First, may I apologise to all those of you who have bought, borrowed or stolen this book purely to read about football. However, the tale of Southend Invicta Rugby League Club needs to be told.
If you are unfamiliar with the ways of the ‘egg chasing brigade’, then here is a very brief history of the sport: Rugby was discovered when the famed William Webb-Ellis cheated during a game of football. So…er…that’s about it really, Rugby is a game played by men who can’t play football!
Picture the scene: it’s 1984 and Southend United are a club in crisis. Attendances are at an all time low, finances are almost non-existent, and the team are, well, bloody rubbish!
The club’s custodians needed a master plan, something that would have the locals flooding through the turnstiles. So as you can imagine, eyebrows were raised amongst the Roots Hall faithful when we were informed that the Blues would be sharing their home with a Rugby League team. An uneasy air surrounded the Shrimpers supporters.
Perhaps they were just coming in to share the running costs, but maybe Southend Invicta would push the Shrimpers out of Roots Hall altogether? Despite our unease we need not have worried. Although Southend United were suffering just about the most awful period in their history, Invicta were much worse!
Southend Invicta played their first Slalom Lager Division Two fixture at Roots Hall on Sunday September 9th 1984 when Bramley were the visitors.
A handful of Shrimpers supporters approached Roots Hall to join a collection of Northern exiles and Rugby Union enthusiasts, keen to see the Rugby League team take off. The round ball fans approached Roots Hall that day the same way fifteenth century villagers would have, had an alien space ship crashed into their settlement. We were going into the unknown, perhaps a little scared, but above all curious!
The match programme that day was boldly headed with the title WELCOME TO OUR NEW HOME! But it soon became clear that our tenants were very untidy guests and would struggle to pay the rent.
Bramley won that opening fixture by 17-14 watched by a crowd of 371, and that was about as good as it got! The team won only four matches all season. With Southend United also struggling at the foot of the Fourth Division it might have paid for the two teams to switch codes. I’m sure that the Shrimpers would have topped a League in which they could score simply by kicking the ball over the goals!
Around the middle of the season I made a rare pilgrimage to Roots Hall for Rugby League. I, along with 150 other lost souls witnessed Southend mauled 22-2 by Whitehaven. A visiting supporter turned to me and said Invicta were without doubt the worst team he’d ever seen. Thankfully he’d not seen the Shrimpers that season!
As Invicta stumbled from one defeat to the next, crowds became sparse. Only 86 bothered to turn up for another hammering, this time by Blackpool. That was topped when a mere 85 made it along for the visit of Huddersfield.
The Huddersfield match proved to be the final Rugby League fixture Invicta would play at Roots Hall. Right up to kick-off time rumours circulated that the match wouldn’t take place at all as Southend were unable to field a team.
Following Invicta’s final match of the season (away at Blackpool) the club resigned from the League never to return. United and their supporters once again had Roots Hall all to themselves, Rugby League in Southend was dead.
Perhaps Rugby League wasn’t meant for Southend. Maybe the game is just a ‘Northern thing’? The answer is open to debate. But shortly before my father passed away I took him to Griffin Park, Brentford to watch the London Broncos v Wigan Warriors. He had watched the newly formed Super League on TV and suggested that it looked quite exciting. Towards the end of the match I turned to Dad and asked him if he’d enjoyed the match. “I think so…” he replied sheepishly. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I haven’t a bloody clue what’s going on,” he answered!
If you trail through e-bay you can sometimes find rare artefacts such as programmes and badges from Invicta’s ill fated stay in Southend. They were gone as quickly as they’d arrived. The only question being, did anyone realise they were here at all?