Stewarts Law's PR strategy

Stewarts Law has adjourned its attempt to wind up Southend United after incensing fans of the football club.

The firm represented the SUFC when HMRC attempted to wind up the club, in 2022 and 2023. At that time, Stewarts described the club in court as a community asset which should be saved, RollOnFriday understands. 

However, much like a player putting in a transfer-request for a rival club, the firm appears to have switched its loyalties, as last week it issued a winding up petition of its own against the club, over unpaid bills. 

The firm's petition has enraged Southend football fans (including local businesses), who have launched a campaign against the firm, in a bid to save their beloved club. One source said that "one minute" the firm was "trying to save a Football Club, the next attempting to destroy it and the community that supports it!”

Other fans described the firm's petition as "bizarre", as the club is on the brink of being bought by a consortium, led by an Australian businessman Justin Rees, which signed a sales contract for the club just in December. 

In a statement, the consortium acknowledged the sale process was taking longer than expected (partly due to Southend Council's due diligence process). But it voiced its frustration that Stewarts Law made the petition, stating that the firm “is unwilling to wait until the sale closes to receive repayment and is now petitioning for the club to be wound up," despite the "patience" of "numerous" other creditors. 

The consortium has already invested around £3million into saving the club, as it has paid wages and operating expenses for the club. But it said it will not pay historic creditors until the deal is officially complete.

Meanwhile, the club's current chairman, Ron Martin, reportedly said that Stewarts had "jumped the gun" in making the petition. 

Some infuriated fans have taken to emailing the firm directly, sources said. One email seen by RollOnFriday, which was apparently sent to the firm's insolvency team, stated that Stewarts should "consider the reputational damage that could be done" to the firm, as the football club "is a cornerstone of the local community providing employment and enjoyment to many." 

"Do you really want the closure of a club that has existed since 1906 to be laid at your door because you couldn't wait a further couple of weeks for payment?" wrote the fan to the firm. "Not to mention the hardship you will cause to employees of the club and their families and the club's suppliers."

The email also queried why the firm could not wait for the sale of the club, before claiming its legal fees, given that they had calculated the firm's profits at over £47M in the last financial year.

Other irate fans took to X (formerly Twitter) to vent their anger. Here are some responses to a tweet by the firm about a "level playing field" in football, which appear to have been hidden by the firm's social media team:


Other fuming fans have planned to hold protests outside the firm's offices, while some local businesses have planned a meeting to discuss boycotting of Stewarts' services.

Although it is not clear if these protests will go ahead, as the firm has now agreed to push back the petition hearing by a month - it was originally scheduled for 17th April. The firm suggested this was because it has now been advised that the sale will be complete by mid-May (rather than anything to do with the terrible publicity). 

The firm said in a statement: “Stewarts began acting for Southend United Football Club in respect of a petition presented by HMRC in September 2022, and a further petition presented by HMRC in March 2023. We have not been paid for work carried out for the club. A petition was presented for those unpaid fees in February 2024. We have received formal notices of intention to support the petition from two other creditors."

“Following discussions with Ron Martin [the current chairman of the football club] we have today agreed to an adjournment of the hearing on 17 April for 4 weeks, until 15 May 2024 (subject to the court’s approval) by which time we are advised the sale will have completed.”

Last year, an ex-trainee lawyer was blamed for the collapse of Worcester Warriors.

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Anonymouser 12 April 24 09:10

Always get money on account to rep a client in an insolvency. Come on Stewarts Law, this is basic stuff!

Anon 12 April 24 09:18

Stewarts Law is an overblown high street firm. The bulk of its senior partnership trained and practised at high street outfits and the majority of its work is family and PI.

Anonymous 12 April 24 09:33

Classic client - they don't pay you what they agreed to pay, they repeatedly fail to respond to chasers, then you're the bad guy for refusing to wait on the never never. Then somehow it's all your fault for not being willing to wait forever with no certainty, and for not being happy living off the money you got from all the clients who did actually honour their promises and pay on time. Wind 'em up!

Anonymous 12 April 24 10:14

@09:18 - I mean, that's all irrefutably true, but they should still be paid on time.

Riddlesbrough 12 April 24 10:23

A law firm is not a charity. Pay your bill. Also, if a firm isn't capable of collecting it's own fees, how can a client expect it to be good enough to collect theirs?

Dearie 12 April 24 10:35

Maybe those irate fans who love the club so much can chip in for the bill? No, oh I thought not.

FS Lawyer 12 April 24 10:51

I'm an in house FS lawyer and have been defendant to claims brought by Stewarts.  They are a great firm of extremely robust litigators.  The winder is the kind of aggressive action I would expect from them.  I respect them for going there as a tactic but commercially it's the wrong move.  You rarely get anything out of a liquidation.  5/10.  

Anonymous 12 April 24 11:32

Me thinks some of these posts are awfully defensive of the law firm... hello Stewarts marketing team!

If you're going to act for a client which has significant public interest, and you're going to shout about how great you are in doing it, don't be surprised when people get pissed on you changing sides!

Anonymous 12 April 24 12:03

Dearle,  fans of the club have already raised over £20k out of their own pockets to help the club

Anonymous 12 April 24 12:05

Pretty stupid move by SL.

They know themselves what Mr Martin is like when it comes to paying bills. All they had to do was wait a few weeks until the purchase was completed and they’d have been paid. Presumably they thought they might bounce the Consortium into dipping its hand into its pocket in advance of the takeover.

So what have they achieved? They’ve now agreed to wait for the money anyway at the same time as pissing off thousands of SUFC supporters who’ll no doubt make sure story is shared with millions of other football fans.

Shrewd marketing move. 

Anonymous 12 April 24 12:27

"They know themselves what Mr Martin is like when it comes to paying bills." - Incredibly tardy, and unable to actually do so out of his own pockets without first obtaining the assistance of a solvent third party? Wait, what point are you making again?

£47m? 12 April 24 16:08

A National League side with £47m profits sounds amazing. Not sure where figure is from, though, as last published accounts show operating loss of £922k…

TheEssexFan 12 April 24 16:23

Cutting off one's nose to spite one's face here. I'd have waited for the pay day when Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson takes a leaf out of other Hollywood celebrities books and uses Saaaaaaaffend to launch his new career as Non-League Club owner.

Anonymous 12 April 24 19:54

@1608 if you think SUFC made a profit of £47M maybe you should join Stewarts you would fit right in!

Mr Wise 13 April 24 18:23

@£47m? 12 April 24 16:08


The £47M referred to is Stewarts Law's profit figure ("The email also queried why the firm could not wait for the sale of the club, before claiming its legal fees, given that they had calculated the firm's profits at over £47M in the last financial year.")

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