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Life President
May 29, 2005
Someone great once said that Football isn't a matter of life or death, it's much more than that. Which would explain the pain felt by those when their football club is ripped away from them.

As a Southend United supporter, I've had the good grace of never witnessing non-league football and never suffering the pain of administration and insolvency. We've been perilously close on a handful occasions, been to the wire and stared over the precipice but, thankfully, we've been lucky enough to see another day. At the time of writing, we're close once again... Victims of a harsh financial climate and ever-expanding costs attributed to a stadium build that would've, ironically, secured our future. We've failed to pay our tax bill and Her Majesty has come calling for money we just don't have. In a week, it looks increasingly likely we'll be rooted to the bottom of the table courtesy of a point deduction and having our squad ripped to pieces to appease our creditors.

It's a sight that has become all too familiar in the last decade, as clubs gambled on their futures to punch above their weight. So, what does become of those poor or unfortunate enough to dive into the depths of financial despair?

Cambridge United currently occupy the Blue Square Premier, but were once a proud club over achieving and upsetting the big boys in the top flight of English football. In the early 90's, under John Beck, Cambridge rose through the hierachy of the football league almost instantaneously, utilising a long ball approach famed by the Crazy Gang of Wimbledon. The club were lucky enough to wield a good degree of talent for their stature, the best being the likes of Dion Dublin and Steve Claridge, the former securing his dream move to Manchester United on the back of the teams success.

It's a time that every fan of the club old enough to witness remembers, and memories Robert Baines treasures. "I was only young, but I still remember the 'glory days' of Cambridge.

"It wasn't a great way to play, but we were a small club playing against big teams and winning. John Beck made the club what it was with his tactics and they proved to be our downfall once the players left. As for the Play-Off's, well, I don't think we'll ever win one." During the 1992 season, Cambridge topped the table of the old Division Two for most of the season, but a string of bad results towards the climax saw them drop into the Play-Off's. They ultimately lost to Leicester, and missed out on a lucrative spot in the inaugural season of the Premier League. Things could be oh so different for the U's had they just held on to their position.

Almost acting as a trigger, the Play-Off loss signalled the end of Cambridge's rise and the inievitable fall came swift and hard. Years of punching above their weight took it's toll and their meteoric rise saw them incapable of maintaining their success. Since 1992, The club have made over £7m in the sale of players, yet they still were forced into administration in the wake of an unpaid tax bill. Only the intervention of Richard Caborn and the sale of their Abbey Stadium saw them survive. "Administration was nothing compared to dropping out of the league," comments Robert, who remains staunchly behind his club despite their failures. "We were relegated before the end of the season and the final game was like a funeral, like we had all lost a relative. It was an emotional moment that took it's tolll on everybody and, if I'm behing honest, we still haven't recovered.

"Administration might have robbed us of our assetts, but losing our place in the league was the biggest thing to overcome."

Just when Cambridge were being pushed to the wall, Southend were enjoying a remarkable ressurection under Steve Tilson. In the same season that Cambridge were relegated, Southend won promotion via the Play-Off's and, a season after, a league title followed and a triumphant return to the second tier. At this time, Luton Town were also enjoying a period of success.

A club with a rich heritage had been on something of a helter-skelter throughout the leagues, suffering promotions and relegations before Mike Newell took them up to the Championship as champions in 2005 with a hugely talented squad of players. Matthew Taylor, Emmerson Boyce, Steve Howard and Curtis Davies all went on to feature in the Premier League.

Huge profits on sales and cup revenue streams could not save the club from a financial meltdown of spectacular proportions. John Gurney done his level headed best to destroy the club in 2003, removing the popular Joe Kinnear before his seat could mould around his rear, and then left the club in administration months later. Luton entered administration for the second time during the 2007/08 season as the club finished bottom. Financial mismanagement has a lot to answer for in Luton's case, with reports of Mike Newell claiming 10% of the profit of any player sold under his guidance, obviously not seeing the irony of his exposure of illegal transfer payments.

Continuing financial irregularities and a lack of a CVA saw the concurrent season end almost as it began, set a daunting 30 point deduction to overhaul before even making ground on their counterparts. Relegation followed for the third successive season, condemning them to the conference with the sole shining light being a Johnstones Paint Trophy victory at Wembley, the perfect stage for their fans to announce their greivances with the over-zealous point deductions that had placed them in that plight.

The media may highlight Leeds as exhibit A of the fall from grace catalogue, but Cambridge and Luton are clubs that now travel to the likes of Rushden and Weymouth on a regular basis, trips attributed to point deductions and financial mismanagement. It's a plight that has become all to familiar for me, and I look on in dread at what could so easily become my weekend jaunts August through May. This is what becomes of the broke and shafted, robbed of their dignity, they're sent to the purgatory of football, left to rot with Steve Evans and Drewe Broughton.

Years on from their plummit and Cambridge still reside in what has become the Blue Square Premier. "We're still not too keen on the Play-Off's," jokes Robert, whose Cambridge have lost the last two Conference Play-Off finals. "Now we have a settled board and a capable manager in Martin Ling, we stand a chance of reviving our league status at the sixth or seventh time of asking."

Administration has destroyed so many clubs, so many ambitions, so many delusions of grandeur yet, in particular english fashion, I stood there thinking 'It'll never happen here, we wouldn't let it, the board wouldn't let it', ignoring what was actually happening behind the scenes. In the time of a recession £660,000 is a lot of money for a business to find, let alone a football club spending beyond its means. Football is more than a matter of life and death because that's essentially what it means to those of us afflicted by it, and the loss of a club becomes the loss of a relative, as the fans of Cambridge and Luton will testify to.

Should the need arise, I'll be there, in the cold shaking a bucket reading "S.O.S" as I hope to save the club I support. I've seen what becomes of the broke and shafted, and I'll do anything to avoid it happening at my club.