By Jeff Brazier
After a period of 10 days without a replacement for the departing Phil Brown, ex club-captain Kevin Maher has been announced as head coach at Southend United with Darren Currie as his assistant and ex-teammate Mark Bentley as First Team Coach.
Maher will be more than welcome by the fans at Roots Hall. He’s a two-time promotion winner who made over 450 appearances for the blues and he will need to thrive under the uncertainty of the club’s future and throw a protective layer around the squad while the supporters and the owner presumably continue their differences.
Someone who we all tipped for the manager’s role was Darren Currie. He didn’t get it, but he landed close filling in as assistant head coach. I don’t know what the combination holds by way of chemistry but I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of impact they have on the playing side.
This appointment is not so much ‘painting over the cracks’ because the managerial change needed to take place but how far does it go to completely fixing the remaining issues off the pitch?
I was at Roots Hall at the weekend for their 4-1 FA Cup win against Chertsey and the attendance was significantly lower due to the fans continuing to protest through their absence. Jason Demetriou took charge as interim head coach and credit must go to himself and the injured Josh Coulson who managed to steady the ship sufficiently enough to warrant a performance that the players looked like they may have enjoyed.
In the National League, the club find themselves 20th with 1 win in 9 having endured back-to-back relegations. So Maher and Currie’s first job is to earn the fans the right to stop fearing the prospect of playing against neighbours Concord in the National League South next season.
‘The once proud club have become a toxic embarrassment’ according to Chris Phillips, a fan who writes for the Southend Echo. During a recent away defeat to Solihull, the fans were chanting for under fire chairman Ron Martin to leave the club, but the action he took in response was dangerous to say the least.
Martin walked down to the away end midway through the 2nd half and proceeded to remonstrate with the furious supporters before being persuaded by the Solihull security to return to the directors box. What he wished to achieve was unclear, but it could have sparked far more than the hostility it created.
The timing of the Phil Brown sacking and the time taken to appoint Maher and Currie may have succeeded in distracting a few and buying a little time. The fact they were playing step 4 opposition in the FA Cup at the weekend probably came at a good time too and if the new duo can come in and inspire an improved performance in the league v Dagenham this weekend it might shepherd owner Ron Martin quietly through to the next big marker for the club.
On 25th October Southend United will learn if its planning application for a new 22,000 seater stadium at Fossetts Farm, a mile and a half from Roots Hall, is to be approved or not. Some fans feel it is a decision that could bolster or condemn the club’s chances of survival given how little faith many seem to have in its current owner and his intentions for the club beyond what stands to be gained from building a new ground and selling off Roots Hall to make way for residential properties.
No criticism seems to have landed at the players door and I think rightly so. After all, how difficult must it be to operate under these circumstances at a club riddled with negativity and uncertainty. Hardly the platform needed for players to be at their best. That said, they are a point above the drop zone, have just the win v Eastleigh in their last 9 league games and have only scored 1 in their last 4 in the league.
The ex-Championship club enlisted the help of former player Stan Collymore to advise on the managerial appointments. My fear for the club before they announced Maher was that they may have made the mistake of hiring a ‘name’ rather than someone who has the credentials to guarantee survival which surely had to be the priority for the season.
It was interesting learning about the issues surrounding the Chairman, but I got the impression Collymore has set out some boundaries for Martin in terms of what his role is and what he should leave to others for the good of the smooth running of the club. Ultimately, it sounded like Martin was doing too much and we only need to look at the league table to know how that was going. There is the potential for a director of football to be recruited too which is a nod to the point above.
What Maher lacks, Darren Currie more than makes up for in National League experience and besides, we can no longer say National League experience is vital thanks to the outstanding work of Andy Woodman at Bromley.
It’s vital that the Maher can inspire belief, with the character to unite a large support base with the team and consequently stop the slide the club are on. Some may have viewed the job as a poison chalice, but for someone keen to make their mark and work closer to family it will have presented itself as a challenge and an opportunity for Maher who was at Bristol Rovers.
It’s almost a distant irrelevance now but Chesterfield were initially asked for permission to speak to James Rowe but that was denied. You just couldn’t see him wanting to leave a club who came close last year and now stand a great chance of reaching the Football League next season.
There was absolutely a case for multiple FA Trophy winning manager Mark Stimson, but I know how much he values working with a chairman that he trusts and gets on with which is a scenario he currently enjoys at Hornchurch, so it may not have appealed.
Mark Beard had left his post as assistant manager to Simon Rusk at Stockport for family reasons and he’s ex-Southend so I thought that might be of been a clue as to what is about to announced but it proved just a timely coincidence.
Maher is less known to me but ultimately Currie did wonders with Barnet when they were in a similar position on the field having not long been relegated and he would have no doubt developed further in his last role at Sheffield United with their U23’s. I wondered if he might have fancied a return to Barnet but either the call from Southend was too appealing or the Barnet job has gone to Dean Brennan and no longer available.
Southend has become a fascinating sub-plot to the National League season and I look forward to watching their story unfold.