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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
The swelling band of English football clubs in crisis has a new member and it's my own team, Southend United. Late on Monday night, Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HRMC) cancelled a planned Winding Up Petition and elected to pursue an Administration instead. Put simply, the club were flicked out of the frying pan and into the fire, spared instant liquidation, but only for a short time. It means that in just under a week they are likely to be taken over by administrators and systematically stripped of their assets, namely the playing staff, until the debts are paid off. Unfortunately, the current Southend squad are unlikely to attract many big money offers.

Even more unfortunately, administration means the automatic deduction of ten points, a punishment that will hole Southend beneath the waterline and plunge them to the bottom of the table. An existing transfer embargo means that they will be unable to sign new players, which is something of a shame because, at the time of press, they only had 12 fit senior professionals, two of whom are goalkeepers. If the administration is rubber-stamped next Wednesday, Southend United will almost certainly be relegated to the basement division at the end of the season. This time almost three years ago, they had just beaten Manchester United in the League Cup and were in the second flight alongside the likes of Hull City and Sunderland. The supporters, it has to be said, are more than a little bit miffed about the way things have panned out.

Southend's chairman Ron Martin claims that the club's problems are directly linked to the wider economic crisis, and he may be right, but the Premier League has played its part too. The enormous gulf between the haves and the have-nots has encouraged too many teams to 'chase the dream' of top flight football and it has made it even harder for the teams left behind in the lower leagues to survive. Neither faction can be pleased with the outcome.

Portsmouth only just escaped financial meltdown after it transpired that Harry Redknapp and Peter Storrie, under former owner Alexandre Gaydamak, had built the team on a slippery foundation of debt. Deft dealings by Storrie and two takeovers in quick succession chased the wolf from the door, but given that the new owners have been quoted as saying that they're only there for the short-term, the Portsmouth fans shouldn't relax yet. Their reckless pursuit of glory in the world's most expensive league may still come back to haunt them. Leeds United, of course, collapsed under their own stupidity when they failed to qualify for the Champions League in 2002 and years of chronic mis-management did for former Premier League stalwarts Southampton last season when they entered administration, leaving them to start this campaign with a 10 point penalty.

The continuing preoccupation with televised Premier League games has turned many fans off their local football teams. Clubs like Bury, Macclesfield and Chester, who narrowly avoided liquidation this week, are so close to Liverpool and Manchester that many potential fans are lured away. But you don't have to be based close to Anfield to feel the pinch. "There's probably as many Liverpool and Manchester United fans in this town as there are of us," complained one Southend supporter. "They're not bothered that they can't get tickets, they just watch the games in the pub."

Southend are one of just two league teams in the county of Essex, a heavily populated and highly affluent area of the country. Their only neighbours, Colchester United, are an even less fashionable outfit and are based 25 miles away. The reasons for Southend's crisis may be unclear for the moment, but the fact that a club with this much potential can slither to the brink of extinction should make the original supporters of the cash-guzzling Premier League feel distinctly uncomfortable.