The Gaffer and his Goat . . .

n need of a frontman to aid the development of League One?s fastest rising star Freddy Eastwood, Steve Tilson had one obvious target.

What the newly-promoted team wanted was a proven goalscorer who could also act as a mentor for the young talent ? and the fact that Shaun Goater was considering retirement didn?t faze Tilson.

n need of a frontman to aid the development of League One?s fastest rising star Freddy Eastwood, Steve Tilson had one obvious target.

What the newly-promoted team wanted was a proven goalscorer who could also act as a mentor for the young talent ? and the fact that Shaun Goater was considering retirement didn?t faze Tilson.

?We knew what we wanted and, to be honest, Shaun fitted the description perfectly,? said Tilson, who managed to extract 11 goals from the Goat in the end on top of 25 from Eastwood in a season that saw them clinch the League One crown.

?I know he was thinking about retirement but we had to push for him and the chairman and I pursued him a little bit.

?We had talks and were honest and said what we wanted but told him that if he played just over half the games that would be enough.

?Maybe that was what swung it for us, I know other clubs might have wanted him to play every week for that sort of money but it worked out great because Shaun was pretty reasonable with his demands and he was more than happy to sit out a few games ? he?s 36 after all.?

As well as the goals, Tilson wanted someone to help with Eastwood?s development and, having asked around a few former team-mates of the Goat, he knew what he was getting.

?We needed a leader so we weren?t surprised by what Shaun gave us,? continued Tilson, just three years older than the Bermudian striker about whom he always talks in glowing terms.

?He is the perfect role model and has been just what Freddy needed. I?ve said this so many times but Shaun really is the nicest guy I have ever come across in football.

?He?s a great ambassador for Southend, for Bermuda, for football, he?s just such a nice guy and he still showed what he can do on the pitch. I have nothing but respect for Shaun.?

Goater was picked as much for his personality as his goalscoring, a philosophy that Tilson is very proud to expand upon.

?We?ve got a great bunch of lads here, no bad apples,? Tilson said, while gesturing over his shoulder at the group of Southend players gathered round the plasma screen at Belmont Hills ? following a golf day that rounded off their week-long tour of the Island ? watching Germany take on Italy in the World Cup.

?They are all nice guys, that is the way we wanted it from the start. You can?t have bad apples in a club like this, you don?t want people upsetting each other, we are not the big payers in the league, so it is about players working for each other, playing as a team and getting the most out of what you?ve got.?

ilson?s journey into management was never planned from the outset, instead it was just a desire to work with kids that drew him towards the profession that is now bringing him such success.

After ten years in the pro game, Tilson was released by the Shrimpers and offers were on the table from Lincoln, Leyton Orient and one other ? ?it?s been so long now, I can?t remember who the other one was?.

But instead of giving himself a career extension beyond 32, he plumped for semi-pro football and a chance ?to do my badges?.

Tilson joined Canvey Island where he had ?a fantastic five years? which included captaining the side to FA Trophy glory. Alongside team-mates Julian Dicks ? the former West Ham hardman ? and the cast of soccer drama Dream Team ? whose football-playing actors were part of the non-league side ? Tilson also embarked on some memorable FA Cup runs.

But, much more importantly, it gave Tilson the opportunity to complete his coaching qualifications.

?I figured that I either had two years left or so as a pro making a bit of cash, or could cut it short, play semi-pro and think about my future,? continued Tilson, grinning all the while and therefore proving he made the right decision.

?The aim was to try and go into coaching, the management side of things hadn?t really crossed my mind at that stage, because I love working with kids.?

So for five years he toiled away at Canvey Island, loving his football and earning his badges.

Not surprisingly given his contacts, Tilson was approached by the Shrimpers and offered the Youth Centre of Excellence job at the club, taking charge of Southend?s future.

From there he went to youth coach, then yo-yoed up to assistant manager before coming back to youth coach and finally getting offered the first team role in December, 2003.

The team were bottom and his position was only a caretaker role until the end of the season.

Priding himself on communication and drumming up team spirit ? despite being a self-confessed ?quiet manager ? he managed to comfortably stave off the relegation demons, earning himself the position on a permanent basis.

In his two full seasons in charge, the club have been promoted twice, and there have also been three visits to Cardiff ? the temporary Wembley ? twice for the LDV Vans and once for the play-offs.

?It just couldn?t get any better to be honest,? said Tilson, whose side kick off their League Championship campaign against Stoke in four weeks.

?It?s the sort of start to management you dream of ? and I am under no illusions it is not always going to be this way.

?We have done tremendously to get to this level, particularly because we haven?t just handed out big wages to do it, and now we have to just stabilise at this level.

?If you offered me fourth from bottom next year, I?d bite yer hand off.

?We just need a couple of years to avoid relegation and then maybe the club can settle at this level ? and then who knows what could happen in the future.?

ilson?s double promotion with Southend was not his first with the club ? it was also something he achieved as a player.

Like any youngster, Tilson grew up playing pretty much every sport going. He was in school teams for cricket and rugby, was a bit of a tennis player and also a dab hand at table tennis (although more about that later).

He was also a keen footballer and a massive Southend fan.

Growing up 20 minutes away from the club, the left-sided midfielder first made his moves in the Southend and District League as a seven-year-old with Wickford Town.

From there, he moved through the age groups up to Under-16 and then on to Basildon United and to Bowers United and Witham Town, where he got his big break.

Danny Greaves, son of England legend Jimmy, was the boss at the club and he managed to get Tilson a trial for Southend.

?It was a one-off reserve game against Leyton Orient,? recalled Tilson with a smile.

?You know when you have those game where you know you?ve done well? Well, I had one of those games. I was sure something would come of it.

?I got called in to the manager?s office ? it was Dave Webb, the former Chelsea player ? and he offered me an 18-month deal there and then.

?To be honest, I was going to take it whatever the money, which I did ? although the money was really bad, it was about half what I was making on the building site at the time.?

From there, Tilson never looked back, playing ten years with the club, including the memorable back-to-back promotions, from the old Division Four all the way up to Division One following the inception of the Premiership.

As well as playing with the likes of future England full back Chris Powell, he was lucky enough to enjoy two serious cup runs, one ending at Everton against the likes of Peter Beardsley and a defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur where he came across Paul Gascoigne in his prime ? ?easily the most talented player I have ever played against, phew, he was good?.

He played 236 games in his ten years with the club, scoring 32 goals.

?I love Southend, I really do. I grew up supporting them, I have lived there all my life and then got to play for them too. And then to go on and manage them to two promotions makes me even more proud.

?It is a special thing to take the club you love, and have been with so long, to these heights.?

?I do believe that I am the best footballer that plays table tennis,? said the typically understated England star Rio Ferdinand in the pre-World Cup build up.

?Although there is a geezer who is manager of Southend who has challenged me to a game.?

That ?geezer? is Steve Tilson and Ferdinand would have his hands full trying to hold off the Southend ping pong king.

At age 11, Tilson was good, so good he couldn?t quite work out which was his best sport.

He travelled all over the country as a youngster for tournaments, playing for his county and reaching a national ranking of around 100 ? ?although I could have been a little higher?.

When his footballing career really kicked off, there was little option ? ?there is no money in table tennis?.

With the pressures of football management and recently running the London Marathon, all Tilson has had time for is four fixtures in the Southend Premier League ? aside from at the club.

?I don?t think there is a day that goes by when we don?t have the table up after training,? smiled Tilson.

?It?s good for a bit of bonding. I play doubles with Efe Sodje and we are unbeaten ? and I?m ready to play Rio whenever, or wherever, he wants.?

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