It was better in the old days. Or was it?

Posted: February 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

This from the February 2015 edition of Leyton Orientear

Barry Hearn’s recent interview in the London Standard got a mixed reception from the Orient supporters that could bring themselves to read it. The ‘Time Lord ’dons his scarf and fires up the tardis to take a look back at our former chairman’s early days at the club.

 

‘We went off the boil’….  ‘and at the back we were wobbly’….. ‘ new players are to blame’

You could be forgiven for thinking that these quotes (and there are many others just we could have held up) might have been plucked from most post match inquests in the supports club, message boards or, indeed or any club fanzine over the past 6 months. And you would be right. However, these pearls of wisdom were to be found in the dear old ‘Orientear’ back in April 1996, just as Barry Hearn’s first disastrous season in charge was coming to a shuddering conclusion.

 

Nineteen years on and once again the club has found itself embroiled in another season of turmoil. We have a new owner and a completely different vibe to the one that Hearn left on his exit, although Barry is the only chairman in Orient history to have walked away from the club £4 million quid richer and the with lease to the Brisbane Road site  sitting rather comfortably in his back pocket. In his article in the ‘standard’ Mihir Bose declares that; ‘The 67-year-old sports impresario is well aware, however, that the sale has devastated fans’. But I think that is what is known as ‘laying it on a bit thick’.

This is all a far cry from when Hearn walked through the door here in late March 1995. Back then we had a club in meltdown and on the verge of folding. Many of you reading this probably attended the public meeting held at Leyton town hall (Now the ‘Leyton technical’ in the High Road) not long after the takeover was completed whereupon our new owner declared that we ‘were going to have some fun here’ and would be a ‘premier league club by the time he had finished here’. Well, I suppose we can all look back and laugh now. Nonetheless, in many ways it was a typical Hearn piece of PR- or schmooze. It had the effect of getting a weary and demoralised bunch of supporters getting behind the new owner of a club that had spent much of the previous 30 years in the doldrums and it come hard on the heels of the worst post war season in the history of the club.

This of course was in complete contrast from the day Mr. Becchetti walked through the door at Brisbane Road last June. Yes, we had a convivial press conference announcing his takeover and of course you have to make allowances for the language barrier in regard to the new owner being a little reluctant to face the Leyton public in person. But the one constant there has been since the FB takeover is the complete lack of engagement with the clubs fans from its owner.

Back in August 1995 the O’s had new impetus in relation to attracting support. Scheme’s such as £10 season ticket for kids, new players, gimmicks like ‘the celebrity walk on’ and most important of all a decent start to the campaign that saw over 8,000 roll up to our first home game of the season against Torquay and the infamous two year away game hoodoo finally broken with that famous 2-1 win at sixfields a few weeks down the line. All looked rosy in the Orient until the autumn, whereupon Orient embarked on a 6 month on field collapse that ended up finishing in the bottom four of league two for the first time in our history.

And now for another round of quotes….

I’ve followed the 0’s home and away for 22 years but today was the pits. We plumbed new depths of mediocrity. Don’t expect to see me at the next home game’.

Stephen Harris’s match report of the 0-3 caning at Cardiff City that spelt the end of Pat Holland’s 18 month reign as O’s manager.

‘Many supporters feel let down by the club. Almost every home game has been awful to witness and our away form is still a disgrace. Many players brought to the club are simply not fit to wear the red shirt of Leyton Orient and the people who make the decisions would rather pay money to bring in aging crippled players on ridiculous contracts than provide cash for decent younger recruits’.

Thus thundered the editorial from the ‘Leyton orientear’ #103 in May 1997.

Another season of struggle that saw virtually the whole board of directors sacked, a manager sacked (only one? Nothing compared to the present day) a player sacked and creaking former superstars such as Peter Shilton, Ray Wilkins and Alvin Martin gracing the Brisbane Road turf. I don’t think any of them were in a possession of a three year contract to the value of £20,000 per week, though. Worse still we only just survived relegation after winning a few crunch games at the end of April. Even the South terrace was told its services were no longer required and found itself replaced by a car park for two years.

I think this was the season where serious questions were beginning to asked about Hearn’s motives at the club and was his involvement here just about developing real estate in the London area? Eighteen years on and we find people questioning whether the current owner is just running the O’s as a side show for a cable T.V station with no real clue as to the direction that his purchase is heading. Although for a chairman that is supposed to be paying £12 million plus for this much maligned ‘project’ that sort of outlay looks ridiculously outlandish for a mere ‘whim’.

In his recent interview in the ‘standard’ our former chairman had some thoughts as to the way he would have been looking to do things now.

Take the money you are going to spend and scour all of Division Two and the Conference. I would have bought six of their best players that were under 23 and I would have had players that had some sales potential, if they developed. Players in their mid-thirties have no saleable value and that is not a business plan that I would have gone along with’. 

Which sounds a bit rich from a chairman that authorised virtually no cash transfers over the past nineteen years and would have  more than likely sold Chris Dagnall to Shrewsbury on deadline day given the opportunity. In his defence you could put forward the case that Hearn was never in the position to spend the sort of money Becchetti has on the O’s in the past 6 months. Rounding off the interview Barry Hearn administered the following words of perceived wisdom

“It probably would have been better if Becchetti had not been so adventurous so early.”“It took me five years to learn. Becchetti has had a roller-coaster six months and he needs time. He is successful in business which means he has a brain. “What Francesco Becchetti has got to understand is that League One football club in an East End community club is fundamentally different from anything else. The gamble for Leyton Orient fans is: Has Becchetti got the patience? Has he the desire? Has he the ambition to see the job out? It’s a long-term job.”

 

Those closing lines are pretty pertinent.  We are completely in the dark regarding ‘El presidente’s ‘ motives and long term ambitions for our club. Some people are looking at the unbelievable amount of money he has thrown at the O’s so far as the single reason to back him come what may. Well, there’s no denying that fact. But the way the whole make up of the football club has been ripped up and cobbled back together since FB’s arrival has resulted in a fractured club, de-motivated workforce and a management structure straight out of a Dario Fo farce. After last season there is also a temptation to look back on the Hearn tenure as ‘the good old days’ but the problem with nostalgia is that they are only ‘the good old days’ when the times we currently inhabit appear to be a lot worse. Hearn states that it took him 5 years to learn the ropes and to get things right. I’d say it took nearer a decade, with the playing side of the club coming a poor second place to the property developing here until we were promoted back in 2006. It has also left the football club not owning its own ground which is always going to give rise to problems somewhere down the line.

Becchetti’s reign at the club has the look of a microcosm of Hearn first 5 years at the helm here in the space of less than a season. If we don’t beat Notts County- our next game at the time of writing- then we really could be in big trouble in regards to preserving our league one status of 9 years. Looking back at those early days of the Hearn stewardship there are a lot of lessons there that really could be taken on board by our new owner which could save everyone here a whole heap of heartache and that could lead towards the first steps of putting Leyton Orient back on the path to where both Barry and Francesco envisaged when we were sold back in the summer.

The Time Lord

 

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