Can Southend United even survive this summer? The signs aren’t good

·5-min read
Signage at Roots Hall, home of Southend United Credit: Alamy
Signage at Roots Hall, home of Southend United Credit: Alamy

With players and staff still going unpaid and yet another winding up petition issued, there are growing doubts about the ongoing viability of Southend United.


They’ve been used to such things happening in Southend for years now, but with each winding-up petition comes a fresh sense of peril. The last one, believed to have been for £1.4m and carried out at the behest of HMRC, was dismissed upon being paid at the start of March. Speaking to the Southend Echo at the High Court as the order was made, fanzine editor Liam Ager said, “I’m still worried we will be here again in the next 12 months,” while another supporter present that day was a little more pessimistic, asking: “Are we going to be here in four months again?”

It turned out that both of these prognoses were a little on the optimistic side. It took just two months and two days for another winding-up petition to be received and the club is now due back at the High Court on May 17. When the previous petition was dismissed, the club had proudly announced that “funds as working capital have also been injected to help Southend United over the coming months”. Whether that remains the case with another hearing now due in less than two weeks is questionable.

The end to their National League season seemed significantly affected by the goings-on behind the scenes. The team had continued winning throughout February, but from the start of March their play-off hopes were torpedoed by a thousand cuts. They lost seven games in a row, every single one of them by a single goal, five of them 1-0. Recovering their form in the closing weeks of the season turned out to be insufficient, with even five wins from their last seven games leaving them three points and one place short of an outside shot of promotion back to the EFL.

Yet another winding-up petition isn’t the only affliction affecting Southend United at the moment. Though they managed to find (okay, borrow) the money to see the previous petition off, players and staff still aren’t being paid on time, with reports earlier this week stating that they have only been paid a proportion of the end of March’s pay, while the end of April’s remains unpaid as well. This is clearly an intolerable situation. Club staff will not be lavishly renumerated employees. They need that money, and the club’s most basic moral obligation should be to pay them on time each month. That they are failing to do so is a disgrace in and of itself.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

And there is a fundamental absurdity to this entire situation. Southend United ended the 2022/23 season with an average home attendance of 6,057. It was the fifth highest average attendance in the league – 10 years ago, it would have been the highest – and it would have been the 10th-highest in League Two and the 18th-highest in League One. It should be eminently possible to manage a solvent National League football club on that sort of attendance. But of course, the finances of the entire game are far more complex than this sort of a back-of-a-fag-packet analysis could unpick, and Southend’s have been more so than most for a long time.

What we know for certain is that no accounts have been filed since those for the year to July 2019 were done so late, in August 2021. Accounts for the periods since then remain outstanding, and the club is obviously aware of this. On New Year’s Eve, they issued a statement regarding their financial affairs which acknowledged this, stating that: “Our July 20 accounts are nearing completion.” Five months on, this situation remains exactly as it did then. We also know that the club remained under transfer embargo despite the previous petition being paid.

Off the pitch, the bad news has continued to mount. Two days after the petition was dismissed, defender Kacper Lopata terminated his contract with the club, a decision supported by the FA’s Contract Disputes Tribunal. At the start of April the club confirmed that “some staff salaries remain outstanding” and encouraged “all those who haven’t yet purchased a season card to do so before the early bird window closes on 9 April.” It is not a good sign when a club seems to be asking for next season’s revenue, presumably because it needs ready cash right now.  On the April 14, shirt sponsor PG Site Services said it would stop sponsoring the club “due to a breakdown of our relationship with the current owner RM [Ron Martin] and his conduct”. The club was put up for sale on March 17.

The problems just seem to keep mounting up, and this all raises serious questions about the ongoing viability of the club. While Southend United continue to limp along in this fashion, buying a season ticket for next season starts to look like an invitation to lose money. How certain can it even be that they will start next season? After all, the National League will already be fully aware of the fact that Southend are behind with their wages. Add two winding-up petitions issued within weeks of each other and the fact that the constitution of next year’s league – all three divisions of it – needs to be confirmed at their AGM in June, and it starts to feel as though a case for expelling them is building itself.

Substantial work towards a phoenix club has already been carried out by the Shrimpers Trust since the start of this year. Were that to happen this summer – and the likelihood remains slim, considering the timeframes involved and Southend’s history of getting these winding-up petitions paid – the recent experience of Macclesfield FC and Bury AFC would seem to indicate they’d be placed in the Essex Senior League, but at present there may be twists and turns which are unforeseeable.

What we can say for certain is that if there is serious doubt over Southend United’s ongoing financial viability, the current incarnation of the club will be unlikely to be allowed to start next season. Many supporters may choose not to make the leap to a phoenix club, but as things stand, unless significant changes come in the next few weeks, that may be the only choice left. They’re certainly best advised to keep hold of that season ticket money.

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