Everton’s board of directors were told not to attend Saturday’s home match against Southampton because of a ”real and credible threat to their safety and security,” the English Premier League team said.

The unprecedented decision followed ”malicious and unacceptably threatening correspondence” the club said in a statement.

Chairman Bill Kenwright, CEO Denise Barrett-Baxendale, chief finance and strategy officer Grant Ingles and non-executive director Graeme Sharp were advised to stay away from Goodison Park after ”increasing incidents of anti-social behavior – including targeted physical aggression – at recent home matches.”

Everton lost to fellow struggler Southampton 2-1 at home, leaving the Toffees 19th on the English Premier League table, above Southampton only on goal difference.

Everton’s 15 points after 19 league matches is the joint lowest in its history.

Fans welcomed the team bus to the park on Saturday and protest banners in the stadium. The fans’ mood was lightened when Amadou Onana scored the opener. But Southampton rallied in the second half and the Toffees left to boos. Thousands of fans remained long after fulltime for a sit-in protest at Everton’s ongoing slump.

It has not won its last nine matches in all competitions and has been knocked out of both domestic cups.

”Never before has our entire board of directors been ordered not to attend a match on safety grounds,” the club said. ”It is a profoundly sad day for Everton and Evertonians.”

James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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