Matt Porter- five years on.

Posted: February 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

 This Article was a long overdue follow up to the one we ran in 2009 and appeared the the Leyton Orientear in October 2014

Back in 2009 the Orientear ran its last major interview with our (then) chief executive. The Stripester decided to brush off his tape recorder and look back at that last chat and get a take on the events that have taken place down the O’s since.

Just over five years ago myself and Matt Porter had a chat in the then brand new surroundings of his West stand office prior to a grim home game versus Exeter city. Looking back at it now the interview was a prelude to some of the most memorable events in the O’s recent history and what was discussed then makes interesting reading now. I managed to get a word with our former chief executive in a North London pub just before the end of October and since then many of the things that we discussed have cropped up in interviews he’s given to local papers, the BBC and an Orient podcast. Nevertheless, here is what we discussed over a peroni.

With beers ordered and tape recorder ready I kicked off with reading a passage from the article that appeared in issue #200 of the ‘orientear’ in which I finished our chat then with the question; ‘Where do you see the orient in 5 years time’? Back in 2009 Matt’s answer came back as this: “Hopefully, we’ll have done something that led to our home crowd going up by 1,000 on average. If I’m honest I’d say we’d probably be in league one, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t have had a go at being in the championship. I would hope that we wouldn’t have been relegated and a bit further down the line have a really good cup run”.
Now in late October 2014, myself and our former CEO had a bit of a chuckle over that answer:

MP: “ F*%& me! I wish I had picked my lottery numbers as successfully as that! We had a couple of good cup runs and only flirted with relegation once, so bizarrely, I got it right. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make the championship and I think that by the end of last season we were quite respected as one of the better league on clubs both on and off the pitch.”
We quickly moved on to how Matt grew into his influential role at the helm of the O’s, from one of Press officer to eventually (briefly as it turned out) sitting on the football league management board as league one representative. I think it’s fair to say that the structure of the club has changed immeasurably over the past 5 years and Matt felt that the set up had grown ‘organically’ over that time;
MP: “With the arrival of the west stand there were facilities for corporate hospitality and that grew beyond the old ‘Theo’s’ restaurant in the south stand, digital media advanced so we had to progress in that field (It wasn’t that long ago that many supporters grabbed their Orient news from the local papers on a Thursday) and on-line ticketing grew as well. Those three areas brought about the need for Leyton Orient to bring about a better service to our fans and to ensure that we had the staff at the club to do that. We went from an operation that had five people to answer the phones, dealing with people wanting to buy replica shirts or wishing to organise sponsorship or purchasing on line tickets to having to expand that side of the club to deliver the better service required- and expected -to the best of our ability.”
Of Course it wasn’t only the non-playing set up that started to improve. On the field our team started to play some half decent football and this culminated in last season ‘near miss’ in relation to second tier football coming back to the Leyton area for the first time since 1982. I asked Matt about that day and if he could bring himself to talk about it?
MP: “ I cried like a child afterwards, I couldn’t deal with it and even now I don’t talk about it, even to my wife. To see your whole year end up like that, and there’s no blaming anybody because football is football and these things happen. But we did everything right as a club last season off and on the pitch and we were so, so close it was as good as we were probably going to be. When the Rotherham players started climbing the stairs to collect their trophy I just turned around and left, it was just horrible”. Well you and around 20,000 others, Matt.
Of course the fall out from that fateful day began soon after Dagnall’s fateful penalty miss with the transfer of Moses Odubajo to Brentford for a reported £1 million quid soon afterwards. This has become controversial as many supporters didn’t quite stomach the twin facts that we couldn’t keep him at the O’s and, worse still, that we had sold him to our fiercest rivals in Brentford F.C. Matt re-iterated that Moses’s agent had told the club that he wanted to play championship football come what may and that he was leaving. There had been interest from bigger clubs such as Brighton and Nottingham Forest but the amount of money offered was nowhere near the bid that had come our way from the direction of West London. It made sense to cash in on a player who had been fantastic for us, but ultimately wanted to leave and will one day – according to Matt- play in the premiership.
That sale of Orient’s star player was soon followed up with the sale of the club. When all was said and done (and despite the play -off defeat) I’d wondered if there was still a sense of mission accomplished when he looked back at both his and Barry’s time at the O’s?
MP: “It was a feeling that we had reached the peak of what we could do with the resources that we had. I genuinely feel that by the time we had finished at the club we had got everything right in regarding to our community programme working in conjunction with the LOCSP and developing our presence in the area as a provider of opportunity for people who couldn’t have otherwise accessed a football club. We rebuilt the commercial department, re-structured the office and increased our revenue quite significantly. We have a smart stadium, even though people moaned about it being akin to a housing estate. We tried our best off of the field and invested heavily in the clubs infrastructure from everything from the pitch to an on-line ticketing facility. We tried to engineer a better match day experience and that allied with the fact that Russell Slade had given us a better team, better players, a better academy and more strength in depth, the last campaign became somewhat of a ‘perfect storm’ for us where everything came together. I don’t think we could have quite matched that this time around”.

THE NEW REGIME ARRIVES….
Barry Hearn arrived at the O’s in March 1995. Nineteen years and one relegation, a promotion and three losing play-off defeats later he finally sold Leyton Orient F.C to Italian business man Francesco Becchetti. I asked Matt about the background to the take over and it seems like the new boss was sniffing around the O’s about a month before the play-off final and had already had a look at buying into Birmingham city and Reading. The two attractive selling points that Orient had were the fact that we were debt free (It was revealed that Orient still had about a years’ worth of money in the bank still left over from the time when Hearn bought the ground lease) and were based in London. Becchetti has already bought a house in an upmarket district in central London and many London based football clubs don’t come as relatively cheap to buy as we were. How much were the O’s sold for, you cry? The answer was; ‘You’ll have to ask Barry’, but it was less that the £7million that has been quoted on message boards and such in the months following the takeover. If Orient had been promoted the asking prices would have been nearer to that figure I should think. I raised the point regarding the new boss having the finance to push us to the next level, but is the current spending on the playing budget within the 60% rules on salary capping? Can he do what Manchester City did and throw it around?
MP: “Well, he can invest in the equity of the football club and he has done to the level that meant the club can afford to sign the players that they have done this year. As long as he is investing in equity and not in the form of a loan to Orient F.C there hasn’t been a problem with him investing the type money he has done so far.”
Matt also confirmed that the new owners have passed the football leagues’ ‘Proper person test’ or to give it it’s proper title –OADT- a hundred percent with no problems. So, with the arrival of Becchetti, Angelieri and new director of football Milanese a new era got underway at Brisbane Road. Matt stayed on in an advisory capacity up until early October but as you know by now things have changed and he is no longer involved at the club in any capacity. Our discussion moved on to the early days of this season
MP: “I thought I was going to get around two years on the club board while the new regime got themselves settled in and felt comfortable. And at the start I was involved a lot in regard to them getting to know everyone around the club and it seemed to be going OK, they didn’t come in and sack everyone on day one and it seemed to be going fine. Then came the weekend of the Rochdale game and the preceding day we held our first fans forum with Alessandro and Mauro which went really well, I was told that they valued my input and that they knew that they had made mistakes but they wanted everything to settle down (this was after Russell Slade had left the club by now) and that we could move on from here. On the Saturday we obviously committed football suicide on the pitch after chucking away a 2-1 half time lead to lose 3-2 to Rochdale, but afterwards I’m told that we want stability and calmness and we want everyone to take a deep breath and such. On the following Monday I get an email saying can I resign from the board? I thought ‘Wow’, and I was really surprised, so I emailed Alessandro and asked him why he’s asked me to do that? The answer was that Becchetti wanted the board to be as small as possible. Considering there was already 5 directors signed up to the club with a possible 3 others coming in I found it a bit odd. In the end it was their decision, fine, but I don’t understand why it was done”.
Matt was surprised by this request, especially by the timing of it because with Russell leaving and Nugent’s position not being made clearer fans were getting worried. Utilising Matt’s experience in regards to communicating more effectively with the Orient support would have seemingly been a sensible option to take when it appeared to me that Milanese and Angelieri were burying their heads in the sand over this. Of course you could argue that Becchetti had taken the view that Matt Porter was sympathising with Slade and Kevin Nugent when it came to incidents such as the president of the club sending the director of football into the dressing room following the defeat against Colchester. With that in mind our chat turned to Russell Slade and what happened that afternoon.
MP: “I genuinely feel that the ‘ultimatum’ in inverted commas was a veiled threat to the players to improve their performance and I don’t think that there was a genuine intention to sack Russell after the Notts County game. If we had gone there and lost seven -nil it might have been different. But I don’t think that there was any serious intention at the time to sack him.”
I took the opportunity to ask whether Slade had ever come close to being fired when he was at Orient, thinking about the dreadful run he had from January – October 2012. Matt categorically stated that he was always as safe as houses at the club and Barry was never a sacking chairman. And even in the case of Geriant Williams it was only when we were 0-3 down at half time (with only seven league games to get us out of trouble) to Hartlepool that Hearn decided to pull the trigger.
Over his 4 year reign Matt described Slade as a ‘puppeteer’ in that he pulled the strings at the club and had structures in place that laid the foundations for three top seven finishes out of the four full seasons that he managed the O’s. He had an excellent oversight over everything and strategically our folically challenged team boss had a short/medium and long term view of where he wanted the club to go. These plans encompassed everything from the youth academy, scouting, sports science, medical treatment and on to targeting potential players and such. This lead to Slade telling Matt that even after he left the club he wanted the O’s to carry on with the structures that he’s put in place. With that said, I asked if Matt had any inkling that we’d see some of the dramatic changes that followed?
MP: “Look, throughout the whole negotiation process during the takeover it was made clear that Becchetti and co. wanted stability and continuity. To them we were a successful and well run club and they weren’t coming into a complete disaster area and with a little bit of investment in the right areas we would go on to be more successful. Normally when a football club is taken over it is bottom of the league, in administration, the fans hate everybody and the players can’t wait to get away. We were a very rare scenario of a football club being taken over that was in good shape. In theory you would have thought it wouldn’t have been too hard to carry on in the right way but it simply hasn’t gone the way that everyone would have liked.” Matt also felt that Russell would have eventually turned things around this season if he was still at the club. People have suggested that Slade and Nugent just didn’t get on with the new director of football Muaro Milanese, but Matt confirmed that the trio had got on without any major problems at all since his arrival at the club.
With the whole club structure changing in the space of three months and in the wake of Matt Porters subsequent departure from the club I asked him to look back on what he’d term his ‘greatest achievement’ in his time at the O’s?
MP: 2 Well I can’t claim promotion because I got the job on March the 1st March 2006 and we went up on May 6th! I’m just pleased that we took the club to a level where we maximised our minimal resources. We made sure that fans knew what we were doing and we tried to get everybody on side with the feeling of togetherness that we’ve had over the last couple of years. Russell’s mentality and the way the players performed on the pitch engendered that. When people at other clubs and people in the media say to me ‘orient was the club we looked up to when it came to running a lower league football club’ then when I hear that well I just think that, whatever we did, then we did it right. We were a club that for years were sort of poor relations messing about the lower reaches of the league but we actually became a club that people took seriously and were respectful of and other people who ran small clubs wanted to be like. So I don’t think that points just to one specific decision (such as to give the North stand over to families-1000 season ticket holders in there alone) so to speak, it was the attitude and the way we approached being a football club. That’s the thing I took most pride from being behind. However, If you’d asked me what my single best decision was it was bringing Russell Slade to the club”.
We had a brief chat about memorable games that stuck in Matt’s memory and of course the Oxford promotion decider sprung instantly to mind because Matt actually missed Lee Steele’s winner due to him rushing off down the tunnel to check the news from Northampton’s game against Grimsby. By the time he had got back onto the pitch he didn’t even know that we’d won the game! Of course there was also the fantastic cup tie V Arsenal which not only made the club some money but gave rise to a nicking spree involving Arsenal‘s training kit from Adrian the kit man that became ‘Faginesque’. He also mentioned crunch games away at York and Bradford which resulted in wins that saved us from relegation and the time when orient lost at Hartlepool and the home directors broke the champagne out because Wycombe had just lost at home to Notts County and that meant that orient had stayed up at the back end of the awful 2011-12 campaign.
FINISHING OFF….
With the creaky tape recording beginning to flounder and the peroni by now talking a heavy toll I finished up by asking matt about some of the funniest correspondence that he’d received from the orient support during his tenure?
MP: “We used to have an anonymous writer; ’Mr.’J Knox from Luton’ and it wasn’t his name because we looked him up, and some weeks he’d be, ‘Mr. A Smith’ from Chingford and he used to write all these hand written letters slaughtering us every week and he was the best because we’d end up pinning these letters up on the wall (you sure it wasn’t one of the players, Matt?) just for a laugh. We had a few serial moaners (at Orient?-I’m shocked) but we also had supporters who were constructive comments and we’d always try to reply to people and try to take those points on board. What I’d always say to fans was even if it wasn’t the answer you wanted to hear we always tried to be honest with them”.
Matt also added that even this year with all what had gone on that the O’s support had been remarkably patient and had generally stuck with the team (this was before the away games and Gillingham and Bradford, by the way).
My last question to our former CEO was this. “If there was one thing you could have changed when you were CEO what would it have been”?
MP: “I would have cheated my arse off to win that penalty shoot out at Wembley, bunged the Rotherham players millions of pounds to chuck the game”!

SUMMING UP….
And that was about that. Matt has always been approachable to publications such as the ‘Ear’ and as ever I’m grateful to him for taking the time out to chat to us. I’m sure that he’ll be back in football in some capacity a few years down the line or probably promoting a boxing match between warring factions on the new orient message board in a car park somewhere in Leytonstone.
I’m typing this article up the day after the defeat at Valley Parade and the one single feature to stand out is how quickly an atmosphere can change at a club. I would defy any supporter to recall a general feel good factor to better the one we revelled in last season at the O’s and to see it virtually evaporate within four months is a bit of a choker.
However, we are where we are in relation to the new owners and I would point both their supporters and critics to the following. It took Barry Hearn 19 years to bring us to the point where he administered the club in the way he envisaged when he took over in 1995. Barry, Matt and most Orient fans would admit to suffering some pretty grim times in the intervening years (especially Hearn’s first two in charge here) and last seasons’ success –and even though we bombed out at Wembley it was our highest league finish for 32 years- was built on years of hard work leading up to it all around the football club.
Success isn’t guaranteed just by throwing cash at the team and sitting back expecting to walk the league. Bigger clubs and more experienced people in football have made that mistake and have lived to regret that course of action. I only hope that the people in charge of the football club now start to take stock and look at a club wide strategy to stabilise us because from where I’m sitting Leyton orient have gone from a management structure that worked- to one that doesn’t.

Stripester.

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