Read this (excellent) article last week re the decline & fall of Leyton Orient. I must admit, until I read it, I'd no idea they'd fallen as low as they have: they're currently 91st in the Football League, three points adrift of Hartlepool, the side immediately above the drop.
Didn't have much time for them back in the late 1990s/ early 2000s for obvious reasons. Barry Hearn demanding we be deducted points, Carl Griffiths, and- naturally- Scott McGleish. But the guy who owns them now seems to be an absolute basket case. Got done for kicking one of his own managers last season, has gone through a vast array of different managers in the last couple of years, has sold all their best players (including screwing Dean Cox over, plus their top scorer left for Philadelphia Union in January), and is seemingly grinding them down into the dust. Barry Hearn's company still own the stadium, which can't be ideal. As if things couldn't get any worse, they've just appointed as their latest manager ex-Albion waste-of-a-shirt Danny Webb
I actually feel quite sorry for their fans, looking at the current situation.
This has been quite the season for crisis clubs. The Premier League title race may be a foregone conclusion but the battle for the “honour” of most mismanaged club in England could go right to the wire. Charlton, Coventry, Blackburn, Blackpool and Morecambe have endured campaigns pockmarked by protest and off-field chaos but surely none can match the meltdown at Leyton Orient, who look destined for relegation to the non-league ranks after 112 years of Football League membership. And it is looking less like a relegation through misjudgment or penury, but by an owner’s spite.
Orient have yet to pick up a point in 2017 and lost their sixth match in a row on Tuesday, 1-0 to Morecambe, under their fourth manager of the season, Danny Webb, in his second game in charge. Their starting XI included two teenage strikers, Sam Dalby and Victor Adeboyejo, with a combined total of four previous league starts behind them – and a youth-team goalkeeper, Sam Sargeant, promoted because the first choice, Alex Cisak, was strangely not selected.
Cisak had been one of six players transfer-listed at the start of January and already his exclusion carries echoes of the way in which experienced and well-regarded players such as Dean Cox and Jay Simpson were forced out of the club earlier in the season. This young Orient side fought hard but, shorn of resources under a rookie manager, are running on empty.
This is the latest phase in the calamitous ownership of the club by the Italian waste-management magnate Francesco Becchetti, whose two-and-a-half-year reign has featured one expensively funded relegation, an unsuccessful reality TV show, a failed attempted extradition of the owner to Albania as part of a fraud and money‑laundering investigation (he said it was politically motivated), a six-match ban for Becchetti for kicking his then assistant manager Andy Hessenthaler, 10 managers, persistent reports of meddling in team affairs, a chaotic player-recruitment policy and a general sense that no one senior at the club has the first idea of how to run it.
Now we are on the neglect phase. Since a cautious and peaceful joint protest with Blackpool fans against bad ownership before the match between the clubs in November, Becchetti has not shown up for a game and refused to sanction any squad additions (having taken over in 2014 amid a blaze of expensive, ill-advised signings).
Last month the club issued a bizarre and insulting statement on their website, from the chief executive, Alessandro Angelieri, implying the protest was the reason Becchetti is no longer attending matches. The statement also criticised individual players and made the staggering assertion that when Becchetti took over, “a squad without future was inherited”. This future-less squad had just secured Orient’s highest league placing for 32 years, missing promotion to the Championship in 2014 in a Wembley shootout defeat by Rotherham United. Angelieri’s broadside signed off with the claim that Becchetti’s presence was missed by the players. “Mr Becchetti has a great charisma and the players definitely feel his absence,” he said.
Even allowing for English not being Angelieri’s first language, this took Orient fans through the looking glass, if they were not there already. It did, however, hold out a sniff of the one hope supporters now have: that Becchetti might be persuaded to part with his plaything, now he was throwing it out of his pram.
The problem is Leyton Orient are no longer a very sellable club. Becchetti has loaded it with debt – around £9m–£10m, to the holding company owned by him and his mother, Liliana Condomiti, which is assumed to be funded by other family companies – and appears to be holding out for a sale price in that region.
Fans’ responses have ranged from rage to resignation, despair to working to find an alternative, viable future. The Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust (LOFT), of which I am vice-chair, is developing a recovery plan to deal with crisis scenarios, and seeking out sources of investment. It is holding a special general meeting on 2 March to endorse, among other things, the launch of a fighting fund to meet certain contingencies. There is an almost universal view the club has no future under Becchetti; indeed, London’s second-oldest professional club is in peril.
It is unlikely Becchetti will attend another Orient match. Those fans who do are trying hard to rally the team, who in recent games have been doing their best but look ill-equipped to win the battle against relegation. LOFT and other interested parties are working behind the scenes to find a sustainable future off it.
So until a rescue plan comes to fruition, a 136-year-old club continues to be driven into the ground, the football authorities unable or unwilling to act against an owner so palpably unfit to run a club. Somehow, we must hope our team can overcome the obstacles so spitefully thrown in their way from within, starting at Yeovil on Saturday, and retain our league place. But the odds are lengthening all the time.