Southampton becomes first team relegated from EPL, owners pledge to stay

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak waves from the stands during the Premier League soccer match between Southampton FC and Fulham FC at St. Mary's Stadium, in Southampton, England, Saturday May 13, 2023. (Adam Davy/PA via AP)

Southampton became the first team to be relegated from the Premier League after losing to Fulham 2-0 on Saturday, ensuring the south-coast team’s 11-year stay in England’s top division is coming to an end.

Southampton’s fate was sealed with two games remaining of its first full season since last year’s takeover by Sport Republic, an investment firm in the sports and entertainment industry run by Serbian businessman Dragan Solak.

Goals by Carlos Vinicius and Aleksandar Mitrovic, in his first game back after an eight-game ban for grabbing a referee, earned Fulham the victory at St. Mary’s stadium, where British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — a Southampton fan — was in the stands.

Southampton is eight points from safety with games to go against Brighton and Liverpool.

“We have fought tirelessly as a club,” read a statement from Sport Republic, “but the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world and our results were simply not good enough to stay there.

“We are particularly saddened and frustrated that our first season as controlling shareholders in Southampton has ended in relegation. While this outcome is distressing for all of us, now is the time to demonstrate unity.”

Solak was the founder of eastern European telecommunications giant United Group. In January 2022, his Sport Republic investment firm purchased the 80% stake held by Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng, who had been majority shareholder at the club since 2017.

“We want to reassure our supporters, our partners and our staff that we remain fully committed to achieving long-term success for the club at the top level,” the Sport Republic statement read.

“We must now reflect on the lessons to be learned from this season and start preparing for the challenges ahead of us in the Championship. Our goal is to return to the Premier League as soon as possible and ensure that we stay there. At the same time, we will continue to focus on the long-term development of the club, both on and off the pitch, to ensure its sustainability at the highest level.”