On Monday 24th February we held a supporter group meeting with a number of key personnel, including the Chairman as we (as a club) are looking to increase our engagement with the fan base with the aim of bringing the fans and the club closer together.
- Ron Martin (Chairman, Southend United)
- Rhys Ellingham (Head of Commercial, Southend United)
- Kerry Fairless (Blues Travel & ShrimperZone)
- Paul Fitzgerald (Chairman, Shrimpers Trust)
- Lesley Hicks (Shrimpers Trust)
- Darren Posnack (Shrimpers Trust)
- Paul Marshall (Blues Travel)
- Trevor Harp (ShrimperZone)
- Jamie Forsyth (All At Sea Fanzine)
- Dan McEvoy (The Blue Voice)
- Michael Alexander
Below are minutes taken from the discussion.
We called this meeting because the club has had the most dreadful two years on the pitch which has of course impacted its finances too. I, therefore, thought it would be good to explain and answer any questions through the supporter groups. The recent interview in The Echo was a pre-curser for this meeting and if anyone has questions either for this group or others for me to answer then fire away.
As you’re the conduit for the fans in one way or another we thought it would be beneficial to hold a meeting with every representative, together.
Kerry Fairless - Are we going to have a club next season?
The Club have had a lot of ills or faults over a number of years as with many clubs outside the premiership.
However the worst position the club was ever in, was when we bought it. It was in intensive care under Vic Jobson’s chairmanship, it had debts galore, banking debt of £2.3 million.
It had second and third charges on the stands and the overall debt was over £4.5 million, it was an horrendous position to be in, but we paid the debts off and the rest is history. The club has not had an overdraft since. The only debt is to my companies risk.
Trevor Harp - All the press that we see is all about winding up orders, one after another, one after another all the time. Which one is going to be the final nail in the coffin?
HMRC are much more hair trigger now than they ever used to be, it is immediate if you don’t deal with it in three days they issue you with a letter and a Petition follows. HMRC do not have a preferential creditor status with football clubs and are, perhaps because of that, first in.
Paul Fitzgerald – But it’s not a shock that you owe the money is it? That’s what we see, it’s not addressed in a timely fashion.
Let me just take this back two years, because that’s where things have failed, my mistake is I probably put too much money into the football club without getting the anticipated rewards on the pitch.
To compete at any level where we want to succeed it is necessary to invest in the football club and that’s what I have done. That level of investment has been huge, I shall temper it if we go into League Two and have a more manageable budget.
If we had a budget that washed its face in League One or League Two you probably wouldn’t compete and then fans would say “we were not successful”.
Maybe, that’s justified, but what isn’t justified is the lack of success with a £3 million wage bill and 8th in the wage league.
All these things are inextricably linked as to why we are failing on the pitch.
I can be at fault for ultimately sanctioning certain transfers but when you’re backing the manager it’s quite difficult to say no if the persuasion is that the player will make a difference and therefore an investment on and off the pitch. I wouldn’t be persuaded by The Echo or everyone saying “sign him, sign him, sign him”, if it’s too expensive I have to say no and historically that’s been the case and I will stand by that going forward also.
Lesley Hicks - Do you not think that those type of situations have happened because we haven’t got a CEO in place?
No, because the CEO would still come to me for me to make the final decisions.
I do want a CEO though, not because I believe there are any mismanagements within the football club, but, because I need someone to have that responsibility and give them the constraints and budgets to work with.
If I don’t do that, the bigger strategy of trying to make this club sustainable at Fossetts will be further frustrated and potentially delayed.
It’s been three years since we’ve had one and I’m getting used to it but it is a lot of pressure, I would welcome a CEO but I don’t want someone coming in who are too subservient that they’re always coming in, knocking on my door because that won’t work either.
The calibre of the person needs to be good; they need to have been in the industry and know it back to front, the person I want probably will come but I don’t want to bring him into the melting pot where we are now.
I haven’t had a line of sight past that for over a year, I need to get the club in a financially stable position; I need to know where we are going to be and then I can sort out the budget but I cannot achieve that until June to remedy some of the mistakes of some of the signings.
Paul Fitzgerald – Can we revert back to the original question because I feel we have drifted away, the question was, have we got a football club next year?
I’m not going to close the football club, I’m not going to stop people coming through the door, there is a linkage between the ownership of the football club and the ownership of the land but I’m not going to start developing the land the club is either going to move to Fossetts Farm or stay here so the answer must be yes.
Kerry Fairless – If Fossetts doesn’t happen, would ‘Plan B’ mean staying here at Roots Hall or would we find somewhere else?
I think Fossetts Farm will absolutely happen, but if it doesn’t we would stay here.
Paul Fitzgerald – Soon you have to clear a HMRC debt on the 11th March, how much is that?
£668,000 with one month stacked up behind which is due this weekend.
We are here because the failings on the pitch has compounded the finances, I have put a huge amount of money into this football club which would’ve been healthy if it could’ve made it sustainable a decade ago, but unfortunately, it’s not, the planning delays and banking crisis combined put pay to that.
I do absolutely and sincerely believe that the Council will get to where we need them to get to in the coming months, it won’t be in the next four to five months in my view, but it could be in the late summer. But they do want to bring both applications to the committee at the same time which I understand and I think that’s right.
The Roots Hall application was validated on the 12th December which allows the council a time frame of 16 weeks before they have to consider it and they’re not trying to find reasons for us not to move, they want us to move.
Ultimately, we cannot stay here, the safety certificate issued by the council is getting harder to achieve and two years ago we paid over £300,000 to make sure we passed the safety checks to open, building regulations are changing and regulations are becoming more stringent.
If we were to stay here, we would have to do remedial works and probably rebuild the East Stand.
I will miss it, everyone will, a new stadium doesn’t always have the environment of an old structure and it’s something we have to create, we have looked really closely at what we would need to do to make sure it has the feel we are after.
Jamie Forsyth – We’ve got two players ready to sign who were at Macclesfield, they can sign once the embargo is lifted, are you confident this will happen?
The EFL won’t lift the embargo until we have paid HMRC, which is quick once we have demonstrated to them we are doing so. I want it to happen, so I am making arrangements for it to happen.
The two lads are chomping at the bit and I feel guilty about that because if Sol had them it would probably lift the team but I was quite happy for them to train with us for three weeks so they can see it happening behind the scenes, and also getting a better understanding of the club.
We could’ve been in a very different position in the January window had we beaten two/three around us because the chances of staying up would’ve certainly improved.
The Bolton, Tranmere, MK Dons and AFC Wimbledon games were very very disappointing which gave me little faith if I am honest. I can’t throw hundreds of thousands of pounds and make huge commitments, burdening the club with wages on the chance that we might stay up.
I did say in December I would back Sol but week on week I was monitoring it, seeing the failings.
I never imagined that we would be back in League Two and the last thing I want is the club to be relegated.
Kerry Fairless – How do we get in the position that we owe HMRC every month? Are we working a month behind?
We are working more than a month behind, the club haven’t got the money to pay it instantly and rely on parent company support from time to time throughout the years.
The asset values of the group are high, but I can’t just source the money at the click of a finger, we haven’t had a bank overdraft for 22 years.
Jamie Forsyth – In the summer, are we working on a recruitment strategy with Sol and his team to identify targets, because it seems to me that we have a lot of players out of contract so we have some wiggle room to bring some bodies in?
On a different level and different budget, if we are in League Two our budget is likely to be circa £1.5 million, if you have a star player who we want to keep and pay them a certain amount it becomes a bench mark for every other player in the country because they find out and gravitate to Southend United because they think we pay high wages.
It’s not a problem if it’s a player you the club are after but not for a general squad player. We know we have too many perceived squad players who are actually more capable than past Managers have given them credit for. If you look at Tom Clifford, who was not long ago playing for Concord Rangers, he has slotted straight into the team fantastically and he wouldn’t of had the chance if we didn’t have so many injuries, equally he also perhaps wouldn’t have had the opportunity if the players we signed played to the level of our expectation. Many haven’t.
We have got some young players who are very capable but they will make mistakes.
I can’t say it’s going to be a smooth path over the next few months but in August I would hope we would’ve assembled a good squad, and Sol seems to be good at identifying people.
Paul Marshall - We’ve got quite an exciting time ahead of us with the youth players coming through if we can keep them and get them playing, but in the past, it seems like we are selling them off to pay something else.
We do budget to sell some players, like we budget to get past round one of the FA Cup!
I do like what you’re saying but if a Premier League club came in for one of our youngsters and offer a substantial amount of money then unfortunately that player will most likely be leaving.
Not because I want the money but because they wouldn’t want to play for us if they can go to a Premier League club the player wouldn’t want to be here.
They don’t generally down tools, but it can create a bad atmosphere in the dressing room, so each situation must be reviewed on its merits. We can and do say no.
Jamie Forsyth – We’ve got the disciplinary hearing from the EFL coming up, they’re cracking down by the looks of things on clubs, could we have a points deduction? Even suspended for next season.
Not for the first offence I would imagine, they would have to penalise us now and I have agreed to put in a witness statement.
It’s a brave new world in the EFL, it’s a much more level playing field which I believe is right, but I don’t believe we will receive a points deduction or financially penal.
Kerry Fairless – Looking forward, what is the strategy for season cards next season?
Gavin (Ticket Office Manager) and I have a strategy which is just awaiting board approval, we have done our homework on the average League Two season card price if that is the division we will be going into.
Obviously, as we only have one set price across the whole stadium it differs to others but we have a figure in mind which we believe is suitable for League Two and it is there or there abouts with the price of when we were last in League Two back in 2014/15.
The plan is to put in place a number of targets which we feel are achievable, some are optimistic but depending on the number of fans who purchase a season card, ultimately depends on how much you as a fan will pay.
A marketing strategy will be put in place which will focus solely on season cards, we know as a club we need to bring the fans and club closer together and hopefully with a number of initiatives over the coming months we will slowly start to do that so we can start the 2020/21 season, on a positive note.
We would need an extra 650 adult season card holders to allow us to break even from where we are this season so as you can see, if we were to go into League Two it has its financial implications, not just because of central funds but more of how many people we would attract.
However, if we are in League Two and near the top, I believe we would have more fans attending than at the bottom of League One.
Trevor Harp – Going back to the first question that Kerry asked, I think most people would have their fears allayed that it was actually out there that you could carry on and effectively continue to bank roll the club for the future.
I haven’t got a vision that sees us at Roots Hall forever. We have to move from Roots Hall, it’s a decaying structure and we need modern facilities to improve revenue and help us compete. I don’t think under the current planning application that we will be challenged having modified the plans to replace some of the retail with residential which is what the Council wanted and we have listened.
The impact on the high street will be less, we won’t need to re-submit the application, it will be modified and not, hopefully, have us needing to start again. That would be unacceptable.
Darren Posnack – The problem we have at the moment is social media, at the time you took over the club there was no social media so people didn’t understand or realise how bad it actually was and they now think it’s worse now than it was back then, it could be an opportunity to speak out more often than you do so.
What’s worse? Our league position? Finances? Or both? When the banks collapsed in 2008, the following three years were horrendous to even stay afloat.
Assets that were worth millions beforehand were then worth nothing, we couldn’t raise funds to support the club, the markets were effectively closed. Fortunately, Sainsburys under the joint venture lent us money against assets and we paid interest charges against that which helped.
Gradually, in 2012 we started to progress again, but those three or four years were such a terrible time.
Social media certainly makes it more difficult to manage football clubs because it’s a platform for anyone to say whatever they wish, football is opinions and it is not necessarily factual what people write on Facebook etc., but those opinions must be respected too, after all we all have the same objective for the club to succeed.
I think the commercial department do a good job in communicating with the fans on all platforms and even the fact that we are here tonight says something.
I want to create more connectivity with the fans on all platforms and in an ideal world, we will get through this immediate period into the close season, get rid of a number of players we do not want, the young kids have proved their worth to improve their contracts and extend their spell.
I think we need to recruit six to eight people. We need some additional creativity on the pitch, and a CEO in the close season who will be integrated into the recruitment regime. I believe we could look forward to a successful season next year, but probably in League Two.