All week we’ve been hearing about the fight involving Tottenham and West Ham for the right to move into the Olympic Stadium in 2012. We’ve seen Daniel Levy and Karren Brady exchanging blows in the press, while numerous celebrities have been throwing punches in aid of their favoured bid. With the bout going to a judges decision West Ham have emerged victorious, but what of the other football club involved in proceedings? Namely Leyton Orient, an East London club lost in the shadows.
According to Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn, his League One football club could simply cease to function if either Premier League side moves into the Olympic Stadium.
The idea of handing over the stadium to a football club after the Olympics is anything but new. As early as 2006 Leyton Orient themselves were touted as potential new tenants after the games, but as it was only Leyton Orient it wasn’t that widely reported because, well, it was only Leyton Orient. As the stadium was to be downsized to 25,000 from 60,000 it was thought too small for a Premier League side, so as the O’s were the closest team to the proposed site it seemed logical that they would take it. But Barry Hearn turned it down because, you guessed it, he didn’t want a running track around his football pitch and his opinions of the stadium have since declined further:
“They are pushing through with a design that has almost no commercial value and which nobody wants. The design they’ve got at the moment would destroy the atmosphere of football and rugby games. Nobody will attend the odd athletics meeting.”
I think that he and Daniel Levy would have a lot of talk about.
For those of you reading this in the States and are not sure what all of the fuss is about, a lot of people here in the UK are concerned about protecting our ‘Olympic Legacy’. Lord Coe promised that the stadium would retain its running track after 2012 to prove that Britain had a dedicated athletics future and that it took the responsibility of holding the Olympic Games seriously.
But Coe didn’t think about the fact that sports clubs may not want to take the stadium if the track remained. Luckily for Lord Coe, West Ham decided that they’d like to try and prove to all of the doubters wrong by sprucing the stadium up a bit and including the ‘Olympic Legacy’ factor in their bid.
However, many doubt whether or not the Hammers will be able to fill a 60,000 capacity stadium. At present Upton Park holds 35,647, so where are they going to find another 25,000 fans? Barry Hearn is worried that they’re going to do it by offering cheap tickets and freebies to schools and community projects and poach fans from Brisbane Road in the process. It is very probable that if Orient’s average attendance this season of 3,889 drops by even a few hundred they could feel some serious financial repercussions.
Leyton Orient have reason to be concerned, for unless you are a die hard fan why would you choose League 1 football over the Premier League? You only become a die hard fan by supporting a team as a kid, but if all of the kids are now going to West Ham then where is the next generation of supporters going to come from?
West Ham will suddenly be a few postcodes away from Leyton Orient and this, according to Hearn, breaches the rules of the Premier League. In a quote from the Orient website it declares that:
“They [the Premier League and the Football League] both have a regulation which states their Boards shall only grant consent to a member Club to move to another ground which ‘would not adversely affect Clubs having their registered grounds in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location’”.
“Brisbane Road sits one long goal-kick from the Olympic Park, there is no question that it is within the ‘immediate vicinity’”.
West Ham beat Spurs to the rights to take the stadium, but have they really ‘won’. It remains to be seen if they can fill a stadium where fans will be seated around 80 yards from the pitch especially when you consider that their Premier League future is far from secure. Either way, it looks as if Leyton Orient’s fight for survival will start in earnest in 2012 when the bulldozers move in. But Barry Hearn is far from giving up the cause, in January he said: “I’ve got to fight very hard to see my little club survive.” – and I hope that that he succeeds.