Be care­ful what you wish for...

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

THE proverb ‘Be care­ful what you wish for’ should act as a warn­ing for all fans who cling to the belief that suc­cess and sil­ver­ware will au­to­mat­i­cally follow the ar­rival of the sup­pos­edly mega-wealthy new owner.

Nowhere is this say­ing cur­rently more ap­po­site than at League One’s Ley­ton Ori­ent, where the fans had long been di­vided over the mer­its of pre­vi­ous owner Barry Hearn’s stew­ard­ship.

Since his takeover in 1995, a num­ber had been grate­ful for the fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity that he’d brought, and were pre­pared to ac­cept the bound­aries im­posed by this pru­dence; but oth­ers felt that this cau­tion rep­re­sented a lack of am­bi­tion in a sport which should be all about go­ing for glory.

How­ever, the sale of Hearn’s Match­room Sport’s 90 per cent stake in the club to Ital­ian busi­ness­man Francesco Bec­chetti, in the sum­mer of 2014, has re­sulted in a pe­riod of con­sid­er­able up­heaval, with Ori­ent find­ing them­selves in the lower reaches of the di­vi­sion, and em­ploy­ing their fourth man­ager of the sea­son by the be­gin­ning of De­cem­ber.

Fol­low­ing on from last sea­son – when the pro­mo­tion dream only slipped away in the penalty shoot-out of the League One play-off fi­nal against Rother­ham – the rel­a­tively poor form and man­age­rial changes of this term have left fans dis­ap­pointed by the club’s in­abil­ity to con­tinue mov­ing for­ward.

But how re­al­is­tic were the ex­pec­ta­tions for 2014/15? There was al­ways a thought, nig­gling away at the back of the mind after the de­feat to Rother­ham, that maybe last sea­son was a real one-off; that this par­tic­u­lar group of play­ers had had one of those years un­der man­ager Rus­sell Slade when they had played out of their skins, when prac­ti­cally ev­ery­thing they had tried had come off, and when good for- tune only de­serted them in their fi­nal match.

Fol­low­ing Bec­chetti’s takeover in July, there ap­peared to be, from the very start, a cer­tain cool­ness be­tween the new owner and the man­ager, which rapidly be­came frosty when, after a dis­ap­point­ing start to the new sea­son, Slade was told that he had one game to save his job.

Although he sur­vived, the back­ground grum­bling con­tin­ued, and so it came as no great sur­prise that when Cardiff City’s ap­proach for him was re­jected by Ori­ent, he was pre­pared to re­sign in an ef­fort to move the process for­ward.

As­sis­tant man­ager Kevin Nu­gent stepped into the hot­seat fol­low­ing Slade’s de­par­ture, but was re­placed at the end of Oc­to­ber by the

club’s sport­ing di­rec­tor Mauro Mi­lanese, who him­self was only in charge for eight largely un­suc­cess­ful games be­fore re­vert­ing back to his pre­vi­ous role and mak­ing way for fel­low Ital­ian Fabio Liverani.

De­spite the man­age­rial mu­si­cal chairs, the ele­phant in the sta­dium at Bris­bane Road con­cerns the plans of the owner. Pre­vi­ously linked with a pos­si­ble takeover at Read­ing – a oneclub town – Bec­chetti now finds him­self in pos­ses­sion of a club which strug­gles to sur­vive in a kind of foot­balling Ber­muda Tri­an­gle, with Arse­nal, Tot­ten­ham and West Ham at the three points.

Formed in 1881, the club is the sec­ond old­est in London be­hind Ful­ham, and had a va­ri­ety of names in its early years, only set­tling on Clap­ton Ori­ent just be­fore the turn of the 20th cen­tury (the lat­ter part of the name is be­lieved to have been the idea of a player who was also an em­ployee of the Ori­ent Shipping Company).

Dur­ing the same pe­riod, and on through the first few decades of the 20th cen­tury, the club ex­hib­ited some­thing of a wan­der­lust, play­ing home fix­tures at a num­ber of dif­fer­ent grounds, in­clud­ing two league matches at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium in 1930.

How­ever, seven years later they fi­nally set­tled in Ley­ton’s Bris­bane Road, and after the Sec­ond World War their name was changed once again, this time to Ley­ton Ori­ent (there was to be yet another change in 1966, when the ‘Ley­ton’ was dropped, only to re­turn again in the 80s). Suc­cess on the field has been sparse; fin­ish­ing top of the old Di­vi­sion Three (South) in 1955-56 was fol­lowed six years later with the run­ners-up slot be­hind Liver­pool in Di­vi­sion Two, and an au­to­matic place in the top di­vi­sion.

Un­for­tu­nately, once there the lack of qual­ity in the team was cru­elly ex­posed as they fin­ished bot­tom of the ta­ble with only six wins, and ten points adrift of the side im­me­di­ately above them – Manch­ester City. By 1966 Ley­ton Ori­ent were back in Di­vi­sion Three.

How­ever, rejuvenated un­der man­ager Jimmy Bloom­field they were Di­vi­sion Three Cham­pi­ons in 1969-70, and took up res­i­dency in Di­vi­sion Two un­til 1981-82, when they started a gen­tle slide which cul­mi­nated with a place in the league’s fourth – and low­est – di­vi­sion by the mid­dle of the decade.

Since then, two more pro­mo­tions ei­ther side of a rel­e­ga­tion have seen them oc­cu­py­ing a po­si­tion in League One (the old Di­vi­sion Three) since 2006.

The FA Cup has of­fered some glory with­out sil­ver­ware. A mem­o­rable come­back from two goals down against Chelsea in 1972 led to a 3-2 vic­tory and a place in the quar­ter-fi­nals.

This was bet­tered in 1977-78 when a run fu­elled by the goals of striker Peter Kitchen was only ended by Arse­nal in the semi-fi­nal.

So, just what are Bec­chetti’s plans? He owns a club where, be­cause of the afore­men­tioned prox­im­ity to neigh­bours who con­sis­tently play at a higher level, there are prob­lems at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing support (the av­er­age attendance last year, in a cam­paign in which they chal­lenged for pro­mo­tion un­til the very last kick, was still be­low five-and-a-half thou­sand).

The chang­ing de­mo­graphic of the area around the ground has fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated th­ese is­sues, with many life-long fans hav­ing moved out to the com­muter towns in Es­sex, to be re­placed by largely im­mi­grant com­muni- ties who don’t ap­pear to have an in­ter­est in, or per­haps don’t feel com­fort­able, fol­low­ing a foot­ball club.

In ad­di­tion, own­er­ship of the ground it­self was re­tained by Hearn, although Bec­chetti claims that there is an op­tion for the club to buy if they so wish at some stage in the fu­ture.

At the time of last sum­mer’s takeover there was talk – from both Bec­chetti and Hearn – of ex­pect­ing Ori­ent to be play­ing in the Cham­pi­onship within a cou­ple of years at most, and play­ers such as Jobi McAnuff and Jay Simp­son – with ex­pe­ri­ence at a higher level – were brought in.

But the team’s form has re­mained patchy at best. Even ac­cept­ing that League One this sea­son – with the ex­cep­tion of the top four teams – is close points-wise, and while an ex­tremely strong sec­ond half of the sea­son might see Ori­ent move away from the depths where they cur­rently wal­low, and – at a con­sid­er­able stretch of the imag­i­na­tion – chal­lenge for the lower two play-off spots, it seems more likely that the club’s hi­er­ar­chy will be de­lighted to sim­ply re­tain their place in the di­vi­sion this term.

The as­sault on the Cham­pi­onship will there­fore almost cer­tainly have to wait un­til next sea­son at the very least, and the owner may be re­quired to dis­play so far un­seen lev­els of pa­tience when con­fronting the prob­lems to be sur­mounted on the way.

On the day he passed the reins to Bec­chetti, Hearn stated that ‘it’s a good time to be a Ley­ton Ori­ent sup­porter’. While not all of the fans will agree with him on this, there may be a num­ber who now not only look a lit­tle more favourably at the rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity of his days at the helm, but also know just how care­ful you should re­ally be with your wishes.

Thanks for the cheque! Barry Hearn, right, is all smiles after sell­ing Ley­ton Ori­ent to Francesco Bec­chetti

Just two of the bosses this term, Mauro Mi­lanese, left, and Fabio Liverani

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