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Supporters Forum and Phil Brown/Steve Kavanagh Q&A - Monday 2nd September 2013
Report by Rob Craven
The Shrimpers Trust were delighted to host a Question & Answer session for supporters with Southend United Manager Phil Brown and Chief Executive Steve Kavanagh in the Blues Lounge at Roots Hall on Monday evening.

Brown was enthusiastic and entertaining, using examples from his 35 years’ experience in the professional game to illustrate his points on a range of subjects. He spoke about what attracted him to south-east Essex, the potential of the club’s youngsters, the start Blues have made to the 2013/14 season and his ambitions for the future with the Shrimpers amongst a myriad of subjects raised from the floor.

“Ron [Martin]’s sales pitch three years ago was on the back of my demise at Hull City. I was put on gardening leave by one of Ron’s big friends in the world of finance and he was the owner of Hull City. He asked me just to have a word with him and at the time I thought I was just coming out of the Premier League, I thought the owner of Hull City was trying to bury me into the Second Division,” Brown explained of a previous opportunity to manage at Roots Hall.

“I had a good relationship with the owner, I had no reason to think that he was doing anything untoward or underhand, so I met Ron in Manchester and we had a great meeting for two-and-a-half, three hours where he sold a picture of the new stadium, but I just didn’t think at the time, three years ago, that I was ready to come into the Second Division.”

“I’ve then gone through a period in my career where I really felt that certain factions had turned their back on me in terms of football and I thought I was starting to lose the battle, and what I mean by that is the media, directors, maybe one or two supporters, certain things I did - obviously when I sang on the pitch, when I talked to the players at half-time - all of those things were negatively affecting my career and I thought, second time around after the Preston experience, I firmly believe in timing and I think the timing’s right for me, the timing’s right for Southend.”

What of the start to the new season, which has featured three wins and then back-to-back away defeats? “At this moment in time, the simple answer is: I’m very happy with the fact I’m Southend United manager, that we’re at the right end of the division and I think we’ll be there at the end of the year and with the backing that Steve and Ron will be giving me this season.”

“I don’t have a problem with the fact that we’re a fairly young team. It’s nice when opposite managers in Paul Cook last weekend at Chesterfield and Wycombe’s manager as well, Gareth Ainsworth, who are good, solid characters and good honest men in football, are both very complimentary. They praised our strength, they praised our quality, they praised our character. They said, quite simply, that we will be there at the end of the season and I firmly believe that.”

“I’ve just been talking to Paul [FitzGerald, Shrimpers Trust chairman] about the training ground. People are now looking forward to coming into work because the environment’s right. People now are looking to want to get out there and train and improve and work hard and when you’ve got that, and the results follow, and the results keep on following, the confidence goes the right way and then the whole thing starts spiralling upwards.”

Brown was also extremely candid when it came to the subject of a transfer embargo that currently limits his squad to a maximum of 20: “As managers, we are always going to talk about constraints - the transfer embargo, etc - but at the end of the day, it hasn’t really affected me in a negative way. I think it’s affected me, if anything, in a positive way because you’ve got to deal with 20 players and that’s all there is to it,” he declared bullishly.

“Now I suppose it’s when the catalogue of injuries that you get as a manager during the course of the season, when they start mounting up I think maybe you have to ask a certain question to the chairman and to Steve: ‘Can we move on the transfer window, etc., etc.?’ and I think the answer will be yes, but the bottom line is I don’t have a problem with the embargo.”

At times questions were asked about individual players, and the former Hull manager again extolled the virtues of goalkeeper Daniel Bentley, who he has previously tipped for international honours: “All I’ve said to Dan Bentley is it’s a learning curve for him; he’s been watched by England on Saturday, this kid’s got a great future, but it’s the small details that’ll make him a better goalkeeper, that’ll make us a better back four unit and it’ll prevent us from conceding goals.”

“I don’t want to put any more pressure on [the kids]; I’ve already said Dan Bentley will play for England and probably I’m getting too excited, but I rate them. You saw the best of Lenny; Lenny’s coming, slowly but surely. That was his best performance on Saturday and we want to compound that. What do you mean by that? The next game’s got to be as good, if not better so now, all of a sudden you’ve started your career and it’s off and running. You don’t want to go Wycombe away, then the next game you go down the dip, you need a consistency and the young boys don’t know what that means yet. They’ve got to get a season under their belt, then a career it just follows on but to get to 25, 26 you’ve got to have played.”

“I started at 18 and by the time I was 25, I’d gone 44, 44, 46, 46, 44 and then I had a fall-out with the chairman and got the sack! But these things happen. They don’t know what a career means yet. They don’t know what it’s about yet, but they will. They will improve, no doubt about it with good seniors around them these lads will improve. I don’t know how far they will go, I have no idea yet.”

“You’ve got to be there as a father, you’ve got to be there as a coach, you’ve got to be there as a group of supporters and give these kids time. If I drop a clanger, I expect you to come and whack me, I expect to get some stick, but that’s life, I’m big enough and I‘m ugly enough. These kids are not; they haven’t got any scars of war yet, but let’s get a couple of seasons under their belt and then see where it takes us.”

With that in mind, Brown was extremely positive about the influence of first-team coach Graham Coughlan at the club: “I think he’s got a great relationship with these young lads and he’s not a development coach, he’s first-team coach but I’ve had development coaches that are sitting on their backside drinking coffee with the manager in the afternoon and I’m looking at the grass outside and there’s nobody out there.”

“These kids are out there on a day-to-day basis; they’re getting educated, they’re getting training, they’re getting strength and conditioning, they’re getting fitness levels like they’ve never known, Jack Payne being a great example of that. When you’ve got a player that size they have to have one thing absolutely exceptional, different from anybody else and the one thing he’s got is, when you lift that shirt up, he’s got the biggest heart you’ll ever see and this is a kid that’s got a great chance.”

Kavanagh was also keen to press the case for investment in the club’s future, promoting the upcoming Blues Youth Day on Saturday 7th September and the Blues Lottery: “What the Academy needs is funding, and the Blues Lottery is out there. We’ve re-launched the Blues Lottery and on Saturday you’ll see lots about the Blues Lottery, we’ve got an independent chairman in charge of the Blues Lottery, it is completely ring-fenced so I can’t get my hands on the money out of the Lottery unless two people, who don’t work for the club, agree with it,” he disclosed.

“What I would say to people is to support the youth, please get involved with the Blues Lottery, you can win money, there’s money prizes now and there are other prizes, but that support and that dedication of actually helping us do that is what will create the players of the future and then not only can you sit there and look at Dan Bentley and say Dan’s one of ours, you can actually say I helped fund that kid through and that is vital to the future of the club.”

Kavanagh was unable, however, to give any new dates for construction to start on the club’s new stadium at this stage: “We’re working hard on, Ron is working hard on it and we move ever closer and, hopefully, shortly we’ll have some good news.”

A transcript of the session can be downloaded in PDF Format by clicking here.

The Shrimpers Trust would like to extend their gratitude to Phil and Steve for their attendance at the event, and also thank all the supporters - both Trust members and non-members - for coming along and participating.

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