If there ever was a football match that might divide my loyalties it would be high profile cup tie between the club I’ve supported since I was a seven-year old, Chelsea, and my local team, Southend United.
And as luck would have it, Southend United and Chelsea were drawn to play together in the third round of the FA Cup this season, only their third ever meeting in professional competition – the others being played in 1913 and 1972.
Fans of every other football team other than Chelsea, as well as every local resident with even zero interest in football would be willing on the underdogs. Southend’s lucrative visit to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium ended in high drama, with the Seasiders’ astonishingly equalizing in the final minutes. It was the best possible result in that it meant a replay would have to take place at Southend’s modest home, Roots Hall.
Ten days later, I was lucky enough to be one of the 11,314 who squeezed into the ground to witness the Coca-Cola League One side take a shock early lead, but finally succumb to the Premier League giants 1-4.
Even though I attended many games at Roots Hall during the late 1970s and early 1980s and even now still look out for Southend’s results, there is absolutely no doubt that, past, present and future, my allegiances lay with the London side.
As great as it was seeing the 6000 visiting Southend fans at the Bridge waving flags and singing their hearts out, it was even more special to be standing with 2000 other traveling Chelsea fans in Roots Hall’s North Bank, on almost the same spot where I used to cheer on Southend 25 years ago.
All in all, the perfect outcome – Chelsea progress to the next round with a morale-boosting victory after the hugely disappointing defeat to Manchester United, while Southend United not only do themselves justice on the pitch, but maximize their financial receipts after two sell-out games and television rights.
As for today’s fifth round tie against another lower league club, Ipswich Town, well, I hope Chelsea stuff them and no mistake.