Let’s start with the absolutely mundane this week and Orient’s so-called “performance” at Salford in the final match of this season that I think we will all be well and truly glad to see the back of. As we logged into Orient TV we were greeted with the news that the kick-off had been pushed back an hour due to heavy rain. I must admit that this was a new one on me, I have been on the wrong end of games being called off for a waterlogged pitch but have never witnessed a rain delay in football. Maybe the American influence in our national sport is deeper than we thought!
I think the least said about the actual match the better, we threatened to make a game of it in the opening stages and Vigs saved a penalty for the second successive match (after it was conceded by Dan Happe also for the second successive match I hasten to add!), but as soon as he was beaten thanks to a bobble on a Robbie Gotts’ effort from range, you just knew our race was run. Perhaps our keeper could and should have done better but he has been by some distance our best performer of the season, so we can forgive him a rare mistake. Our defeat was confirmed through two second half goals by the lively-looking Thomas-Asante.
Ever since the defeat at home to Cambridge, the end to our season has been somewhat ignominious. Yes there was that run of seven games unbeaten once Jobi was installed as interim manager but for the last four matches especially it has felt like the team has been going through the motions, never truly believing that a play-off place was achievable. In the end eleventh place in the table is probably what our season in which we have lost more than we have won merits.
In the aftermath of the defeat the club released a statement declaring: “With the season completed, Leyton Orient can confirm that it is undertaking a process to source a new first team manager to lead the club in to the 2021/22 season.” With that also came the news that Jobi, presumably after being told he wasn’t under consideration for the job on a permanent basis, announced his retirement. As fans we can only thank him for his contribution since his return four years ago, for the inspirational leadership on the field that played such a huge role in leading us back to the promised land of the Football League and for some truly memorable goals: my personal favourite being the free-kick against Bromley in the inspirational retro kit back in November 2018.
Quite where that leaves the good ship Orient is yet to be defined. I have just finished reading Nigel’s book “The Challenge Culture” which has a chapter on the decision to take over Orient four years ago. In it he explains: “I don’t know if I wanted to buy [the English soccer team] Leyton Orient Football Club (LOFC) because I loved it so much or because I was distressed at how it was being managed.” If we assume that it was probably a case of half a dozen of one and six of the other for Nigel taking over the club, then we can perhaps suggest that phase one of the mission, ie: get promoted back to the Football League and stay there, has been achieved. The next phase however is where we go from here?
At the very start of Nigel and Kent’s ownership they faced a hell of a challenge in having to try to put a squad together from what was remaining after you-know-who had left just nine players at the club, the oldest of whom was 19, and with no bona fide manager. Let us not forget that the much-maligned Martin Ling did sterling work in getting a squad together and appointing a manager to guide them, even if it did always feel that Steve Davis was somewhat out of his depth, something Nigel later reinforces in the book.
If the accepted rumours are to be believed, Justin Edinburgh’s appointment came about after he himself contacted the club about the vacant position after Davis’ departure. For eighteenth months we had a proper experienced manager and the results were there almost from the start of his reign. Who knows how we might have fared in League Two, or maybe even the division above if not for Justin’s tragic passing? Although Mrs Football is convinced he would have been snapped up by Tottenham by now!
After we lost Justin, it was only right and appropriate that Ross stepped up on an interim basis while the whole club and us fans tried to come to terms with our grief. Once that had eased at least slightly, perhaps that was the time to appoint an experienced manager to replace Justin, instead we got the beyond underwhelming, if not completely hopeless, Carl Fletcher. I think the least said about his 29 days at the helm the better. Then we turned back to Ross.
This season we have largely flattered to deceive, for me there is an inescapable feeling that the performances aren’t good enough given the perceived quality of the players at our disposal, and that smacks of poor management not necessarily by the man in the dugout but those above not bringing in a more experienced manager. The brief upturn in form after Ross was dismissed and Jobi took over provided a flicker of what someone with more experience, as a player at the top level at least, might achieve. We can only hope the next man through the door has the requisite experience, proven track record and authority to carry on from where we left off under Justin. If the rumours are to be believed about Kenny Jackett being the favourite to come in, it seems that Nigel, Martin and co are thinking along the same lines.
At the recent AGM Nigel set out a new five-year vision for Leyton Orient (as summarised in the latest Orientear- issue 274), which has some fairly ambitious targets in it to say the least:
- Operating at break-even or better
- New training centre for 1st Team and Academy
- Stream every game everywhere but attendances protected by geotargeting
- Expanding the Club’s community and global reach
- 10 profitable soccer camps and 10 Club partnerships overseas per year
- To be at least play-off contenders in League One
- To have a digitalised matchday experience via loyalty spend cards
- Profitable set of UK college programmes
- Refreshed East Stand
- Non-matchday income of £0.75 m+ (including concert(s))
- To proudly be a culturally diverse Club, board and fan base
- Average attendances of 7,000
While many of those are commercially focused aspirations and about growing and developing the club towards the future, the two that really leapt out at me were the aim to be a League One play-off contender with an average crowd of 7,000. As far as we have come in the last four years, and while it is good to have something to aim for, those seem a long way from where we currently are.
Then of course on Monday we had the announcement of which players have been released and which have been offered a new contract. In addition to Ouss Cissé, Dan Kemp, Hector Kyprianou, Shad Ogie, Sam Sargeant, Ruel Sotiriou and Adam Thompson who are all under contract; Craig Clay, James Brophy, Dan Happe, DJ, Jayden Sweeney, Vigs and Wilko have all been offered new deals. Of course, the fear is that clubs higher up the EFL may be interested in some of those players who are out of contract and we may well have our work cut out trying to convince some of them to stay.
The news also means that we say goodbye to some of the stalwarts who helped us to come back from non-league purgatory including: Josh Coulson, Joe Widdowson (much to Mrs Football Nerd’s annoyance as he has always been her favourite player!), and Sam Ling amongst others.
The sheer volume of players who are leaving the club means that we need to bring by my estimation at least a dozen, perhaps more, new players in and bed them into the squad on top of finding a new manager, quite a tall order ahead of the start of the season on the 7th of August!
It really feels as if this is the next stage of development for Orient under the ownership of Nigel and Kent, the recovery mission and stabilisation in the league is over and it is now time to set ourselves some very challenging targets. If we get the recruitment of the new manager (or indeed head coach?) right and get a strong enough squad that is truly capable of competing for the promotion next season, this time next year we might start to feel as if we are on our way. Get either or both of those two situations wrong and we might find ourselves struggling to compete again.
As Nigel says in his book: “the best way for organizations to succeed in today’s environment is to embrace challenge and encourage push back”, let’s hope his ideas and philosophy apply to lower league football!
Up the O’s!