Lauren Kreamer explains Rochdale's current legal battle with Matthew Southall and invites you to consider supporting them (see below).
As many Charlton fans will remember all too well, in May 2020, Matthew Southall threatened to sue the Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust for defamation:
At that time, we were all learning more by the day about the way Charlton had been run by East Street Investments, in its first iteration, and in particular about Southall’s time at the club. There were the Range Rovers and corresponding ‘chairman’ spot in the car park; the £12,500 per month flat on the Thames; the consultants and their fees; the interior design invoices. We all feared that Charlton would run out of money to pay its creditors, and would sink into insolvency. Mercifully, after a series of events indelibly seared into the memories of Charlton fans, the club was saved.
When Charlton Athletic was preyed upon we were vulnerable. After years of Roland Duchâtelet’s uninterested ownership we were desperate for a change, and Southall knew all the right things to say. Uncomfortable as it is to remember now, many of us lauded him as a hero and saviour. Many a selfie with him in the fans’ bar has doubtless quietly been deleted. The reasons he was able to gain access to our club are many and complex, but, at its heart, we just wanted so badly to believe that the bad times were over. We couldn’t possibly have known how much worse they would get.
Charlton was brought to the brink of disaster and we, as the Supporters’ Trust, have been determined that this should never again be allowed to happen to another club. We told the EFL repeatedly about what was happening at Charlton, to little avail. We told the Fan Led Review into football governance about our experiences, and warned them that change was imperative if we were to avoid history repeating itself. We did our very best to warn the footballing world as the names of those who had done so much damage at Charlton cropped up in connection with club after club: first Burnley, then Derby County, and now Rochdale.
Rochdale was founded a couple of years after Charlton and has, throughout its history, been a fan-owned club - never having had a majority owner. It currently has over 300 shareholders, most of whom are fans. The Dale Trust is one of the club’s largest shareholders.
In mid-2021, a company called Morton House began approaching certain Rochdale shareholders and attempting to buy their shares in the club, with a view to acquiring a majority stake in the club. The attempted takeover was, in effect, a hostile one. Morton House’s attempts to acquire a majority shareholding were contrary to the club’s proud history of being fan-owned, and were opposed by the Dale Trust and the club’s board of volunteer directors.
There was also the small matter of the EFL not having approved the individuals behind Morton House. The EFL charged Morton House with not having complied with the infamous Owners’ and Directors’ Test and Morton House stated its intention to divest the shares it had acquired in Rochdale as soon as possible.
And that’s where Southall comes in – openly, at least. Andrew Curran, a consultant for Morton House, released a statement in mid-August 2021, claiming that he had paid in excess of £1 million for the shares, due diligence and legal costs. On 17 September 2021 - a year to the day since Charlton’s own legal dispute had reached the Court of Appeal - Charlton fan and Sky Sports reporter Ben Ransom reported that Southall had agreed to buy a 25% stake in Rochdale from Morton House. It later became clear that Curran and Southall had been working together for some months.
Rochdale fans took matters into their own hands. They called an EGM, proposing to issue almost 400,000 new shares, with a view to ensuring that the club remained fan-owned. Having initially tried to schmooze the fans, Southall reverted to his old tricks, and wrote a letter threatening legal action if the board did not cancel the EGM immediately. He said that he would commence legal action in the High Court to obtain an injunction to prevent the EGM going ahead if cancellation didn’t immediately follow. As Charlton fans had done, Rochdale stood strong, and, true to form, Southall didn’t carry through on his threats of legal action. The EGM went ahead. It lasted eight minutes, and 98.6% of those present (all but one) voted in favour of the proposed share issue.
Sadly, the story doesn’t end there. In early 2022, Morton House commenced legal proceedings against the directors of Rochdale and the club’s supporters’ trust. Morton House alleges that the Dale Trust and the board of directors have caused unfair prejudice to Morton House as a shareholder in Rochdale. Southall has written again to the Dale Trust, so it’s fairly safe to assume he is involved in the proceedings in some way.
Unfair prejudice petitions are a way of members of a company obtaining relief through the courts. There are a wide range of possible outcomes, including the court ordering other members of the company to buy the unhappy member’s shares from them for at a court-mandated price, and even winding up the company if the dispute cannot be resolved in any other way. They are often complicated and long-running, with the costs of defending unfair prejudice petitions easily running into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The Dale Trust and the Rochdale board of directors have instructed lawyers, and are hoping to raise the sum of £130,000 to fund their legal battle. Once again, Southall and his friends have made the mistake of thinking fans will back down in the face of threats to the club they love. It is clear that Rochdale are going to fight with everything they have and more to protect their club. It is unspeakable that they should have to.
As Charlton fans, we know that this so easily could have been us. We stand with Rochdale, and all other clubs being preyed upon by those who have only their own interests at heart.
For any Charlton fans who wish to donate to the Rochdale crowdfunding effort, you can do so here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/keep-rochdale-afc-fan-owned/