|It Really Could Be Worse|
Written by Superfrans on Saturday, 18th Mar 2017 19:42
Instead of trekking all the way to Cardiff this weekend, I decided to go and watch my local team. Leyton Orient were playing Doncaster Rovers, bottom vs top in League Two.
I've been popping along to Brisbane Road for 30 years or so, since first moving to London from north Essex as a student. I usually notch up a game or two each season and have seen some pretty dramatic swings of fortune. But never as low as the Os' current trough.
I last went a few weeks ago as a special treat for a special birthday (only my second trip to Brisbane Road this year) and saw the Os beaten by Cheltenham. Then, it was second bottom vs fourth bottom. Cheltenham sneaked it 1-0 and the Os have been in poor form since, losing their last two games 3-0 and 5-0.
This weekend they were put to the sword 4-1, but it could have been far worse - Rovers could have had eight or nine comfortably, but for some appalling finishing.
The decline of The Os has been dramatic. At the end of the 2013/14 season, they were beaten by Rotherham in the play-off final, on penalties, just missing out on a chance to go up to the Championship.
Since then, they have been bought by an ego-maniac Italian called Francesco Becchetti (who has made his millions in waste management) have burned through 10 managers in less than three seasons, been relegated once and now look set to fall into non-league for the first time in 112 years (they are currently the second oldest league club in London behind Fulham). Today, Doncaster Rovers fielded a striker called John Marquis and a defender called Mathieu Baudry, both former Os from their League One days. Baudry missed a penalty in that play-off final - he scored for Rovers today.
The Os are an utter mess. With eight games left this season, they are rock bottom of League Two, Seven points from safety. Their owner (who used to delight in interfering in dressing room matters, making suggestions to his string of managers) rarely comes to games now, because of the grief he receives. (Although there was a suggestion that he might start appearing again, on the basis that the team's form has deteriorated this year, since he has stopped sticking his nose into team affairs).
Becchetti has said he wants to sell the club (although the only two offers he has received haven't been good enough, apparently), the fans are trying to raise enough funds to make an offer, even former owner Barry Hearn (who still owns the ground) has suggested he might come back and support the fans if they mount a takeover bid, and has offered to waive the £185,000 per annum rent on Brisbane Road, if they go into the National League under fan ownership.
At the game today, instead of an official match programme, we were offered a sheet of folded, glossy A2 paper instead, for £1. Presumably designed to allow the club to fulfil the requirement of their annual programme advertising deals, it was printed free of charge by a fan.
When I decided to write this blog, I initially intended it to be a 'be careful what you wish for' piece. And I suppose there is a bit of that. But my overwhelming feeling coming away from Brisbane Road was a feeling of relative relief, that at least my club isn't in this state. I moan sometimes about the trials of tribulations of life at Portman Road. But it has never been like this and, god willing, it never will.
On Monday, Leyton Orient faces a winding up order in the High Court, brought by the HMRC over £250,000 in unpaid tax. Of course, this may be settled before then. But the threat of disaster won't end there.
If Becchetti doesn't find a buyer, who knows what will happen. What looks absolutely clear is that he isn't currently trying to sell a Football League club, Leyton Orient are a non-league club in all but name.
The fans are trying to raise funds to save the club. Various ex-players and club friends have sent signed shirts and balls as auction items, buckets were rattled outside the club today and a gofundme site has been set up.
I know most Town fans will give few hoots for a small club in east London. But I did come away this weekend feeling, 'there but for the grace of god...' etc. If you have a fiver to spare and feel like you want to give a donation, the details are here. I often feel that, at times like these, we are all football fans together.
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