Ground: Roots Hall
Address: Victoria Avenue, Southend-on-Sea SS2 6NQ
Colours: White jerseys with blue V, white shorts
First Season: 1983-1984 as Kent Invicta.
Second Season: Southend Invicta 1984-1985
President: J.C. Thompson
Chairman: Len Pearce (resigned January 1985); Vic Jobson (from January 1985)
Secretary: K Holmes, Ray Middlemiss
Coach: Bill Goodwin
Assistant Coaches: Tony Cooper, Chris Wellman
Medical Officers: D.M. Lubel; Dr A. H. Sinha
Timekeeper: Peter C. Jones
Physiotherapist: B. Footman
Kit Manager: P. Babbs
Programme Editor: S. Jackson; Peter C. Jones (from 23.12.84)
Secretary of Supporters Club: Peter C. Jones
Invicta were formed by Paul Feires and were admitted to the Rugby League on 6 April 1983. They played their first game at London Road, Maidstone, a ground they shared with Maidstone United and a greyhound company. Their first game was against Cardiff City. They lost 31-12 before a crowd of 1,815.
The record attendance vas 2,107 against St. Helens on 6 November, 1983, by which time the club was bankrupt and the reins were taken over by Jim Thompson, the chairman of the soccer club. The last game at Maidstone was on 12 May, 1984 against Rochdale Hornets which they won 32-12 before 412 spectators. Problems with ground-sharing and wear of the soccer pitch resulted in the club having to move. Today the ground is an MFI superstore.
Invicta were then approached by Southend United Football Club and became Southend Invicta, sharing the Roots Hall ground. The site had formerly been used as a gas works and a car park for holiday traffic. The South Bank terrace with its 72 steps held half the groundís record capacity of 31,000 but the most Southend Invicta got was 504 against Fulham on New Yearís Day 1985. For the final home game against Huddersfield there were a mere 85 fans (certainly the smallest Rugby League crowd for a professional game Iíve ever been a part of!).
In the programme for the match against York on 21st April 1985 the secretary of the Supporters Club, Peter Jones, wrote:
"I only wish at this final stage of the season, I could assure you that Rugby League would definitely be here at Roots Hall at the beginning of next season. Unfortunately I do not possess the necessary psychic abilities to forecast such an event. Silence on the part of the Southend management, who control the Rugby Clubís destiny, about the future of Invicta, is probably the most honest comment they can make about next season. Weíll just have to wait and see."
After the Huddersfield game club director, Matt Wheatcroft admitted the club was in an extremely precarious position. He said: "there is no commercial reason for us to carry on. The support we receive is abysmal, and the picture at the moment is extremely gloomy. The club needed a big sell when we came here, which it hasnít received, and our hopes havenít been fulfilled. We came to the wrong place at the wrong time."
The local "freebie", the Yellow Advertiser, commented wryly: " the hackneyed saying that Rugby league is a northern manís game seems to be true."
Invicta were struck from the 1985-86 fixtures by the Rugby League only days before the commencement of the new season because they were considered not to have formed a team. They went into liquidation soon afterwards. Roots Hall remains the home of Southend United despite years of trying to relocate to another ground and trying to get a supermarket on the site.
So what does the fate of Southend Invicta tell us about the greatest game in the world?. Establishing a viable, vibrant, successful Rugby League Club outside the M62 corridor remains the Holy Grail of the Rugby League establishment; and like the Holy Grail it is unachievable.
How many of the Rugby League establishment have lived outside the Rugby League heartlands for any length of time? If they had they would know that Rugby League plays no part in the culture of the vast majority of the British people save for the occasional television experience provided by Grandstand and now Sky. You have to live in the South, as I did for nearly 20 years, to realise how difficult it is for a professional Rugby League club to survive outside its homeland. Can anyone believe that Leeds Rugby Union Club or Sale Rugby Union Club could ever become a national force in Rugby Union? Lancashire and Yorkshire (with Cumbria and Cheshire) are the Rugby League heartlands; cultural, tradition and history make it impossible to establish professional Rugby Union here. Why do we expect a similar situation to prevail in the South, the North East and Scotland?
That's not to say that rugby league has no part to play in those areas. There is every opportunity to develop amateur rugby league teams who can be an integral part of their communities and this is now happening and should be encouraged. But to become involved in a professional rugby league club in a community with no tradition of paying to watch the game can be a depressing experience - as the experience of Southend Invicta proved.