30 April 2017

Leyton Orient 1 Colchester United 3, 29/4/17

Let me tell you about a  genuine recurring nightmare of mine. It always begins with me wearing the red of Leyton Orient and about to take to the pitch at Brisbane Road for a league match. But then, of course, I realise that my football ability – or lack of – means that I'm going to be exposed, humiliated, found out.

This must be what it's like to be Gianvito Plasmati in real life. But I tell you the story not to make a cheap crack at our former striker, but to say that in my wildest dreams I did imagine being on the pitch at Brisbane Road during a match – though not of course for the reasons that did actually lead me to the centre circle at 4:40pm yesterday afternoon. 

How did I get there? Let's rewind a bit. I've written at length about the toxic cocktail of vanity, incompetence and spite on the part of our owner Francesco Becchetti that has directly taken Orient from the brink of the Championship to relegation out of the Football League in just three catastrophic seasons – along with the real and present danger that the club will be liquidated out of existence at a 12 June appointment with the High Court

The Italian billionaire's most recent gambit was not paying any of the players or staff of the club their March wages until the last week of April. Why? Only two possible explanations spring to my mind: 

1) Becchetti really is so evil he would deliberately plunge honest, hardworking staff into financial strife 
2) He gave amoeba-brained CEO Alessandro Angelieri the responsibility for wage payment 

Alessandro Angelieri
And so, one might think, that despite wilful inaction from the EFL throughout the entirety of Becchetti's gross mismanagement of Leyton Orient, perhaps the issue of non-payment of staff would be something that the governing body might want to concern itself with. 

But apparently not. Not within their remit, which is a bit like the Civil Aviation Authority claiming that it's "not their problem" if the owner of an airline decides to deliberately fly all of its planes into a cliff.

(And let's hope Francesco Becchetti never does purchase an airline, otherwise he'll be there in cockpit, telling the pilots how to do their job until he becomes so exasperated with their inability to get to the destination faster that he wrestles the controls from them and crashes the aircraft into the sea.)

The EFL were "exceptionally concerned", according to their statement, but, hey, I'm "exceptionally concerned" that the hawksbill turtle is a critically-endangered species, but I'm not really doing anything about it. (Sorry turtles, I've had a lot on of late.) 

This was the real zinger in their statement though, referring to their Owners & Directors Test: "It is important that supporters understand that the Test governs the eligibility of who is able to own a club – it does not also ensure that those individuals have the capacity to manage it properly." 

Patronising and mental. I'd love to see the actual test: 

Q1) Are you a serial killer? 
Q2) Do you have any nuclear weapons? 
If you have answered "yes" to any question, I'm afraid you haven't passed the EFL's stringent Owners & Directors Test. You should still be able to take over a Premier League club though. 

And so to Saturday, and it was fitting that Orient's last league goal at Brisbane Road came from the rocket boot of Sandro Semedo, one of the many young, promising Orient players given a baptism of fire in a League Two relegation battle thanks to Francesco Becchetti's post-Christmas refusal to actually sign anyone to replace all the senior players he'd ousted. 

That put the game at 1-1 until Jens Janse –  signed by Rob Gagliardi, an interpreter inexplicably tasked with the role of Head of Recruitment – tried to prove his worth as a non-league player by passing directly to an opposition striker in the Orient penalty area. Another Colchester goal two minutes later and Orient fans were on the pitch, despite there being seven minutes of the game remaining. 

Was this the right thing to do? For me: yes. Surely an owner of a football club cannot be allowed to deliberately sabotage his own team; not pay players or staff; or wear a leather jacket with a bright yellow furry collar? No one was listening to us. No one was helping us. We had to do something.

And then how utterly fitting that one of the EFL's final acts in its 112-year association with Leyton Orient was a self-confessed, bare-faced lie. They convinced the police and the club to announce that the game had been abandoned, only to then conclude the remaining seven minutes once all the fans had left. 

Why? Because, according to them, they needed to "maintain the integrity of the competition". Yes, that's right the EFL used the word "integrity", and consequently should have as much trouble looking themselves in the mirror without bursting into hysterics as Mauro Milanese does when glancing at his hair. 

Let me tell you about "integrity", EFL. Integrity is every fan who contributed their own money to an emergency fund to help out the unpaid players and staff in April. Integrity is anyone who contributed to the fighting fund – now over £140k – that could be needed to keep the club in existence. Integrity is the Colchester fans who sung "Stand up for the Orient" and the countless other supporters of rival clubs across the country who've offered sympathy and empathy with Os fans. There but for the Grace of God go they. 

So there I was, on the pitch. The peaceful protest could mean a points deduction in the National League next year, but even if it does I would do it again. Every Orient fan knows that with Becchetti still in control of our football club, relegation is the least of our concerns. 

We're clearly not going to get any help from the EFL in ousting the billionaire and only he knows what his next move will be. But the one thing he can't touch is the soul of club. That soul was out there on the pitch on Saturday. It exists in the memories, the bond, the connection between Leyton Orient fans. Players, managers, psychopathic owners can come and go, but us fans will always be there, like the generations of supporters before and – hopefully – after us. 

Me and my dad will still be there too – cheering, complaining, losing the will to live – whatever league we're in. And, hey, if we get relegated far enough down the pyramid maybe my dream of turning out for Leyton Orient will one day become a reality. Where's my boots? 

01 April 2017

Leyton Orient 0 Wycombe Wanderers 2, 1/4/17

A game in which... opposition fans sung "Stand up for the Orient"; a group of home supporters broke into the gantry to unfurl a banner proclaiming "Bollocks"; and local mechanic Errol McKellar fulfilled assistant manager duties in the dugout for the second half. So far so surreal.

What next: Rowan Liburd applauded off the pitch after a man-of-the-match performance? Yes, actually, because this is the end of days at Brisbane Road thanks to that potent combination of incompetency, egomania, spite and Valpolicella that swims around in the brain of our esteemed president.

It was an emotional day: the tragic death of fan Frankie Bish – "Mr Orient" – on Thursday turning the dark clouds already hanging over the club to pitch black. As always of late, the players gave it everything – despite not being paid this month – and even started the game pretty brightly.

The early sending off meant Orient's prospect of defeat moved from "cast-iron certainty" to "inevitable" – not that it really matters when the very existence of the club is at stake.

But what was evident today from the defiant chants and the heartfelt stadium-wide ovation in memory of Frankie was that the soul of Leyton Orient is strong – and that's the one thing the anti-Midas touch of Francesco Becchetti can't destroy.

Jump off your seat moment... The moment some wag in the backroom staff put Jens Janse's name on the team sheet as an April Fool's prank, only for it to catastrophically backfire after no one remembered to take him off it again and the missing Dutchman actually turned up on the pitch.

Taxi for... Charles Breakspear for red-carding Tom Parkes for a borderline foul on Wycombe's Garry Thompson. Given Orient's perilous state it was a decision that suggests the referee's hobbies outside of the game might include the illegal hunting of near-extinct species and kicking cripples.

In the dug out... A while back I joked that the next manager of Leyton Orient would be Ada the kit man. We aren't that far off that becoming a reality since Becchetti's relentless snipering of his own gaffers has taken us down to the bare bones of the club's coaching staff.

Omer Riza – dressed like a self-conscious dinner guest who'd mistakenly believed the dress code to be smart casual rather than black-tie – was the latest to drink from the poison chalice of Leyton Orient management.

He no doubt created some sort of future Trivial Pursuit question by getting himself sent off 45 minutes into his debut, leaving it to youth coach Frederico Morais (with the help of the aforementioned Errol McKellar) to attempt the footballing equivalent of trying to extinguish a volcano with a water pistol in the second half.

And credit to these loyal professionals and the many others still trying to keep our club afloat – and support their own families – despite not being actually paid this month by the billionaire Francesco Becchetti. This latest act by the president is a true measure of the man.

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