As Mrs Football Nerd and I left Brisbane Road last Saturday, relieved that Orient had won at home for the first time in 2018 and hopeful that the 3-0 victory over Woking had if not banished the prospect of a second successive relegation completely, at least represented a significant step towards safety. For Orient this season has been about stabilising, about halting the downward momentum and starting to lay the foundations for the future.
Bouncing back to the Football League immediately was a nice dream but any frustration felt by O’s fans at not being in the promotion hunt must be counterbalanced with the knowledge that relegation to the sixth tier of English football would probably be the end for the 137-year old club, at least as we know it.
Over the usual post-match debrief in the Leyton Technical our conversation focused on the foundations that the new ownership and management are taking towards re-establishing Orient as a potential League side once again.
Back in June a consortium led by the Essex-born chief executive of Dunkin’ Donuts and boyhood Orient fan, Nigel Travis, and financed for the most part by Texan multi-millionaire, Kent Teague, rescued the club from the disastrous reign of previous owner Francesco Becchetti. It was a move seemingly motivated by a genuine enthusiasm for the fortunes of the club rather than a strategic financial decision, as Teague himself admitted in a recent interview: ‘I’m likely to lose all my money, every bit that I put in…it doesn’t make sense. Financially, it doesn’t. But you see, if you make all your decisions on financial sense, it’s really hard to enjoy your life sometimes.’
While the sanity of the former Microsoft executive could perhaps be called into question for choosing to invest in a team that currently sit fifteenth in the fifth tier of the English football pyramid, it is also refreshing that in stark contrast to the top level of the game, where money and financial gain are increasingly the be all and end all, the romanticism of football club ownership may still be alive and well.
Using their acute commercial focus developed across the pond, Teague and Travis appointed a new chief executive, Danny Macklin formerly Commercial Director with Essex County Cricket Club, in October and have since piloted a number of schemes focused on improving the matchday experience for the supporters. We have had: the appointment of a new catering partner and new catering outlets around the ground; live streaming of matches to expat fans around the globe; the ‘Football for a Fiver’ promotion that offered the chance for football fans deprived of football during the international break the chance to attend for just £5, which boosted the usual crowd by 1,600 and will hopefully lead to new and returning fans in the future; and probably most successful of all the ‘O-Nut’, yes that is exactly what it sounds like, an Orient-themed Dunkin’ Donut!
On the pitch the strategy seems to be realistic and pragmatic, in the matchday programme on Saturday, Director of Football and former manager, Martin Ling stated that the club’s primary objective is to be promoted within the next three years and that the plan was based on: ‘not just developing young players, it’s about developing all players… and if we are to move up divisions every three to four years, we will need to bring in players who are at an increased level of quality.’
By necessity, Orient have had to blend a balance of experienced players with young players both home-grown and on loan from other clubs, and while as Ling says: ‘it must be realised as well that most players will only play for us for two to three years’, it is the impact that these players can have in that short period that will be the key determinant in whether Orient will be able to achieve their challenging but realistic aspirations.
Most impressive of all of this season’s additions to the playing staff has been 22-year old defensive midfielder Ebou Adams, on loan from Norwich City. The tenacious midfield anchor-man looks a class above others every time he takes to the field, and rumours are already circulating that Orient are looking to secure him on a permanent basis when his Norwich contract comes to an end this summer. Success in such a transfer move would really signal the ownership’s and management’s intent going forward.
It really feels as if Orient are emerging from the dark days and are on the verge of embarking on an exciting journey, one that I know that Mrs Football Nerd and I are looking forward to following them on. It would however be nice if they could put just a few more points on the board in the remaining weeks of the season to make sure it is one that is heading in the right direction!