Southend fans begin ‘phoenix club’ planning

Various Southend United supporters’ groups are to begin “exploratory work” to establish a phoenix club.

They are worried that the National League club, which is facing an HM Revenue & Customs winding-up petition, could go out of business.

And BBC Essex understands that players and other staff have yet to receive their wages for January.

“The thought of Southend United as we know it ending does not bear thinking about,” said a joint statement.

“However, in the absence of any official evidence-based messages of reassurance coming out of the club, now is the time to stop treating the subject of a phoenix club as taboo.

“We would be doing the club and the fan base a disservice by not preparing for such an eventuality.”

The statement was issued on behalf of nine supporters’ groups including the Shrimpers Trust, The Blue Voice, All At Sea and Blues On Tour following a meeting earlier this week.

Southend chief executive Tom Lawrence said at the start of 2023 that financial issues meant the club faced an annual funding gap of £2m.

The club believe the way out of their problems is to re-locate from their Roots Hall home to a new stadium at Fossetts Farm, but work there has yet to begin.

The winding-up hearing will take place on 1 March and chairman Ron Martin is seeking bridging finance to clear the debt.

Full details of the amount owed have not been disclosed, but a lawyer representing HMRC told a judge earlier this month that it was “large”.

The Shrimpers have faced a series of winding-up petitions in recent years, and the previous one was dismissed in January 2020.

Supporters’ groups say they do not believe Martin is the right person to take club forward in the “medium or long term”.

The statement continued: “We reiterate our strong collective opinion that, should he continue in the role for the time being, he should seriously consider outside investment to help overcome the club’s immediate financial difficulties and progress the Fossetts Farm stadium project.”

Southend are currently one point outside the play-off places as they seek to regain the English Football League status they lost in 2021.

BBC Essex sports editor Glenn Speller

This statement from a collection of Southend supporters’ groups may well concentrate the minds of those fans who are more concerned with the fight to reach the National League play-off places.

Form has been sketchy in recent weeks and it is difficult not to believe the off-field issues are finally hitting on-field performances.

Southend United have faced 10 winding-up petitions from HMRC in just under eight years, with four of those coming in 2019. On each occasion owner Ron Martin has eventually paid the debt but a figure of around £1.4m has many fans worried this might be the straw which breaks the camel’s back.

Martin is waiting for bridging finance of £5m to help with the construction of a proposed new stadium and training ground, which would also be used to pay off HMRC.

A phoenix club would have to start life at the bottom of the pyramid, with the Eastern Counties First Division South the likely destination. That would require five promotions just to get Southend back to their current status.

Supporters will be hoping it does not come to that but February promises to be a long and nervy wait for those involved with the 117 year-old club.

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