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Interview: Drewe Broughton

When the BBC text information service Ceefax finally closed its doors in April 2012 it prompted a wave of nostalgia across television, radio and online. Social networking site Twitter started to trend a topic called ‘memories of Ceefax’, and in amongst the recollections of Boggle and cheap package holidays there were numerous football anecdotes. Last minute winners, promotions, relegations – they were all there. I myself contributed two personal reminiscences:

‘took photo of the telly screen when Southend got to first LDV Final’ and on the same topic ‘Broughton goal sends Shrimpers to Cardiff for first ever Cup Final’. In one of those amazing coincidences that make you think there is a higher power, the eighth anniversary of said Final had just passed, and so wearing my intrepid reporter’s hat I decided to track down the man who scored that goal.

Drewe Broughton has been called many things in his long footballing career, ranging from ‘journeyman striker’ to ‘cult hero’, from ‘human battering ram’ to….well, things I could not possibly repeat in print. But to many Southend fans he will always hold a special place in their hearts. Signed from Kidderminster in the summer of 2003 by then Shrimpers manager Steve Wignall, Drewe was not prolific in front of goal in the League, however in that season’s LDV Vans Trophy competition ( later renamed simply the Football League Trophy ) he really came into his own, scoring in every round up to the Final, including two goals against high-flying QPR. After a 3-2 aggregate win at Colchester in the first leg of the Area final, a packed and rocking Roots Hall were momentarily silenced as Colchester took the lead in the second leg to bring the scores level at 3-3 on aggregate. However cometh the hour, cometh the man. Drewe scored, the place went nuts, the trip to the Millennium Stadium had been booked. It was the first major national final appearance in Southend United’s then 98 year history.

Fast forward to the present and after a short stint playing at Darlington, Drewe finally hung up his boots in April and is now coaching at Luton Town’s academy as well as co-running his own sports fitness company. He took time out to meet up with me for a coffee and a chat about the past.

L:  You started as a trainee at Norwich, tell me about those days.

D:  It was an incredible place and I had such great times. I was there from age 10 to 17. At one point we had an amazing youth team and I was lucky enough to be playing alongside the likes of Craig Bellamy and Robert Green. We won the Southern Youth League as it was back then, beating the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and West Ham along the way. Amazing times and great memories.

L: It was whilst at Norwich you had an ‘epiphany’ moment ….

D: Ha ha sort of!  We played a pre-season friendly against Leicester City and Gerry Taggart fouled me off the ball. Now, I was straight out of the academy and they don’t teach you or prepare you for things like that. My family have always been there for me and supported me, but they told me straight that if I really wanted this career then I would have to man up and stop being so nice. This is what it’s like so toughen up or you’ll never make it. I had to become the big, strong, nasty, aggressive target man that clubs were going to pay money for. So I stopped being nice and getting pushed around and started to rough up defenders. Unfortunately that’s when I started to get a lot of bookings and sending offs!

L: How did your move to Southend materialise?

D: I had played against Southend for Kidderminster towards the end of the previous season and Stewart Robson, who was the reserve team boss, spoke to me after the game. He knew my contract was coming to an end so invited me down during the summer. He told me what Steve Wignall was trying to achieve and I liked what I heard and saw. I was starting to make a name for myself in the game at Kidderminster and it was the next step up for me in terms of supporter and stadium size and it just seemed the right move for me.

L: Wignall left Southend relatively early in the season * – what are your thoughts about his departure?

D: Now I’m a coach myself I can look back and see his failings. He was so driven that, as a player, it made you tense and nervous. Obviously he was under a lot of pressure from the chairman to justify the money he had spent, but the pressure he put us under to perform was relentless, it was like facing the guillotine every week. You were scared to make a mistake and suddenly every game became a six pointer because you couldn’t get out of the rut.

L:  David Webb took over for a very brief period – did you know of his previous Southend history? **

D:  I knew he was ex-Chelsea and obviously people tell you of his past with Southend. To be honest I didn’t really get to know him. He started me at Yeovil but I got an early booking so he took me off at half time before I got sent off! Going back to what I was saying about toughening up, when you’re a striker it’s a real game of cat and mouse with center halves; they prey on your weaknesses and so you have to give as good as you get. I think I gave one of my best performances that day but yeah he subbed me! I was then dropped for the FA Cup replay at Canvey and then he was gone!

L: And in stepped Steve Tilson, local lad, Southend legend and at the time reserve team coach……

D: Obviously I knew a fair bit about him because he was the reserve team boss and again, like with Webby, people talked about him and what a good player and servant he was for Southend. He was the total opposite of Wignall; it was like chalk and cheese. He was very relaxed. His first words to us in his first game were ‘go and play’ – no other instructions. And I think we won ***. He took away all the tension that Wignall had created, he created a real relaxed atmosphere and you could play with freedom. It was no coincidence we took some big scalps like QPR in the LDV.  Now I’m becoming a coach myself I learned so much from Tilly, about taking the pressure off and having the freedom to just play. When he did that you could then see the players wanted to play for him and repay his faith in them. I remember he dropped me towards the end of that season but told me I was going to be his main man for the following season. When that season started my head wasn’t on football, I had some personal stuff going on that was affecting me, and it would have been easy to lose my place, but he really backed me and started me for 8 games. 8 games – can you imagine that nowadays? When he did eventually drop me he called me at home on the Saturday morning and we chatted for like an hour with his reasons. I’ve always hated turning up in the dressing room not knowing if you were starting a game, so for him to do that was really nice. I’ll always be grateful to him for everything he did for me.

L: So let’s talk LDV Trophy. Southend had already beaten Luton 3 – 0, you scored in that game and so next up were QPR. They were second in the old Division 2, Southend were third bottom of the old Division 3. Expectation wasn’t high….

D:  Again I’ve got to put that down to Tilly. I’m not sure how many games we had played before QPR but we’d found a bit of form, we’d had a couple of wins, and I know personally I went into that game really starting to believe in myself. We were playing with confidence, freedom and a real belief.  It’s funny; as a fan you only see the things that go on around a club on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday night, whereas as a player you see things on a day to day basis. Tilly was creating such a relaxed atmosphere in training that you weren’t scared to give the ball away or make a mistake. It would be ‘unlucky try again’ rather than a rollicking. It’s amazing how much difference that makes.

L: That QPR game was, for me, the start of the ‘Cult of Drewe’, with the whole wristbands thing and the crowd chant of ‘Drooooooo’ ****

D: I was only 24 or 25, and when I got home that night I remembered thinking – ‘I’m onto something here’. I’d found a bit of form, and scored 2 goals against a good QPR team that included Danny Shittu, Clarke Carlisle and Chris Day. At the end Ian Holloway (then QPR manager) came onto the pitch, shook my hand and said to me ‘keep playing like that big man and you can go to any level you want’. So I’ve really good memories of that game. Of course I never managed to keep playing like that but that’s a different story!

L: The win over QPR set up a two legged area Final against Essex rivals Colchester United. You scored and got sent off at Layer Road….

D:  Ha ha yeah, Brushy (Paul Brush, asst. manager) gave me a right rollicking for that. I’d already been booked so as soon as I kicked the ball away I knew I was off! But I was so pumped for that game; I was playing right on the edge. It’s a stupid thing to do but the game was so highly charged – we were playing with pride and passion and we had no fear.

L: Then it was back to Roots Hall for the home leg, with a narrow 3-2 lead….

D:  I remember I missed 4 or 5 sitters but something that I’m teaching the kids now is – keep going. You hear and you actually feel the groans from the crowd and you can either hide or keep getting back in there, and that’s what I did, I had the balls to keep going back in. All I remember about the goal is the ball dropped to me about 8 or 9 yards out, it wasn’t far. I think it was actually meant for Tes (Bramble) but I nipped in and nicked it almost off his toes!  I remember the celebration, running along the North Bank touchline giving the Colchester fans the silent treatment! *****

L: And so to the Final at the Millennium Stadium.

D: Horrible, horrible memories. Honest! Funnily enough one of those times in my career that I probably learned the most from.  I was 25 and thinking, yeah this is it, big final, live on Sky, I’ve made it. I got my haircut, had a sunbed, even bought some new white boots especially for it. All the rubbish that doesn’t matter. I totally lost focus. I didn’t do that for the QPR or Colchester games, so why do it for the final? Totally lost the plot. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, I think the whole team did, but we were like rabbits in the headlights. None of the lads had ever played in a game that big before so I think it was a case of men versus boys. That was a harsh lesson for me and I remember not sleeping for a couple of nights after that game. I honestly believed I was going to score and I was disgusted with myself afterwards. I threw all my kit – shirt, those crap white boots, even my loser’s medal – in the dressing room bin; I didn’t want any memories of that game. I still reckon though if I had worn my black boots I would’ve scored!

L: So you’ve now quit playing and you’re coaching at Luton Town’s academy – how’s that going?

D: Really enjoying it. I’m currently coaching the under 15’s but I’m also helping out with the first team as they’re in the play-offs. I’ve played under so many managers at so many clubs, been promoted, been relegated, lost cup finals, learned so much that it’s my chance to give something back. The lads recently won away at Liverpool and QPR so I’m well chuffed. Going back to what I was saying about Tilly I’m teaching the kids what he taught me, take the pressure off and enjoy yourselves. I don’t think I’m ready for management yet so this is good experience for if and when it happens.

L: You’re also running your own business – Surpass Fitness.

D: Yeah with my business partner, Jake Attwood. It’s helping sportspeople with their movement, strength and conditioning. I’ve still got a lot of contacts in the game so that’s helping spread the word. We’ve already had some Premiership players come to us so it’s going well and I’m really enjoying it.

L:  Finally, which clubs give you the fondest memories? You don’t have to say Southend!

D: Ha ha. Definitely Southend, those LDV games were really special. That’s what I love about lower league clubs; nights like that don’t come around that often so when they do you really get to see what it means to those fans. Playing for MK Dons was really special as well; I’m a Milton Keynes boy so to play for your hometown club means a lot. I know there was all that controversy about losing their identity, relocating etc. but I don’t care about that. When I was growing up my town didn’t have a football team, and now they do. I can see both sides of the argument but I’m not interested in all that. And obviously Norwich where it all began all those years ago!

* Steve Wignall’s managerial reign at Southend was April – November 2003.         P23 W6 D3 L14

**     Webb’s fourth separate occasion managing the Shrimpers.

***   They did – beat Rochdale 4 nil at Roots Hall.

**** Blatantly stolen from the Manchester United fans chant for striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

***** With his finger to his lips to silence the away fans, Drewe almost did a complete lap of the pitch in celebration.

Lee Morgan

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