Roots Hall is a multi-use stadium, primarily used for football games and is the home of the Coca Cola League One team Southend United. The capacity is 12,392, but a sell out crowd is often under 12,000. Southend United have had a new ground agreed and are to move out of Roots Hall into a new 22,000 seat stadium by the start of the 2010-11 season.
When Southend moved into their new ground at Roots Hall in 1955, it was in some ways more of a homecoming that a relocation. When Southend were formed back in 1906 they had elected to play their home games at the site, which in those days boasted a pitch some 50ft higher than present. The ground was fairly basic back then, consisting of a wooden stand with banking around the rest of the pitch. However, upon the outbreak of the First World War Roots Hall was designated for storage and Southend were forced out. However, after the war the club elected to move to a new ground at the Kursaal and Roots Hall became a tipping site.
By the early 1950s Southend had moved once more, and were playing at the Southend Greyhound Stadium off Sutton Road. The ground was not idea for a football club as the dog track which encircled the pitch left supporters too far from the action and more to the point, the club did not actually own it. In 1952 the wasteland at the old Roots Hall site was purchased to build a new stadium for the club. However, work on the ground could not begin immediately due to the large quantities of rubbish which had been dumped on the site in the club's absence. Removing the waste took the best part of a year, but finally on 20 August 1955 Roots Hall hosted its first match, against Norwich City. The ground was declared open by the Secretary of the Football Association, Sir Stanley Rous.
Roots Hall was far from a finished ground when it was opened. The main (East) stand had barely started construction and ran for only a short distance up the touchline, while large swathes of both the South and West banks had yet to be concreted over. Spectator cover on the north and west sides of the ground was minimal. However, the problems with the incomplete ground paled into insignificance compared to the trouble the club were having with the pitch. Rubbish does not make a particularly good surface on which to lay a football pitch and as a result, drainage was a huge problem and a few months into a wet winter, the pitch was a muddy mess. Matters came to a head in January 1956, when the pitch was in such poor condition that their scheduled FA Cup tie with Manchester City was hanging in the balance. In a last ditch attempt to get the game played, Southend created two drainage trenches across each half of the pitch. The game went ahead, and in the close season of 1956 the Roots Hall pitch was completely relaid, incorporating an effective drainage system which is still in use today - in fact so effective that the pitch looks fairly healthy even during the harshest winters and is often playable when many other games in the East are called off.
With the pitch issue dealt with, Southend could concentrate on the matter at hand: completing the ground. The west bank roof, originally set back from the pitch, was extended forwards to the touchline creating a double-barrel effect, while work also commenced on finishing the terracing. The job was finally finished in 1964, after all 72 steps of the giant south bank had been concreted. The East stand was extended in both directions so it ran the full length of the touchline in 1966, and around the same time the club installed floodlighting. Finally the ground was finished, and had its finest day in 1979, when a ground record 31,033 fans packed the Hall to watch the mighty Liverpool in action in the FA Cup.
By the middle of the 80's, though, the club were struggling badly. In an effort to keep the wolves from the door, most of the South bank was sold off, and eventually the remainder was replaced in 1994 by a small two tiered all-seater stand. All this came after the west and east stands saw work in 1992: the west bank was turned into an all-seated stand and the paddocks in the east had seating attached. The final stage of development at the Hall came in 1995, when the west stand roof was extended at either end to meet the south and north stands, with seating being installed in the north-west corner of the ground.
Development since has been mainly concentrated on the ground's facilities, in recent years the club opened a new ticket office and club shop, replaced the old style turnstiles with modern electronic ones and extended executive accommodation at the rear of the east stand.
Sadly, the modern day money oriented world of football has numbered the days of Roots Hall. The ground is extremely hard to develop, space is a premium and the cost of rebuilding existing stands - along with the need for revenue outside of matchdays - has forced Southend to make plans to move away, to a proposed new ground at Fossets Farm. In January 2007, the club received planning permission from both Southend and Rochford councils for the stadium, retail outlets, a hotel and new training facilities but this was subject to rubber-stamping from the Secretary of State. In March 2008 the Secretary of State gave permission for the new ground with the hope of moving in at the start of the 2010-11 season.
Stands at Roots Hall
The East Stand
The East stand is the main stand at Roots Hall. Originally designed as a section of seating with paddocks of terracing below, it was converted to an all seater stand in the 1990s when Southend were enjoying their first stint in the second tier. Club offices are built into the back of it and the East is the location for the executive boxes. The dugouts are cut into the stand, covered by the main roof.
Like all stands at Roots Hall its roof supports can obstruct the view if you are seated in the upper part of the stand. The stand was originally much smaller and evidence of its extension along the touchline can be seen in the density of moss on the roof!
The South Stand
Originally a gigantic 72-step terrace, financial troubles in the mid-1990s saw the old terrace reduced dramatically, then vanish altogether under a new twin-tier stand. Unusually for a relatively recent construction, the stand has two roof supports on both levels which can impede the view if you are at the back end of the stand. In addition to this, the back two rows of the upper tier have their views restricted by the front of the roof, which for tall people can mean that the goal at the north end of the pitch is obstructed.
Despite this, the front rows of the stand give a fantastic view and fans feel really close to the action on the pitch. Recently in the lower tier, The South Stand seems to have adopted its own 'Barmy Army'. A group of around 5 - 8 young men 'sing their hearts out for the lads' through thick and thin at Roots Hall. This seems to cause some disruption with the other fans occupying this area just behind the goal, however these fans have been dismissed as 'plastic and or fake (not real/pathetic).'
The West Stand
The west was another former terrace, which simple had seats bolted to it when Roots Hall was made all-seater. As a result of this the legroom, particularly in the front of the stand, is restrictive and can be uncomfortable for those with long legs! Originally the terrace only ran the length of the touchline but when the ground was improved in the 1990s the north-west corner was filled-in. This section is commonly used for segregation, although when fewer away fans are expected tickets for this section are available if the rest of the west has sold out. Again, the stand is plagued with roof supports, this is worse in the west than any other stand and some seats have a very poor view indeed.
The roof has a unique double-barreled construction, originally the stand's cover was set back from the pitch, and when the Club constructed cover for the front section of the old terrace they built another identical span. Unfortunately, the roof's shape does nothing for the acoustics and noise from the supporters does not carry at all.
The North Stand
This stand is another converted terrace, albeit smaller than the old south and west terraces. The roof has a semi-circular 'barrel' shape very similar to the west stand's original roof, and in the centre the aging scoreboard is placed. When the stadium was made all seater, seats were bolted onto the terrace, due to this legroom is minimal.
After the new South Stand was built, Southend decided that home fans should reap the benefits of the new stand and thus designated the old North Bank to away fans only - and it has remained that way ever since. However, this move was not popular with many Shrimpers fans who stood there. A few campaigns to return the North Stand to Southend fans have been initiated, most recently in 2008 when it was suggested that a return of the home fans would help to improve the atmosphere at Roots Hall. After a feasibility study, this was deemed to be impractical due to the additional policing costs that would be incurred.
In times of heavy demand and low away support, the club have been known to open up a couple of blocks of the North Stand for home fans use, with access being gained through the north-west corner entrances.
Roots Hall is not a difficult ground to get to, although parking in the area is not so easy!
The nearest station is Prittlewell, on the London Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria line run by national express east anglia. It is about five minutes walk from the east entrance to the ground in Victoria Avenue. Visitors who find themselves at Southend Victoria (the next stop up the line) have a slightly longer walk of about ten to fifteen minutes, but there are bus services across the street from the station which stop very close to the ground for those too lazy to walk!
If arriving on the c2c line from Fenchurch Street, visitors should alight at Southend Central, the ground is a twenty-five minute walk up the high street and along Victoria Avenue. A taxi rank is near the station, from which the taxi journey is only five minutes.
The ground is easy to reach by car, travellers should leave the M25 at junction 29, then join the A127 signposted for Southend and Basildon. This road goes right into the town and past the ground. There is limited street parking available in the streets around the ground, and the civic centre car park is free on matchdays - to get to it cross the traffic lights and take the first left.
- Until the building of Scunthorpe United's Glanford Park in 1988, Roots Hall was the youngest ground in the football league.
- Roots Hall is the largest football stadium in Essex, and is the current venue for the final of Essex County Football Association's premier cup competition, the Essex Senior Cup.
- The ground's somewhat dilapidated scoreboard was originally used in the nearby Victoria Plaza shopping centre.
- Despite a stated capacity of 12,392, a 'sell out' game is usually about 11,400 - 11,700 (depending on how much segregation is required). This is largely due to Southend declining to count complimentary tickets as part of the official attendance.