I’d like to dedicate my first blog post to something that is very close to my heart and has been for 15 years now. I remember being 7 years old and my dad, knowing I loved football, decided to take me to my first football match. The team we were going to watch? Leyton Orient. Of course, for those that know Orient as much as I do, it would be hardly surprising to tell you they lost that game 2-0 to Shrewsbury Town, but I continued to follow them and eventually support them. 15 years later, that support has developed into a love for the club and for those who are in the know about Leyton Orient’s current situation, that love is being SEVERELY tested.
For those that don’t know the full situation, let me fill you in. In the summer of 2014, sports magnet and well-documented Leyton Orient fan Barry Hearn decided to sell his ownership of the club after nearly 20 years, during which he saved us from near bankruptcy. The gentlemen he sold the club to? Italian extraordinaire Francesco Becchetti, who made his millions from his business in waste management (The jokes speak for themselves!). He bought the club just after Orient were defeated on penalties in the League One play-off final, and saw a club destined for the Championship, if not even better than that. He talked the talk initially with some very extravagant signings in his first season at the club, with ex-Arsenal youngster Jay Simpson, Reading midfielder Jobi McAnuff and ex-Liverpool player Andrea Dossena all coming in on some very interesting wages, Dossena earning himself £8,000 a week! However, this honeymoon in the spotlight soon turned into the Nightmare on Elm Street very quickly. After 3 managers, including the controversial resignation of popular manager Russell Slade & a manager who couldn’t speak a word of English, Orient were relegated to League Two, 12 months after they were a penalty away from the 2nd tier of English football for the first time since the 1980s. Yeah…not a good look, but amazingly it gets worse than this.
The 2015-16 season was one of expectation. Many fans, including myself, were expecting the club to not only win promotion but to comfortably win the league, as we arguably had the best team in the league. Long story short, that didn’t happen. Just missed out on the play-offs in fact, although for the 2nd half of the season we were barely challenging. So surely in the 2016-17 season, again with one of the best teams in the division, we could finally be up there? Nope, that hasn’t happened either. In fact as I write this, we are hovering over the relegation places, our ‘star signings’ have failed miserably, on our 3rd manager of the season already, Becchetti is AWOL and apparently looking to sell, the fans are pissed off and rightly so, and our Football League status is arguably on borrowed time. It’s fair to say being an Orient fan is pretty miserable right now.
Becchetti and stability of the club aren’t exactly words that you’d associate in the same sentence. Reported estimates of £10 million debt for a League Two club that may be going non-league is an ENORMOUS no-no and if anything is just basic common-sense, regardless of having prior experience of running a football club. Having more managers at the club in 2 years than Barry Hearn had in 20 years is farcical, even worse by the fact that 2 of his appointments couldn’t speak a word of English. Banishing club favourites such as Dean Cox was borderline criminal in my opinion, especially if you have ambitions to get out of the division, a division we shouldn’t be in in the first place if Becchetti didn’t interfere with in the first place. Forcing the squad to stay in a hotel after a league defeat and even kicking the assistant manager up the arse in a drunken tirade. These are only a handful of episodes that have driven everyone associated with the club insane. And yet, a statement by the Chief Executive of the Club seemingly brushed aside all interference and blamed it purely on the squad not being good enough. Weird that, considering the club were a kick away from the Championship…
And here we are. As there are calls for Becchetti to sell up, fears of administration or even liquidation as echoes of AFC Orient are becoming more and more concerning, there’s me and my football club of 15 years. The club I grew up a mile away from for all my life, is being held at ransom all because of the mismanagement of a handful of individuals. But you know what? Even if the worst was to happen and Leyton Orient FC was to be wiped off the face of the earth, I’m still proud of what we’ve achieved, not only on the pitch but off as well. We’ve suffered the heartbreak of Wembley 3 years ago, but I’m still so proud of that group of players over-achieving by all of our standards and giving us the dream for that one season. When we took on Arsenal in the FA Cup and scored a dramatic equaliser to take them to a replay at the Emirates, that was probably the loudest I’ve ever heard Brisbane Road and frankly ever will. Off the pitch as well, the fans are without doubt the loveliest of folks you’ll ever meet. A ‘football community’ is often disregarded, but that’s what us fans are. Talk to the vast majority of fans from other lower-league clubs and there will be nothing but praise for little old Leyton Orient. The Trust has been a pillar of the local community for years and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The Youth Academy has produced some fantastic players such as Moses Odubajo and will only get better with quality.
I love this club. From the bottom of my heart, I hope we aren’t seeing the final chapter of this historic club, because the fans don’t deserve this. The players and young up-and-coming prospects in the local areas don’t deserve this. But even if it is the worst-case scenario, I’ll still be rooting for the club, whether it’s Leyton Orient, AFC Orient or by some miracle we end up moving to France and supporting FC Lorient.
Up the O’s!