A rough guide to... Leyton Orient

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

1 August 2016

Orient's hopes for the new season are tempered by an eccentric owner and the imposition of new neighbours 

How are you?

If you are a football, as opposed to a Premiership, fan and you have ever lived in London, the chances are you have gone to watch Orient. Maybe they were hosting your team. Maybe you were just at a loose end. It was on such an afternoon that I once saw Orient beat a Wales team featuring Ryan Giggs.

You have your big London beasts who expect to win things and get cross when they don't, then you have Orient rustling up an existence in the undergrowth, some shrew-like mammal in the age of the dinosaurs. When the meteorite strikes the Premier League, the future will be theirs.

That's unless one of the dinosaurs has been given permission to take over a concrete bowl right in the middle of the mammal's habitat, of course.

What have you been up to?

Orient, like so many distinguished clubs, were formed by a bunch of cricketers trying to keep fit in the winter, one of whom worked for the Orient shipping line. Through their long history, they have toyed with various names, including plain Orient, Clapton Orient, and 'financially troubled' Orient. They reverted to Leyton Orient in 1987.

They have been members of the Football League since 1905, with just one season in the top flight in 1962-63. Their last promotion was secured in 2005-06 courtesy of a last-minute winner at Oxford and a last-minute equaliser conceded by Grimsby. We're not bitter.

We can hardly blame the O's that in 2010 we rejected the opportunity to bring Russell Slade back to Blundell Park, and he led Orient to their most successful seasons of the century so far - an FA Cup run that ended in the fifth round at Arsenal in 2011, and a penalty shoot-out play-off defeat in 2014. Not bitterness; schadenfreude. Orient's Russell Slade experience - in the automatic promotion places most of the season until falling away to a play-off defeat, followed soon after by a contentious departure - sounds strangely familiar.

2014-15 was the season Orient changed managers more often than most of us change bogrolls. Too many cooks may or may not spoil the broth. Certainly four managers meant relegation.

What kind of season did you have?

An instant return to the third flight must have looked on the cards when Orient won their first five games of last season. They only won four more before the new year. Improved form through January, February and into March meant that the play-offs remained a real possibility.

With ten matches of the season remaining, fanzine the Leyton Orientear wrote:

"It would be lovely to think that our boys could find it in themselves to have a really strong finish to the season, and so take us up to at least a play-off place but being the O's you just don't hold your breath ... Leyton Orient just do not do strong finishes. Invariably it all goes pear-shaped for us come spring."

That was written before a run of one win in seven games, ending with a defeat against promotion rivals Wimbledon that put paid to their promotion chances. Proof if you need it that everything you read in a fanzine is true.

Last season, Orient got by with a mere three managers. Ian Hendon lasted until January. Player-manager Kevin Nolan was given 15 games to show what he can do. Andy Hessenthaler, brought to the club as assistant-manager by Hendon, remains the man nominally in charge. For now. 

How are you feeling?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a football club is better known for its owner than its manager, it is on the road to hell. Its progress might seem triumphal, but the shine of the expensively-acquired trophies merely hides its ultimate destination.

Meet Francesco Becchetti. Becchetti made his fortune from waste disposal and recycling. Since buying a 90 per cent holding in Orient from Barry Hearn in 2014, he has certainly proved efficient at disposing of managers.

The Albanian government had been trying to extradite Becchetti on charges of fraud and money laundering, until in July a UK court found in Becchetti's favour. Nothing to do with Orient you might think, except Becchetti had his victory trumpeted on their website.

Becchetti is what you might call a hands-on owner. His antics during a Boxing Day victory last year resulted in the FA banning him from the stadium for six weeks. During the game, he moved down from the directors' box to sit behind the dug-out and "get involved". At the final whistle, he was seen to argue with Hessenthaler - assistant manager at the time - and aim a kick at him. Becchetti then took a lap of honour, just in case any fans held onto that old-fashioned notion that it might have been the players who had won the game.

The O's have players you have heard of. Ollie Palmer is still there, and seen as an earnest trier. Armand Gnaduillet was linked with a move to Town before he joined Orient in January. Jay Simpson scored 25 goals last season. However, with Southend trying to buy him, he was kept out of the side for the first three games of the season.

Orient ought to have the resources to do well. But when players and coaches are wondering when the next Becchetti intervention will come, the chances are they will under-perform.

Where are you from?

Go to the 2012 Olympic Stadium, now called the London Stadium. That's the one which cost about £500 million of public money and is now used by West Ham for £2.5 million a year, with free policing, stewarding, maintenance and corner flags thrown in.

Now head north a couple of miles. It might not be the most scenic walk so imagine you are walking along the seafront from Cleethorpes Leisure Centre to Blundell Park. That's about the same distance as the journey from the London Stadium to Brisbane Road, home of Leyton Orient.

Orient ended their opposition to West Ham taking over the Olympic Stadium in a confidential agreement reached in 2014. Nevertheless, when the terms of West Ham's tenancy were finally revealed - The Olympic Stadium bosses resisted publishing them - former owner Barry Hearn claimed "My dog could have negotiated a better deal for the taxpayer."

You must be so relieved you have the Leyton Orientear?

Given the new proximity of West Ham, given Becchetti, Orient fans have a lot to be pissed off about. That is grist to the fanzine mill, so at the risk of sounding self-referential, lets end with a tribute to the Leyton Orientear.

The Leyton Orientear was launched in 1986, making it probably the second oldest club fanzine in the country after Bradford's City Gent. It is a print publication, so its online presence is restrained, but it does maintain a facebook page. Apparently, they are hoping to sell their latest issue among their fans at Blundell Park tomorrow. If you find yourself mingling with them in the newly named Wheelhouse Bar, see if you can buy a copy. It would be a fitting way to mark the occasion. 

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