When Barry Hearn offloaded “my only financial failure” (his words) in 2014, few could’ve predicted their collapse from League 1 Play-Off Finalists to now being six points behind Hartlepool staring at a drop into the seemingly inescapable Non-League, now having just been issued with a winding up order. Actually, that sentence is a lie because anyone who takes even the most cursory glance at the influx of new moneyed owners who herald a brave new world would have placed decent money on this exact story.
Having spent an ocean of cash in his first season in charge and now having gone through a barrel of managers (nine at the time of writing), the Italian owner Francesco Becchetti has presided over a textbook example of how not to run a football club.
Others closer to the club will be able to go through the long sad saga but here we are going to ask why he was given ownership in the first place, why the horrific silence from the EFL as they preside over yet another disaster and most importantly, what fans of Orient (and the wider football family) can do about it.
Firstly, the most revealing thing about the problems of football can be found in the comments by the previous owner Barry Hearn (from the Independent three years ago) about why the new owner was appropriate. “He is moving his family to London and has bought an amazing house in Chelsea. He flies in on his private jet.” So essentially, the only criteria under which a ‘lifelong fan’ handed over custodian ship to someone was if they had money. It says a lot about the cult of the rich in society that simply having cash automatically grants you a higher degree of trust over something as important as a football club, instead of say, actual fans.
This sad, sorry saga also gives further proof (as if it were needed) to the spineless and pathetic governing of the Football League by the EFL board. Whilst they grovel to the Premier League by shoehorning B teams into their own competitions, an ocean of clubs (Blackpool, Coventry, Blackburn, Bolton, Morecambe) are either being wilfully destroyed by their owners or ran into the ground through rank mismanagement. Now, with Orient headed to court on the 20th March over unpaid taxes, we can add them to that list.
The problem is that in many cases the EFL can allow clubs to be taken to the wall but if they drop into Non-League before they finally go bust, it effectively allows them to wash their hands of the whole situation and leave others to pick up the pieces.
A simple reform would be that if owners want to throw money at football fine but that the EFL would make it illegal to ‘invest’ in the form of loans or against the clubs own assets. If bored millionaires want to throw money into a black hole, the Football League should ensure that it is the owners (and not the clubs) who pay the price when the music stops.
However, we turn to what is now the most important issue which is, what can the fans do about it. Fortunately, Leyton Orient already have a supporters trust and the LOFT are organising. We at AL3 would advise all supporters to join their trust and get involved with action to save (or in the ‘worst case scenario’) help it rise from the ashes.
From a personal point of view, the LOFT have done the right thing it stating no money will go to pay off debts created by the owners. To those Orient fans looking for a white knight to save you, who years from now would say “if I hadn’t have come in the club would’ve gone bust”, you’d be better off starting again in Step 5 under your own ownership. Even the money of a generous benefactor runs out in the end, as the fans of Orient’s next opponents (Newport County) can attest to.
The reason you are in the hole you are in is down to private ownership, you will only get one chance to ensure that never again can your club be destroyed because of the whims of one man. If benefactors want to put money in, they can do it through donations or sponsorship but if Orient’s woes show us anything, it’s that the cult of the rich backer or benevolent dictator is capable of destroying the heart and soul of any club.
Those eagle-eyed amongst you might spot the only club below Orient is fan owned Newport County but the reality is Newport are recovering from the unsustainable losses brought about by (you guessed it) private ownership. Orient are not County and by being based in London, with strong attendances (even under this ownership), there’s no reason a fan owned Orient couldn’t make it back to League 1.
The fact is that the only people who are ‘fit and proper persons’, they only people who have ‘the clubs best interest at heart’ and the only people who can be trusted to ensure that Leyton Orient is passed down to future generations… are the fans themselves.
The LOFT are holding a special meeting on Thursday the 2nd March, for more information click here.