Leyton Orient are the latest club to be hit with a winding up petition from HMRC. They’re second bottom of the Football League and their latest financial figures show a £5.5 million debt. They’re on their 8th manager since 2014 and their owner has admitted he’d be open to selling the club (that’s not so bad though). Ultimately, they’re a club in dire straights and it’s a very real prospect that they could drop down to the National League and enter the dreaded phase of administration. Worst of all, there’s literally nothing their fans have been able to do about it. They’re situated in a very competitive footballing area in East London, and as such they have their rivals, but it is absolutely vital for the footballing community to show its support at this crucial time.
Really, this is a broader principle that I’m arguing here, in that ANY club in this sort of situation should have support especially if you consider that this could realistically be your club as well someday. And if you think things are going too well for your team to worry about them, cast your mind back to just 2014 when Leyton Orient were a much different looking club.
credit Martin Belam
At that time, Russell Slade had been in charge of a secure tenure since 2009, and they’d been a consistently high achieving League 1 club, posting 2 successive 7th place finishes, before reaching the play-off final in the 2013-2014 season. More than that, they came very close to winning the final, leading 2-0 at half time thanks to two quickfire goals, before Alex Revell brought their opponents, Rotherham United, level at 2-2. The game went right up until extra time, and eventually penalties, where it was the Yorkshire side who triumphed 4-3 in the shootout. To summarise, the side at the foot of League Two and posting turbulent financial figures were one penalty away from being in the Championship just two and a half years ago. So what has happened?
The obvious and simple answer is to take a look at the change of ownership that happened in 2014, which has since correlated with an alarming on-pitch demise and will certainly have many, many questions to answer about the financial predicament as well. Going through multiple managers a season (they’re on their 4th already this season) and suffering relegation to the 4th tier, complete with a high player turnover, and the owner’s PR, has led to the view of a club in crisis even before the current accounting figures came out. It goes without saying that the reign of Francesco Becchetti has been an absolute nightmare and there’s no two ways about it that he should be condemned for his role in creating this mess. He isn’t the only person who has something to answer for though.
First off, let’s have a look at Barry Hearn, the previous owner of Leyton Orient. The circumstances in which he purchased the club in 1995 are well documented, and not far removed from the circumstances Orient find themselves in today. Tony Wood was the Chairman at the time, and he came under immense financial pressure due to a principal business of his being based in Rwanda at the time of the Rwandan genocide. When Wood listed the club for sale at the price of just £5, Hearn swooped in to save the club. He remained Chairman between 1995 and 2014, overseeing a stable and successful, if slowly building period in the club’s history. On the face of it he was a generally decent servant to the club, but he should still take some brunt for today’s events- £5.5 million in debt doesn’t rack up overnight, or in 2.5 years. His hurried sale, especially to an individual like Becchetti, looks more than ever like someone departing a sinking ship whilst they have the chance. Maybe I’m being harsh but Hearn is coming out of this relatively unscathed, and should face his share of the questioning.
credit Abi Skipp
The FA, once again, needs to have a serious look at itself over the situation, not that they are likely to. They are supposed to have a Fit and Proper Person’s Test in place to avoid suspicious owners such as Becchetti in charge of our country’s long established football clubs. To see them turn a blind eye to the disgusting individuals running Leyton Orient, Coventry, Blackpool, Charlton, Morecambe and so many more unfortunate teams really leaves us asking what it is the’re actually doing in the interest of the Football League. Despite these people acting as parasites to unwitting clubs for years and years now, we’re still awaiting any meaningful actions, or even a hint of it (some comforting words, anything!) in defence of the clubs. As much as they need to get their own house in order, it would be nice of them to help out where they’re so desperately needed. And what about the Premier League, and it’s players, who basically have their own economy but go strangely quiet when they could so easily step in and do the right thing.
Truthfully though, it’s up to us, the fans, to make a positive impact. Of course, we don’t have the money to make a massive financial difference, but we are the backbone of these clubs and we can be heard. The incredible organisation of Portsmouth and Wimbledon fans did in fact save and rebuild their teams so in a way, anything is possible. Blackpool fans are currently undertaking an extremely organised protest against their own sadistic owners, as are Coventry City.
There are any number of ways to get behind Leyton Orient at this time, and let’s not forget about any of the small or large clubs facing major adversity that is out of the fan’s hands. Be it financial support like attending a match or purchasing merchandise or simply throwing your voice behind a protest or petition, or pressuring your own clubs into taking meaningful supportive action, it’s important for the sake of the football community that we all get behind these teams. The structure needs serious reform, but that’s not happening any time soon unfortunately. For now, even if it may sound negligible, it’s important for us, the fans, to be loud. After all, we’ll be desperate for it if such fate befalls our teams.
What needs to change to stop things like this happen? Let us know in the comments below!
To help Leyton Orient visit the link and show your support! https://www.gofundme.com/epxjz-leyton-orient-regeneration-fund
featured image by James Evans