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Maybe even Barry Hearn’s dreams for Leyton Orient and the Olympic Stadium will come true?

24, July 2012

Preview Percy a West Ham United Blogger has joined those who have ridiculed Barry Hearn’s ‘dream’ of taking Leyton Orient to play at the Olympic Stadium.

Back to the beginning; although I don’t remember the start date and acknowledge that attitudes from earlier don’t determine what our attitudes now should be but perhaps help us understand our journeys so far. In his Blog, Preview Percy says “I have no axe to grind with Leyton Orient fans”. That is good, I reciprocate and have no serious animosity towards any other Football Club.

I first actively supported Orient in 1963 as a 14 year old lured by the possibility of seeing some of my footballing heroes at the ground nearest to my Highams Park childhood home. I went to my first O’s game almost as a neutral. I was thrilled to be just yards behind the great Jack Kelsey of “The Arsenal”, but by the time I went home was a little sad to realise that Orient had lost. Over the coming months I saw a succession of boyhood footballing ‘gods’ including Charlton & Law. By the time Orient played Manchester United at Brisbane Road, Os had signed Norman Deeley, a genuine hero of mine, who ‘nutmegged’ Denis Law in that match, one of the few Orient won that season.  By the final whistle, on the night they beat Everton 3-0 I was hooked as an Orient supporter. A small claim to an, “I was there” type moment as Everton would become First Division Champions that season. Orient finished bottom of the division and have not played in the top division of English Football since!

As a Londoner, I want all London teams to either do well or play in same Division as Leyton Orient, and that includes West Ham United.  The attractions and demands of life away from football along with a hatred of being caged took me from the terraces by the early 1980’s but I returned in 1999.

I principally view  Barry Hearn as a hard headed accountant with added blag. I expect he thought he would be able to generate the sort of profit and excitement at Brisbane Road, as he has achieved by promoting activities like fishing and darts to TV. His fellow Football League members must have believed that too, as he was one of their negotiators who sealed the flawed deal with ITV that exposed some clubs, thankfully not Orient, as profligate.

In my mind there is little doubt that Hearn truly ‘saved’ Orient after their previous backer, Tony Wood lost all in Rwanda. Perhaps if Hearn had not bought in for that famous ‘fiver’ fans would eventually have collaborated and kept the club going – but we will never know. I have heard him address fans gatherings several times. I believe his true attitude is, as we are reminded by Preview Percy in his blog, with this full strength Bazza quote “At the end of the day if someone is misguided enough to think I’m going to risk my personal fortune for a football club then they should be in a funny farm.”

I have also heard Hearn talk with great spontaneous emotion about his feelings of intense pride on rare occasions of Orient’s high achievements. The way he once described Os qualification for a Wembley play off final makes me sure that his ownership is more than a simple business or vanity project. Were it either surely he is unlikely to have sustained it for 17 or 18 years already, especially when there was almost a done sell on deal, in 2009. Then Hearn directly involved Terry Byrne’s consortium in the appointment of manager Geraint Williams, before Hearn withdrew from the sale.

When it was first mooted about 6 or perhaps even 7 years ago that a Football Club might move into the Olympic Stadium after The Games, West Ham rejected the idea. Orient very seriously considered it. I recall a fans meeting  with Hearn discussing the pros and cons. An absolute sticking point was that football spectators should not have a running track between them and the pitch. Another complication was the size of the stadium and obviously the finances. I had the impression Hearn persevered for many months. Maybe it would then have enabled him to move Orient out of Leyton Stadium and get back his investment whilst getting a better playing facility nearby. Anyway eventually he pulled out because Lord Coe apparently resolutely agreed as part of the UK’s bid to host the Olympics that athletics would remain in the stadium at all future times. Then after the General Election of 2010 the new Government upset the Stadium plans that Tessa Jowell and the previous Labour Government had in place and decided to look for a football tenant after all. This time from the start West Ham wanted it but Leyton Orient did not, having investigated it thoroughly years before and knowing it was not suitable for them as at that time the running track still had to stay.

For Leyton Orient to move Boroughs is a no bigger deal than it was for West Ham FC to move to East Ham when they began playing at The Boleyn a century ago this year. Leyton Orient were then playing in Hackney and not affected. For West Ham a move to Stratford would take them back onto land that was part of their former home Borough of West Ham in Essex (since 1965 part of the London Borough of Newham). It just so happened that when the Boundary Commission decided where the new London boundaries should be drawn round the two former Essex Boroughs of Leyton and West Ham the line was actually placed between Leyton and Stratford then part of West Ham.  Another configuration might even have linked them together, as actually did happen with East Ham and West Ham, and similarly with Leyton and Walthamstow.

The significance of a possible move for either West Ham United or Leyton Orient to Stratford is not whether they are in the same or different Boroughs, but the nearness and the rules of The Football League, Premier League and Football Association. For O’s to move to Stratford, would probably have no impact on West Ham FC commercially, neither would it significantly alter the distance between them. Not so a move by West Ham FC to Stratford. Such a move would place The Hammers nearer the O’s. That will almost inevitably impact on the O’s commercially as far as new fans coming along. West Ham would fortuitously and surely unfairly benefit from the pull of all the publicly funded infrastructure of the Olympic Park and neighbourhood. The transport links connect the rest of the world right to the heart of the Olympic Park, which will surely favour any team from any sport against other competitors. For both clubs to play at the Olympic Stadium, alternating home and away fixtures seems fairest. Seating and hopefully safe standing terraces needs to be arranged to avoid spectating across the athletics track. The finances will be complicated but must be negotiable and better than having an underused stadium as happened for years with the Millennium Dome.

The Football League, and The Premier League, each have rules protecting the commercial interests of all their member clubs against any one member club obtaining an unfair advantage over another as a consequence of  a move to a new venue. Before a club moves to within “the vicinity” of another member of either League, that club must gain the approval of the League itself.

I presume The Football Association, to which these Leagues and Clubs are all affiliated has an interest in ensuring that the reputation of the game is not damaged by one of its members behaving  disreputably to another.

Barry Hearn  complained about an earlier round of contract tendering that resulted in West Ham United being appointed as the preferred bidder for the Stadium tenancy. He said that both the Football League, of which West Ham then was a member and The Premier League of which they are now a member did not properly enquire into the effect of a move by West Ham on the Orient as their respective rules demand. Leyton Orient, as is any organisation’s right, sought to demonstrate that the matter had been handled illegally via an application for a Judicial Review of the procedures involved by The High Court. The Government chose not to allow The High Court to decide the issue, presumably they were advised by their lawyers they were likely to lose, and instead cancelled the whole tenancy bidding process and started it again, with rather different rules.

As I understand it now, the occupants of the Olympic Stadium will not be a tenant but merely a hirer, so there is scope for several different organisations to be alternate hirers, like happens at other performance venues. Consequently  Leyton Orient have submitted a bid to become Stadium hirers, and in view of Hearn’s remarks about the running track, presumably if Leyton Orient do play home games there arrangements  will be made so that fans do not have to spectate over the track.

Via Twitter I asked of a Government PR Tweeter “Will the running track of the Stadium be overlaid with seats like Leyton Orient suggested yrs ago?“ The reply was “future use of the stadium will depend on who takes it over post Games. Latest info on the LDC website “ So from that I conclude that even a Government spokesperson now accepts that it is possible for there to be a temporary arrangement to cover the athletics track with seating. There was a technical issue about the rake of the seating being different for football and athletics spectating, which I do not fully understand, but as a multi-million pound Government sponsored refit is involved, surely different arrangements for seating for different types of events is achievable?

On a worldwide scale Barry Hearn’s “dream” falls far short of Martin Luther King’s but for those of us who first supported Os playing at Leyton Stadium in Brisbane Road, were it to come to fruition and they turn out as the home team at the Olympic Stadium it would at least count as momentous. Then again, as Os are still the only football team to have ever played home Football League matches at Wembley Stadium, before it became an Olympic venue in 1948, perhaps even moving to Stratford is actually just a mite short of momentous!


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