Purgatory – a place of stagnation and suffering, an intermediate plain that follows death. That’s where Southend United find themselves this morning after HMRC handed them a 42-day extension to pay off their existing debts.
Chairman Ron Martin has until August 23rd to pay off a £275,000 debt or face the club being wound up. Sadly, the crown jewels were sold off long ago – there’s no player waiting in the wings to be sold to plug the gap. It’s 42 days more for long-suffering supporters to sit and wait for news of their club’s seemingly inevitable demise. The only saving grace is a reported sale that has been in the pipeline for a while. It’s not the first time such rumours have circulated, but if it doesn’t happen this time, it is likely to be the last.
It wasn’t so long ago Southend were a staple of the League One scene under Phil Brown and Chris Powell, but time has not been kind. Under the stewardship of Martin, they have tumbled down the divisions, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts and broken promises. The club is dying in front of supporters’ eyes, and the drama unfolding daily is only prolonging their suffering.
Today could have been D-Day for the Shrimpers; supporters might have felt it couldn’t get worse, but this ruling is almost worse. There’s no finality. Right now, their fans know nothing. The club is under a transfer embargo, some staff haven’t been paid for four months, and the new National League season is rapidly approaching. Today’s news could see them expelled from the league in the same manner as Gateshead and Hereford before them. The National League may not be as benevolent as the High Court when it comes to granting Martin more time to drag the club’s rotting carcass around the courts. They’ve already said the winding-up order had to be dismissed in order for them to compete next season, and that is now not going to be the case.
This week, water was cut off at the club’s training ground, and striker Chris Wreh left for Hartlepool. Players trained alone, and they remain without medical cover due to that department not being paid. With a transfer embargo, there’s no guarantee the club will be able to put a team out if the National League do let them compete. If they do, it will almost certainly be uncompetitive; there are just 14 contracted players at Roots Hall, and those who remain have yet to begin their pre-season campaign. Playing youngster got them relegated from League One – it will likely result in the same this season, with the National League South waiting to welcome them.
Today’s decision might be a reprieve, but it is far from satisfactory and leaves more questions than it answers. Is a sale close? Does Martin have the money coming in? Will the National League let them kick-off? Can they stay up if allowed to compete?
Southend fans fear the answer to most of the questions could be no.