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Official Review by Peter Miles, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Roots Hall was opened in 1955 and was the last Football League stadium to be built prior to the Taylor Report into the safety of sports grounds following stadium disasters at Hillsborough and Valley Parade. Southend United were formed in 1906 and originally played at a different ground on the same site. The original Roots Hall was turned over to grow crops to aid the war effort in 1914 and when the club returned to playing soccer in 1919 they relocated to a ground on the seafront called the Kursaal.
In 1934 they moved to a greyhound racing stadium in Grainger Road before coming full circle back to Roots Hall. Originally the stadium held 31,000 people, including 13,500 on a huge open terrace at the south end of the ground. The stadium had been almost entirely funded by money raised from the Southend United Supporters Club.
The club spent much of its history in the third and fourth tier of the Football League, but in 1991 were promoted to the second tier for the first time. This saw a major revamp of the stadium with seating bolted onto the old terracing, and in 1994 a narrow double tier stand replaced the much loved open terrace. With little thought given to the rake of the terracing, some of the seating suffers from awkward sightlines and the age of the three original stands means supporting roof struts are problematic. Turning Roots Hall into an all-seater stadium saw the capacity drastically cut to just a shade over 12,000.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Traditional burgers, hot dogs and meat pies are available. Prices are fairly high for the limited quality on offer.
Food outlets are in all stands, with friendly and fast service but the range and quality could be better.
Beer is available in bars inside the stadium, but is not allowed into the stands. The usual range of soft drinks and hot drinks are available from the food stalls.The bars are not open during the game, only before and during half-time.
Recommended fare is the beer and meat pie. The burgers and hot dogs are low quality, and best to be avoided.
The barrel roof stands of the West stand and North stand (the latter is for visiting club supporters) offer superb acoustic, and when full for a big game they can generate a good atmosphere. The younger supporters gather in the end section of the West stand and are known as "The Blue Voice." They do a sterling job with singing, drums, and streamers throughout the match.
The pitch was relaid in 2013 and is generally excellent. It drains very well in poor weather and games are rarely postponed for water logging. The East stand contains corporate boxes, which offer food and drink behind a glazed viewing area.
The stadium floodlights date from 1958 and are the traditional old style giant pylon which are increasingly scarce in modern times. A small electronic scoreboard sits on the roof of the North stand but shows only the score and adverts. Music is played in the pre-match build up and is very loud. Home goals are celebrated with music as well.
The club has two mascots: "Sammy the Shrimp" and "Elvis J. Eel" both based on the club's location close to the sea. The club also often employs musical acts before the game and dancing girls at half-time, known as "The Bluebelles."
The best view is from the South Upper as this is elevated and also the most modern stand. The East stand has some wooden seating and on sunny days you will need sunglasses. The West stand is hampered by a myriad of roof supports and also a television gantry.
There are plenty of pubs around the stadium. The home fans congregate in The Railway, and The Spread Eagle, while away fans are allocated to The Blue Boar. Ironically it is the latter pub that saw the inaugural meeting take place that formed the club back in May 1906, a small blue plaque on the exterior wall of the Blue Boar marks this historic place. The town center is around a ten minute walk south of the stadium.
The are a variety of eating establishment in the immediate vicinity of the stadium. The Fish Inn is the most well known offering superb traditional fish and chips. Other eateries include burger and pizza joints.
The town center is a 10 minute walk away and the famous seafront is a 30 minute walk. The seafront includes the world famous pleasure pier, the longest of its type in the world.
As a seaside resort town there is a plethora of low budget bed and breakfast accommodation as well as the usual branded hotels like Travelodge, Premier Inn, and Park Inn. At the higher end of the spectrum is the Roslin Hotel on Thorpe Esplanade.
Roots Hall has some passionate fans and for a big match such as the Essex derby against Colchester, the 61 year-old stadium can really rock.
The club currently averages home gates of about 6,500 people, and these have risen since promotion to the third tier in 2015. Big games attract 10,000 plus dependent on segregation requirements.
On run of the mill games the crowd can be a little expectant and quiet, but goals and exciting play soon ramps up the volume.
Easily found by road from the A127 and A13. The main East stand, South stand, fan shop and main ticket office is accessed from Victoria Avenue. The South and West stands can be accessed from Shakespeare Drive, which has a small ticket outlet for these stands only. The visiting fans are housed in the North stand and access is gained via the Fairfax Drive end of the ground.
London Southend Airport is minutes away from the stadium. Prittlewell Station is a five minute walk from the stadium and links to the London Liverpool Street line. Buses 7, 8, 9, 20, 21, 25, and 29 all go from the town centre to the ground.
A large car park at the ground is for pass holders only, but there is unrestricted free street parking all around the venue.
All tickets have barcodes which are scanned at the turnstile. Stewards are on hand to supervise. Searches are rarely conducted.
None of the concourses have sight of the pitch and egress can be slow when crowds are above average. Blocks, rows, and seats are all easily found with good signage.
Average ticket price for the 2015/16 season is Ł22 which has remained the same since promotion to a higher division. That is just below average price for League One.
Easy to locate and find your seat, the cost of some of the required match day extras such as food, drink, and programme is not to everyone's pocket.
Check the official club website for periodic promotions such as "Kids for a Quid."
The 2015-2016 programme is 64 pages for Ł3 in full color, perfect bound on glossy paper. The content however is average and formulaic.
If you want a great old school English football ground experience you can do worse than a visit to Roots Hall. Great rail links to London and the occasional Friday night game makes it an attractive prospect. The club have long running plans to relocate to a new facility on the edge of town, so the time to visit this fabulous old stadium may well be limited.
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9 High St
Southend-on-Sea, Essex SS1 1JE
5 Eastern Esplanade
Southend-on-Sea, Essex SS1 2ER
Southend-on-Sea, Essex SS1 1EE
+44 1702 618747