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Thompson's Southend Stunner
Saturday, 4th Apr 2020 09:00

Southend United were meant to be the visitors to Portman Road on Saturday, which coincidentally is the 28th anniversary of the Blues’ 2-1 victory over the Shrimpers at Roots Hall in which Neil Thompson scored a brilliant and hugely important last-gasp winner as Town continued their pursuit of the Second Division title. TWTD spoke to the former left-back to hear how he remembers that day, that season and his time at Portman Road.

Thompson, now 56, joined the Blues from Scarborough under John Duncan’s management and was already a firm fans’ favourite prior to the 1991/92 season which saw John Lyall’s unfancied side win the division and reach the newly-formed Premier League.

As they travelled to Roots Hall, the Blues had eight games to play and were top, four points ahead of Blackburn Rovers - with Jack Walker’s millions behind them and Kenny Dalglish in charge - with a game in hand. Southend were ninth.

“We’d been on a good run but it was getting to the nitty-gritty and it was Grand National day,” Thompson recalled.

“Phil Whelan was making his league debut and we had a great following down there. I put the corner in and Phil scored on his league debut to make it 1-0. Then I think Warky missed a penalty in the second half and they equalised.

“And then for some bizarre reason in the 92nd minute, I think we cleared a corner or a freekick, and I found myself in acres of space on that left-hand side and just had to keep running with it.

“I just kept running, running, running and got to the edge of the box and dipped inside on to my right foot and obviously we know what happened then.

“That was just such a brilliant moment for the team and obviously for me as well personally. The adrenaline was pumping through you, to get a goal late on at such an important part of the season as well, that just really kicked us on towards that championship that we were after. It goes down as one of my best moments, without a shadow of a doubt.”

The Beverley-born full-back admits right-footed strikes were a rarity during his career: “That’s for standing on that one, it was a collectors’ item. It was really late on and it was just a case of taking the ball up that end of the pitch and seeing what happened.

“I looked up and you get fatigued towards that end of the game, so where I got the energy from I’ve no idea.

“I think there was only one person in the box, so I just dipped inside and just tried my luck and it went in that bottom corner, which was just brilliant and the celebrations, everyone was jumping on me and when I went back to the halfway line and I was absolutely out of breath, and shortly afterwards the whistle went.

“And then I got in and I’d backed the winner of the National as well, Party Politics if I remember rightly. So it was a good day all-round.

“When you get in a season where you’re going to get promotion or you’re up that end things seem to happen for you and that was one of those moments.

“I think we played Wolves in midweek and we didn’t play particularly well and Phil scored another goal from a corner, nearly a carbon copy.


“Things seemed to happen for us towards that end of the season and you just get a sense. We had a great team spirit, a great togetherness and that saw us over the line.”

It had been a campaign which had started with little expectation with the Blues having finished 14th the previous year. But Town quickly established themselves among the challengers at the top of the table before chasing down and then overtaking Blackburn at the end of March.

“Even when we weren’t playing particularly well we kept picking points up and sneaking a win here and there and when we had a bad defeat or a bad performance we seemed to bounce back with something good and then we just got that momentum,” Thompson continued.

“And it’s getting that consistency and I think we were consistent throughout the season. We had players who could score from all over the pitch really, I think that was one of the key elements of it.

“I’ve had a few promotions in my career, thankfully, and you just get a sense when you get a group together that things are going to happen and I did with that group that year with Warky, Linny [David Linighan], Micky [Stockwell], Jason [Dozzell], Chris [Kiwomya] and Milts [Simon Milton], just really good players and good people. We just gelled and obviously we went up and won the championship, which was great.”

Masterminding that team was manager Lyall: “What a man, sadly missed that’s for sure. He just said little things to you, little snippets, a really wise man not just of football but of life.

“He just knew how to switch people on at the right moments and he was a massive influence on everybody.”

Although Lyall was known for taking a passing approach to the game, and his Town side were generally no different, something which became a familiar facet of their play was Thompson playing a long diagonal ball from left-back to Steve Whitton on the right wing.

“Obviously I could hit that ball and Steve at 6ft 2in and technically really sound, he was a really great get-out ball for me,” Thompson said, laughing as he remembered. “He hugged that touchline and he was a really clever player, really good technically and he scored a goal.

“I used to get the ball at left-back and if there was nothing on I always knew that switch was on and Steve would either come in at the far post or take the ball down.

“It was a relationship on the pitch just happened. We spoke about it a little bit but nothing major, it was just one of those things that we knew was an option and we used it to good effect.”

The goal at Southend if unusual for being hit with his right foot was far from the only spectacular strike during Thompson’s time with the Blues with most of his 23 goals memorable efforts from distance.

“There were one or two,” he said modestly when asked about those strikes. “Just great memories, I had seven years there and it was the best time of my career, obviously we won the Second Division.

“The last couple of seasons I had one or two little injuries, which was unfortunate but I had a brilliant, brilliant time down there.

“And really came down there when I was getting to prime of my career at 25-ish and stayed there for seven years. The family loved it down there, the football was great and you miss that side of it.

“But you move on, I moved back up here, moved to Barnsley and luckily enough we got promotion with Barnsley the next season.

“I’m settled back up in East Yorkshire now but I certainly made a lot of good friends and have a lot of great memories from my time down in Suffolk. It’s a time that I look back at very fondly.”

The 1992 promotion gave Thompson his first experience of the Premier League with a second one-campaign stint following in his Tykes spell.

“It was the inaugural Premier League, so that was a really good feat and I had three seasons and then started getting little niggly injuries, which you do when you get into your 30s and unfortunately things didn’t turn out great for me,” he said.

“But Ipswich is one of the results I always look for and I speak to one or two people every now and again and keep in touch.

“But it’s quite a few hours for me, so unfortunately I don’t get down as much as I want to because obviously I’m still working in the game.”

Among the Premier League highlights was the second goal in the December 1992 2-0 derby win at Norwich City, another last-gasp strike to seal a victory.

“I think that was one of the first Monday night TV games, if I’m not mistaken,” he added. “That was when we were on that little roll in the first season in the Premiership.

“That was quite late on as well. It was just one of those moments when you do put it in the net, there’s nothing like it, the adrenaline floods through you and do some stupid celebration, as I did.

“Great memories and occasionally I’ll see that goal as well. That’s really good and obviously over our rivals as well, that was always a big game for us, playing Norwich. Good times.”

These days Thompson is on the coaching staff at Sheffield Wednesday: “Officially I’m the U23s coach but all this season I’ve been working with the first team. Garry Monk came in and I was helping out with the first team at the time and I’ve stayed up there ever since.

“So, obviously with the situation at the minute, we’ll see where that one goes but I’ve enjoyed working with the first team, but for the last three or four years prior to that I was coaching the U23s and as and when managers have changed I’ve been called into the breach to help with the caretaker-manager and that’s been good.

“We started off really well, we did well right up to Christmas and we’ve just a little bit of momentum for some reason, so we’re mid-table at the minute.

“But there are nine games left and hopefully we’ll get them finished and will finish in a reasonable position.

“But right up to Christmas we were right in the mix and then we just fell away a little bit for one reason or another, which is unfortunate. The last few months have been a bit disappointing but we’ve got to keep moving on.”

During football’s hiatus, Thompson says he’s doing a spot of DIY: “I’m painting at the minute, using my time doing a bit of decorating. It’s a strange time, a very strange time but obviously we’ve got to sit tight and everyone’s got to stay patient and not just in the football world but in the world in general, and hopefully we’ll get this thing beaten and move on.”


Photo: Action Images



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jalapenosteve added 10:13 - Mar 31
28 years wow!? Will never forget that shot - was sat right behind it, with the home fans.
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Radlett_blue added 10:34 - Mar 31
Well done Phil. You managed to get through that without once mentioning that Neil Thompson used to be a nappy salesman. An unheralded signing by the derided John Duncan.
1

rfretwell added 10:49 - Mar 31
"Goal from all over the pitch". Not nowadays unfortunately. Getting KVY back will help though.
1

Fatboy added 11:47 - Mar 31
Thompson certainly had a powerful shot. When he took penalties the goalies would dive out of the way!
2

Blue_Again added 13:06 - Mar 31
I remember being about 9 or 10 that season, went to every home game I think. What a season that was. All the players just seemed like legends and characters. Now look at us.
0

Theonlywayisup added 13:45 - Mar 31
Still remember this game and the commentary like it was yesterday......."He was waiting for support.....we all thought'
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Northstandveteran added 13:52 - Mar 31
What a collection of misfits and spare parts that Lyall put together with no money.

My mate covering his face and saying "Not his right foot!" Then three quarters of the ground erupting when Billy the Fish slammed it home!

Ipswich fans singing, we hate Colchester, Southend fans replying with, we hate Norwich!

Hardly missed a game that season.

Brilliant memories.
4

MickMillsTash added 14:04 - Mar 31
Stood behind that goal and in line with the shot- Everyone went BESERK- great season
I think we went on the pitch as well
I may have also won on the National that day.
Like to say I also got laid but pretty certain that didn't happen

Give it a few more weeks of Coruna lock down and our hair will be matching that of the 91/92 fans
4

Northstandveteran added 14:21 - Mar 31
That made me laugh M.M.Tash 😂

Thanks for that.
0

Edmundo added 14:50 - Mar 31
Corona lockdown, like Deportivo La Coruna??
1

Azzuromark added 15:22 - Mar 31
Always remember a fantastic freekick which he scored in a home game against Portsmouth. Nothing was stopping that!
1

ITFCsince73 added 17:03 - Mar 31
Top Tip; Drink R Whites by the gallon. To counterattack the Corona.
1

BeattiesBackPocket added 17:41 - Mar 31
What a great season, great away games, good football under John Lyall and made a few quid from Phil Whelan that season with goals scored. Who can forget that game at oxford winning climbing over the fence after gaining the point for promotion
2

TimmyH added 18:13 - Mar 31
Thompson certainly could put a shot in on goal...not the only blinder he scored either! Southend weren't a bad team in those days.
1

TrumptonBlue added 19:15 - Mar 31
Still my favourite ever away day.
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Pendejo added 20:41 - Mar 31
I saw the same leather jacket in the Southend and Naaaridge clips.

In fact saw a few faces in the Southend clips, some ex-colleague behind the goal, and some recognisable faces in the side stand, including said leather jacket, which appears briefly on the pitch at Carrer Rud.

TWTD
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Westy added 21:41 - Apr 1
I was there. I think we missed a penalty and without the ball going out of play Southend scored (Spencer Prior) to make it all square until Thompson hit the winner. Most of us were on a side terrace near the corner flag. I remember the euphoria.
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