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Selling Southend United is the only solution - everything else is just politics

The Council

Thursday, 7th September 2023 at 6:30pm 

Southend Labour put forward a motion that compels the Council to do everything it can to save the club. I have provided my views of the motivations behind the motion and what it means in reality. Oddly, because of the situation, I have started with an attempt at empathy with the owner's position.

This is a highly emotive issue for the fans and one that has brought everyone together, probably more so than at any other time. So I want to make it clear that I am 100% behind Southend United and sincerely hope that this can be resolved. My views here are simply a reflection of the political dome that has captured the club.

The Owner

He has become enemy No.1 in Southend.  He cannot leave his house without being subjected to harassment.  He has seen his club plummet from potential Premier League side to non-league.  His income streams via the club have gone.  He has lost his investment. The bills are rising beyond his means.  He cannot pay the players and staff.  He did not want any of this to happen, in fact, he would have wanted the same as everyone else: success!  His very livelihood is threatened.  He is an older gentleman and would be thinking of his financial stability.  Somehow he has to work out how this can work for him.  This will be traumatic for him and his family.  His mental well-being will be in jeopardy.  He will want to get out as soon as possible with as much as he can get given the circumstances.  He would negotiate the best terms for himself.  He would have no loyalty to the fans as they hate him.  In fact, a part of him would want to see the club go bust just to p**s them off.  He is a proud man and he refuses to be forced from his business because of what he may see as a bunch of thugs and lunatics! He may rather cut his nose to spite his face.

A person in power is different to everyone else.  However small the empire, they are emperors. Some even graduate to Gods.  When their people turn against them they feel betrayed and they must be taught a lesson - however bloody that may have to be.

Does that mean that fans are to blame? Far from it, they ARE the club.  They are right!  He desperately needs to heed their call.  He is the only person who can save our club, everything else is just politics.

Just Politics

One independent councillor initiated an amendment of the Southend Labour motion that would see the council lend £2m whilst a new owner was found.  This was subsequently amended to be something a little more broad and vague. Another suggestion was to purchase Roots Hall.

For the few that are unaware, the owner of the club has found himself in serious financial difficulties, which has led to the club being put up for sale.  These difficulties have been publicly known and the club has been on the brink of closure in one form or another for years.  Years, in fact, covering Southend Labour’s four in charge.

This is not to say it has been caused by Southend Labour, but the obvious question is why didn’t they help before now?

Better late than never perhaps? 

And why should this point even be made when the only thing that matters is saving the club? Even if there is a possibility of Southend United being used as a political football, if it helps, so what?

Well, the only person that can save Southend United is the owner.

He has had several offers that he has turned down for unknown reasons.  There are complications about the ‘new’ stadium at Fossetts and Roots Hall, and the £1 sale price buying upwards of £2.5m of debt, which has proved more than problematic.

It is widely reported that Anna Firth MP and other political figures are trying to help, and as the Leader of the Council stated at the meeting, they are already doing everything they can behind the scenes.  What that ‘everything’ is, is difficult to say, but they’ve said it!

Yet, Southend United is a private business.  Why is this private business featured in a council meeting? Maybe, as noted by most who follow the story, it is because the football club is woven into the history of Southend itself and is part of our identity.  It is one of the biggest community hubs in the city and its loss would be severe. 

But why can’t the council do much to save it?  It has invested in private businesses before - the Victoria Shopping Centre for example.  Southend Labour also earmarked £10m on the ill-conceived Seaway development, so it is not unthinkable.

The problem we have is the council was £6.9m short in last year's budget and is already looking at a £14m deficit this year. As a result, there is very serious talk that many services and capital projects will be cut.

Being that Southend Labour set the last budget, they know just how unrealistic it is to financially contribute to Southend United, and any other help they were proposing in the motion is ultimately peripheral.  They did, however, checkmate the leader of the council to support the motion knowing any other answer may risk destroying a chunk of his potential voters.

Politically very well played and having seen the results on social media, it has paid off for them. Only thing is, what has happened since the motion was passed?  It has been a number of weeks now, so has the club been rescued?  Far from it.  Fans are still protesting and shouting the message louder than ever.

Unfortunately, as much as any support for the club should be welcome, in this case, I struggle to get past the feeling that votes are up for grabs and Southend United are caught within this net. There are some councillors that are even attending protests where they did not before even attend the games!

There seems to be a race to hit the social media post button as soon as the latest news comes in!  And to provide some self-awareness, even this article highlighting the political gain could just as easily be construed as a vote-winning exercise!  I am not free of this accusation!  But this motion in particular has taken it to a new level.

The Two Declarations

I have seen two Southend Labour declarations before, the ‘declaration of the climate emergency’ and the ‘declaration of a cost of living crisis’. 

Post declarations, Southend Labour’s budget included charging people to park in our public parks, charging for parking 6pm to 9pm on the seafront, increasing the Southend Pass by 18%, increasing council rents, raising council tax by 5%, raising all council charges and fees by 10%, and they were even going to charge to go to the toilet; and did, as far I could tell, very little to proactively help the environment above and beyond what would have been expected. 

So, these declarations and motions mean little in reality, and on this particular motion, that decrees that Southend Council do everything they can to save Southend United, the same is becoming true.

To the solutions

What if Southend United simply went bust?

Businesses go bust all the time, doesn’t mean they can’t go on afterwards if the assets are picked up by someone who wants to carry that business on.  The difference, though, is that a football club would have to start again at the bottom of the leagues (the bottom being the ninth league). Is this a price worth paying to remove the owner once and for all?

Worse still is if it went into liquidation and the assets are sold off completely.  That would literally mean no more Roots Hall and no possibility of a re-birth.

What if Southend citizens raised the funds?

Wigan Athletic fans raised £500,000 when they were on the brink.  Would Southend club together and put a fiver in? 120,000 people puts us at £600K - would we do it?  Would we really want to pay the owner’s tax bill? Truth is this has already been tried and around £30K was raised.  It seems the appetite to support the current owner is not enough.

What about buying Roots Hall?

That doesn’t solve the tax bill issue nor the power bill.  The owner still owns the club itself.  The council just ends up with a stadium that is more museum than football arena.  And it doesn’t save Southend United.  That’s aside from there being intricate details relating to the ownership of the stadium.

Then the Council should make the loan?

Southend United is actually a very good business.  Big fan base paying good money.  Run well, there is no reason it shouldn’t flourish.  It simply has poor ownership with no money.  Why Southend Council persevered with the owner in regard to the new stadium remains a mystery.  But then this is the same council who believed Turnstone would produce Seaway; Swan Housing would produce Queensway; and AEW would be a suitable custodian of the Kursaal for 200 years!

So let’s assume the Council’s finances are in impeccable shape, would we really ply the owner with more means to keep afloat, only serving to prolong the inevitable?

My heart says make the loan and keep us going in anticipation for the new Aussie saviours.  If we did it, I wouldn’t protest.  It’s what I really want regardless of it being a decision of high risk. It is possible that it comes off and the new buyer has time to complete the acquisition. 

If it works then the council will be rightly lauded for an historic decision that saved our club from the brink. And even if the loan didn’t save the club and we lost the money, there will be many who would accept the loss and say at least they tried. 

Final Whistle

The truth is the council need to stay well away from the financial whirlpool of Southend United. We do not have the money, the owner is struggling with money, and a new owner may never agree to the current owner’s terms.

Like all the councillors who declared their love of the club at the meeting, I am no different. 

Of course, our home club means a lot to anyone who has grown up in the town and no one could bear seeing it go.  But I have more than significant reservations.

We are watching a tragedy in slow-motion and it is hard not to intervene.

I wouldn’t know what to do, but I know what we mustn’t.

Realistically and tragically, we are in the hands of one man, and that one man must make the right decision to redeem his legacy and save the club.

And saving the club means to sell - now.  The fans don’t need a bloody lesson, they just need their club back.

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