An Australian IT entrepreneur, Justin Rees, known for his success in the corporate IT world, has made headlines by investing in the beleaguered English football club Southend United. Rees, a lifelong football enthusiast, embarked on this venture during a gap year in Europe and has joined a consortium of six individuals to take over the fifth-tier club.
Southend United, founded in 1906, once graced the second tier of English football but faced financial troubles, ultimately dropping out of the Football League in 2021. The club recently dodged a winding-up order through an 11th-hour agreement with local property developer Ron Martin, the previous owner for 25 years.
Justin Rees, who has a background as an IT project manager and co-founder of Eighty20 Solutions, explained his motivation for this unexpected move. “Why would anyone invest in and manage an underperforming football club?”, you may ask? To some, this may be strange, but those that know me would tell you it makes perfect sense: football, business and challenges make up some of my passions.”
The consortium, whose bid materialized over the past three months, includes five Southend United fans whom Rees met through the club. While Rees is considered a leader in the consortium, there is no majority shareholder in the planned ownership structure.
Though the consortium members are not divulging specific details about the deal or their plans for the club until November, Rees emphasized the importance of explaining his background to the fans. His career journey includes studying in Sydney, working in finance in London, and co-founding Eighty20 Solutions, which experienced remarkable growth in the IT industry.
Southend United currently faces a challenging period, sitting fourth from the bottom in the National League with a points deduction due to tax debts. Rees relishes the prospect of a turnaround, asserting, “If the club was completely stable, it wouldn’t be for me. Me, personally, am attracted by the challenge of turning things around.
As a devoted football fan drawn to the heritage and community significance of English football clubs, Rees sees this investment as an opportunity to rescue a 117-year-old club from extinction. “If, when I am 70 years old, I can look back and be proud that I helped prevent something, that will be very satisfying for me.
This move follows in the footsteps of Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds, who, alongside fellow actor Rob McElhenney, purchased Wrexham in 2021, bringing renewed interest to England’s fifth tier as Wrexham regained promotion to the Football League last season.