The picture that you can see at the top of this article was taken after the home game involving Leyton Orient and Luton Town last Saturday afternoon. As ever, this sort of protest has divided opinion amongst the Orient support. I’m sure the people behind it will explain that it’s borne out of a genuine concern as to where the owner is taking the club, while others will argue that it’s not helping the current situation and we should be backing the team over 90 minutes come what may.
No matter what your stance or view on the protest or indeed the running of the O’s we have seen an ever growing rise of discontent from supporters with their club owners all over the football league. Clubs such Charlton, Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers and Coventry city have all witnessed massive protests at their respected stadiums at various times during the past two years regarding how their respective clubs are being managed. In Coventry City’s case a hedge fund who are on the brink of having the club kicked out of their home for a second time in four years and are negotiating to sell its training facility for housing in a cool £12 million pounds deal.
Despite this, though, unpopular regimes are still in place and the upshot of all this being that supporters groups are still pretty powerless to influence club policy unless they possess a serious financial backer or amount of cash currency, no matter how many plastic pigs get thrown onto the pitch during a game.Which I suppose brings us back to the title of this missive.
There has been a lot of debate on Orient forum about what financial shape Orient owner Francesco Becchetti will eventually leave the club when he finally calls it a day as owner at Brisbane Road. Now at this point let me say that there is no indication that he is looking to walk away or sell the club anytime soon, which makes this as good a time as any to talk about making some plans for when or if he does.
Now I think it’s fair to say that I am not a fan of our esteemed president and I’d offer the opinion that his reign has been a lesson in how not to run a football club straight from the off going back to September 2014. However, on a strictly football on the pitch basis, you can’t entirely rule out that at some point something could turn positively and we’ll head in the right direction with all the unrest over that time becoming a distant memory. This happened even under Barry Hearn, although it took the best part of two decades and a lot of mediocrity along the way. The x factor is what the scenario will be financially as the club debt racks up. Becchetti has had a sporting dalliance once before – in Italy – with a handball side that became successful under his ownership only to collapse after he left soon afterwards and maybe therein lies the lesson for us. Orient are in the same boat with Franco as we were with Hearn in that if they either walked off or dropped down dead tomorrow what the hell would happen then?
It’s been 21 years from ‘Club from a fiver season’ and what has changed or have we learned anything? Are Leyton Orient any better prepared now than we were to at least buy the club some time in relation to carrying on in a financial crisis? I think the honest and probably obvious answer is; ‘No’. Mainly because there appears to be this assumption that ‘somebody will always ride to the rescue’. In my book that view is based on what happened in 1995 and what people are forgetting are two things.
1.The club has no assets at all, it doesn’t even own it’s own ground and we are now mere tenants in regard to the stadium we now play our football.
2. Whatever debts we had back in 1995 when the famous ‘we couldn’t even pay our milk bill’ quote was aired by Barry Hearn it won’t be a million pounds, they will run into the £10’s of millions. There seems to be a fanciful notion that Becchetti will just take a financial ‘hit’ and walk away but this just appears on the doubtful side of wishful thinking or if we are being a little more blunt, breathtakingly naive.
In the event of the financial shit hitting the fan (pre or mid season) what can be done to at least keep the club going in the short term? Going by what happened in 1995 the PFA would pay some of the wages of the players but Orient would need to find money just to host matches at the ground and fulfil our league fixtures. One thing that has come out of the recent unrest at football clubs appears to be the complete apathy shown by the football league to the situation although they seem more visible when it comes to punitive measures such as points deductions for it’s members when they enter administration or fines for clubs such as Blackpool over the match v Huddersfield that had to be abandoned at half time. I don’t think we’ll be seeing much in the way of help or support from the EPL if it came down to it quite frankly.
So I suppose that our main hope in the short term would be to mobilise various supporters groups at the club. Have the official supporters club or LOFT (supporters trust) put any money away for an emergency? All I am saying is at this point is that if there was 50-100k saved since 1995 we could at least say that orient could fulfil some fixtures (ground rent/ stewarding ,paying for away coaches for the players,etc) while a fight to save the club was ongoing. Even now, some money put in a high (well, what passes for high in the 21st century) interest account could raise a decent wedge in two years if it was planned and supported in the right way.
LOFT appear to have some sort of contingency plan and people with decent financial knowledge should that happen but not much in the way of cash to facilitate it. We as supporters have had time to raise funds but appear not to have done so even though the club almost collapsed twenty years ago and the warning signs have been around for a long time since then. Maybe it’s time for a joint fund raising effort from both LOFT and the supporters club to at least give us a platform to keep Orient alive whoever the owner is or whatever the scenario regarding Leyton Orient’s future appears to be. I know that the supporters club have always took a neutral stance in club affairs -and that’s fair enough – and LOFT are looked upon as a talking shop and not much else, which is more than a tad unfair. What needs to be looked at is the the future of clubs at our level and how we can continue without a major financial backer if it came down to it. There is an AGM being held by LOFT on the 10th of November and I think that this proposal should at least be seriously discussed. It would also give them a lot more credibility, in my view anyway.
What is clear is that after our experience of 21 years ago we haven’t really thought about what happens next time this scenario rears it’s head and most people connected with the O’s have taken the Wilkins Micawber line of ‘Something will turn up’. But that’s is sort of the point. When trouble hits then it’s usually a race against time to raise funds which invariably mean that we are starting off from a weak position when it comes to affecting a positive outcome – I’m not advocating buying the club or even making a 999 call to Andrew Lloyd-Webber (he’s gone ex-directory after the last time) here but at least having some way of keeping the club going even as a Ryman league side if it came down to it.
The bottom line is doing nothing as a collective support isn’t an option anymore if you want the O’s to have a future. It’s time to mobilise.