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What About Leyton Orient’s Olympic Legacy?

Photo by Tim Bertuchi

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.

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  1. suffolkchris

    February 14, 2011 at 11:04 am

    I would just like to correct a few myths that are being circulated about West Ham moving onto Orient’s patch. I am not a fan of either club but I have lived in Stratford for most of my life, and I feel that a brief geography lesson may help those from outside London appreciate more fully the lie of the land.
    Leyton Orient are based in Leyton, which is in the London borough of Waltham forest. West Ham United were born in, and have always played in West Ham. In the early seventies The London boroughs of East and West Ham joined up to form the London borough of Newham. West Ham United’s present ground is in Upton Park, which is in the old London borough of West Ham. The Olympic stadium is in Stratford, which is in the old London borough of West Ham. Their present ground is approx three miles from Orient’s Brisbane road ground. Moving to the Olympic stadium would put them approx one mile from Orient’s stadium. As for a possible judicial review the premier league rule that forbids teams from moving into another teams area was bought in to prevent another Wimbledon to Milton Keynes scenario, I very much doubt that any court would consider that a team moving two miles from it’s present site, whilst still remaining within it’s own borough was an unreasonable act. Interestingly the nearest station to the Olympic stadium apart from Stratford, is West Ham station.
    It is also intersting that Orient’s chairman Barry Hearn is suggesting that he would be prepared to enter into disscussions withe the OPLC about possibly moving into the Olympic hockey stadium after the games. that would put them approx 700 yds from the Olympic stadium and in West Hams territory of the old London borough of West Ham.

  2. Joe

    February 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I get the argument about fans being too far from the pitch, but seriously, watch a Brazilian game some time. Many of their stadiums have a track around them, and the fans seem to be having too much fun to raise a stink about it.

    • The Gaffer

      February 12, 2011 at 11:48 am

      Joe, but that’s the difference between English soccer and the rest of the world (at least the vast majority of it). British grounds are renowned for having seats very close to the pitch which adds to the electricity and atmosphere at a ground. And, at the end, improves the quality of what we see on television as well as the chants and singing. A Brazilian game, I’m sure, is a totally different match day experience.

      The Gaffer

      • Pakapala

        February 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm

        I have always been taken aback by how close fans are to the field at EPL games. Though I understand at small ballparks that can be the case, I would expect at bigger stadiums there would be more room for reserve players and personel to breath. I do not understand the obsession with improving how a game look on TV as related to closeness of fans to the field. Are english games atmosphere so blend that the only way you can feel an electric atmosphere watching the game on TV, is if you see the fans breathing down the players necks?
        I don’t see that being an issue in other stadiums in Europe or around the world.

      • trickybrkn

        February 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm

        The problem with the band box, build a stand as you go approach that the English have lived on, is that teams out grow the space. Upton park’s chicken run will always stand as the council refuse to allow expansion. So Clubs need to move elsewhere to build. The former Icelandic owners had tryed to obtain a former Royal Mail location, and the David’s have always been a supporter of the Olympic space.

        For a club with heavy debts to reach it potential, they need to compromise. West Ham have done just that. They will retain the Olympic spirit and have top stadium.

        I will miss Upton Park dearly. and wish it didn’t have to come to this… but it is the future of the club. and while everyone will have opinions on the stadium, the only opinion that matters is the one that has spoken. Irons supporters will remain one of the loudest voices, even in the Olympic Stadium.

        As for Brazil, and Italy and Argentina and Germany and MOST of the world. Multi use stadia are just as loud. The experience just as good, and with more people, louder. Not sure how you equate seats being closer to the pitch to a better TV experience… One would think that since they will have one of the most watched sports broadcasts from the new London Olympic stadium, that they’d have figured out the best place for camera wells… but that’s besides the point.

      • llycrbs

        February 28, 2011 at 2:24 am

        maybe thatas why the english leagues are the most exciting leagues in the world to watch, fool.

  3. trickybrkn

    February 12, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Sounds to me like your biggest issue isn’t that West Ham will be close to the O’s but that West Ham won the rights by the merits of their bid. That being to keep the running track.

    If you look at the stadium as it is now on the London 2012 web site, The lower ring sits back from the pitch. That will be replaced with two tiers. One that retracts and another that will be permeant aligning to the present configuration.

    As for filling the stands. Sure there will be empty seats at first as West Ham are at best a bounce club at present. But if you look at where the club draws its fans, its always been overlap with Orient, but extends to most of Essex. One of the largest populated bases in the league.

    Orient had every opportunity to make a bid. They didn’t. Spurs did and lost.

    As for FA rules about moving into another clubs territory… ohh come on. As I already said the two teams share support and have been neighbours for ever. Moving a mile closer, and closer to the original ground of the Thames Iron Works is hardly going to steal fans from Orient. How stupid do you think Orient support are?

    COYI and up the O’s.

  4. Nigel Travis

    February 12, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Great artice than sums up the mockery of it all. It also demonstrates why the new rules for european competitions attampt to provide for financial equality.

    As a Orient fan for 53 years I ask all Orient fans globally to support Barry in his quest for a thorough judicial review

  5. Brian

    February 12, 2011 at 5:50 am

    Couldn’t agree more. West Ham fans hate the idea of moving – remember, if you’re sitting in the front row of the new stadium, you’ll be twice as far from the nearest goal line as you are at Wembley, or three times as far away as at the Emirates, Arsenal’s stadium. And as for the goal line at the other end of the pitch….. Remember to take your telescope! I heard one West Ham fan say that he would continue to support West Ham – but only at away grounds where he could see what was happening! Perhaps the future is the Os and West Ham together in the Championship with West ham fans only seeing their team when they play at Brisbane Road (or wherever the Os end up!). More generally, it’s true, as you say, that it’s the big team which gets the breaks, but which is really the bigger team? The Os have no debts, have lost only once in 18 matches and will shortly be playing Arsenal in the 5th round of the FA Cup. West Ham have debts of £150+ million, are about to borrow a further £40 million to “invest” in the Olympic Stadium, and are almost certain to be relegated to the Championship this season. Well, good luck to them – they’ll need it. And there will be a welcome at a proper ground for their disillusioned fans if they’d like to join us in watching football you can see!

  6. Barry Slack

    February 12, 2011 at 5:02 am

    As a lifelong supporter of The O’s you couldn’t have put it more succinctly. They have been been totally disregarded in this whole stadium mess. From what you hear in the media, many West Ham supporters do not want want to move from Upton Park. The whole issue is driven by money and the fans of West Ham, Spurs and Leyton Orient do not matter. I suggest that Lord Coe, Boris Johnson and David Cameron take a short walk from the Olympic Stadium over to Brisbane Road , just to see how close it is to the ground where the O’s have played since the war. I hope that the O’s chairman Barry Hearn releases a plan of action in the press conference on Wednesday to fight this so called Olympic legacy decision.

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