Martin adds steel to Southend

Matthew Slater reports on a new role for a former West Ham stalwart
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The Independent Online
There is a sign outside Southend United that says Roots Hall's bar sells all the "latest fad drinks". That presumably means alcopops, but from the look of the ground's surroundings that could just as easily mean Coca-Cola.

Outside the manager's office, there is a cabinet with one trophy prominently positioned. It is the Sweet FA Cup, awarded not by a recognised football governing body, but by a local restaurant.

Southend United are neither fashionable nor successful. And last year they were just plain awful. Finishing bottom of the First Division, relegation brought a change of manager. Out went Ronnie Whelan, in came Alvin Martin of West Ham fame.

This is the 39-year-old's first managerial job, but it is clearly a natural progression for him. Always a commanding presence in his 20 years in West Ham's defence, not to mention in his 17 caps for England, he is enjoying his new role.

"I've known for some time that I wanted to be a manager, even coaching would not have been enough for me. This is the job that suits me best because I like to have full control over what is happening on the pitch."

While other recently-retired players have been getting their managerial breaks at more glamorous locations, clubs like Southend are more traditional first jobs. As Martin puts it: "Looking at the jobs on offer, the ones that I could have got, Southend was the one I wanted. I'm trying to stress to the players at the moment that this is a great little club. It is obviously on a smaller scale than West Ham, but it is along the same lines."

Martin admits to being surprised by the quality of the players, and was impressed with the facilities. Money is tight, but he is confident he can get his small but talented squad playing consistent football.

Even if the best things do really come in small packages, Martin knows his side is largely unchanged from the team that performed so badly last year. "I remember going down with John Lyall at West Ham, so I know it's not just the manager's responsibility, it's the players' responsibility too. Those players are still here. I've got to get them back on track."

It is too early to judge Martin's progress, but he is making the right noises. Many ex-players find it difficult to swap the camaraderie of the dressing room for the pressures of the manager's job. Martin is adamant that this does not apply in his case: "When I was on the pitch for West Ham, I was never anybody's mate. If someone wasn't doing it, I would let them know. It's going to be the same now that I'm managing. I'm not here to win a popularity contest."

But it is not only players who will have reason to fear Martin's anger. "I will be critical of referees all the way through my career. I think if you don't mention it, the situation will never get any better." Martin's biggest concern at present, is how he can cope with the sackload of yellow cards his players have already received this season.

"I have never seen so many stop-start games," he said. "But it is not just the referee's fault, it's the law-makers and the assessors in the stands. And it is far worse in the Nationwide than it is in the Premier League. How can that be right when they are carrying squads of 35, and I only have 18?"

Frustrations like that are all part of the lower division manager's lot. Before last season, which Martin spent with Leyton Orient, he had no experience of football's shop floor. Despite the fact that he picked up a back injury which effectively ended his playing days, Martin sees his time in the Third Division as a valuable learning experience.

"It was very enlightening for me. I was interested to see what the quality was like, and I wanted to see how the players reacted when they lost. I enjoyed my time at Orient, and I mean them no disrespect, but going there made me appreciate this club even more."

So Second Division Southend compare favourably with Third Division Orient. But are they good enough to go up? Martin refuses to make predictions, but extended a warm invitation for a progress report at Christmas. Whether The Blues can compete with the relatively free-spending Watfords, Lutons and Fulhams of the division, is questionable, but you can't help wishing Martin well.

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