A tale of two departures

Ryan Leonard

Ryan Leonard

OUR glorious leader Uncle Ron has reportedly been enjoying some winter sun in the Caribbean recently, but checking his phone from the beach must have looked like watching Rome burn from afar.

Performances on the pitch have, remarkably after awful defeats at Rotherham, Doncaster and Bristol Rovers, plumbed new depths at Wimbledon to leave our so-called “promotion contenders” four points from the drop having played more games than several sides below. Meanwhile, he will have been less than impressed to learn of another trip to the magistrates’ court for a Southend player as Anthony Wordsworth appeared in the dock for assaulting a police officer.

With the news that Nile Ranger was not ill after all for the Scunthorpe game, just late enough to miss the team coach, the bouffanted supremo must have spent his entire long-haul flight back to the UK drafting media statements.

Lo and behold, two appeared this week, thankfully devoid of bullet points and containing only a few erroneous capital letters. First, Ron moved to criticise Wordsworth for what he called “literally handbags at dawn” – so it seems the players are cross-dressing for their Christmas shindig now – in the Echo.

24 hours later, enter the foreboding web headline of Club Statement above a picture of the sad corner flag which always means Something Bad has happened. The story within told of Nile Ranger’s sacking for consistent ill-discipline and poor timekeeping. Few were surprised at the striker’s descent into ignominy following a promising first few months at the club and while there is regret all round at such a waste of talent, it was always going to be a much easier call to make given he and the team’s recent on-pitch performances. Call it deflection from Brown’s failings if you like, and some may have seen Nile as a sacrificial lamb, but really he’s been more like a cat whose ninth life has just flashed before his eyes.

Nile’s lack of professionalism was unforgivable given some of the comments he has made about changing his ways and grasping what was surely his last chance in professional football. Nobody really knows what the future holds for him now, but sadly the chances are the next we’ll hear about him will be in a court report or an obituary.

Fans had taken Ranger to their hearts and many will be disappointed purely because it is such a waste of talent and everyone wanted to see him turn his life around. It hasn’t happened, and it’s the end of an enigma.

And Southend fans had just a day to process that departure before the long-running Ryan Leonard saga was sadly but sensibly concluded, the club finally accepting Sheffield United’s quite fair bid and allowing Lenny a chance at Championship football that he has richly deserved and is not likely to get with us any time soon.

A starker contrast between Ranger and Leonard would be tough to imagine. Ranger had the world at his feet from an early age and pissed it up the wall. Leonard was released by his home town club, and had to impress at a trial to win a deal at League Two Southend as a 19-year-old right-back in 2011. After starting off as an understudy to Sean Clohessy, his conversion into a midfielder by Paul Sturrock was a masterstroke and in the 250 plus games since, Leonard has never not given 100% in a Southend shirt. A penny for the thoughts of such a dedicated professional when he watched Ranger wander through into Boots and Laces late for training of a morning.

When you consider Leonard’s disappointment at missing out on a move in the summer, his outstanding attitude and performances this season have been particularly commendable. He has chipped in with four strikes (his third highest season total to date and it’s only January) to take him to 27 Southend United goals, a handful of which will be permanently seared in the memories of those fortunate enough to see them. A finer box-to-box midfielder simply cannot be found at this level, and Brown has his work cut out identifying a replacement (something he really should have been working on for several months) who can make the same impact on such a poor side.

On reflection, it’s been quite the start to 2018 for a football club where there is rarely a dull moment. But while one man had every chance to earn his place in Southend United folklore, another has through hard work, six years’ dedication and no little talent, etched his name in the history books and a fond place in the hearts of all who watched him grow from that nervous 19-year-old into the best midfielder in the lower leagues. So good luck Lenny, we all hope you reach the very top. Good luck Nile, you’ll need it.