O’s slide will go on if Bec­chetti stays...

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY -

THE Na­tional League – or the Con­fer­ence in old money – has long been foot­ball’s equiv­a­lent of The Pri­ory. A last refuge where fa­mous names go to re­ha­bil­i­tate after rock bot­tom has been reached. A place to ex­pel de­mons and start from scratch.

Lu­ton Town, Ox­ford United, Bris­tol Rovers: all were forced to pull up a seat in the rec room, raise their hand and ad­mit: ‘I am a fail­ing club’.

All of them swal­lowed their medicine – the piti­ful spon­sor­ship, the trips to Bar­row and North Fer­riby, the fury of frus­trated fans. All even­tu­ally emerged health­ier and more ro­bust.

Weav­ing

“It’s a hor­ri­ble di­vi­sion,” said Chris Wilder, the man who ended Ox­ford’s four-year ex­ile from the EFL in 2010. “But, my God, it tough­ens you up.”

Sadly, it is hard to see even the best foot­ball ther­a­pist weav­ing a silk purse from the bas­ket case that is Ley­ton Ori­ent.

De­feat by Crewe last week­end brought an end to Ori­ent’s un­bro­ken 112-year stint in the Foot­ball League. Rel­e­ga­tion, how­ever, is the least of their prob­lems.

Owner Francesco Bec­chetti, the jumped-up bin­man who lives in a £20m May­fair town house yet has trou­ble pay­ing staff wages, has poi­soned this com­mu­nity club.

First, he dis­man­tled the team that reached the League One play-off fi­nal in 2014, bizarrely de­scrib­ing Rus­sell Slade’s side as a “fail­ing squad”.

Then, he hired a suc­ces­sion of ex­pen­sive and use­less Ital­ian man­agers and sad­dled them with a bunch of ex­pen­sive and use­less Ital­ian play­ers. Cue rel­e­ga­tion to League Two.

When sup­port­ers had the temer­ity to crit­i­cise his calami­tous regime, Bec­chetti threw a strop and an­nounced he would no longer “play on a Satur­day”. Short­hand for los­ing in­ter­est and cut­ting off funds. Bear in mind that the Ital­ian is 52, not 12. It would be funny but for the de­struc­tion th­ese ac­tions have wrought. Court cases, wind­ing up or­ders, lo­cal busi­ness go­ing un­paid.

Worst of all, staff were paid 24 days late for March. Th­ese are peo­ple who had noth­ing to do with protests. Who live on a frac­tion of what Bec­chetti earns. Who, in some cases, missed rent or mort­gage pay­ments and were forced to re­lo­cate.

Whether mo­ti­vated by spite or gen­uine cash­flow prob­lems, Bec­chetti’s fail­ure to keep staff in­formed is de­plorable.

While a tax bill was paid off in March, a wind­ing-up or­der is due to be heard in June. Bec­chetti must ei­ther pay off the club’s debts or sell up. Con­sid­er­ing he wants £4m for a Non-League side, the lat­ter

looks pretty un­likely.

Flat­ter

It is, though, the only hope for Ori­ent. While the EFL test said oth­er­wise, Bec­chetti has proven him­self un­fit to run a foot­ball club. He got into foot­ball for the glam­our and the glory, to flat­ter an ego big­ger than his Lon­don pad. The Na­tional League is no place for preen­ing pea­cocks. Only those who ad­mit mis­takes and face up to their prob­lems can start the slog back to re­spectabil­ity. Bec­chetti has shown scant sign of that. For ev­ery Ox­ford or Lu­ton, there is a Stock­port or Hereford, clubs for whom re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion proved a step too far. For whom the nadir had not been reached. With Bec­chetti at the helm, Ori­ent could be­come another.

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