FIGHTING relegation is nothing new for Southend United.

Seventeen years ago the Shrimpers were again struggling to stay in the Football League before Steve Tilson eventually led the side to safety.

Tilson transformed the team and moved them up the League Two table, with the arrival of Lawrie Dudfield proving key.

The striker, who signed on loan from Northampton Town, made an immediate impression and scored the only goal of the game on his debut against Cambridge United at Roots Hall in February 2004.

And it is a match Dudfield still remembers with great fondness.

“It was the perfect debut for me really,” recalled Dudfield.

“If I remember correctly we were second from bottom.

“I was in and out at Northampton not playing as much as I would like when the Southend opportunity came up.

“I did have to weigh it all up a bit to be honest because it wasn’t close to home and you look at the League table and wonder if the team has enough to get out trouble and why they’re down there.

“But I remember scoring that goal and I had a tremendous loan spell.

“I think I scored three goals in five games or something like that.

“It was fantastic and I just knew straight away we were in a false position because we had some fantastic players.”

Blues went on to finish 17th in the table that season but the progress did not stop there.

The Shrimpers went on to win promotion, via the play-offs, the following season.

And Dudfield, who by then had signed on a permanent basis, relished being at Roots Hall.

“I signed permanently and made great friends,” said the former striker.

“I was in a car school with Kev Maher and Mark Gower every day and it was as much fun as the football really.

“In Tilly we had a manager who everyone wanted to play for and I really enjoyed it.

“We got to three finals in Cardiff so it was a successful period and we got promoted too.”

However, the play off win against Lincoln City in 2005 proved to be Dudfield’s final appearance for the Shrimpers.

And it was a day which held mixed memories for the 40-year-old.

“I felt I warranted another year but it was difficult to come back mentally from being left out for the play-off final and not being told,” said Dudfield.

“The way it ended was particularly difficult for me and that was the one sour note but I don’t want to dwell on that because my time at Southend was right up there with the best of my career.”

Dudfield went on to play for Northampton, Boston United and Notts County before hanging up his boots.

But he is still working in football.

“I live in St Petersburg in Florida now and there’s an elite programme over here I work with,” said Dudfield.

“It’s a bit like representative football would’ve been like back in England.

“I work with a number of players from different teams and give them a mentoring experience.

“I’m still heavily involved in soccer as I have to call it now and I’m thankful for everything it’s given me.

“We do tours over to England when we can and I’ve been here four years now.

“I moved over with Alan Smith, we both met women and got married.

“It’s been a good experience and it’s a great country to live in. But none of this would have been possible without everything I learnt in my career, including at Southend.”

And Dudfield still keeps a keen eye on Blues and even randomly met with the squad not so long ago.

“I always read the stories on Southend and I’m still really interested into it,” said Dudfield.

“A couple of years ago now I actually bumped into the Southend team in Dublin too.

“I was on my stag do and they were on their Christmas party.

“Kights (Michael Kightly) was there and I said to him I was incredibly proud of the career he went on to have.

“He had a tough time as a young lad not really being involved and dropped down.

“He’s an example I use to so many young lads over here but I’ll always wish the club well and I really hope they can stay up this season.”