In 1905, the Austro-Hungarian empire still existed, Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States, and the city of Las Vegas was founded. Also that year, Leyton Orient joined the Football League and would remain in the league for the next 112 years. Last week, however, what was anticipated became true as The O’s were officially relegated from League Two.
For those unfamiliar, Leyton Orient is the second oldest professional club in London. The name is an odd amalgamation of a few historical oddities. According to club historians, the Orient part came from one of the players insisting the club in the 19th century incorporate the name of his employer – Orient Shipping Company. Leyton was added a few decades later, then after additional name adjustments, Leyton Orient became the official name again in 1987.
Orient are not a club with many trophies. They spent one season in the top flight in the 1960s and advanced to one FA Cup semi-final in their history. However, this disastrous relegation was the result of recent poor financial and staff management. Less than three seasons ago, the club was sold to Francesc Becchetti while they were in League One. The Italian churned through multiple managers in a season that saw Orient slump in the second half to relegation.
The next season, the club made a run at a promotion playoff spot but fell short. During this decent season, the club went through five managers. In addition, Becchetti was investigated for unpaid taxes. Here is a good breakdown of some of the more “questionable” decisions by ownership. Predictably, this season has been pure turmoil as there were questions about who would be paid when and if the team could continue competing in the Football League. By finishing 24th, the answer to the latter is a definitive no.
There are a number of losers in these kinds of situations but not to be forgotten are the fans. Orient fans have understandably not taken well to the mismanagement of a club that only four years ago could have been in the Championship. There have been the usual fan marches and attempts by a Fans Trust to purchase the club. Frustration boiled over this weekend, however. Down 3-1 to Colchester, fans invaded the pitch with five minutes remaining. The moment of catharsis ended with the announcement that the match was abandoned, however, when the fans cleared the pitch and stands the match suddenly resumed.
Financial mismanagement has become too frequent a news story in soccer these days, and the latest victim is one of soccer’s oldest. Orient has some major work to do to return to the League – including cleaning up its ownership mess – but here’s hoping we see this club again in the top four leagues.