Crowded Out

The final submission of proposals for the post-Games tenancy at London’s Olympic Stadium has prompted much discussion on the merits of co-habitation between athletics and football in both the print and virtual media this week. As football’s equivalent of Ivan Ivanovich and Ivan Nikiforovich’s quarrel draws to a conclusion, however, I wanted to spare a thought or several for the Football League club stuck on the sidelines of this undignified scrap. And I don’t mean Crystal Palace, whose plan to move in with the dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park made a refreshing historically-literate contrast to Spurs’ plans for global domination.

One of the most exasperating aspects of the debate is the lack of attention given by all but Mark Clemmit and a handful of internet commenters to the repercussions for Leyton Orient of an encroachment by either Spurs or West Ham onto their `manor’. The O’s are a club who know more than most about relocation: formed in 1881, the club underwent many changes of name and home ground in their first 50 years. The prefix `Clapton’ was first added to the name in 1898, in an attempt to attract supporters from the then wealthy suburb to watch the team in the nearby, but less salubrious Homerton. A brief nomadic period followed, until a move up the road to E10 in 1937. The prefix `Clapton’ was replaced with `Leyton’ shortly after World War Two and, despite an interlude of 21 years from 1966, that local attachment has been retained by fans ever since.

Having long established themselves as a community asset, Orient would appear the natural candidate to settle into a new stadium being built almost literally on their doorstep. Indeed, the possibility was raised when the authorities first realised that a football club had to rescue the Stadium from the fate of so many other Olympic venues. However, with average attendances recorded at 4,938 for the 2009/10 season, there is no chance of Orient filling even a reduced, 20,000-capacity stadium in the forseeable future. Moreover, the costs of upgrading and maintaining such an arena are well beyond the means of a typical League 1 club.

No, the future pronounces itself bleak for the O’s no matter what the outcome of the Olympic Park Legacy Company’s deliberations. Although the average attendance figure quoted above represented a 5% increase on the previous campaign, the club are struggling even to maintain that level of footfall so far this term. This despite initiatives from the board such as Friday-night fixtures. A further reduction in revenues will impact not only on Russell Slade’s bargaining power, but will hinder the club in implementing the kind of aggressive marketing strategy that will be necessary to win over the kids and newly arrived inhabitants of the area. Selling the merits of Scott McGleish over those of Rafael van der Vaart clearly isn’t easy. The task will just become more onerous should the Dutchman be scheming a short bus ride away.

Worse still could befall the club. Owner Barry Hearn has already floated plans to move the club to out to the concrete plains of Harlow, and this seeming panacea would become ever more enticing in the cold light of a negative balance sheet. It would clearly be to the detriment of London football if the capital’s oldest Football League club were to pack up their kit-bag once again. Fans and the authorities alike must work to ensure that the O’s can survive in the shadow of their new neighbour, whomever that might be.
As a kid, Stanley undertook an odyssey around the football grounds of London and North Kent before alighting at Millwall. Despite the efforts of Jason Dair and many others, as an adult he decided to move closer to the arena erroneously known as the New Den and is now a proud season-ticket holder.

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9 Comments on "Crowded Out"

  1. We have seen with clubs like Reading that a shiny new home can attract new fans so I would not have been quite as pessimistic as you Stanley – the idea of the O's moving into the remodelled stadium would have been the logical one. I'm with Lamine Diack and David Lammy on the Spurs issue – London got the Olympics partly because of a long term commitment to athletics but I always suspected that these promises would be broken.

  2. Ben says:

    Good article – as you say, an issue too easily lost amidst the unseemly bunfight between greedy opportunists Spurs and West Ham. I find it staggering that Spurs can be proposing to uproot to a completely different part of London and then demolish nearly the entire stadium.

  3. Michael says:

    If they let Spurs demolish the stadium, the British Olympic Committee will be about as popular with the wider sporting world as the English FA at World Cup voting time. As LR says, better facilities might attract more fans to Orient (though I've always hated watching football across a running track). Even if they're not moving into the stadium, they deserve a lot more consideration that they're receiving at the moment.

  4. Stanley says:

    I see this morning that the Orient board of directors have issued a statement voicing concerns for the club's survival. Another dropped ball by the English sporting authorities.

  5. Ben says:

    And here's a link to the story Stanley refers to: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/olympic_games/london_2012/9371221.stm

    A prescient post and no mistake…

  6. John Beech says:

    Surely a move to the Olympic Stadium by either West Ham or Tottenham would be in breach of Premier League (and Football League) rules – see http://footballmanagement.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/the-olympic-stadium-the-small-matter-of-distance-and-the-premier-league/

  7. William Abbs says:

    Have only just read this interesting piece after writing my own Orient article today for TTU. There was a feature in WSC a few months ago about the sad state of Clapton FC, probably the smallest fish in the pond in this contested part of London.

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