May 04, 2017

Horse 2268 - Blackpool v Leyton Orient: It Isn't Football

This weekend, Blackpool FC will play its final game of the season against the absolutely dead last team on the league ladder, Leyton Orient. If Blackpool wins this last game of the season then it has pretty much secured seventh spot on the ladder; which is good enough to qualify for one of the places to play in the playoffs for promotion to the amusingly named third tier of English football, League One. Now obviously I'm happy at the prospect of picking up the easiest three points of the season but I don't at all feel happy about the treatment that Luton Town management has given its own members. Leyton Orient are guaranteed to drop out of the Football League proper and into the National League (formerly known as the Conference) and to heap insult upon injury upon misery, it is largely the fault of their management.

Leyton Orient haven't suffered the same sort of absurd fate as the old Wimbledon FC did but their management is equally as terrible and are as criminally inept. At the last home game of the season at Brisbane Road, fans staged a mass pitch invasion before they were all ejected and the rest of the match was played behind closed doors.
O’s supporters invaded the pitch at Brisbane Road with five minutes of their match with Colchester United remaining. The Orient fans refused to leave the field despite repeated requests and continued to chant for chairman Francesco Becchetti to leave. Eventually at 5.47pm the game was declared as abandoned, but just under an hour later it restarted again and finished close to 7pm.
- East London Advertiser, 3rd May 2017.

At Bloomfield Road this weekend, the Football League and Blackpool FC had threatened that there would be no away ticket allocation but they've subsequently come to their senses and have made a small selection of tickets available for those fans who bother to make the trek to the Lancashire coast. Already on the Blackpool forums and message boards, there are sentiments of solidarity as Blackpool fans have been through similar sorts of nonsense in the past.
Leyton Orient fans will be able to attend their team’s final match in the Football League at Blackpool after the EFL reversed a decision to suspend ticket sales to away supporters for the match at Bloomfield Road on Saturday.
The EFL initially approved Blackpool’s request but on Tuesday announced that a revised allocation of 1,000 tickets would be made available to Orient fans.
- The Guardian, 3rd May 2017

Yes I'm selfishly hoping that Blackpool wins this match but not because I don't like Leyton Orient. Truth be told I'm completely ambivalent towards them. To their fans though, I want to join in their sense of anger and frustration because this is about something far bigger than just a football team being relegated. This is about a community who have banded together and have been deeply let down by interests who are more concerned with money than the game.

Football as indeed all sport is intrinsically stupid. Whether its football teams or various kinds of races or tests of strength, sport is about asking who is the best at a thing and then having a go at finding out who is best at the thing. All of the fun, intrigue, interest and whatnot is built around the stories which are built up. The only reason that Liverpool and Everton hate each other is because they are next door. Holden and Ford have been locked in battle because they produce what is essentially the same product. The Olympics works as a thing because there are already stories built with interlocking rivalries because of that far more complicated story we call nationhood. Even if it is only a few dozen fans who follow a local parish team, their connection to the club and each other is as valuable and as important as when the national side plays.

This is what management does not understand at its most fundamental level. Running a football club like a business and trying to pull money out of it or saddle it with debt, is to betray the underlying story. When the management of Wimbledon FC upped roots and tried to replant the club in Milton Keynes, they failed to understand that a football club has connections to both place and the history of the place and people. Leyton Orient's problem was that in running the club as a business, they failed account for the people who make the thing what it is. Season ticket holders aren't customers, they're fans.
The FA should have also realised that shutting the fans out of an away game is going to solve nothing. Leyton Orient fans' beef is with the management of Leyton Orient and not necessarily the eleven players out on the pitch. As it is, many of the players who have turned out for them recently have been academy players, and it is nonsensical that Leyton Orient's fans would be angry with a bunch of kids who had nothing to do with the club's woes.

The only good thing that I can see coming out of this whole insanity for Leyton Orient is the blessing in disguise in the form of bankruptcy when the club gets relegated and the management loses interest. If the club goes bankrupt, then hopefully a phoenix club will rise out of the ashes of the old, with all debts forgiven and with the current management gone. If that were to happen then they'd probably suffer even more for going into administration but what would come out of it would be a new club owned by its fans through the Leyton Orient Fans Trust; which is what should have happened in the first place. If that happens, I hope that Leyton Orient becomes something better than what they are now.
I also hope that they come back as that new club, owned by the fans for the fans and not Francesco Becchetti.

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