Cris Freddi reviews the local tie which ended non-League Canvey Island's FA Cup hopes

“You can’t be serious about these shrimps.”

“We’re not, really...”

The Shrimpers Club bar. Some poor sod hobbling round the pitch in a pink prawn outfit, tail trailing in the mud. Who decided we needed cuddly toy mascots? Cyril the frigging swan. Dumber and dumb­er.

“I don’t know who thought the name up. We never use it. Blue boys, yes. C-c-seasiders. David Webb’s barmy army. Yell-oooow away from home. But no crustaceans to speak of.”

“What’s Canvey’s nickname?”

“Who cares? We generally call it ‘that fucking awful dump’.”

Charming. Shit, there’s some wet patches out there. Even in the warm-up the ball’s squeezing rain up off the grass. They must have been close to calling it off.

“Don’t blame the pitch, it normally drains straight through. Millions of crushed cockle shells, how’s that for a local touch. But you can’t expect it to cope with all the rain we’ve been having.”

Suits the sliding tackles, though. Here’s the first of the match, starting somewhere on the horizon and fin­ishing right in front of us in the main East Stand, leav­ing a gulch that starts filling up with water lying below the surface. Looks like the Somme by half-time.

“Who’s the baldie at the back?”

“Steve Tilson. Used to play for us. We’re only booing him because he’s still good. Hard to keep up the ‘South­end reject’ chants when half the opposition are your old boys.”

“I think you’ll win this.”

“Don’t say things like that with 80 minutes to go.”

Canvey are too civilised. League v non-League, cup tie, local derby: you’d expect them to put it about a bit. Instead look at them. Neat and tidy and carrying the ball out of defence. But nothing’s happening up front.

“Who’s your 12-year-old in midfield? Christ, I thought Lee Hendrie looked young.”

“Williamson. He’s quick when he plays on grass. The other midget’s Forbes. Ray Houghton lookalike. Similar engine.”

Similar eye for goal, too. Forbes cuts inside from the left and curls it in, decent skill when it’s bucketing down like this. Main East Stand reverberates to syn­chronised thumping of feet. Hang on. If it reverberates, it must be wood. And here’s me thinking they’d banned wooden stands. I really must get out more. It complies with safety standards pre­sumably, but I’m happy our seats are next to the aisle.

From here you look straight across into the directors’ box, housing the great and the good of Southend. (Originally the south end of Prittlewell, incidentally. Prittlewell United. Imagine.) There’s the mayor wear­ing his chain. And Webbie’s Desperate Dan jaw.

At half-time Southend get a helping hand from their ground staff. The YTS boys are only patting down the battlefield in the half they’ll be defending, while their subs have a kickabout in the other penalty box. There’s another Webb coming on as sub.

“I thought his son went to Southampton?”

“Bought him back for ten grand. I taught him French at school.”

“Good at football, was he?”

“All I remember is he inherited his dad’s arse. Ab­solutely gigantic.”

“Doesn’t look so huge from here.”

“I agree, he’s lost it.”

If it’s arses you want, check out Canvey’s half-time sub. Stocky No4 who goes from mistake to mis­take. When the crowd call for a second yellow card, you think no, let him stay on, he’ll win it for you. The change moves Tilson swallows him up. Then the last Canvey defender shows Ben Abbey the outside, a low left-footer, and it’s over. So simple it’s weird.

The Canvey fans drum their own wooden stand when Vaughan scores in injury time. Ten min­utes ear­lier and it might have been interesting. As it is, the fire in their belly wasn’t obvious, at least to me, and you wonder if they’ll feel they did them­selves justice. Their lap of honour is really for what they did to Port Vale.

Yeah, but they looked the part at times. And anywhere that produces Wilko Johnson is no fucking awful dump. Nor’s this place. The seats haven’t changed its character (it still looks like everybody’s standing), there’s been rain and side streets and people giving a toss. And if that sounds like throwback sentimentality, it’s all right, we all do it.

The gate money’s going to break all Roots Hall records and they’re welcome to it, including our 16 quid each. Even the trains ran on time.

From WSC 168 February 2001. What was happening this month

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