ECHOSPORT'S Chris Phillips sits down with Southend United chairman Ron Martin to talk about the Shrimpers' struggles.

<<READ MORE: Southend United under transfer embargo

What are your views on this season and why has it gone so badly?

“I don’t think it’s got a lot to do with this season. It goes back to the end of Phil Brown’s era, Chris Powell coming in and his recruitment and disposal policy.

"He got players out that were characters and strong people. People will view this as a criticism of Chris and it probably is a little bit. I know he’s a nice guy, smiley and a good coach but I think he wanted to manage people who were easier to manage.

"Anton Ferdinand was the captain and he wanted him to go. That cost the club a great deal of money and it was £120,000 to settle the remaining year on Anton’s contract.

"I think removing Anton helped Chris achieve what he wanted with the players he recruited in terms of more comfortable management.

"Chris said when he left they are a good group but I have been disappointed with some of the people he has recruited. I won’t name names but it will be obvious to a number of people who I’m alluding to.

"We got an immediate bounce in the January when Chris came in. Phil had to go because the dressing room was being lost under him.

"I think the regime had suffered in the latter part of his tenure. Chris revived that and did incredibly well for four months.

"We had horrendous injuries but I believe that’s because the fitness regime and the pre-season of that year wasn’t good enough. I might be wrong but I don’t think the players were fit or robust enough. There were a number of cruciate ligament tears but if you have really strong quadricep muscles then you might be able to roll that tackle that otherwise ruptured it.

"There were too many hamstring injuries and too many major injuries keeping people out and that obviously impacted on Chris’ ability to manage.

But equally the characters we had were not standing up to the test because some, certainly not all, were not like the people we had just got rid off.

"That brought Chris down enormously to the point where he had had enough himself because he couldn’t manage them.

"He couldn’t lift them and that’s when we parted company. I think it was the right thing to do to change the dynamic in the camp at that time.

"I called to Harry Redknapp at that time because I know him. I didn’t know he couldn’t cover the six games at the time but learnt he was conflicted due to his BetVictor position.

"He recommended Kevin Bond, who had worked with him for 480 games, that seemed like a good idea at the time. If I look back now I would say I made a mistake.

"It might sound a little conceited but I was very close to the players in those six games and I hope that I contributed a little bit to the success we had.”

The mistake must have been keeping Kevin Bond for longer?

“I agree with that. The mistake was continuing past the six games. I did think about it and I didn’t contact Kevin immediately after the Sunderland game. I didn’t tell him he had the job.

"It was a few days later and he was anxious to know whether or not he had got it. I was reflecting on what we should do but there was nobody on my radar that I wanted in preference to him.

"I thought we might have started some kind of continuity with him. I liked his attitude but he wasn’t strong enough as a manager and the rest is history. Perhaps he could have departed a game or two before he did and the period with Gary Waddock managing the ship was too long.”

Why did it take so long to appoint a new manager?

“I saw many people during that period but nobody really impressed me immediately.

"The only two were Henrik Larsson and Sol Campbell. I met Henrik before I met Sol and I was thinking he could bring something different to the party. I quite liked the team he was building around him so we focused on him and in the end wasted five weeks.

"Of course, I went back to Sol who was thinking he was second in line but I had stayed in touch with his agent throughout that whole period. He’s inherited a regime which is not his regime, but has made a difference.”

You mention recruitment and that has been a big problem in the last few years. Have we learnt lessons from that?

“The manager makes the final decision and I’ve supported every manager.

"On occasions I may question things but it’s up to him to say yes. We had the fifth highest budget last year and probably fourth above Portsmouth after January. This season we’re eighth.

"There is no direct correlation in the lower Leagues between the amount of money you pay and the success you get. But you would expect it to pay dividends and be better than we’ve doing.

"I either back the manager or I don’t have him. People say I must make the final decision but I can’t. The manager has to work with these people.”

We do seem to sign players who have a bad injury record. We can’t be too surprised when they then get injured again?

“We’ve looked at that too. We give them thorough medicals and Ben Clarkson, our head physio, is a very caring and diligent individual. Clearly mistakes have been made and it’s cost the club dearly.”

Before January it was said that signings were going to be made but nobody actually arrived. Why was that?

“I fully intended to support Sol in January and I told him I would do that in his interview but with an expectation of staying in League One.

"We did look at several players on Sol’s radar, two of which were the Macclesfield boys and one was a striker from Carlisle who went to Swindon.

"I guess we were disappointed not to get him but then we had the four games against the teams around us – Bolton, MK Dons, AFC Wimbledon and Tranmere and we didn’t come through them as successfully as I might have anticipated.

"I started to think if we can’t beat those what are our prospects of staying up. It was a balanced decision as to whether I spent more money and I didn’t want to spend money on loanees who wouldn’t be here long term. January is a terrible window to get people on a permanent basis.

"There’s no reason for them to leave their club unless there’s something wrong, like there was at Macclesfield. We could have done it at that time.

"We paid off HMRC in the middle of January but then they got us embargoed again. It didn’t impact what we were trying to do with Macclesfield and they were as it proves available to us.

"They were the two main targets but I didn’t want to make knee-jerk decisions bearing in mind the recruitment policy has been messed up badly on a number of players in almost two successive seasons.

"To make a quick decision with no due diligence was going against my instincts.

"There were senior players who Sol was not going to be re-signing. Rob Kiernan’s agent called me between Christmas and New Year to say he wanted a lifestyle change to a sunny climate. He asked if I would pay up his salary. My response was yes, but not what he was due.

"That saved the club some money. But when an agent says that and a footballer thinks that they don’t want to be here then we are, mostly, better off without them.

"I only want committed players. Simon Cox had the opportunity to go to Australia in the summer and he wanted to go but we extended his contract. Sol didn’t play him and he was side-lined too.

"But Kiernan was never the player we thought we had signed. He was our most expensive player and he was trumpeted by Phil Brown as a great signing. But he spent 19 months on the sidelines and the poor boy never got back to what he was at Rangers.

"Tom Hopper was different. He had a clause in his contract where if we got relegated to League Two he could walk and leave the club for nothing. Lincoln coming in with £150,000, albeit not all up front, it was good business.

"I looked at the statistics and we need promotion form to stay up. Some may argue if I had poured more money into it and got more players we would have enhanced our opportunity. That might be true but it’s a business, not a bottomless pit. I have put a huge amount of money into the football club year upon year.

"The player budget is more than £3million.”

What’s happening with the two players from Macclesfield and Ted Smith?

“Ted Smith’s contract is now drafted and we’ve just signed off for an emergency loan goalkeeper too. He’s Icelandic. He’s a youngster and Hermann has done his due diligence on him and he will be training with us tomorrow.”

How is your relationship with Sol Campbell?

“It’s fine. I’m not just managing on the pitch, I’m managing off the pitch as well. I have to look to the future so I can’t make ad-hoc, irrational decisions to bring players in when we may be changing it all in the summer. That would be foolhardy.

"I’ve got to put an investment in to clear the opportunity to sign these players and that’s £600,000 minimum next week. I’d rather put that cash in than sell other players. I could’ve sold Elvis, Stephen Humphrys and Charlie but I chose not to. The young players have stepped up to the plate and shown they’re totally committed.

I’ve been pretty impressed by some of our academy players. Before they were given the opportunity people had hardly heard of them. Tom Clifford, in particular, has slotted in at left-back very, very well. Elvis has done very well and Charlie is coming on, just like many of the others.”

The academy must remain a priority then?

“I could make ends meet at this football club more readily if I disbanded the academy. There’s a massive investment in Ricky Duncan. We go from under nine to 19 and have an under 23 squad. I could take £1.5 million off the budget but I don’t because I’m here to support and that’s what we do.

"It’s a constant battle and I can’t win any argument really. If I spend more money and put the club into financial difficulties then people will blame me but if I don’t sign players they blame me for that too. It’s an impossible task. I do support the club enormously and many, many millions have gone in over an extended period and I will continue to support the club.

"But if I did walk out tomorrow then this club would be bust.

"No-one would thank me for that but no-one will thank me for signing players we might want to get rid of in three months because I’ve overstretched the budget should we be relegated.

"The fact is there isn’t a budget really. We’ve had the flexibility to sign players when we’ve needed to and when we’ve had to because of the injuries. I want Sol to succeed and he’s already brought more structure on the pitch that we didn’t have under Gary and Kevin.

"We were leaking goals galore but we aren’t doing that now and we have the kids playing. Some people are playing out of position too but they’re doing well. But I have to temper that with balanced financial decisions and it’s not easy.

"Everyone thinks they could do a better job than Ron but actually I have had 22 years of experience with this and I do know all the opportunities.

"It’s not just about what you do on a Saturday.”

This season has been worrying and depressing. We saw players leave in January and no-one come in so is there still a bright future or should we be concerned?

“Of course there’s a bright future. I do hear people say oh we’ve sold players but we haven’t. We sold Tom Hopper and we let Nathan go to Manchester United because I couldn’t stand in his way. That would be unfair. We didn’t get a lot of money for him but he’s got a fantastic opportunity and Sol wasn’t playing him anyway.

"When I told Sol he said oh good for the boy. It wasn’t as though he wanted to necessarily keep him to play now, he recognised Nathan needs experience.

"He was a defender five years ago before becoming a goalkeeper.

"The two loanees, the Leicester guy was pretty hopeless. Sorry, he was hopeless and the Man United boy wasn’t that great either, just OK not the person we wanted. We wanted someone with a lot more strength and drive then and also now. We haven’t got that and our midfield has let us down.”

Are the finances still there for there to be a bright future?

“Yes. People are sick of me talking about the stadium and sometimes I’m probably sick of talking about it too. I don’t criticise the council because they don’t deserve to be criticised.

"They know and I know where we want to go together. We are making progress but it’s not as quick as I would like it to be. I do understand the process they have to go through. They’re not an entrepreneur like I am. I can do largely what I wish but they have to go through committees and it takes time.”

Do you still have the hunger for it after 22 years. Do you ever think of leaving the club?

“I can hear your readers say that’s 22 years too long and for some of them it probably is. I go to pretty much every away match and my son Jack comes to many, many matches with me too.

"I’m as passionate as ever about the club and I don’t want it to fail. That’s my biggest drive and I want it to fulfil its potential. I get a tremendous kick out of football on a Saturday but I have to work hard every day of the week to make sure we reach the end goal. We cannot stay at Roots Hall.

"It’s not just the lack of facilities, it’s actually a decaying infrastructure. The stands are decaying and won’t last forever. We’ve spent a huge amount just keeping it open. It was £300,000 the year before last just to get the safety certificate.

"Year on year it’s six figure sums. The council are ultimately responsible for issuing the safety certificate and if anything goes wrong with the stadium and that’s always a possibility, then the council and me are potentially liable.

"They issue the certificate so they have to be very cautious and diligent and I am too because I’m the person everyone would look to if it went wrong. I’m the person who has inherited the responsibility to make sure the stadium is safe.

We have to make sure it’s safe but it’s like pushing water uphill.”

Lots of people mention the lack of a chief executive. Do you feel the club needs one and is that something you may look to change?

“I think that’s right. When Steve Kavanagh went to Millwall it was a good move for him. I interviewed many people but I didn’t think they fitted the bill. I have identified someone who does fit the bill but I don’t want him to come into an environment where this is failing. It’s easier for me to fix it the best I can until he joins us.”

So what’s the timescale?

“We’ve been talking for 18 months and we’re always in touch. Part of that is because it is a project and not just the football club playing at Roots Hall. It’s about the move because that will give us the opportunity to succeed further. It’s really important we move but until I’ve got visibility around that move I’ve got reservations about committing to him.

"I suspect he’s got reservations coming here when we’re looking like we’re going into League Two. We’ve discussed that and at the moment we both accept he would join us in League Two. But he’s the calibre of individual who could be managing a much bigger club than a club in League Two.”

Where are we at with the new stadium now?

“You’ll know that the Roots Hall plan application was validated in December and it’s the council’s intention to bring that application and Fossetts to the same committee.

"That’s really important because we have to build the first phase of the stadium before we can move from here. In tandem with building the first phase of the stadium we’ve got the first phase of the residential development that we want to build on the car park.

"They come up in parallel then we move. You will read that the council approved at cabinet last September then at full council in October what we’d like to do at Roots Hall.

"The retail market has sunk to its lowest level probably ever and therefore part of our plans are to increase the level of residential at Fossets as part of the enabling development. We’ve listened very carefully to what the council have had to say and we’re making modifications to the plans which are ready for submission.

"They will be considered in tandem with the Roots Hall application and we’re ultimately all on the same page.”

The fans have continued to be great this season. What’s your final message to them?

“The club are hugely grateful for their continued support. I know it’s impossible to make everyone happy some of the time let alone all of the time. I also recognise that people want to look at somebody to blame. But running a football club when you have so many variables like injuries and poor recruitment. That’s the managers, that’s not my fault.

"But I’m always at the bottom of the pile to pick up the pieces when things go wrong and I’m always the person people look at to blame. I get that but actually I’m here to support it not be the fall guy.”

What gets me sometimes is that the supporters and me want the same thing, winning and success.

"I get as miserable as they do when we lose, the only difference is that I can’t go and tap my keyboard and be p****d off with someone about it."