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  • Southend United and the Holy Grail – Part 1

    At the time of writing this, a week has passed since my first post and, in that time, little beleaguered Southend United have played two teams that are also struggling. This was a great opportunity to get some much-needed points on the board. Sadly, we lost both and scored a princely sum of one goal (albeit a very well taken freekick). We also had one of our all too frequent visits to the High Court in relation to our winding-up petition due to our debt with the tax man. More on that another time.

    There was a time when, during one of our frequent troughs, we Southend United fans would look at the dire situation faced by a fellow league club or two that have it much worse than us and we’d console ourselves with a self-assuring, “It could be worse… we could be them.”

    Sadly, we are now that reference club. We have nowhere to go for a quantum of solace (blimey, I finally figured out what that Bond title was about… it was about my club).

    So, how did we get where we are?

    Well, as a club, we have had some troubled times in the past. The mid-80s, for example, were bleak times indeed as the club found itself mired in a financial scandal that saw debts rocket and our then shady chairman Anton Jonson under investigation for missing funds at the club. He was also found guilty by the Football League for having a controlling interest in more than one club (Rotherham and Bournemouth being the other unlucky entities) and banned from becoming involved in football ever again. The League would backtrack on this ruling in the late 90s, sanctioning his takeover of Scarborough even though he had declared bankruptcy in the late 80s. It seems the Football League have never been great at this ‘fit and proper person’ malarkey.

    Our current owner is ‘Uncle’ Ron Martin. A property developer (apparently) and one-time member of Great Britain’s Olympic Bobsleigh squad (1980 I seem to recall). He has been our ruler incumbent for some twenty years now and has presided over Football League Trophy finals, a play-off promotion, a one season return to the second tier following a championship season in League One (2005-2006) and League Cup win over Manchester United… but the yang to the this positive yin is bleak indeed.

    Prior to our current fiasco, we avoided administration – or worse – in 2009 by making an eleventh-hour payment of around £2 million to the tax man. We were in poor financial health going in to our 2006-2007 Championship season, but a very high wage bill (for us) and immediate double relegation left us in a sorry state.

    In the meantime, we finally had plans approved for a brand-new stadium on a new site on the outskirts of the town. Dreams and promises of a move to a new stadium have been a thing of growing frustration since the 1980s, but the 2008 global economic crisis was blamed for derailing the project on this occasion.

    Following relegation’s in 2006-2007, and also the following season, our playing assets were stripped. The experienced Paul Sturrock was appointed as our manager in July 2010, replacing fan’s favourite Steve Tilson (who had guided Southend to the Championship as well as their return to League Two). Sturrock was charged with having to put a squad together with five minutes to go before the new season started… and on a shoestring. At one point in pre-season, the new manager had around five players available and had to wait for an embargo to be lifted before registering new signings.

    Sturrock steadied the ship, assembling a competitive squad thanks to his contacts within the game and ended his first season in a very creditable mid-table finish. The following season saw the club competing (unsuccessfully) for promotion. While Sturrock deserves much praise, the appointment in 2012 of CEO, Steve Kavanagh also contributed to the improving fortunes.

    Sturrock was sacked eventually in March 2013 and replaced by Phil Brown.

    Brown managed to get Southend to the 2013-2014 play-offs, but we failed to make it to the final. The following season, Brown repeated the play-off achievement and went further… taking us to a final win over Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley.

    Southend were still not in great financial health, but promotion back to League One seemed to ignite an ambition for the Holy Grail of Championship footy in our owner that would prove unsustainable in the best of times, but coupled with other factors and poor management of the club, that ambition has taken us to the brink of extinction.

    More to follow in part 2.


    Article written by Southend Fan and accomplished writer Mark Warner.

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