A PLAQUE in memory of lifelong Southend United supporter Gary Beard has been unveiled in the Shrimpers Bar at Roots Hall.

Gary died, aged 65, in October 2022 and his close friends gathered to remember him ahead of Saturday’s match with Gateshead.

Phil Dangerfield, who regularly travelled to matches, said: “Gaz was a lifelong Shrimper, going back to the 1960s, travelling all over the country in support of the club.

“Gradually a group of like-minded fans came together to share driving costs, and the Thunderbirds were born.

“Of course the name was Gaz’s invention, as we had three cars all travelling to away grounds together, TB one, two and three.

“As times got bad for the club, often only TB two (Gaz’s) would be blasting off to far flung grounds.”

And that resulted in a number of memorable journeys.

“It has to be said that each away game was a voyage of discovery,” said Phil.

“I suppose the most memorable one was on a trip to Fleetwood.

“On hearing an instruction from the back seats to take the next left, he took it literally, and proceeded to join the tramline.

“Most would quickly stop and reverse.

“Not our Gaz.

“He had the idea to keep going to pop out at the next station.

“His wheels had other ideas and locked into the rails.

“Frantic calls to the police, and locals helping us to push the car out, salvaged the situation, just before the 12:20 to Blackpool would have made us a news item on TV.

“Other memorable trips include arriving at Notts County, instead of its close neighbour, driving into Wales instead of Tranmere and turning off to Aston Villa FC for no reason.

“We also got lost coming back from Canvey in pre-season!”

Echo: Huge Blues fan - Gary BeardHuge Blues fan - Gary Beard (Image: Focus Images)

And Gary also enjoyed writing about the Shrimpers.

“Gaz developed his own website recording all things SUFC,” said Phil.

“For every game he wrote a match report, which included friendlies.

“These had a certain flavour about them.

“For example, one report was written from the perspective of the match ball.

“Not it has to be said, wholly apparent for the reader.

“In the reports, for some inexplicable reason, Gaz named all the TB passengers with names from Only Fools and Horses, Del Boy, Trigger etc.

“It was all very left field but he brought joy to our group and he will be sorely missed.”

And those sentiments have been echoed by another of Gary’s close friends, Dave Russell.

“It's hard to think of a friend as kind and selfless as Gary,” said Dave.

“He always put others first and nothing was too much bother for him.

“Everyone around him at the games became accustomed to his own footballing dictionary, one of my favourites being the shout of orange juice when we were facing a corner or free kick.

“To others, this would be known as concentrate and of course, his call to the refs of 'welcome to the game' after finally giving us a decision.

“Gary left us with tons of fun memories and will continue to be, hugely missed by all his friends.

“Blues games without him are nowhere near the same.

“It's wonderful that his plaque could be placed in the Shrimpers Bar so that he stays connected to Roots Hall.

“Thank you to the Shrimpers Trust, especially Lesley and RIP Gary.

“We will never forget you.”