FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL
Leyton Orient fans come together as their club’s plight deepens
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.
“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.”
WORRYING TIMES: Leyton Orient’s future is in doubt and the fans’ trust are trying to ensure the club survives