The Road Back From Oblivion

The despair currently being felt by Leyton Orient supporters is something Hereford fans can directly relate to. But there is hope – even if the ultimate answer is liquidation.

The Mail-On-Sunday Sports Journalist, Oliver Holt, has visited Edgar Street many times over the years whilst supporting his beloved Stockport; another club that has fallen on hard times of late.

In an excellent article in today’s newspaper Holt casts his eye over what can happen when oblivion seemingly destroys a famous football club. Here are selected extracts:

I have nothing but contempt, scorn and profound dislike for preening, petty men like Orient owner Francesco Becchetti, who has run the club aground on the shores of his ego and exhibited a callous disregard for the hopes and fears of the loyal fans of a club with a proud 136-year history.

There are people — or companies — like Becchetti dotted all around our leagues, people who use clubs like playthings, people who have no idea of how much emotional investment fathers and sons and mothers and daughters have placed in their teams, people who almost seem to take a perverse pleasure in their ruin.

In some cases, what looks like frivolous sadism to fans is a mask for financial exploitation. The effect on the supporters is the same

And for the Orient faithful, whether relegation happens at Brisbane Road on Monday or at Crewe next Saturday, it will mean the pain of the loss of League status. It will seem like an ending for Orient fans. But it won’t be. They will soon find out the ties that bind them with their club are stronger than they think.

Their club’s identity will not die when they fall out of the Football League. In some ways, it may even grow stronger. That is what happened at Stockport anyway.

Until 2011, I had always thought of non-League football as a void. I realised very quickly how stupid that was. I went to Stockport’s first match in the Conference, away to Forest Green Rovers at The New Lawn stadium — and loved it.

I have been to Histon, Solihull Moors, Stalybridge Celtic, Brackley Town, FC United of Manchester, Oxford City, Kidderminster Harriers and other stadiums in the past few years to watch Stockport. 

I’m going to Bromsgrove on Monday to watch them play Worcester City in the National League North. There is a hope of the play-offs. There will be a good away support and a great atmosphere. There always is.

So, if Orient go down, they will find it is less of an ending and more of a new beginning. Non-League is not a void at all. That was just my ignorance. Non-League football actually represents a rich and vibrant part of our football culture and as the Premier League moves out of the reach of many ordinary people, non-League offers a welcome glimpse of the way the game used to be.

Look at teams like Lincoln City and how they are rising again. Look at success stories like FC United and Salford City. Look at the emotion and the community spirit that has fired the rebirth of Hereford United as Hereford FC and the way the club are rising through the divisions.

It is a joy to visit Edgar Street again now and see the transformation the fans have wrought since they were liberated from the yoke of the owners, who dragged them into oblivion when they were wound up in 2014. Out of that despair, the joy of supporting your club has emerged again.

People like Becchetti think they can destroy our clubs but they can’t. They can damage them temporarily. They can drag them down, starve them of investment and they can get them relegated.

But they will always fail because they cannot take a club’s soul. That is the lesson of Hereford, it is the lesson of Stockport County and Lincoln City. And it will be the lesson of Leyton Orient too.

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