*Update to the below: manager Andy Edwards resigned from the club on Sunday 29 January, being replaced by his assistant Danny Webb. Leyton Orient have now had 10 managers in the two and half years since Francesco Becchetti bought the club*
Just over nine months ago, I wrote a piece entitled ‘This is what it’s like to support the craziest football club in the UK’. It’s testament to what has occurred since that, notwithstanding the limitless capabilities of a website article, that I’m having to start a new one to document the next farcical chapter in the history of Leyton Orient football club.
To summarise: Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti buys Leyton Orient from Barry Hearn in 2014 with the club having missed out on promotion to the Championship by a penalty kick.
Since then: nine managers in two and a half years (two of whom spoke no English); relegation into League 2; an excruciating Italian reality TV show to win a contract with Orient (the winner never arrived); the chairman kicking then-assistant manager Andy Hessenthaler on the touchline after a game; the whole squad being forced to stay in a Marriott Hotel for a week following a defeat; an (alleged) punch-up at the end-of-season awards dinner last season; a transfer policy that has lurched from spending thousands on over-the-hill and under-motivated older players, to spending nothing and expecting youth team players to fill half the spots in the team; the inexplicable and vindictive firing of fans’ favourite and arguably best player in League 2 Dean Cox (who then went on to prove his class by playing for free for a non-league team while he waited to be able to join another club); the mysterious departure of young star Scott Kashket (currently one of the top goalscorers in League 2 at Wycombe) who Becchetti personally prevented from playing for us; the departure of virtually every single member of the backroom staff; the departure of literally every single member of that near-promotion-winning squad; constant interference in team selection by Becchetti (confirmed by ex-managers); a refusal to engage with fans or to provide any information whatsoever; all the while running up huge debts – although just how huge, we don’t know, due to the club’s refusal to be transparent about finances.
The club now lies just outside the relegation zone in League 2.
A week ago, it was revealed that five senior players, including arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the lower leagues – who, most weeks, keeps the score down - were on the transfer list, and no new players would be brought in, leaving a threadbare squad featuring a host of 17 and 18 year-olds. Relegation out of the Football League for the first time since the club joined in 1905 seems inevitable.
In recent weeks, other fans and publications have started to become aware of the plight of the Os, but now comes the final insult: the most deluded, embarrassing and plain bizarre press release in history – from the club’s CEO Alessandro Angelieri.
It’s best summarised by this Os fan:
It’s almost a masterpiece of tragicomic writing, with my personal highlights being the following:
“A squad without future was inherited, and has been completely renewed with it today including a number of talents aged between 17 and 24.”
Yes, in the same way an Aston Martin is ‘without future’, but your new tricycle has some real potential.
“Thereafter Mr Becchetti doesn’t play on Saturday.”
Well at least that’s a relief.
“Jordan Bowery’s contribution during the first half of the season was imperceptible”
He may not have played very well, but he was definitely on the pitch. I saw him. More than once.
“...so his departure can be considered neutral”
A bit like Switzerland.
“In terms of funds available, it’s not the club that has to give guarantees to [current manager] Andy Edwards, but vice versa.”
Hold on, is Andy paying our transfer fees now? That seems a bit above the job description.
“I think that my absence due to ill health could have had some negative effect, but I believe even further that the absence of Mr Becchetti [at home games] during the last three months has had a more negative impact on the squad.”
Results in 5 homes games since protest again Mr Becchetti led to him ceasing to attend games: 2 wins, 1 draw, 3 defeats. Results in home games that Mr Becchetti attended prior to protest: 1 win, 8 defeats.
“Mr Becchetti has a great charisma and the players definitely feel his absence.”
Places fallen in the league since Mr Becchetti’s ‘great charisma’ arrived on the scene: 41. Number of former employees who have spoken positively about Mr Becchetti’s ‘great charisma’: 0.
That sentence did at least lead to this excellent comment on Facebook:
The whole thing is a deluded, arrogant hissy fit; a petulant stomp in the direction of supporters who only want the team to do well. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry, as the situation is summed up by club legend, former player and manager Martin Ling:
As I wrote in April, we are not alone. There are great clubs experiencing mismanagement up and down the country: the Blackpool saga continues (in fact the club’s fans marched with Orient’s in November); Leeds are not out of the woods yet (despite the purchase of 50% of the club by the seemingly-more-sensible Andrea Radrizzani); Coventry have been blighted by poor management for years and Blackburn’s fans are still at war with the Venkys.
All of the clubs have engaged in fan protests, in trying to make their voices heard, into trying to inject a semblance of sense into how their clubs are being run but, ultimately, the owners own the club, it is theirs to mismanage as they see fit.
Leyton Orient supporters do not expect to win every game. They do not even expect to win many games. Relegations have come before, they will come again. But part of the glory of supporting a lower league team is knowing that you do things the right way: that you treat the players and managers who have served you well (and even those who haven’t) with respect; that you give players and managers a chance to succeed or fail; that the club and fans are united in wanting to do the best that they can – whatever that best may be; and that you give young players a good go – and not by throwing a bunch of 17-year-olds into a relegation battle which could destroy their confidence and finish their careers before they’ve even begun.
At this time, we are being denied all of those things and it’s desperately depressing. There is a very real possibility that Becchetti could choose to pull the plug on the club – either by putting us into administration and effectively relegating us, by blindly carrying on with the disastrous policies that have led us to this point, or simply liquidating the club, ending 136 years of history.
Powerless, and with the FA remaining silent on the plights of the clubs mentioned above, we simply wait to see what embarrassment befalls us next.