12 side. Points-wise, this is officially the second best Southend side that there has ever been, with only those able to recall the 1980/81 season able to say they have seen a better one.
Both Brown and his players should be extremely proud of themselves, but will be aware that nothing has been achieved yet despite the euphoria of the heroic encounter with Stevenage on Thursday. But winning promotion at Wembley won’t just help Phil Brown resurrect his career and reputation as a football manager in the eyes of the national media. It will surely earn him total redemption amongst the supporters of Southend United and banish the demons of 7th April, 2013.