Colchester: Robbie Cowling confident 'costs tightening' gamble will pay

Robbie Cowling has been Colchester chairman since 2007, after taking over the year before
Robbie Cowling has been Colchester chairman since 2007, after taking over the year before

Colchester chairman Robbie Cowling insists that his decision to keep on top of the club's bills and not defer payments will ultimately benefit the relegation-threatened League Two club.

After losing to Exeter in last season's play-offs in a Covid-19 affected campaign, Cowling tightened finances.

"It could be the best decision I've made as chairman," he told BBC Essex.

"If it goes wrong and we get relegated then it will probably the worst decision. It's as nuclear as that."

Cowling warns that other clubs have opted not to keep on top of their finances during a year when, to comply with pandemic health and safety protocol, English football has been almost totally played out in empty grounds.

But, when the crowds return and football clubs try to find their feet again, he argues that the U's will be in a better shape than most, as long as they stay in the EFL - no guarantee for a club who have slumped to 21st in the table after winning just once in 22 games.

Robbie Cowling (front row, centre) is one of the select number of 'fans' allowed to attend home games during the Covid pandemic
Robbie Cowling (front row, centre) is one of the select number of 'fans' allowed to attend home games during the Covid pandemic

"People in football have made different decisions," said Cowling.

"I made the decision to go tight on our finances and take all the hit on the chin this season.

"But the last I heard was that, up in the Championship, just in terms of PAYE payments - the money we take out of the players' wages and pass on to the taxman - there had been £150m of payments deferred. That's just from those 24 clubs.

"Colchester have paid every penny - and of our VAT too. And of our wages.

"We've deferred nothing. And, as long as we survive this year, we will be in very good stead."

Cowling, 60, co-founder and managing director of global Essex-based employment agency Jobserve, took over the ownership of Colchester in 2006 before becoming chairman in 2007, then orchestrating the club's move from Layer Road to their new home on the edge of the city in 2008.

When the EFL season was suspended a year ago with nine games left, the U's were sixth in League Two under John McGreal - enough to make the play-offs, having missed out by just a point the year before.

But they were beaten by Exeter City in the semi-finals, after which they opted to part company with McGreal. They have won just eight of their 37 League Two matches this season.

A 13-game winless run from early December resulted in the departure of McGreal's successor Steve Ball on 24 February. And they have won just one of their nine games since under Wayne Brown, to sit just seven points clear of the first of the two relegation slots.

'Nobody dreamt it would last this long'

"Some fans need to be careful what they wish for," added Cowling to BBC Essex, following comments from concerned supporters.

"This season is about two issues. One, to survive the financial repercussions of the pandemic. Two, to stay in the Football League. And, at the moment, I'm very optimistic.

"Nobody ever dreamt that this would all take as long as it has lasted.

"I'll accept it at the end of the season if it's decision that has gone wrong

"It will be more painful for me than anyone else but I'll take it on the chin and I'll be the one that will have to get us out of it.

"But if it's painful for us, it will be even more painful for other clubs."

Robbie Cowling was talking to BBC Essex's Glenn Speller.

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