Grounds For Concern
By Mat Roper
In days gone by, clubs geographically close to one another didn't always share vicious rivalries. There was of course always the fight to be "top dog on the manor", but clubs such as Leyton Orient and West Ham United shared a friendlier rivalry than most.
It pains me to say it being an O's fan, but you cannot deny that the Hammers were pretty much always the bigger club in East London, yet there remained a much more tolerable state of affairs for approximately 110 years. Who could have thought then, that the greatest sporting show on earth, namely the Olympics, could divide the two clubs in such a way that the relationship between the two has become strained beyond all expectation.
With the Olympics countdown clock set at approximately 750 days thoughts turned away from the sporting spectacle to what would happen to the stadium and park in general. Stratford, and East London in particular had seen a massive regeneration programme get underway over the past couple of years, but as always the infamous "legacy" word was now rearing its head and with costs mounting and exceeding original budgets the government and Mayor of London needed firm plans in place to ensure that taxpayers could recoup some of what had been spent and that the area in and around the park wasn't left to rot.
The LLDC (London Legacy development Corp) was formed and it was their sole responsibility to handle not only the park as a whole but what would happen to the iconic Olympic Stadium post 2012. Bids were invited for leasing the stadium and this was the lighting of the touch paper that has now become a bit of an inferno in one small corner of one of the greatest cities on earth.
West Ham United put in, Tottenham Hotspur (quite amazingly) put in, and immediately the O's chairman Barry Hearn objected. Why? Well I think even the most hardened WHU fan would admit that if a premier league giant were to take up occupancy 1/2 mile down the road from Brisbane Road, and in West Hams case, dish out numerous freebie tickets, it doesn't take a doctor of mathematics or a top notch business leader to work out that the much smaller "rival" up the road would face at best an uphill struggle to survive, at worst the possibility of going bust after 130 years of business.
In the last two years there have been legal battles and god knows how many soundbites from both clubs, the Mayor, the minister for sport, the prime minister, UK athletics - the list goes on, as does the decision to who will actually be using the structure from 2016. West Ham have of course, had their bid accepted and been given the green light, but Barry Hearn remains committed to fighting the decision with the latest bit of his judicial review battle in the courts being heard soon before he possibly moves onto a fight with the FA and premier league over the clear breaking of rules about movement of member clubs towards the close proximity of others.
Now, as a hardened O's fan of 35 years, my colours are firmly nailed to the flag post on this one but it's not just born out of blinding love for the club I have followed since the age of six. There is a real sense of injustice about all this. The public money that is being used to fund West Hams bid, the previous problems with the LLDC (now the OPLC) and them having to cancel all bids after it was found out that the husband of one of the senior LLDC executives was high up in the Hammers set up, the uncomfortable soundbites from Boris Johnson about West Ham "almost certainly getting the stadium" and the simple fact that this move would break rules about the movement of clubs - set down by the governing body themselves!
For me personally, I don't want to move to the OS. It would be a soulless experience and, as clubs like Darlington have found out in the past, it could actually seal our own death warrant anyway. Now, some may say that if I / we don't want it then why should I object to someone else having it. Well yes, I see the point, but another member club moving much closer to a stadium that is nearer to us than anyone else. Another member club being given £80m of financial assistance when they are already £80m in debt. Another member club promising tons of free tickets to watch an attractive product. I could go on and on, but even taking into account that football is a business these days and that this is life, it hardly seems fair on a club that has been at the forefront of community activities for over 130 years, has a great heritage in that part of London and of course were the first ever club to sign up en masse and serve the country during the Great War, helping protect King and country so that we could do such things as enjoy the beautiful game years on.
It is the unfortunate downside to football these days in that it's pound notes first, football second and when you chuck in the men in suits leading the drive it appears that little old Leyton Orient are on an hiding to nothing, but there are just a couple of thousand of us that would like to see a fairer outcome.