As I was leaving White Hart Lane after Spurs’ 4-0 thrashing of Bournemouth on Saturday, I noticed a few people standing outside the concourses. “Help save the Orient, lads!” one man was calling, holding a bucket. I saw several fans drop in money as they exited the stadium.
Representatives from the Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust, who are trying to raise funds to either save the club from winding up or to spearhead a phoenix club in the future, announced that they had raised over £7,600 in donations from Spurs and Bournemouth fans leaving White Hart Lane, jubilant in victory.
Often, British fans have their Premier League club, but they also have a second club in the lower tiers of English football. And with Matchroom Stadium being a mere five miles from White Hart Lane, for some Spurs fans, that club is Leyton Orient.
League 2 side Orient is in a bad way right now, in desperate financial straights only a three years after the club was within shouting distance of promotion to the Championship. Since then, the club’s long-time owner Barry Hearn sold the club to Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti who has since hired – and fired – nine managers, sold off its best players, and amassed a huge amount of debt. Orient are currently bottom of the table in League 2 and are all but certain to be relegated out of the Football League for the first time ever.
In the process, there have been numerous allegations of Becchetti meddling with lineups, withholding promised funds for transfers, not paying players, and making bizarre demands of Orient players and staff. Fans have been protesting the way the club has been run for a while now, and are demanding the club be sold. Thus far, those calls have gone unheeded.
The club recently went through a winding-up petition over Becchetti’s failure to pay off a loan of £250,000. The O’s escaped an order to terminate operations after Becchetti paid the outstanding taxes and promised to put £1m into a payroll fund. The club is said to be in the red to the tune of more than £5.5m. The Supporter’s Trust and fans have spearheaded a fundraising effort of £100,000 to help keep the club afloat and from fading out of existence as it is known now.
This isn’t an Orient blog, but this is the kind of story that tends to unite football fans. Stories of football club owners aren’t uncommon, but most football fans understand at some level that this could one day happen to them: there but for the grace of God go I.
I didn’t drop any money into the bucket as I left the stadium, but in hindsight I wish I had. It would’ve been token gesture from an American with no connection to London or to Orient, but an important one nevertheless. However, it was gratifying to see football fans come together to support each other in a time of crisis. Some things transcend rivalry.