LEYTON ORIENT AGM 2008

Posted: February 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

The mag’ sent along its usual work-shy reporter to the club’s annual shareholders shindig. Sir Hubert Guest reports from the Gallery Suite.
To start off, Apologies to any reader that has already read this write up on the club message board. The bulk of which was posted on the night of the meeting last month. What we’ll try to attempt this time around is give you the same information that resulted from the A.G.M plus, a little bit of analysis to go with it. There were one or two other titbits that I didn’t mention last time around that we’ll talk about here. So here we go, eyes down and looking…..

TEA’S AND COFFEE’S ALL ROUND….

And indeed there was, as we walked into the ‘Gallery’ for the meeting. I can report that Leyton Orient F.C have at least enough coppers in the till to provide two packets of ‘Family Circle’ biscuits to the massed ranks (ok, about fifty that were present today) of punters who have purchased shares down the years. I plumped for the jam ring, but I can report that choccy digestives were available too.
The whole board soon entered the room. Barry Hearn (and son, Eddie) Matt Porter, Steve Dawson, Dave Dodd and vice chair, Nick Levene) along with Martin Ling, who has attended every one of these meeting since he has become full time boss at the club. There were a few shareholders present that had a few ‘curve balls’ to throw his way later on in the proceedings.
Our Lord Barry kicked things off by welcoming us to the ‘annual hanging’ and declared that he’d be as honest as he could with the assembled punters. Before he could get stuck into the meeting proper, two questions were fired in from the floor. One related to the Zakuani money and another relating to the salary cap (apparently, it isn’t compulsory in league one). We are going to receive the final chunk of the transfer fee owed to us by Fulham (250k) by August 1st and we are going to need it as it looks as if the playing side of Leyton Orient’s operation is going to make a £850k loss for this season. The accounts for 2007 show that we turned in a small profit, but this was due to the sale of land behind the North and South stands at Brisbane Road for £1.2 million quid (minus £2000,000 ‘cost of sale’ expences. Barry Hearn started his ‘Chairman’s report in earnest. Basically, we are fighting a losing battle financially and despite selling some space in the West side Stand to a pharmacy for £750,000 the O’s are still set for a £200,000 loss for 2007/8 season. We are living in tough times and the only way to survive on current crowds is to engineer some big cup runs, or sell players. BH said that he would ‘love not to be chairman of Leyton orient’, so that he could give some other mugs some stick for not spending any money. The phrases of ‘realism’, ‘improving gradually’, ‘solid structure’ and ‘budget set in stone’ won’t set many pulses racing, but they were the crux of Hearn’s message throughout the meeting. There were words of praise for everyone at the top table from Ling right the way through to Dave Dodd, who was voted back onto the board along with Steve Davies (who was in China beating up a few monks on the Tibetan border with his cue no doubt). Mr Hearn also commented that now his son, Eddie, has become a director that it shows that there is continuity at the O’s and that is usually a sign of stability at a club when father and son are on the same board. I must admit that at this point the word ‘Maxwell’ flashed across my mind and I hope that Barry is a better swimmer than ‘Captain Bob’ was. His Hearnship finished off by declaring that thanks to ‘Matchroom Sport’ the club will hopefully still be going a long time after Barry had ridden off into the sunset.

LET THEM EAT CAKE……

And so, it came to pass that the floor was thrown open and questions were aimed at the great and good at the top table. As usual, complaints about ticketing and getting through to the ticket office cropped up and were fended off by Matt Porter. Our MD reiterated that when people phone the club and get no answer it doesn’t mean that the people in the office are having a cup of tea and reading this months’ ‘Razzle’, while the punters on the end of the line go ape-sh*t. Chances are that the people calling in are in a queuing system and it takes time to answer any queries. Our office is currently under staffed but steps are being taken to remedy this for next season. The subject of ticket offers came up and one punter wasn’t happy regarding the rigmarole that went into getting his two free tickets for the Carlisle game. Why is it that so much information is required relating to the people that were being put down for the freebies? Well, it seems that it helps the club’s marketing strategy and the office like to know who’s getting these tickets should a problem arise further down the line. However, for a club that is forever going on about poor crowds, Orient makes it needlessly difficult for people to get into the ground. The fact that the flagship West stand has only four turnstiles is disgraceful and the club’s own customer surveys show that most punters turn up for the game from about 2.35pm on an afternoon. Matt said that some people need to plan ahead better when it comes to their day out at the O’s and I think this alludes to supporters thinking that they can ‘Pay on the gate’ just by turning up at a turnstile. This was the case 4 or 5 years ago but not in 2008. Thing is, since Hearn’s arrival here in 1995 there has been more emphasis into getting people to sign up for season tickets while on the day entry has been kept at a high price. We now have 3,194 season ticket holders at the O’s but no more that 2,500 of those have turned up at any one time this season. This is down to many of the kids/£50 tickets not being used. There is a system available that could possibly help sell any of these spare seats to ‘on the day customers’, but this costs 100k and is it really worth installing at a club of this size?

Meanwhile, the customer experience is starting alienate more returning/regular supporters with every passing season. Stewarding is a constant cause of griping on the club message board and costs the club £5,000 per game. Again, Matt Porter felt that much of the criticism aimed at the boys and girls in yellow is exaggerated and he has only received one written complaint that included the offending steward’s number. Complaints are taken seriously though and a couple of these ‘safety officers’ have left the club this season. If you have a beef with any steward take down the number on their jackets and put it in writing to Matt.

NO ONE LIKES THEM AND THEY DON’T CARE….

You can only be talking about those lovable people at Millwall F.C. Well, they are to blame for the fact that the ‘sold out’ signs go up at the ticket office when we have sold 7,000 tickets for a match in a ground with a capacity listed at over 9,000. It seems that Leyton Police have decreed that because of the awful behaviour from their fans here last year the front sections of the East stand seats are to be left empty when the whole of that stand is given to a large away following. So this means, in effect, that not only can Leyton orient supporters not use that stand but the club doesn’t even benefit revenue wise from the extra support the likes of Forest, Southend United and Leeds bring with them and increased demand from O’s fans to see those matches. This is looks to me as a shocking cop out by Leyton police and (as usual) Orient as a business and its support suffers at the hands of a violent element of football followers totally unconnected with this club. The ‘Lions’ have been sent a bill for the damage that their supporters created in the East stand but they are refusing to pay up. Matt Porter revealed that stewards on the night were told by the police not to go into the away section to deal with any trouble makers on police advice, which I suppose is fair enough, but it appears that if a club has a violent following that they can get away with just about anything when they come to E.10. Matt also reported that stewards are told not to tell home fans to ‘sit down’ either. All this led to some interesting debate on the message board over the next two days in relation to what the club can do to sort the problem of allocating a big away support space within the ground. Various suggestions were put forward ranging from giving up the North or South stand entirely or splitting the East stand in two at the point of the old director box so that we could accommodate 2,000 visiting fans and roughly the same amount of home supporters with segregation in the middle. Either way, Orient should be doing a lot better out of this division attendance wise that it is doing at present. As an aside to this, the police at Millwall have appealed to Orient fans that were present during the recent encounter at the ‘New Den’ to come forward with any information relating to a vicious attack on a police officer by home fans last Month. Time to shut down that scum club once and for all methinks.

FIVE RING CIRCUS….

And so on to the Olympic stadium affair. In truth, there isn’t much to say. Other than we still seem to be in the frame but have been asked by the powers that be not to comment publicly on any developments. Hearn said that the deal must be right for the club (him? It’s the same thing I suppose) and it could be the next stage in developing the ‘mighty O’s’ (copyright Peter Stevens BBC London). We don’t need to move but if the O’s did we could get £15 million for the current Leyton site and could start life in the new stadium with £10 million quid to kick us off. I should think that if this move came to fruition it would be the time for Barry to reclaim the £2-4 Million quid in loans that has propped us up over the past 13 years. We should know the fate of this proposal within 12 months, but I guess there is a hell of a long way for this story to run just yet. A straw poll was taken regarding whether we should leave Brisbane Road for Stratford and there was a 90% vote in favour, although many people said only if there was no running track (If Brighton is anything to go by they can stick it). By the way, there is no truth in the rumour that a rugby club has been approached for the site according to Barry Hearn. One wonders what will be the outcome should the proposed move to Stratford fail to materialise? Maybe Barry might cut and run should the losses at the O’s continue to spiral, seeing as we have reached the point where there is no more land to sell. It’s also worth noting that a change in political administration either in London or, more probably, nationally would result in the whole Olympic costing being reviewed and could result in the O’s being cut adrift at some point. Personally, I don’t think this will happen because by this time next year we will have a cast iron guarantee that the deal is on or, indeed, off.

LEYTON ORIENT FOR SALE……

Like any other business we have our price. Barry Hearn revealed that there has been not one, but TWO, enquiries about buying the O’s from interested overseas investors. No names were mentioned but BH announced that both parties expressing an interest were scared off when they took a look ‘butchers’ at the accounts. Hearn, once again, made no bones about leaving as long as any serious offer was right for him and the club. In my opinion Barry would indeed be off like a shot given the right exit strategy. However, if you took a look at the current make up of the board the O’s are not a million miles away from the Tony Wood situation of 1994/5. There isn’t much in the way of board members worth pots of dough to keep the club solvent if you take away Barry Hearn from the equation. Whoever takes over will have to have very deep pockets just to cover the debt to ‘Matchroom Sport’ and manage an annual loss on the playing side of nearly a million quid a season. On the other hand, the next owner could go the other way such as QPR have and invest heavily into the football side of the operation. Stranger things have happened, but with the volatile climate that football currently finds itself embroiled in I should think that the latter of the two options is unlikely.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE MARTIN? ………

And so we eventually worked our way round to team affairs. One punter got Barry Hearn’s attention by asking Martin if he’d gone as far as he could on his current budget. £1.7 million is what he’d be working on next year and our manager told the shareholders that he could indeed take us on to the ‘next level’ which Hearn described earlier in the meeting as play-off’s/championship football. Then things began to get lively as one shareholder brought up the alleged ‘row’ between Hearn and Ling following the home defeat against Huddersfield Town and followed it up by persistently and eloquently putting over his (and many others) disappointment and frustration with the club for not bringing in any players since January 1st to keep us in the promotion frame. We’ll never progress with that sort of thinking was the general point he was putting forward.
Hearn and Ling flatly denied any rift and asked where this story had come from? ‘Time Out’ magazine, apparently. An answer that left Both Ling and his boss pretty unimpressed and you got the feeling that Martin was getting a bit irked with all the talk about a fall out with Barry and his inactivity in the market post Christmas. Ling asked the meeting where would the guarantees be in going over budget by bringing in new players and they would have to be better than the ones already at the club anyway? But, to be blunt, Orient have had to resort to playing people like Thornton, Chambers and Gray out of position thus nullifying their true worth to the side and this has contributed to the slide down the table from a good position. The team has been screaming out for new blood and it has cost us full stop. Ling and Smith have looked at players and attempted to get Reid from West ham on loan to bolster our attack. Ling acknowledged that his wide men have been this season’s biggest disappointment and that we don’t have a ‘plan B’ when we can’t breakdown a defence with our passing. He did describe us as a better counter-attacking team too. If Martin did bring a ‘big lump’ into the side it would be Jabbo who would make way for him, a comment that surprised me a little and got me wondering if Iberhe really is going to be here next season?
Orient looked at some non-league prospects but will not pay over the odds. A player at Fisher Athletic aroused some interest from the O’s, however we only valued him at between £15-20k while Fisher wanted 100k. We told them to get lost and since then said player has been hawked around both Gillingham and Millwall with no takers as yet. Ling re-iterated the club policy on budgets throughout his questioning and Barry Hearn chipped in with a “If you don’t like it, watch someone else” quote that is just what Leyton Orient need with gates that struggle to reach 5,000. Ling’s summer shopping list will include two wide men and a forward so I reckon we’ll only bring 5 new players in at most during the summer recess. Our relationship with Spurs is surprisingly good and we can take two more of their youngsters for 2008-9 if we choose. O’s players out of contract are Cordon (gone already), Morris, Oji, Iberhe and Paul Terry. Rumours of a glorious return to Brisbane Road of Matt Lockwood were played down (Ling felt that both Daniels and Palmer had done ok for us), although it was revealed that he left the O’s last summer for £100,000 + £25, 000 more should Forest go up. Hearn did add that despite his well documented dislike of foreigners we are going to scout abroad for overseas players because they are cheaper and better value for money. Well, only if they are of the required standard, and even Hearn admitted that when Tommy Taylor brought all and sundry into the O’s we ended up with 34 professionals on the books, half of which hardly played at all.

Since our poor run from mid December Ling has picked up quite a lot of flack on just about all aspects relating to his job. Poor tactics, substitutions, motivation, recruitment (lack of) and players played out of position. Some of his media comments relating to loan signings have raised an odd eyebrow too. This has had a fair few Orient fans arguing whether ML’s gone about as far as he could at the club and maybe he’s gone a bit ‘stale’. Let’s be honest; it’s no mean feat getting a club like Orient further up the league ladder year on year for five seasons, but at times Ling’s team has been bereft of creativity, imagination and inspiration. In my view much of the football since January has been just as dull and uninspiring as anything Peter Eustace’s teams dished up and the ‘Wagon master’ was rightly pilloried for it. Ling has a decent budget, but does he get enough from his big name players? Hearn revealed that our top earners are on £100 k + per annum and I would hazard a guess at Thornton, Chambers, Boyd and Makindewre being in (or close to) that bracket. Collectively, we have arrived back at 2004 where we had some talented players who only performed to the required standard for 3 out of 10 games and thought that it was good enough (I’d put Thornton in that category, although he hasn’t been helped by injury and Ling playing him wide right of the midfield) for a club like ours. Ling won many people over by challenging that attitude and thus moved this club on to better things. Should people continue to back him? Of course, because he has something resembling a record here, but I would like to see Martin get back to the early days of his tenure as boss when he wouldn’t stand still for long if it wasn’t going right on the pitch. Quite frankly, he’s let it slide this campaign.

FINISHING OFF…….

A few quick lines before I sign off. Barry announced another small share issue (750,000) more to take us up to the 4,000,000 mark and they can be yours for around £1.50 each. This will be underwritten by our leader too. A comment was made regarding the steep incline in the West stand and whether if this was safe? Barry said that it met stadia requirements and that (Chris Bonnington said it was ok and who are we to argue) it was deemed safe and it’s a bit late to change it now. Finally, confirmed pre-season games. Boston United away on the 20th July (hello Tommy Taylor) and Spurs home on the 30th. Another premier league club is being courted, although attempts to get a polish team over to play us didn’t get off the ground.
So that was more or less that. A pretty good meeting and plenty to get our teeth into over the next few days, that’s presuming that we’ve any teeth left after the visit of Leeds United Saturday week.

Sir Hubert Guest

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