Many football fans waking up across the country must have thought the news was an April Fool. But for Saints fans - to whom the club's financial woes have been common knowledge all season - it was all too believable. The football board's inability to publish a set of bi-annual accounts made administration inevitable for the club's owners Southampton Leisure Holdings - the parent company finally brought to its knees by SFC's £27.5 million debt mountain.
The news was accompanied by Rupert Lowe's exit from the club, marking an ignominious end to his second spell at the club. His “Second Coming” has been characterised by drastic steps being taken to improve the club’s financial situation – including a slashing of the wage bill and sections of the stadiums closed during match days – but these measures were not enough to save the club and his reputation lies in tatters tonight. Fellow board members Michael Wilde and Andrew Cohen have also left the club.
The club’s fate now lies in the hands of administrators Begbies Traynor, the accountants who oversaw Bournemouth’s recovery. However, they make plain the seriousness of Saints’ situation. If the club fail to attract major investment before the end of the summer, Southampton Football Club will cease to function and drop out of the Football League.
It is an unthinkable prospect.
However, 125 years of proud footballing history count for little when the administrators get called in. After dropping out of the Premier League, the club has been encumbered by massive debts, largely the £23.1 million the club still has to pay off on its St Marys loan. The remainder is made up of the overdraft, which Barclays refused to extend after it was exceeded this month.
Compounding all this, Saints remain in danger of a second relegation in four years. If Saints were to drop down to the third tier it would make the club a far less attractive investment opportunity and reduce the chances of a buyer being found.
The situation is grave, but relegation would make it ten times worse.
Given all this, it is hardly a surprise that the administrators called on the club’s supporters to get behind the club this weekend. Their support for the rest of the season – both financial and physical – will play a massive part in determining the club’s fate. High ticket sales will help the club operate until the end of the season, while their support on match days has never been so important.
Fans put off by Rupert Lowe have no excuse now.
Survival this season would be a massive boost- and that is if we can also avoid a points deduction for going into administration. The fact that SFC’s parent company – not the club itself – has gone under could provide a vital loophole, one likely to be contested by Saints’ relegation rivals.
In the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing is for sure: Saints will have a fight to survive this year. Even if relegation can be staved off – unlikely enough, though possible – a buyer will have to be found and a points reduction avoided. These are perilous times indeed, and the economic downturn will not help the search for investment.
As Saints enter the unknown, the fans must again demonstrate their love for the club. The players must be shown what they are playing for and the moneymen must be shown the club has a future. Lets sell out these last three games and keep the club up.To go from an FA Cup Final to extinction in six years would be a travesty, but that apocalyptic scenario is a real possibility. With so much at stake, Championship survival is the first priority.