A ‘regeneration fund’ set up by fans of under-threat football club Leyton Orient has nearly reached six figures – days before a court hearing that could determine its fate.
Supporters of Leyton Orient launched the fund two weeks ago after it was revealed that the O’s, the second-oldest professional football club in London, faced a winding-up petition at the High Court because of an unpaid tax bill.
The Leyton Orient Fans’ Trust (LOFT) is trying to raise as much money as possible to be used as a ‘contingency’ in the event the club is forced to fold or go into administration following the court hearing on 20th March.
Tom Davies, LOFT’s vice-chair and an O’s fan since the late 1970s, told the Echo: “The support for the club has been overwhelming, after the game against Accrington Stanley the total is now over £90,000.
“We have had donations from fans of other clubs, from all over the country, and also some former players have dug in. It’s a collective effort, it’s been really heartening.”
The regeneration fund is not intended to be used to help the club pay its bills, but instead give fans a stake in Leyton Orient’s future should it go into administration or be liquidated entirely.
“It’s about having a contingency,” explained Tom. “We need a fund to draw on and potentially use in buying a stake in the club. It is a very fluid situation at the moment and this fund gives fans a position from which we might take a formal position in the club in future.”
Fundraising events are being planned to help boost the fund, including a benefit night at Ye Olde Rose and Crown in Walthamstow on 10th April. Shirts worn by former players are also being auctioned off, with bids of several hundred pounds made.
LOFT has held two public meetings in the last fortnight to discuss fans’ concerns and discuss possible scenarios. One option is forming a new club altogether, following the hugely successful example of AFC Wimbledon.
This week Leyton Orient FC fell to bottom of the English Football League after losing 5-0 at Accrington, a new low for the club that has come less than three years after the O’s were within a penalty shoot-out of playing in the Championship.
Shortly after the Wembley defeat, Orient were sold by sports promoter Barry Hearn to current owner Francesco Becchetti. Earlier this year Becchetti put the club up for sale but said he did not want to accept any offer lower than the £4million he bought it for, despite Orient having fallen 45 league places under his ownership.
Hearn, meanwhile, has stated that he regrets selling to the Italian. Although he does not wish to buy the club back from him, Hearn this week offered to let Orient play rent-free next season at the Matchroom Stadium in Brisbane Road, which his company Matchroom Sport still owns, if the club is taken over by fans.
Tom added: “He [Becchetti] has an unrealistic asking price, but the pressure is mounting on him. We have been talking to Barry Hearn and he told us he feels like he made a mistake selling to Becchetti, but he has been talking about what he can now offer us to help the situation.
“LOFT will have a legal representation at the court hearing next week, but even if the club pays its tax bill, it doesn’t solve the bigger problem.”
An Early Day Motion expressing concern over Leyton Orient’s plight was launched in the House of Commons this week by Leyton and Wanstead MP John Cryer. So far signed by nine MPs, it reads: “This House notes with deep concern that a winding-up order has been served on Leyton Orient FC by HM Revenue and Customs due to non-payment of taxes by the club’s owner, Francesco Becchetti; further notes Mr Becchetti’s highly dubious business record, including a criminal investigation by the Albanian Government, and his incompetent stewardship of Leyton Orient FC; notes that a venerable and well-known community football club is now under threat; and calls on the government to enforce a genuine fit and proper person test, ensuring that any prospective or current club owner’s ability and willingness to pay creditors is robustly checked on a regular basis.”
To donate to the Leyton Orient Regeneration Fund: