The end of the footballing season has unfortunately signalled the end of league football for the London club.
Fans can take relegation, no matter how painful it is at the time. It’s part of football and ultimately, someone needs to go down. However, fans can’t take poor ownership of their beloved club. It seems that Leyton Orient are victims of just that and will now spend their first year outside of the Football League in their history.
I am not a businessman, but the thought of an owner putting a club £10 million in debt just doesn’t make sense. Reading through today’s issue of The Non-League Paper, columnist Ian Ridley mentions that O’s owner Francesco Bechetti has done just that. A debt that is big enough of a problem for a team competing in the Football League, let alone for a team that has just been relegated to Non-League. In all honesty, it could be crippling.
It’s even mentioned that the club could go as far down as Step 5, playing in the Essex Senior League. Clearly this would unthinkable for most O’s fans, as it was for AFC Wimbledon fans when they started their journey from the Combined Counties league over 14 years ago.
Surely more needs to be done to prevent club owners from neglecting clubs. I don’t buy into this notion that an owner can “do what they like with a club”. A football club is not a sports car, a newly bought mansion or even any other kind of business. A football club is a bedrock of the local community, not a plaything.
I was lucky enough to witness the formative years of AFC Wimbledon from within the club. There was a spirit of togetherness, of “us against the world”. It helped the club grow both on and off the pitch.
What is more troubling is if Leyton Orient do start the season in the National League. Take a look at York City. Back to back relegations have forced them down into the National League North, coupled with the managerial farce and off field problems they suffered. The O’s need to heed the warning suffered by York City and need to sort their problems out now. Fans might be persuaded to leave Brisbane Road and follow one of the bigger London teams. That might sound like sacrilege to the average football fan, but with many supporters shying away from the glitz and glamour of professional football to follow local non-league teams, there is no doubt it could happen the other way round.
It’s testing times for the East Londoners. Only time will tell how it will pan out. With reports of supporter-backed take over bids and the upheaval that all this speculation will bring, I hope that the next chapter in their history will be a smoother one than recently.