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Shrimpers Trust 2021 AGM Q&A Report
by Rob Craven

Southend United's Head Coach, Kevin Maher, asked supporters to "stay with us because we will turn this around" as he spoke at the 2021 Annual General Meeting of the Shrimpers Trust. 


Maher, alongside Assistant Head Coach Darren Currie, First Team Coach Mark Bentley and Chief Executive Officer Tom Lawrence, answered questions from Trust members following the formal business of the AGM. 


Tom Lawrence opened by thanking the Trust for contributing a substantial sum towards gym equipment including exercise bikes, a treadmill and flooring at the training ground. He added that he was keen to work with the Trust on Junior Blues and work with SUCET going into schools to encourage children to support the club.


Lawrence also spoke on some of the key issues affecting the club, saying that ticketing has been a challenge, with issues surrounding the computing system and printing of season tickets. He admitted it had been an "embarrassment". He also confirmed recruiting staff has been a challenge post-Covid, which isn't unique to Southend United, and provided an example that 30 staff did not turn up as expected on the first matchday of the season. 


Kevin Maher was asked about the current formation of the team, and his footballing philosophy. "I've got an idea where I want to go with it," he said. "That will become apparent further down the line. It depends on players that are available. We've got stuff we want to work on, and we'll get there. Some players need structure, intensity and clear messages, and if they don't work within what we want to do they won't last here."


"I want to play fast, attacking football," he continued. "I played here for 10 years, and I know the history, the Ricky Ottos and the Mark Gowers and that's where I want to get to, scoring goals and creating chances."


"I would love to flick a switch, but that's not going to happen. I want the ball passed fast and on the floor and I want to see that philosophy throughout the club and the Academy, but that takes time. We have to be in this division. First we have to steady the ship, stop the bleeding and build from there. We have to start winning matches."

The group were then asked about incoming transfers. "We can get any number of players in, but they have to be right. I would rather work with a smaller, tight-knit squad," Maher said.

"We've dropped into the National League, and we lose funding as a result of that. The income position is worse, and we lose another £1m of central funding next season. My job is to maximise efficiency and income streams. Player budget is reduced but competitive, around £1.3m, which is decent for the National League. We know it's likely Kevin will want to make improvements. We want to stabilise and regroup for next year," Lawrence added.

Darren Currie was questioned about the Sheffield United loanees, Zak Brunt and Kacper Zopata, and about the image of the football club across the country: "I worked with them last year. They're with us until January and they're really enjoying it," he said.

"I've spoken to many agents and various clubs, and they recognise there's a different attitude about the place. The structure and training is different and we could see from those six minutes at Dagenham that everyone was fragile. The boys needed confidence and a bit of loving. We've not seen it in results, unfortunately, but the mood about the place is much better. There's an advantage for us at the moment in that EFL clubs can only loan to us and not each other."

"Tomorrow we'll have 6 games covered and on Saturday 8-10 games, but it has to be the right people coming in," Maher added.
"There are some gems out there, even at Step 4, but it's got to be the right one and what they are showing at National League South or below might not be the same in the National League; this is the toughest league," contributed Mark Bentley.

The group continued to elaborate on the atmosphere on the training ground at Boots & Laces, and around the football club more widely. "The culture wasn't right when I came in," Lawrence stated.

"We've broken away from the negativity. I'm not overly interested in a post-mortem, and we need to look forward. The ship is turning. We've recognised recruitment hasn't been perfect, but that's not a criticism of Anton Robinson because there may have been players that he identified that weren't brought in."

"We could almost smell the fear on the training ground from the players and staff," former Blues captain Maher continued. "We want to give them the best opportunity to perform. There'll be demands, but they will have the space do their work, have no fear about making mistakes, learn from them and move on. People are disgruntled, but we all want the same thing. We have to move forward together."

"The club is in a worse position football-wise than when I left, but I wouldn't've come back if I didn't know what was going on behind the scenes. I think it was a great chance to take the job. It was important for me to have people I trust alongside me; Benno knows the club and was brilliant at Canvey, and Daz had managed at Barnet. Between us we know what we need to do to be successful at this level."

Lawrence was asked about the impact of Club Chairman Ron Martin's appearance in court recently. "I don’t want to comment on the case specifically for obvious reasons, but the case does not directly impact the club or the dealings of the football club. Ron is one person and he's not all the group companies. I'm running the football club day-to-day. The football club needs to be progressing and get back into the EFL and League One to stand a chance of filling a 21,000-seat stadium, and that's in our business plan. We have various projections for a 3-year plan based on where the club is."

Conversation turned to the Academy, and the prospects for the future as funding is reduced whilst the club is outside of the EFL. "Broadly the Academy costs £950k a year to run; we receive £470k central funds which goes down 50% next year. It does produce money. There's no intention to get rid of Academy, but we would need to skim it down. If we were to dismantle it completely, it would take time to rebuild," Lawrence said.

Maher had served the club for four years as a U23s Coach prior to joining Bristol Rovers: "It's produced a number of kids for the first team. I'm keen to see that avenue continue. I'm keen for them to be of the quality of Southend United Football Club and not be there to make up the numbers."

"All players have a price at a certain time. There have been good footballers here, but I've only been involved as a coach and not with those deals," he said when asked if Academy players had been allowed to leave too early.

"It's always a risk and you don't know what's going to happen in the next 18 months," Lawrence added. "There are compensation payments to be made. If someone approaches us, we'll make a decision on whether it's the right price. As I mentioned before, as central funding is reduced, the group companies will have to increase funding, we could get funding elsewhere or we will have to cut costs, but there's no intention for there to be a fire-sale of players within the Academy."

Club Director and Trust Member, Gary Lockett, was present, and he interjected: "Academy players all have agents and it's sometimes hard to keep them. Once their heads are turned it's hard and it's a difficult balance."

On those players still at the club, Maher continued: "Some of the players I coached are still in the U23s. It's difficult to get our eyes on all those out on loan, but we've all been out at games. Lewis [Gard] has had two very bad injuries and it's important for him to get a bank of games under his belt. He understands that position. We won't close the door on anyone."

"Elvis has lost out from not playing football. It's not doing him any good," he said on right-back Elvis Bwomono. "He's out of contract and no-one has taken a punt on him not knowing how much they'll have to pay in compensation. We're entitled to compensation for two years," Lawrence added.

One-time Blues midfielder Maher was also asked about the return of Stan Collymore to Roots Hall as Senior Football Strategist. "People who have done well for this football club should be welcomed back with open arms," he said. "Stan has been positive. He didn't need to get involved but he wants to help the club and that's to be welcomed."

Lawrence then explained how Collymore's role works: "He does a couple of days a week on football and then a couple on media and commercial. He's building bridges with clubs that he can do because of his profile. Then Kevin gets a basket of players that he can choose from to improve the football club. There's been no structure or process across the football club previously and he's also helping with a football strategy document."

"Stan will also be engaging with supporter groups. Before we did the deal, he requested the moratorium for 6 weeks and he achieved that to give the management team the time to bed in. It would be good if we could have unity."

"I understand where the protests come from because it's not been much fun to watch the club but coming into the pitch is unacceptable and putting your hands on club staff is unacceptable. I recognise the right to protest, but those actions are unacceptable."

"Ron will see this project through. We want to see positivity throughout the club. It's going to take time to stabilise. We need to get the right structures in place. We're trying to pull up before we hit the ground and take off again. Stan has got the X-factor; he energises the place and that's brilliant."

And, as the evening drew towards a close, Tom addressed cash-flow at the club and a recent response from Ron Martin on a Zoom call regarding the reputation of the club and payment of staff. "I think he was answering a question about historical cash flow issues, and Ron said if you pay enough money, players will come," he said.

"Regardless of those issues, not having a regular line of sight has been an issue. I'm now in the process of plotting out that cash-flow. I think that's been the problem when we've been going to the 'bank of Ron Martin' at the end of each month. I'm not foreseeing a problem paying players wages based on current projections."

"We've looked at how the whole business works. We had some people in the past on the verge of breaking down, but other departments where it wasn't anywhere near as stressful. We've had to address that and look at the non-football side of the business. Having three guys here when there were two previously is within our budget."

"One of the targets of the Commercial Department is to put on some sportsman's dinners. The guest we were offered at £2,500-£3,000 wasn't going to make money, so Commercial suggested the management team. Doing this we might break-even. £60 is the break-even point at 130 attending."

The evening then finished with Maher signing off: "We're working every minute of the day to turn this club around. Stay with us because we will turn this around."

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