Matt Southall

Matt Southall (birth name Matthew Francis Williams)

Background

Born in Southwark 16 December 1984 and registered as Matthew Francis Williams (his mother, Clare’s surname), his father was of Nigerian descent. Matt later took the surname of his stepfather, Simon Southall, who his mother married in Blackburn in October 1994. According to his introduction on the Charlton Official SiteHis early ambitions were as a professional footballer but having left the Blackburn Rovers School of Excellence at 16, he opted for a career in the sports industry and attended the University of Manchester where he was awarded a Masters in Business Administration.” 

No independent evidence of his Blackburn Rovers connection has been found, although it is on record that he played ice hockey with the Blackburn Hawks, because it was mentioned in reports of his 2004 trial for theft from his employer.

From 2004 to 2006 he was a student of 3D Interior and Architectural Design in Leeds. He was awarded a Master of Business Administration by Manchester University on 17 December 2017. (page 27, left column)

Southall has been involved as director or secretary at 19 UK companies, most of them short-lived and ending in dissolution. For example, Southall‘s fund management company Sports Media Consultancy Limited (formerly Sports Investment Group Ltd, and incorporated in 2018 as HFCUK Ltd) filed accounts for a dormant company up to 31 Oct 2019, and applied for a 5 month extension for filing the next set of annual accounts. It is interesting that Sports Media Consultancy Limited is now subject to a voluntary strike-off application before it is required to file accounts for the 17 month period including the entire time in which Matt Southall was involved at Charlton. In his Oct 2019 communications with Duchâtelet’s lawyer, Lieven de Turck, concerning the purchase of the club, Southall signs off “Matthew Southall, Sports Investment Group” (BLP Letter 13 March 2020.pdf Annex C)

Of relevance to future events at Charlton was Independent Sports Capital Limited, incorporated in June 2013. The following year it was reported: “A North West business set up to unearth the next generation of footballing talent has launched a bid to secure £250,000 to help get the fledgling company off the ground. Independent Sports Capital has been founded by football agent Matthew Southall {…} The company hopes to secure the cash through crowdfunding website Crowdcube in return for a 25 per cent equity stake. Chris Farnell from IPS Law is also named as the company’s sports lawyer.

The company was dissolved 17 May 2016, leaving Farnell owed over £10k, which he was eventually awarded in court, plus costs, in February 2019. Unfortunately for Farnell, who was later to become involved at Charlton, Southall claimed [scroll down] he was unable to pay as he did not work and had no means of income.

Optimus Build Ltd v. Southall and Another

While he was at Charlton Athletic, Southall and his partner were very open on Twitter about building works being done to their home in Greater Manchester.  The house even had its own social media account, called Merlewood, used among other things for sharing news about the décor.  When things started to fall apart at the club, this was one of many aspects of Southall’s life which fans investigated. 

Fans found the original application in Nov 2017 to the local planning department, for “Demolition of existing garage, two storey front extension including porch, alterations to the front elevation including hipped to gable end, erection of gate and brick wall to the front boundary of the property.”  That was approved on 21 February 2018. 

A twitter rumour that Southall had transferred the property to his girlfriend Jade McManus in October 2019 was shared round social media, and has recently been confirmed by a trusted source.  Was this in anticipation of trouble ahead, due to a dispute with his builder?  The dispute came to court in December 2020, and Optimus Build Ltd v. Southall and Another was widely reported in considerable depth because an aspect of the judgment, concerning VAT on damages, made case law. 

Southall was ordered to pay c. £23.6k (including VAT) for work already completed before the dispute and c. £19.4k damages, plus VAT if the complainant had to account for the same.  It is likely that legal costs would have doubled this sum, leaving Southall with a total bill of c. £100k.  According to a September 2021 communication from a representative of Optimus Build, with interest due to late payment, Southall still owes c.£55k.  Optimus have an interim charge on the house, pending a final charge, and are moving in the direction of a bankruptcy petition. (private communication)

Yet Southall is the man who, also in September 2021, says he has agreed a deal to buy 25% of Rochdale AFC’s shares.

Club Take-overs

According to a CAFC museum trustee, Southall told him during a conversation they had at Derby on 30 Dec 2019 that he first met Richard Murray in 2010 when involved in a bid to buy Charlton Athletic. Corroboration of this has been found, in the person of local property businessman Lee Amis, who has claimed he introduced Southall to Murray at that time. It is not publicly documented which prospective buyer he was associated with, although it was probably the Sainsbury/Garland bid, since Garland was then living at Knutsford, near Manchester. Paul Anthony Garland, who had already been imprisoned for fraud, went on with Sebastien Sainsbury, to try to buy Watford FC. 

Southall is known to have been involved in an attempted take-over of Bolton Wanderers in 2016, when he was a director of the bid vehicle RT Sports Holdings and fronted a bid by Egyptian billionaire Roger Tamraz. From 1989, Tamraz was for a long time on Interpol’s wanted list followed an alleged $200m fraud at the Lebanese Al Mashreq bank. In the light of later events at Charlton, Southall’s response in an interview posted on the Bolton Nuts Forum, when talking about his chosen career in selling sports fashion on-line is interesting, and the part about making easy money appears prophetic: “I had seen a lot being involved in football. There is a lot of corruption and deceit involved and as the years went on there were more and more agents appearing thinking they could make quick, easy money. I had always been interested in commerce and I believed selling online was the way shopping would go.”

In 2017 Southall’s name was linked with a take-over at Bolton, and in June 2018, Southall was fronting a bid by a consortium of British businessmen including Paul Senior, former director of football and operations at Blackburn Rovers. In April 2019 he was photographed in the company of Laurence Bassini at the Bolton – Villa match. At the time, Bassini was trying to take over Bolton. A few months later, in August 2019, Southall was corresponding with Bassini (BLP Letter 13 March 2020.pdf) about the potential purchase of Charlton Athletic.

In an interview published on 20 January 2020 , Southall took full credit for his part in facilitating the plan to buy Charlton Athletic:

A former Dubai resident, Southall has been working with ADBD since last year and said he had long considered Charlton for acquisition, particularly given its base in London. He began conversations about a takeover with then-owner Roland Duchatelet in mid-August, with the bid moving forward at pace.The price Roman [sic; refers to Roland Duchâtelet] wanted was excessive for other people, but the fact of the potential of the projects and the value if you do get to the Premier League – look at Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, they’d sell at about £220 million [Dh1 billion] – so that’s the numbers you’re talking there. “So £50m investment and obviously money on top for players, ultimately if you do get there, you get a good return on your investment. It didn’t really take much convincing. The location, the ties with the local community, the manager [Lee Bowyer], the academy: Tahnoon just said, ‘Go and work the deal.’”

Charlton Athletic

On 29 November 2019 when East Street Investments announced their purchase of Charlton Athletic , Southall was introduced as follows:

MATT SOUTHALL (Chairman)

For the past five years, Matt has been working between the UK and Middle East advising on international mergers and acquisitions and building strong relationships with key businesses in the Gulf.

Previously, he set up and ran a successful e-commerce business and was also involved in sports management, working alongside high profile sports agencies and their clients. 

His early ambitions were as a professional footballer but having left the Blackburn Rovers School of Excellence at 16, he opted for a career in the sports industry and attended the University of Manchester where he was awarded a Masters in Business Administration.

Records at Companies House finally showed Southall being appointed as a director of East Street Investments, the take-over vehicle for Charlton Athletic, on 2 January and a director of Charlton Athletic Football Company Ltd on 23 January 2020. 

On 7 January the club published a 20 minute video interview with Southall. At the time fans excused his hesitancy as “new-boy-nerves”, but it was not long before it was realised his answers were not all entirely truthful – eg on the purchase: “It’s a 2 stage transaction. We’ve purchased the club and the stadium and we have a commitment to purchase the rest of the assets over a period of time”. 

Southall rowed back from this statement a week later in an interview with Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust (CAST), published 15 January 2020, saying that that ESI now owned Charlton Athletic Football Club and had a “legal obligation” within the next six months to complete the purchase of Charlton Athletic Holdings Limited, where the freehold of both the training ground and The Valley sit as assets. So the stadium had NOT been bought from former club owner Roland Duchâtelet. Owing to the history of The Valley, once this untruth was uncovered, it was very significant for many fans. It later emerged that the time scale for buying the property assets was 5 years, not 6 months.

On 24 January, Southall held a “meet and greet” with representatives of various fan groups, at which the revised story was maintained, and the Duchatelet plans for the training ground were circulated, with assurances that work would start in the summer. 

Unknown to the fans, the club was working through the January transfer window under an EFL embargo, as the new owners had not satisfied their test for Source and Sufficiency of Funds. Indeed, Southall went out of his way to raise fan expectations as the window drew to its close, with a flurry of tweets about everything from the “super duper” phone for important calls to the snacks needed to get them through the day . The following day he played down the lack of permanent signings with this video interview

As mentioned in the video, Nimer had arrived for his first visit to The Valley, and in time for the home match on 1 February 2020. Pictures taken of Southall and Nimer in the Directors’ Box at the match captured body language which suggested all was not well between the two men. At the meal Nimer hosted for the team and staff the following evening at Gauchos near the O2, Southall was conspicuous by his absence

CAFC Owners Fall Out

Nimer returned to the UAE, and little happened in public until the 9 March 2020 when, in a shower of Instagram messages Nimer dropped the bombshell that he had discovered Southall had been using the club’s money to fund his extravagant lifestyle. Southall responded, laying the blame for the situation with Nimer. It soon emerged that both the training ground and The Valley were still owned by Duchâtelet, the EFL had not approved the takeover, and a transfer embargo was in place as the new owners had not provided evidence of funding through to June 2021

On 11 March 2020, the EFL published a statement  and Nimer posted on Instagram the details of the Thames-side flat at 27 Sugar Quay the club was renting on behalf of Southall – an agreement for 2 years at over £12.5k per month. Southall had also ordered a fleet of 7 luxury cars (mainly top spec Range Rovers) for the use of him, his partner Jade, the finance director McHugh, and various advisers. See also VOTV online and the retrospective story on the Official Site.

This was the same day that Nimer’s newly appointed lawyer, Chris Farnell, appeared on TalkSport to give Nimer’s side of the disagreement. The same Farnell whose legal fees Southall had failed to pay some years earlier. Southall, meanwhile, was again interviewed by CAST. Having considered his explanations, CAST called on Southall to resign to which Southall responded with a vote of confidence in himself This was followed by both sides releasing on social media what they claimed to be screenshots of private emails and other communications relating to financial matters.

The Boardroom Stand-Off, and immediate aftermath

Early on the evening of 12 March 2020, Farnell arrived at The Valley with papers suspending Southall, fellow director Heller, and finance director McHugh. He refused to leave the carpark, but handed the papers to a staff member to be taken to the three men inside the building and served on them. Full details of events, including Southall calling the police and “sacking” some members of staff are recorded here. Eventually the three left the building

On 20 March 2020 Nimer confirmed the removal of Southall and Heller from the club’s board and the appointments of controversial Romanian businessman Claudio Florica and Romanian lawyer Marian Mihail. Nimer also sent auditors into the club, and on 23 March 2020 he was back on Instagram, posting various lists of sums of money between £5k and nearly £500k which he claimed was CAFC money Southall had committed, which was unrelated to team or football expenditure, totalling well over £2M. A fan summarised the Instagram postings relating to personal payments, and the section relating to Southall’s personal expenditure was as follows:

07/01/2020Consultancy fee£20,000.00
17/01/2020Consultancy fee£50,000.00
07/02/2020Consultancy fee£20,000.00
14/01/2020Car payment (Range Rover SVR, cost £97,277)£2,409.00 (with no balloon payment)
14/02/2020 Car payment £2,409.00
21/01/2020Rent£12,567.00
Car insurance£167.00
Car service£2,195.00
Various Travel/hotel costs£3,092.00
Credit card expenses (paid)£962.00
Other/Misc expenses£4,875.00
TOTAL£118,675.00

There were also allegations from Southall, including a claim published in a long detailed piece in Gazeta Sporturilor in Romania, that the plan was to demolish the Valley to build housing, and move us to share with Palace while they built a new stadium on the Peninsula, and counter allegations of Nimer’s expenses claims. Nimer returned to Instagram with a claim that Southall tried to move a £1.25M debt he owed personally to Bassini onto the club [IMAGE 012]

On 20 April 2020 the EFL announced that the club had been placed under investigation for misconduct regarding the takeover. Not content with exchanges on social media, Nimer and Southall were both on TalkSport on 21 April The audio is in two bits – starts at 19:20 with Nimer in this one and then continues here with Southall. The main focus was finances. 

On 23 April, presenter Jim White on TalkSport said: “Matt Southall’s company East Street Investments has terminated the appointment of IPS Law, the company used by Tahnoon Nimer … to prevent Charlton from, would you believe it, becoming another Bury..” The following day, Farnell got right of reply, to say he was still instructed by the club and Nimer, and had been asked by the directors to remind everybody Southall has no authority to speak on behalf of the club in any matter, as he’s been removed as chairman at the club Audio starts at about starts about 19:25

From April onwards, new Romanian director Marian Mihail took on the role of communicating between club and fans, regularly answering questions from the Supporters’ Trust (CAST).  These exchanges were posted on both the CAST website and the club Official Site , but were not universally welcomed; in May Southall threatened to sue CAST over three of the posts, but their responses appeared to settle the matter.

The “Elliott” consortium (ESI-2) takes control

On 10 June 2020 it was announced that ESI had been taken over by a consortium led by businessman Paul Elliott .

However, a legal dispute involving Southall’s claim for unpaid fees continued.  To which the club (in the person of Farnell) responded. This prompted a further response from Southall’s lawyer Paul Daniels of Keystone Law, saying: “We believe that Mr Southall has been treated blatantly unlawfully and wrongfully dismissed in breach of contract.  Substantial claims are now in process against the club, which will be vigorously pursued, if they are not resolved amicably.” It is unclear whether this dispute has been settled.

A month later, on 11 July 2020, Southall had told Sky Sports News he and Heller were working together in the legal action to remove Farnell, as well as the other board members appointed in March.  All four had been served a notice under the terms of the original takeover by ESI, which went through back in January, and all four had been officially removed from the board at Companies House, where all UK businesses have to be registered.  Southall told Sky Sports News he was only taking control of Charlton alongside Heller for a transitional period, and they planned to open talks with potential buyers of the club the following week. 

This was soon followed by the termination of the appointments of ESI directors Farnell, Nimer, Florica, M. Mihail and A. Mihail.   The address for ESI was also changed at Companies House, to 62-66 Deansgate, Manchester, an address where 309 companies were registered, including one for Southall’s girlfriend Jade. 

High Court Hearing, ESI v Southall

ESI swiftly obtained a court order to get the changes reversed. This was followed on 17 Jul 2020 by a High Court case ESI v Southall, heard in Manchester before His Honour Judge Pearce. Since the case was heard remotely, it attracted a large “public gallery“ on Teams, who relayed much of the action on social media. Judgment was given in favour of ESI, and former Charlton Athletic chief executive Matt Southall was told to pay £21,000 costs after he admitted unlawfully changing the status of directors at the club’s parent company, East Street Investments. 

However, as a side issue, the case did crucially confirm that ownership of ESI (and hence also ownership of its subsidiary Charlton Athletic FC) had not by that date passed to the Paul Elliott consortium. Southall said: “I fully accept that my actions were ill-advised and the court has applied the appropriate sanction. However, in terms of the future of the club it is important to note that the judge acknowledged that negotiations for the sale of the club were ongoing. This finding contradicts the statements previously made about the sale of all of the shares in East Street Investments Limited. I am pleased that this clarification has been made.” Ultimately, this allowed Thomas Sandgaard to buy CAFC from Nimer, as majority owner of the holding company ESI.

A reason for the delay in the sale was undoubtedly the hold up in getting decisions from the EFL. On 7 August 2020 the EFL said three individuals (which it was subsequently revealed included ESI would-be owner Elliott and lawyer Farnell) had failed its Owners’ and Directors’ Test, leaving the club’s ownership unclear, but presumably still in the hands of Nimer and Southall. 

The following week, having previously sent letters demanding Dave Jones and Chris Farnell return the CAFC Range Rovers said to be in their possession to The Valley, Southall exercised his position as director of ESI to sign papers in an attempt to recover the two cars. Both men refused to hand the vehicles over to the recovery agents. 

The next month, on 21 September 2020 Southall lodged a claim against Charlton Athletic FC in the County Court for an unpaid invoice of £1289.86 The outcome is unknown.

Southall & Rochdale

The first indication we noted, that Southall was sniffing round Rochdale AFC, came on 3 June 2021 in a tweet from a Rochdale fan: “The club really should be immediately confirming and clarifying that there’s no truth to them being ‘welcoming’ to either Matt Southall and Glenn Thomas as mentioned in this podcast if they have a single shred of respect left for the supporters.”  It linked to an article in the podcast ”The Price of Football”. Contact was soon established between the Charlton and Rochdale supporters’ trusts, and shortly after the full Southall Dossier (of which this is only a summary) was in Rochdale Supporters’ Trust hands.

Nothing more was noted in Southall’s Dossier until 17 September 2021, when Sky reporter Ben Ransom tweeted: “Former Charlton Chairman Matt Southall has agreed a deal to buy 25% of Rochdale. The Morton House Group are selling the shares after failing in their attempt to take control of the club. The hostile takeover attempt of the League Two club was blocked last month” 

Eye witness reports from fans of Rochdale Association Football Club (RAFC) now appear to confirm suspicions that Southall was involved with Andy Curran and the Morton House Mgt and First Form Construction Ltd hostile take-over attempt from April 2021, if not earlier. 

The suggestion to the Manchester Evening News, published 5 months later, that Southall had only recently been invited by an intermediary (Alexander Jarvis, see Minor Characters section of this website)) to buy RAFC shares from Morton House Mgt Group, due to the deal “going wrong”, now appears at best disingenuous.  The same claim was repeated by Southall to members of the Dale Trust in a Zoom call a few days later.

On 13 April the RAFC home match against Swindon FC was held behind closed doors, due to Covid restrictions.  A group of protesting fans noted the presence in the main car park of Andy Curran’s Rolls Royce Cullinan, with its personalised numberplate. The following day the club put out a statement explaining the presence of so many cars at a “closed doors” match, stating in passing, “As reported on Monday, the Board of Directors are working to secure outside investment for Rochdale AFC and as a result have met with several serious investors over the past few months.”  In the light of later developments, many Dale fans believe the match was being used as cover for a business meeting with Curran.

Southall, together with Andy Curran of Morton House and Jarvis were seen together on 29th April outside the Wilbutts Lane Chippy, Rochdale, and were also picked up, clearly visible, on CCTV visiting RAFC the same day. 

The situation at Rochdale is exactly why 18 months has been spent gathering information, collating it, checking and recording sources, and then working towards producing this website as a publicly available digest.  If the football authorities cannot offer protection, then it is down to fans to unite and share information about those who wish to use the sport for their own gain at the expense of the clubs they parasitise, and also about those who assist them.  

27 Mar 2020 – Nimer’s claim Southall tried to transfer his personal debt to Bassini onto the club