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Xàbia Shrimper

Spanish Shrimpers
Joined
Oct 24, 2003
Messages
13,797
Location
Xàbia, España
"This football club has lacked direction for a long time," Ron Martin told the Evening Echo's Bernie Friend in mid-September 2000. On the pitch Southend United were struggling at wrong end of the Third Division table, having notched up just one win from their opening seven games of the season. John Main had been ousted from his position as chairman as a condition of benefactors Delancey bailing the club out of financial disaster and Roots Hall had been sold off to clear debt totalling almost £4 million. Fans could be forgiven for thinking that there was little to cheer about.

Plans for a new £46 million leisure park at Fossetts Farm, which included a 15,000 capacity stadium for Southend United, had been finally submitted to Southend Council just a few months earlier and Martin hoped that planning permission would be granted by the end of the year. "These plans are a massive boost for the whole of Southend. They represent a major part of the town's regeneration and will cater for everyone, not necessarily just football fans," announced Martin, whose company Martin Dawn had stalled on submitted plans for its ambitious project for over six months after a series of unsuccessful attempts to purchase land on the site from Lansbury Developments Ltd. "The council has been very supportive," he said. "Hopefully we'll begin construction work by late 2001."

However opposition to leisure complex grew throughout the autumn and saw the emergence of the KARERS ('Keeping our Amenities, Recreational and Enviromental Resources Safe') residents group. Chairman Peter Bliss said that his group wanted to preserve a crucial piece of land in the borough and prevent traffic chaos every time the football club played at home. "We are trying to get across the point that we're not anti-Southend United - we want to see the club grow - so we will be putting our heads together to try to come up with positive alternatives to Fossetts Farm."

In response a group of Southend United fans set up the 'Save Our Southend' campaign in late November 2000, launching a counter-petition against the opposition groups such as KARERS. "We want all Southend fans to show the local council how much the football lovers of this town want their team to have a new stadium," said a supporters' spokesman. "Residents living near Fossetts Farm have gathered around 1,800 signatures against the stadium. But we should be able to beat that figure easily. If all the Southend fans club together, including the people who don't always attend games, we should be able to collect around 10,000 names. Southend as a town has been going down the pan for a long time and we need these new amenities. This development is not just for the benefit of football fans, but for everybody living in Southend."

Just before Christmas, Ron Martin told shareholders that he expected the proposal for a 16,000 capacity ground to be considered by Southend Council's planning committee in February 2001 and that he was confident that the football club and the council was on the same wavelength. However just a few weeks later, a council spokesman placed a huge spanner in the works by revealing that there were problems with the development proposal that would delay the consideration indefinitely. "The plans were never intended to go to committee in February. We do not consider there is adequate information to put to members." Martin remained confident: "We want the stadium plans to be part of the council's next planning agenda on February 7. But we won't know if our plans will be discussed until the Thursday prior to the meeting. The council has a detailed outline plan of our proposal and I can't see there being any problems as long as we both stick to the arrangement which means the football club and council have a deal relating to off-site matters, such as contributions to the improvement of the surrounding road infrastructure."

At the beginning of March, placard-waving protestors gathered at the Civic Centre in Victoria Avenue to counter a delegation from KARERS and support the club's plans for a new stadium as members of the council's Development Control Committee debated the controversial project. "We understand the concerns of local residents but the football club is very important to the local community and economy and we want to see the plans pushed through," said Shrimpers' Trust spokesman Martin Prenton. But there was to be disappointment for those gathered outside the committee room as the final decision was to be deferred for three months, pending more detailed information. Councillor Roger Weaver said that a decision needed to be made sooner rather than later. "This application has been with us for some time and we must not as a council allow this application to cast a further shadow," he told the committee. "To prevent this hanging over the council anymore, can we ask that officers come back within three months time with a yea or nay recommendation."

The SOS group was absorbed into the Shrimpers' Trust and spokesman Trevor Bashford told the media that they would work to save the football club from possible extinction. Even legendary boss David Webb voiced his concerns for the club: "I'm still very sceptical about what will happen to the club if the stadium doesn't come off." Howard Southwood, the bane of many Southend fans with his outspoken views on the Shrimpers, considered the SOS group to be "scaremongering in the extreme" in his column in the Evening Echo. "I have every sympathy with the SOS action group desperately worried about Southend United's future and fearful of the club becoming homeless or even extinct," he wrote. "But surely they must accept that the massive plan put forward by the club's bosses will have a huge impact on that area."

And it got worse. As the club's owners worked furiously to make the required revisions to the plans, their efforts were further excacerbated when local traders claimed that the proposed Fossetts Farm development would actually threaten the future of the town centre and seafront. "We have no objection to the football stadium development itself. When I was 11 I used to be a ball boy for Southend and I'm a supporter," said John Barber, chairman of Southend Seafront Illuminations and Business Association. "But as far as the objection to the development is concerned we have to object to it because it's not just about the stadium - it's about a total duplication of what we are all about on the seafront."

Just two weeks before revised plans were due to be re-considered by the council, Martin Dawn plc pulled out of the planning meeting set for June 27, claiming that it needed more time to assess the content of its project. As panic spread, Ron Martin moved to assure fans that there was nothing to be concerned about. "All we are trying to do is ensure our proposal is complete before we put it back into the public domain," he told the Evening Echo. "The last time we met the council three months ago we were asked to provide further information about the Fossetts Farm plan. And since then we have been trying to determine the mix of the development. There are other new facilities earmarked for this area as well as the football ground. But we need to find out if there is demand in Southend for a new multiplex cinema or bowling alley, for example."

A few days later SEL UK, the club's joint owner, declared that they wanted to sell the club: "The directors are currently seeking to sell the company's interest in Southend United" stated the auditors' report, causing further concern for fans of the club. Ron Martin moved to re-assure that the joint owners of Martin Dawn and Delancey were not about to cut and run: "The position is quite clear - Martin Dawn and Delancey are only interested in the longevity of Southend United."

With just 21 months left on the four-year lease on Roots Hall, Southend United were no closer to finding a financially-secure future. Time was quite literally running out ...

Part III to follow
 
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