EXCLUSIVE: Fans call him Ron the Rat for almost sinking Southend... but the owner insists he always had club's interests at heart

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Some of nan specifications of Ron Martin’s caller years arsenic proprietor of Southend United — nan winding-up petitions, nan furious fans extracurricular his house, nan artifact rats thrown connected nan transportation astatine location games — are specified that you instinctively want to little your sound erstwhile discussing them pinch him successful nan room of nan five-star London edifice wherever he asks that we meet.

Martin does not look overly concerned astir discretion, though. A man successful nan area of nan room feigns indifference to our speech but he does not time off his sofa once. And small wonder.

Martin effortlessly charts his 25-year rollercoaster connected nan Essex seashore — from beating Manchester United 1-0 successful nan League Cup to stepping down his thrust to reside protesters astatine nan extremity of it. He wants to talk astir nan bully times. He skates elegantly and effortlessly complete nan bad.

There is simply a jarring incongruity astir Martin being successful this expansive place, ordering cappuccinos and embarking connected a chat which touches connected chopper recreation and his £3million home, erstwhile his refusal to salary HMRC connected clip has seen Southend dragged many times to nan High Court and now docked 10 points. All that connected apical of being relegated to non-league for nan first clip successful their 101-year history.

Among galore who person gone unpaid successful nan past twelvemonth are St John Ambulance. Pressed connected why he ‘didn’t salary nan small people’, he replies: ‘Yes, that hurts.’ Well, conscionable ideate really they must feel.

Condemned president Ron Martin pleads his lawsuit — you determine if he deserves sympathy

Southend supporters person nicknamed nan president 'Ron nan Rat' for almost sinking their club

Virtually anyone owed money by Southend has had to pursuit them done nan courts successful nan past year, from sponsors to energy providers to nan h2o supplier. Fans raised £40,000 to guarantee unit were paid past Christmas, past brought cleaning instrumentality and overgarment to hole Roots Hall for this season. No wonderment Southend person been dubbed 1 of nan worst-run clubs successful nan country.

‘That’s really hurtful,’ Martin says, reaching for that connection again. ‘It’s not 1 of nan worst-run. It mightiness request much money than we tin afford. That doesn’t mean to opportunity we didn’t springiness nan aforesaid information and attraction to it that we would do if we had money. It’s conscionable a shortfall of funds.’

Most Southend supporters, who telephone him ‘Ron nan Rat’, would put things alternatively differently.

There person been plentifulness of mendacious dawns, but if each goes to scheme Martin will this week waste up to a 10-strong consortium and locomotion away, hoping that he will beryllium remembered arsenic nan man who has invested £27million — via loans from his spot institution — to support live a nine which astatine times has hardly had a pulse.

Martin looks connected arsenic Southend return connected Burton Albion successful nan League Two playoffs successful 2014

‘I’m little able now, by a agelong chalk, than if I’d ne'er been progressive successful football,’ he says. ‘You conscionable dream you get to a sustainable situation but you ne'er cognize astatine nan time.’ Sustainable it astir surely isn’t. The nine and nan stadium are connected their knees.

Martin considered himself a victor earlier each this. A singular image captures him astatine nan apical of a bobsleigh tally pinch Great Britain’s four-man squad successful Winterberg, Germany, successful 1980.

It looks for illustration a segment from Thunderbirds, pinch Martin, bobsleigh driver Major Jonnie Woodall and John Howell displaying very achromatic teeth and awesome physiques. Martin says they won their title for nan ‘GB1’ squad — going connected to compete for Britain astatine nan European Championships successful St Moritz that year.

‘I was first reserve for nan 1980 Olympics astatine Lake Placid,’ Martin says, relaying that he had been recruited from athletics by a GB bobsleigh talent-spotter.

‘I had to travel backmost from Switzerland early for business reasons, truthful I was placed successful nan ‘GB 3’ team. I regret that determination successful galore ways because to person competed astatine nan Olympics would person been something. But nan business mattered most.’

The business besides mattered astir erstwhile he arrived astatine Southend United arsenic a spot entrepreneur successful nan 1990s, aft nan ailing club’s chairman, Vic Jobson, a neighbour, had asked him for £400,000 credit.

He rejected nan request, alternatively acquiring half of Jobson’s 55 per cent stock of nan nine earlier buying him retired successful 1998, erstwhile his spot institution besides bought Roots Hall from nan club.

‘I recognised nan opportunity to build a caller stadium and create a overmuch amended shot nine than they had,’ says Martin. He had ne'er group ft successful nan spot earlier that and supported Liverpool, he says, because his begetter had. 

‘When I walked into nan club, it seemed stuck successful nan 1950s and I thought, “We could amended this massively”. The full situation was successful nan acheronian ages. We could spot that we could bring much sophistication to it. I wanted to make a bigger stadium.’

Southend person been dubbed 1 of nan worst-run clubs successful nan state successful caller years

The nine stormed to a daze 2-1 triumph complete National League leaders Chesterfield connected Saturday

That bigger stadium has been nan be-all and end-all of nan past 25 years for Martin. Property was nan aureate ovum for an ‘investor-developer’ for illustration him. He wanted to move Southend United to onshore he had purchased astatine adjacent Fossetts Farm, leaving him free to build houses connected nan tract of Roots Hall. But contempt owning both, he has tried and grounded for a 4th of a period to make these spot developments happen.

Roots Hall — a stadium lovingly built successful nan 1950s by legendary groundsman Sid Broomfield pinch nan full £74,000 provided by fans — fell into decline. 

Southend had their moments nether Martin. There were back-to-back promotions to League One and nan Championship successful 2005 and 2006, past nan nighttime of each nights: that 1-0 triumph complete Sir Alex Ferguson’s United — Ronaldo, Rooney and each — successful November 2006, sealed by Freddy Eastwood. Every wall of nan Blue Boar pub beside Roots Hall is dressed up pinch immoderate artefact of that celebrated win.

All this brought Martin a domiciled successful nan Christmas lights switch-on, a relationship pinch nine fable David Webb and journeys up and down nan onshore pinch his boy to watch Southend play. ‘When you get into immoderate nine successful nan minutiae that I did, you person to emotion it,’ he says. Even astatine that journey’s height, he was trying to get nan stadium built.

Martin oozed assurance astatine moments which would person spooked little ebullient owners. On nan occasion, for example, erstwhile his location and Roots Hall were raided by constabulary and he was arrested connected suspicion of corruption successful narration to a Gloucestershire spot woody successful March 2007.

A vivid 1,000-word article, beneath his byline, followed successful nan Southend Echo, detailing nan police’s 7am presence connected his ‘shingle drive’, his woman offering them beverages, and them arriving mob-handed. Martin denied immoderate wrongdoing and was not charged.

Martin admits to Mail Sport that being labelled arsenic a 'lying rat' by fans is highly hurtful

'Martin out!': Frustrated Southend supporters return to nan streets successful protestation of their chairman

Southend’s 1 play backmost successful nan Championship ended 2 months later, leaving Martin to bespeak connected what mightiness person been. ‘We changed 7 players successful nan Championship and astir apt had a amended squad tone — a consciousness of “we’re each successful it together” — successful League One,’ he says of that time. ‘Maybe that was our error. We should person only changed 3 aliases 4 individuals.’

Greater storms were to follow. There was nan financial clang of 2008. ‘Painful for everyone and because I trust connected spot income to supplement nan shot club, it was astir apt going to deed maine worse,’ Martin relates.

Southend were relegated to League Two successful 2010 and they were backmost successful nan courts, too: backmost to winding-up orders and transportation embargoes.

Phil Brown led nan nine backmost up via nan play-offs successful 2015 earlier it each unravelled again. Amid six ill-fated managerial appointments from 2018 — Chris Powell, Sol Campbell and Kevin Bond among them — location were successive relegations from League One to nan National League successful nan depths of Covid. That near Southend successful non-League shot pinch players connected League One wages. And still nan stadium was not built.

All downhill from here: Martin (top right) successful nan GB bobsleigh squad astatine Winterberg successful 1980

Some owners would person bailed, but Martin says he wanted to get nan nine backmost into nan Football League first. He says he received a telephone from 1 of nan executives who would thief Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bargain Wrexham, asking if he was willing successful selling.

‘I said nary and that was it,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t tempted astatine each because I wanted to fulfil my ain objectives, create thing for nan fans. Leaving it then, conscionable because personification offered much money? No, I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t entertain it.’

It is improbable immoderate specified woody would person transpired. The executive who approached Martin was engaged to activity pinch Reynolds and McElhenney, and nan Wrexham woody was good advanced. Extraordinary, though, that Martin, nan proprietor of a nine successful specified dire straits, was not moreover interested. The imaginable of building that caller stadium — nan aureate ovum — was conscionable excessively much.

It takes an extraordinarily heavy tegument to enactment connected erstwhile supporters are disgruntled capable to propulsion missiles connected to your driveway and scrawl images of your look successful achromatic marker-pen connected balloons which they burst astatine games.

For nan location lucifer against Maidenhead successful September, Southend were down to 12 disposable players, had nary fresh goalkeeper, had been docked 10 points for non-payment of tax, and had appeared successful magistrates’ tribunal complete an unpaid power bill. They won 2-0.

Martin maintains his unruffled equanimity arsenic each this is laid retired earlier him. ‘There wasn’t capable money to spell around,’ he says. ‘What are nan alternatives? Put nan nine into administration? Or for everyone to rotation pinch us?

‘The club’s losing £160,000 each period — successful nan National League, that’s a batch to find. We ran retired of money. We didn’t person nan money to do each nan activity that was required. We didn’t do it deliberately. When you are successful nan taxation authorities’ attraction — attacked if you for illustration — you get nary latitude, truthful erstwhile you spell into arrears a (winding-up) petition comes quickly.’

The supporters picture it arsenic thing different — incompetence — while a starring authority connected taxation and accountancy authorities sees a civilized bankruptcy astatine play. ‘Courts don’t want to bankrupt clubs because they are organization assets, and I fishy this proprietor knows that,’ he said. ‘There’s a civilized perspective here. It’s our taxes that he isn’t paying.’

Several fans took nan opportunity to protestation nan mismanagement of nan nine erstwhile Daily Mail photographer KEVIN QUIGLEY attended Southend's convention conflict against Barnet successful March

As Southend person struggled, a fanbase led by nan Shrimpers Trust person watched Martin closely. There has been overmuch talk of him having usage of a helicopter, pinch nan club’s sanction emblazoned connected nan side.

‘I learned to alert helicopters erstwhile I was successful my 20s truthful I person a earthy liking successful them and erstwhile a year, connected my wife’s birthday, we spell to Ascot,’ Martin explains. ‘A image (has circulated) of maine taking our 2 sons and their wives to Ascot connected my wife’s birthday.

‘We don’t person a helicopter. You tin prosecute helicopters and we did that each twelvemonth for 40 years. The club’s sanction connected nan broadside was an advertisement for nan club.

‘People extracurricular our location wanted maine to waste my home. “Your location is worthy £3million. Why don’t you waste it? Why don’t you waste your car?” You person to extremity location and that’s unfair erstwhile I’ve put millions into nan nine for a long, agelong time. If I was a fly-by-night, that’s different, but 25 years going to each lucifer and being arsenic committed to nan occurrence of it arsenic they are?’

He insists he has ne'er charged Southend rent connected nan stadium, contempt invoicing nan nine for it. An insolvency lawyer, who has worked astatine respective distressed shot clubs, suggests this has taxation benefits. Martin hasn’t been to a Southend lucifer since December. ‘When location are chants of, “We want Martin out”, it’s going to detract from nan football,’ he says.

So now he will time off for good. A consortium, led by Australian IT entrepreneur Justin Rees, will get nan club, Roots Hall’s freehold and nan training crushed for a nominal £1.

The angry signs of protestation person extended to nan roads and pavements (pictured successful July 2023)

Non-league outfit Southend person been nether a transportation prohibition since September 2022 and were deducted 10 points astatine nan commencement of this play aft failing to clear a £275,000 HMRC debt

It will besides return connected Southend’s early operating costs and debts believed to beryllium successful excess of £2.5m. Martin will constitute disconnected his loans to nan nine and lend £20m to nan refurbishment of Roots Hall, wherever nan nine will stay.

As always, nan nine finds its early inextricably linked to spot deals. Planning support has conscionable been granted to a company, owned by Martin’s boy Jack, for a important lodging improvement — minus nan caller stadium — astatine Fossetts Farm. There will beryllium 1,300 homes built, including 500 which were to person gone up astatine Roots Hall, had nan stadium move materialised.

Councillors heard nan club’s waste was contingent connected readying for nan homes. ‘We won’t build nan stadium and haven’t sewage nan costs of that, but we are putting nan balanced money backmost into Roots Hall,’ Martin says. His family will do highly good retired of nan deal, though.

The protests person not affected Martin aliases contributed to his determination to go, he insists. ‘It was basal to person information astatine nan house, but did it disrupt our lives? No. We continued nan aforesaid way.

‘I’ve tried to understand nan fans’ feelings but I deliberation nan communicative that has existed successful caller times is nary reflection connected what we, arsenic a family, person done for nan club.

‘I’m trading astatine nan incorrect clip for maine and my family but I had nary choice. I was 70 and my weekends were still committed. I was thinking, “How galore years person you sewage to go?”’

The insolvency master suggests Martin is trading because things are truthful bad he is successful a very tight financial corner. ‘It doesn’t make consciousness to support it going successful that league, pumping that money in,’ he said.

Southend are now 14th successful nan National League, having vanished eighth successful nan convention past season

Southend United look a terrible subordinate shortage, naming only 2 substitutes for a match

Martin has put nan National League connected announcement for a ineligible situation against nan 10-point conclusion and expects nan nine to person a day for that successful six to 8 weeks. But nan squad person played their measurement retired of difficulty. They are 14th successful nan array nether their fantabulous manager, Kevin Maher, aft Saturday’s location triumph complete convention leaders Chesterfield.

‘There were awesome times, specified really awesome times,’ Martin reflects arsenic nan question and reply draws to an extremity and he prepares to transportation retired different business successful nan hotel’s elegant surroundings. ‘I would do it each again. I wouldn’t place nan awesome times because of nan group opinionated extracurricular my house.

‘It’s been a tremendous thrust and we’ve created immoderate tremendous memories.’

The cataclysmic caller years are thing that Southend fans would alternatively forget.


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