One thing the English soccer pyramid has over any professional American sports league is an exponentially larger capacity for bumbling administrative errors. Dip far enough into the depths of the lower leagues, and you’ll find all sorts of outfits that are run with all the care and professionalism of a pawn shop. You can find one such example in Southend United.
Southend United currently plays in the the National League, which is the fifth tier of English soccer. As recently as 2006 the team was playing in the Championship, just one level below the Premier League, and their relegation to the National League before the 2021–22 season marked the first time in 101 years that they had been absent from the Football League, which constitutes the top four tiers in English soccer. So things are not currently going well for the lads at Southend.
Things got a little worse this week when keen-eyed observers discovered that the team had accidentally named one of its stands after an infamous serial killer. The club entered into a sponsorship deal with a local real estate agency called Gilbert & Rose, and as part of that deal agreed to rename the stand on the western side of its home stadium the Gilbert And Rose West Stand. That is an unfortunate way to order that specific set of words, because Rose West happens to be the name of a woman who is currently in prison for murdering at least 10 people with her husband over a 20-year period starting in the 1960s. She’s not the kind of lady whose name you want adorning your soccer stadium, to say the least.
Southend’s chairman, Ron Martin, went on the radio and responded to the mockery his club was receiving in the way all old British men respond to humiliation: by expressing his disappointment in short, mirthless sentences.
“It is unfortunate and really disappointing, but these things happen,” he told Talk Sport. “My apologies go to everybody and we will get it changed. I am embarrassed and think it’s really disappointing.”
If you’re thinking that maybe this is the kind of guy who has some experience presiding over PR disasters, you would be right. The laundry list of things that have gone wrong for Southend during Martin’s tenure as chairman is too long to share in full—did we mention the club’s plummet from the Championship all the way to the fifth tier?—so we’ll stick to the more recent problems. In December of 2019, the club’s financial debts prevented it from being able to pay wages to seven players on time. Martin dealt with this by rushing to the training ground to try and smooth things over with the players, and then eventually agreeing to pay them a combined £140,000 with money out of his own pocket.
Unsurprisingly, Southend fans have staged various protests trying to convince Martin to sell the team. One of those fans kept up that urging during during a Zoom call that Martin held with supporters in October of 2021. Martin dealt with this fan in the other way that all old British men tend to respond to humiliation: by suddenly flying off the handle and calling the guy an idiot.
To be honest, this all just makes me very envious of the Brits. We are a poorer country for not having the kind of sports culture and infrastructure that 1) allows for a guy like Ron Martin to accidentally name part of his stadium after a convicted murderer, and 2) puts Martin in the kind of situation where he can be berated by a plumber on Zoom. We have so much further to go.