23 March 2013

If you tolerate this, then your club could be next

In the wake of the LLDC's decision to award the Olympic Stadium to Leyton Orient's 'noisy neighbours' West Ham, guest blogger Andy Brown looks at what the legacy of London 2012 really means for the people of East London, and its oldest football club...

The Olympic Stadium
So the inevitable has finally happened. The LLDC has finally rubber-stamped a decision to award the people’s Olympic Stadium to wealthy Premier League West Ham United in a desperate attempt by the powers-that-be to ensure that their legacy does not become a white elephant.

All this despite the lack of a proper bidding process overshadowed in 2011 by the fact that an OPLC director was paid £20,000 while moonlighting as a consultant for West Ham, which raised major issues about the then OPLC’s processes and the decision to award the Olympic Stadium to West Ham.

Under the deal announced yesterday, West Ham will pay only £15m for a 99-year lease on a stadium whose conversion costs will be £150m to £190m and where the overall cost could top £630m. The fundamentals of the deal are clear: West Ham are getting a stadium costing more than £600m for just £15m and a small amount of around £2m in annual rent.

That’s a pretty good deal for West Ham’s owners (worth in excess of £800m in combined wealth between Sullivan, Gold and Brady), considering it’s less than an Andy Carroll transfer fee.

Not only this, but the taxpayer is picking up the additional tab too: another £25m will need to be found by taxpayers to pay for a wealthy Premier League club to have a freebie from the state. This is in addition to Newham council’s £40m “loan”, from the poorest borough in the country that has faced annual double-digit spending cuts but is still able to borrow from the treasury at preferential rates. How could it possibly not impact services in the borough?

This is a club that has yet to finish paying Sheffield United the £18.1m it owes them over the Tevez saga and where there has been no mention of where the funds from Upton Park will end up. Back with the taxpayer one would assume. Add to this the fact that West Ham could potentially make over £1.6m on a match day against £2m annual rent and it looks like a rather one-way deal for West Ham.

The bidding process was fair and proper
And it’s here that we move onto another football club, the longest established club in the East End. My pride and joy, like many others, that has been around longer than West Ham. As the second oldest club in London, this decision threatens Leyton Orient’s future existence.

It seems that with Barry Hearn’s legal wrangling, many are unable to read between the lines. Here’s the truth:

• Orient didn’t want the stadium – we couldn’t fill it (neither could West Ham) and having an athletic track makes the idea of watching football farcical. Barry Hearn’s legal manoeuvring really centres on an unfair bidding process that would directly impact the club’s future. At best it is hoped there would be some sort of compensation or plan from the fallout, but just like the poor residents of Newham, Orient has a raw deal.

• Empty seats mean discounted, cheap or free tickets, for a club higher up the football pyramid less than a long goal kick from Brisbane Road.

• It will have a detrimental impact on Orient’s future fanbase, as well as youth schemes for local talent (Leyton Orient Community Sports Program - LOCSP), fundamental to the survival of a League One club.

Orient did not want the Olympic Stadium, but we did not want to be ignored and bypassed in a process that directly impacts our future. The option to have the hockey stadium was refused, sharing with West Ham was refused, and other viable bids were rejected.

Enjoy the view, West Ham fans
Along with taxpayers, Orient has lost out. It may force Orient, the true legacy East London club, to move to Essex in order to survive for the reasons stated. Of course none of this will matter. West Ham has its taxpayer-funded stadium and the LLDC has finally offloaded their embarrassing and overpriced white elephant.

Despite corruption overshadowing the entire process, this is just a microcosm of football and the division of wealth more broadly in Britain. Taking money from the poorest borough and attempting to destroy a community club is all in a days’ work for the LLDC and the Mayor of London.

Today it’s my club, but if you tolerate this, then your club could be next.

Follow Andy on Twitter @OrientMeatPie
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