I know this isn’t strictly Lincoln City, nor is it even our division after we swapped places, but as a football fan it is hard to ignore the terrible situation continuing to unravel over at Leyton Orient.
It would seem that news of the winding-up petition against Leyton Orient being dismissed at a High Court last week was positive, but the truth is very different. The O’s are still in a perilous position, and if anything owner Francesco Becchetti has left them with fewer options than before.
Orient, who switched places with us this season, owed money to four creditors. Becchetti paid the with the debts paid last Monday to ensure the clubs survival. Cue happy scenes? Not really.
If he hadn’t paid the debts, then the fans group would have had some options to move forward and remove the owner, possibly by going into administration. By coming up with the cash at the eleventh hour all Becchetti has done is ensured he still has full control of the club. If he were a sympathetic owner looking to restore them to their rightful place, then all well and good.
However, Becchetti found the cash for the creditors despite not paying staff for weeks. From the outside this looks like a cold move, proving the funds have always been there, but that he is only willing to move when he faces losing the club. People’s wages and livelihoods were not sufficient to coax him into putting money into the club. Callous? Absolutely.
Orient are not out of the woods yet either, whether that is a good or a bad thing is up for debate. It is understood there are still creditors owed sums of money, including an events management firm allegedly owed about £18,000, while Waltham Forest council are owed about £35,000 and a photographer about £6,000.
Becchetti has promised to pump up to £1m into the club although on past form I suspect fans are dubious. They lost 112 years of Football League history last season, and the club is in free fall. Season tickets have yet to go on sale, and the talk is that there may be a Blackpool-style boycott of fixtures until Becchetti is removed. That could drive the club under, at least Blackpool have had moderate on-field success to prop up the regime there.
In addition to season tickets not going on sale, the club currently have no pre-season friendlies arranged. They have just 12 players on their books, and allegedly they don’t even have a kit for the coming season. Former owner Barry Hearn still owns the Brisbane Road ground, prime real estate in the heart of London, ripe for continued E10 gentrification. He sold Orient to Becchetti, but he won’t be coming to their rescue. but will not be riding to the rescue.
“Absolutely not,’ the 68-year old told the Daily Mail ‘I gave up a huge amount of my life for a football club which will never make money”.
The National League announce then new season’s fixtures on July 5th, and Orient need to show they are in a position to compete in the league prior to that or they will not take their place in the division. Goodness knows where that will leave them.
National League spokesman Colin Peake confirmed that if they were unable to fulfil their fixtures, the competition would be scaled down to 23 teams. Speaking to the York press (desperately scrabbling for a reprieve no doubt) he said:
“Leyton Orient were present at the AGM and were accepted into the National League and are part of the constitution. We now except them to carry on in accordance with the rules and regulations of the National League and we’ve not heard anything else to suggest the contrary. They have complied with everything and the next step will be approving their pre-season budget by the end of June. Nothing can happen now to the division and, even if they dropped out of the league tomorrow, we would run one club short, because the constitution can’t be changed after the AGM.”
Just three seasons ago Orient reached the League One play-off final, losing on penalties to Steve Evans and Rotherham. Shortly after Francesco Becchetti took over the club and began a regime of foolish overspending and calamitous collapse. From the brink of the Championship to Maidenhead away (or worse) in three seasons.
In those three seasons they have gone through TEN managers, suffered two relegations and then in March became the subject of the winding up order they recently survived. Manager Omar Riza isn’t sure if he’ll be in charge next season, the fans aren’t sure if they’ll be on the terraces and nobody is entirely sure Leyton Orient will even kick off the 2017/18 campaign.
It’s a sad state of affairs for London’s second oldest professional club, and a stark reminder of how bad things truly can get. One thing Lincoln City always had throughout our time in the BSP / National League was strong and stable management, despite EGM’s and protests. We were mismanaged out of the Football League by players and managers, not by the club owner.
As a genuine football fan, I hope that the Orient supporters can move forward in some way, be it with the club or with a phoenix club. That idea isn’t being muted yet, but if Becchetti continues to drive them into the ground what choice will they have?
In a city of 9 million people, a club with average attendances of less than 5,000 seem to mean very little. Orient faced threats from nearby West Ham, moving into their ‘territory’ when taking residence in the Olympic Stadium. It isn’t the corporate juggernaut of the Premier League stealing their existence, although that threat will still loom large if they win this battle. 112 years of history is on the brink of being wiped out, not by the financial clout and corporate appeal of their much bigger neighbours, but by the stubborn resolve of an owner happy to simply leave them to die.
Francesco Becchetti, a man who bought a £22m Mayfair mansion in November 2016, but can’t pay the club photographer £6000 he’s owed in 2017. A man who earned himself a six-match ban for kicking Orient’s Andy Hessenthaler after a win over Portsmouth. A man almost deported to Albania last year on corruption charges, and a man who has left Leyton Orient and it’s staff to rot away in an act of petulant disdain.
Francesco Becchetti, a man deemed a fit and proper person to own a football club by the Football League. You think the EFL Trophy is the biggest problem we have, but does it really surprise you that Leagues One and Two are treated with such contempt when a man like this can take charge of one of its clubs without any issues? The EFL silence on the matter speaks volumes about the set-up we’ve fought so hard to regain membership of.