ON THE ROAD: Heartbreak as Southend United lies on its deathbed

ON THE ROAD: Heartbreak as Southend United lies on its deathbed. A club steeped in 116 years of history, 101 of those in the Football League, could go out of business in 23 days

  • National League side Southend United face a winding-up petition from HMRC
  • Supporters marched against owner Ron Martin ahead of their win over York City
  • The Shrimpers Trust urge Martin to accept outside investment to help the club

Amid the despondency, pessimism and seething anger at a perilous situation caused by a greedy chairman, there was one common word on the lips of Southend United fans: heartbreaking.

A club steeped in 116 years of history, 101 of those in the Football League, could go out of business in 23 days and a community brimming with love for it would be desolate.

‘A football club is like your family — you change your job or spouse, but the team are always there,’ said one fan before the game. ‘To have that taken away from us would break my heart.’

Another implored: ‘Please give our story the national coverage it deserves. There is a way to save us but we’re running out of time. We’ve been run into the ground.’

The National League club are facing a winding-up petition from HMRC, and chairman Ron Martin has until March 1 to cough up a seven-figure sum to, as he puts it, ‘bridge the finance gap’.

Southend United supporters are fearful the National League side could go out of business

Fans protested against owner Ron Martin with beachballs in Southend’s 2-0 win over York City

Nearly 6,000 were at Roots Hall on Saturday for the visit of York City but one notable absentee was Martin, presumably scared for his wellbeing as fans’ frustration turns to hatred. A sticker on a lamppost outside the stadium depicted the long-standing chairman hanged from a noose.

Sportsmail walked alongside fans as they peacefully marched with banners from the city-centre Dickens pub, calling for Martin’s head and chanting about his greed. Protests continued at the game, with messages including ‘PAY YOUR STAFF’ felt-tipped on to beach balls that were thrown on to the pitch.

That referred to the office team who have not received January’s wages, and youth players striking over missing pay. The club are under a transfer embargo because of their debt to the tax man.

Winding-up orders are nothing new to the Essex club, who have been in the dock 10 times in the last eight years.

Martin has always paid up in the past but the £1.4million required now has fans understandably fearful for the club’s future.

Southend have even fallen behind on payments to the St John Ambulance and the Shrimpers Trust recently provided a £40,000 loan to pay staff wages.

So, while Jamie Carragher was talking in relative terms when he wrote this week that Everton are the worst-run club in the country, spare a thought for Shrimpers fans, who might not have a team to support in four weeks’ time. Also, Jamie, please look at Scunthorpe, Bury and Oldham.

Property developer Martin is not backing down, despite pressure from an alliance of supporters’ groups. He believes the way out is to sell Roots Hall — a stadium rich with memories but now a decaying mess — and relocate to a new ground at Fossetts Farm. Work there is yet to start.

Martin believes the sale of the decaying Roots Hall stadium is the route forward for the club 

In conversation with Sportsmail, the Shrimpers Trust outlined their stance. ‘We encourage Martin to accept outside investment to ensure the club overcomes its current financial difficulties and the Fossetts Farm stadium project progresses,’ said their spokesperson. ‘The supporters’ groups fear that the very worst could happen, and have established a working group to explore the possibility of setting up a phoenix club should Southend United be liquidated.

‘But we would rather be able to continue to support the existing club, as generations have before us, and implore Martin to find a solution to the current situation.’

On the field, the team — who are also, apparently, still waiting to be paid for January — are confounding expectations and ended this weekend in the play-off spots. Pound for pound, one could make a case that manager Kevin Maher is doing one of the finest jobs in the country, and Jack Bridge’s double led his team to a pleasing home win on Saturday.

Coincidentally, opponents York City have been here themselves.

Twenty years ago, the Minstermen entered administration. The last few years have looked more positive, with a new stadium opening in 2021.

But fans have grown increasingly disgruntled about the actions of chairman Glen Henderson, who replaced popular and high-achieving boss John Askey with inexperienced current coach David Webb last December. Their fans, who travelled in impressive numbers, fear relegation.

Some York supporters joined Southend fans in their protests before the match. With a fair dose of goodwill, clubs can be built from the ground up. But while AFC Wimbledon rose from the ashes, many institutions of English league football have fallen away and never returned.

As the shortest month ticks by without new finance secured, it looks ever more likely Southend United is on its deathbed — after years of murderous ownership by Martin. As many Shrimpers fans summarised in one word: heartbreaking. 

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