In a game that slipped well below the radar on Saturday, a meeting between clubs sitting 91st and 92nd in the Football League pyramid, Leyton Orient ran out 0-4 winners over Newport in south Wales.
Orient are still 2 points adrift of safety at the bottom of League Two and a run of 8 defeats from their last 11 games has set them on course for the National League but the thrashing of Graham Westley’s Newport, themselves nine points off safety and seemingly certain to slip out of the Football League, offered welcome satisfaction for Orient’s fans who this week set-up a “disaster recovery” fund after HMRC served the club with a winding-up petition over an unpaid tax-bill.
The outstanding sum is said to be £250,000 but a date in the high court on 20th March could bring a judge’s order for the club to sell off all their assets and to pay all their creditors. Accounts for the 2014/15 season, the first year under the chaotic reign of owner Francesco Becchetti and the season of their relegation from League One, showed they owe creditors £9 million.
For the club that lost the League One play-off final to Rotherham on penalties in 2014 it isn’t looking good but the trip to Rodney Parade offered a rare bright spot for suffering supporters. Josh Koroma got a hat-trick and Steven Alzate struck the other, two 18 year olds suggesting that the future does have bright spots in east London even if short-term prospects appear bleak.
Becchetti, who continues to claim the club is up for sale, has torn his way through 10 managers in his two-and-a-half-year tenure and a high-turnover of managers does seem to be a prominent feature at these basket-case clubs.
Coventry’s owners SISU turned back to Mark Robins on Monday after making Russel Slade their 8th victim of the sack since taking control of the midlands club in 2007 while at Blackburn Rovers Tony Mowbray is settling down after becoming the tenth manager Venky’s have hired since pitching up at Ewood Park in 2010.
Blackpool, now with Gary Bowyer at the helm, are now on their ninth manager in the four years since Ian Holloway departed, with the tyrannous Karl Oyston continuing to bleed the club dry, and the question must be asked how often can the eject-button be pressed before those at the top realise that it may in fact be them that are the problem.
Coventry lie at the foot of League One while Blackburn are battling relegation from the Championship. Charlton Athletic, onto their 9th manager since Roland Duchatelet took over in January 2014, are under genuine threat of relegation into League Two.
This weekend 300 Addicks fans travelled to St Truiden, where their Belgian owner spends Saturday’s watching the other club under his guise, to bring the protest right under his nose. Meanwhile back at home Charlton were losing their fifth match on the spin at Northampton.
Throw in Leeds United, now stabilised under the astute hand of Garry Monk after Massimo Cellino lurched from controversy to controversy and manager to manager, and Nottingham Forest, who themselves have been through nine managers since Fawaz Al Hasawi bought the club in 2012 and you build a comprehensive list of the clubs that have fallen victim of the Football League’s feeble “fit and proper person’s test”.
Add Morecambe who have stumbled through the season with late pay-dates because of the shambolic takeover of Diego Lemos, the fantastical Brazilian who went missing shortly after buying the League Two club, and it makes a mockery of the supposed safeguards the authorities have in place to protect the clubs that, as evidenced by the actions of Charlton and Leyton Orient followers over the past week, supporters hold so dear to their heart.
One must have a degree of sympathy towards the Football League who issue a test where failure guidelines are vague. One cannot purchase a 30% or more stake in a football club if you have been convicted for dishonesty or if you’ve ran a club into administration twice but it is difficult to measure competency in the applicants who come armed with a blank charge sheet as well as a blank cheque.
Still it isn’t easy to excuse the authorities for remaining silent on the plight of club’s like Orient or Bolton Wanderers, who plunged to debts of nearly £200 million as they fell from the Premier League to League One, while they do their best to promote the final of the disastrous Checkatrade Trophy.
Both Orient and Charlton showed last week how a fan-base can mobilise in the face of calamitous ownership but there is no doubt they would be helped if the EFL or Football Association, who this week have announced its plans to reform and diversify its boardroom, could step in more actively.
The criticism of the FA’s governance would doubtlessly be less intense if, for instance, they were to intervene when SISU’s dispute with the city council forced them to spend a year playing 33 miles away at Northampton.
“The coming days and weeks may be the most important in Orient’s 136-year history” said the Leyton Orient supporter’s trust in a statement that followed the winding-up order and with Orient potentially ready to follow Stockport, Macclesfield, Chester and many others into the debt-ridden abyss, it is sad that their plight is seemingly being ignored.
The clubs at the top level have never been more rich, but it is those in the lower reaches that are the lifeblood of the local community. It would be welcome if the authorities, admittedly with their hands currently tied, overhauled their ownership credentials and did more to protect them.