Leyton Orient: The Sun Rises In The East
Three summers ago, Leyton Orient supporters were rueing what might have been. Beaten only by a penalty shoot-out at Wembley with a place in the Football League Championship at stake, the club was setting course on a new journey following the decision of Barry Hearn to sell it to the Italian businessman Francesco Bechetti. Optimism and nervousness have a tendency to be familiar bedfellows, but how might things turn out for one of English football’s perennial stalwart clubs.
We know the answer to this question now, of course. Having been so close to the second tier of English football, Leyton Orient will start the new season on its fifth tier following a calamitous period under Bechetti’s ownership that is perhaps best summed up by the sense of relief across the club’s fan-base that it will now be starting the new season at all. Life, as the popular vernacular of this era suggests, comes at you fast.
The three years between Bechetti’s arrival at Brisbane Road and the present day should serve as a salutary reminder to anybody who considers the game to be precious of the speed with which a club can unravel with the wrong faces running the show. Relegation from League One the following season was the first tremor of the earthquake. Finishing the season before last just outside of the League Two play-off places felt like little more than a false flag operation.
Last season, however, was the point at which the wheels came off the wagon completely. When the decline of Leyton Orient hit its point of critical mass, the effect of it all was swift and savage. Relegation from the Football League after one hundred and twelve years came with a whimper, whilst the growing unease of supporters over Bechetti’s management of the club seemed to be broadly ignored by the wider world. When the drop came, there was no struggle on the gallows. Leyton Orient fell through the trapdoor with the anger of supporters the only background noise.
Elsewhere, meanwhile, the only context that could be found within which we could place this slump only further compounded concerns that even this relegation was but the tip of the iceberg, with regards to its woes. A date at the High Court in London, fighting off a winding up order, felt like little more than a stay of execution. Backroom staff were not being played. A threadbare playing squad of youngsters had shown few signs of being anything like ready for the rough and tumble of life in the National League, and even this felt a little like wishful thinking when set against apocalyptic headlines regarding the club’s financial position.
Somehow, though, Leyton Orient have been saved, and today brought confirmation that the club had been purchased by Nigel Travis, reportedly a life-long Orient supporter and, perhaps more importantly, the CEO of Basker & Robbins and Dunkin Donuts. Finally, after three years of misery, a chance for the Os to breathe again. Travis will be joined on the board of directors by a second investor, Kent Teague, who has been named as a director of the club, whilst local businessman Marshall Taylor has been named as its interim Chief Executive Officer.
It is, of course, extremely difficult to gauge how successful the owner of any football club might be on the day that the purchase is confirmed. On this occasion, however, there are reasonable grounds for optimism that the club is in safe hands. Teague tweeted the following message this afternoon, the content of which should give considerable heart to the club’s supporters:
What is significant in the above statement is the reference to the Blackpool match. This, as many of you will doubtlessly remember, was the end of season match against another club at which protests against the owners have been long and hard, at which Orient supporters were briefly threatened with being unable to attend following the faux abandonment of the team’s previous match against Colchester United the week before. Most football club owners would choose to either remain silent on this sort of subject, but the fact that this has been recognised by the new owners, especially when coupled with their pledge to give a directorship to a fans’ representative, gives considerable optimism that Leyton Orient will now be run for the benefit of the fans.
There are notes of caution, of course. There always are. Words are fine, but the new owners of Leyton Orient will ultimately be judged on their actions in running the club. And it remains a truth universally acknowledged that the National League is an extremely competitive league that may prove difficult to bounce back from. But such concerns are really for another day. For now the club survives. It is also worth remembering that these events are no reflection on the Football League, whose hopeless inertia when faced with a potential disaster in its midst speaks volumes for an organisation that retains a capacity for tripping over its own shoelaces whenever it leaves its own house. Terrible owners remain in situ at Coventry City, Blackpool, Charlton Athletic and others. The rules regarding the ownership of football clubs in this country still require a complete overhaul to reflect the importance of the institutions that they are seeking to protect.
There will be challenges and there will be changes. Manager Omer Riza’s contract is up for renewal at the end of this month and it’s not difficult to imagine him being cconsidered surplus to requirements at the club. And, with just two months until the start of the new season, time to rebuild the playing squad is definitely tight. On this occasion, however, playing matters don’t quite feel like the most important matter at hand for Leyton Orient. The club has had a near-death experience from which it now has an excellent chance of surviving, and that should feel like enough, for now. Tomorrow’s another day, and at least the club’s long-suffering supporters have a tomorrow to look forward to now. No thanks, of course, to the Football League.
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