FIGHT FOR SUR­VIVAL

Ley­ton Ori­ent fans come to­gether as their club’s plight deep­ens

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By John Lyons

DE­TER­MINED Ley­ton Ori­ent sup­port­ers are go­ing to do ev­ery­thing they can to save their cri­sis-hit club – and if they can’t, they’ll form a new one.

While rookie man­ager Danny Webb tries to keep the club in the EFL on the pitch, there are more press­ing mat­ters to deal with off it.

The lat­est bad news was that the east Lon­don club face a wind­ing up pe­ti­tion from HM Rev­enue and Cus­toms for non-pay­ment of tax, be­lieved to be £250,000. A High Court hear­ing has been pen­cilled in for March 20.

There are fears the O’s con­tro­ver­sial Ital­ian owner Francesco Bec­chetti will not stump up the cash, hav­ing al­ready de­cided he wants to sell up and try to re­coup the £4m he paid for­mer owner Barry Hearn in July 2014.

The Ley­ton Ori­ent Fans’ Trust (LOFT) have had con­cerns about Bec­chetti’s er­ratic run­ning of the club – they have had ten man­agers dur­ing his ten­ure – and held a spe­cial gen­eral meet­ing last Thurs­day to con­sider what ac­tion they can take.

If Bec­chetti, pic­tured be­low, doesn’t pay the tax bill, the fans would seek the ap­point­ment of an ad­min­is­tra­tor, who would look to sell the club to a po­ten­tial new owner. How­ever, that would re­sult in the club be­ing docked 12 points un­der EFL rules and mean al­most cer­tain rel­e­ga­tion. There are other sce­nar­ios LOFT are con­sid­er­ing, such as Bec­chetti sell­ing up or form­ing a ‘phoenix’ club if the O’s go into liq­ui­da­tion. As part of their ef­forts, the trust have set up a ‘fight­ing fund’ to be pre­pared for ev­ery even­tu­al­ity and have set a tar­get of £250,000, the amount un­der­stood to be owed to the tax­man. LOFT vice-chair­man Tom Davies said: “In my 30-plus years of go­ing, this is the worst it’s ever been. We have had crises be­fore, but never some­thing so hard to con­trol. Bec­chetti doesn’t seem to care and has done a bunk, so it’s re­ally hard to know what he’s think­ing.

“He’s been un­con­tactable for a while and even would-be own­ers haven’t been able to get a re­sponse. Usu­ally clubs get the money over the line when there’s a wind­ing-up hear­ing, but that doesn’t seem so likely here.

Re­sponse

“It may be eas­ier to deal with an ad­min­is­tra­tor than him and if we went into ad­min­is­tra­tion now we’d lose points this sea­son – we might be go­ing down any­way.”

LOFT are hop­ing their busi­nesslike ap­proach and fundrais­ing ef­forts will show they are ca­pa­ble of be­ing a part of any new con­sor­tium that could take over the club and help to at­tract other in­vestors.

They have also been in touch with 13 other trusts, in­clud­ing AFC Wim­ble­don, Portsmouth, Ch­ester and Here­ford, who ei­ther cur­rently own their own clubs or have faced sim­i­lar prob­lems the O’s are deal­ing with now.

The op­tion of form­ing a new club, which would more than likely have to start at the fifth tier of Non-League, is also un­der dis­cus­sion, though the trust have made it clear this is a last re­sort.

Davies added: “It’s an an­gle peo­ple have picked up on and it was raised at our meet­ing, but there’s not a huge will­ing­ness to do that.

“It would be a lot of hard work and you would go down at least three di­vi­sions. There have been some high-pro­file suc­cess sto­ries, but it’s the last re­sort at the mo­ment. It’s only some­thing we would do if there was no Ley­ton Ori­ent at all oth­er­wise.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WOR­RY­ING TIMES: Ley­ton Ori­ent’s fu­ture is in doubt and the fans’ trust are try­ing to en­sure the club sur­vives

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