Barry Hearn is a man who has made few mistakes during his career, as he turned snooker and darts into the phenomena they are today. However, even he admits his judgement was mistaken when he sold Leyton Orient to Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti in 2014. The club, who were on the verge of promotion to the Championship when sold, will play non-league football for the first time in 112 years after defeat last weekend confirmed their second relegation in three seasons.
Becchetti has been by his absence from Brisbane Road over the past few months, but his ownership has had profound effects on and off the pitch. Five managers have tried (and failed) to galvanise the club over the past 12 months, with players and staff regularly having to wait for their salaries. The club has already survived one winding-up petition this year, with another hearing due in June. Becchetti has pledged to sell the club once an owner is found, but it is hard to see why anyone would want to pay off the debts caused by the Italian’s mismanagement.
Leyton Orient are just the latest club to suffer due to owners treating clubs as just another business project, without regard to the feelings of the fans. Leeds, Newcastle, Aston Villa and Sunderland are just some of the big-name clubs that have experienced a fall from grace, with owners either putting profits over performances, or making promises that everyone knows they won’t be able to keep. Arsenal fan’s may complain about Wenger and Kroenke killing their club, with social media, ArsenalFanTV especially, giving fans a voice they never used to have in the past. Although you would struggle to find any other club in Europe that would complain at Champions League football for twenty consecutive years.
The fit-and-proper person test, imposed by the Premier League and the EFL on all new owners, is clearly not a fit or proper method for judging club’s benefactors. Convicted criminals are still able to run a club, with the EFL themselves admitting that the test doesn’t consider the ‘capabilities’ of the new owners. Hardly the most reassuring news for the fans who turn up week in, week out, to watch their club, even when a drubbing is the most likely outcome.
However, fans of the East London club should not give up just yet. All three teams automatically promoted from League Two this season (Doncaster, Plymouth and Portsmouth) have suffered difficulties in recent times. Plymouth and Portsmouth have both entered administration in the past 10 years, while Doncaster’s ex-chairman once attempted to burn down the stadium in an insurance scam. Stability will be key for Leyton Orient if they are to replicate these clubs and return to league football at the first attempt.
Stories such as this, the liquidation of Notts County Ladies and the tax scandals that have recently hit West Ham and Newcastle, show how football is more dominated by money than ever, a fact that all fans of the ‘beautiful game’ will have to get used to. But while owners like Becchetti can run a club into the ground, the spirit of the supporters will remain unbreakable, right until the bitter end.
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