Noisy-neighbour catfight at Olympic Stadium drowns out Orient's plea

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By now, we should be absorbing the Olympic Park Legacy Committee’s decision on exactly what will happen with the 80,000-seater Olympic Stadium at the conclusion of next summer’s London Games.

However, the decision has been postponed, with the well-reported battle between West Ham and Tottenham to take over the £537 million stadium getting messier with every press release and counter-claim.

But among the mounds of counsellors’ quotes and elaborate plans, London’s second-oldest Football League club appears to have been completely overlooked.
League One side Leyton Orient have played at Brisbane Road in Leyton for more than 70 years. The site lies just 750 yards from the edge of the Olympic Park and under a mile from the stadium both Spurs and the Hammers are desperate to move in to. Should either Premier League side be granted permission to relocate to Stratford, the risks to Orient are clear.

"Oi! Keep that banging noise down!"

Like most other Football League sides, Orient face a massive battle to attract fans away from their sofas, out of their Premier League replica shirts and through the turnstiles. Factor in that there are a whole host of bigger sides within London trying to entice the biggest possible slice of the South-East’s football fans, and it's easy to see why crowds at Brisbane Road sit around the 4,000 mark.

The fear for Orient is that an increased capacity for one of the two top-flight sides will make tickets easier to come by and possibly more affordable, with the broader appeal of a better standard of football in a fantastic new stadium just a Rory Delap throw-in away attracting the casual fans that smaller clubs like Orient try incredibly hard to entice.

On top of the concern regarding the effects on their fan-base and revenue, the O’s are also very proud of their community work and feel a big boy moving to their doorstep would have a massive detrimental effect on their work in the local boroughs.

The club was the Football League’s Community Club of the Year in 2009 and, according to a statement released by Leyton Orient last week, the club’s work in the community has reached over 130,000 local residents across six London boroughs. Despite a large proportion of their supporters now residing in Essex and the A12 commuter belt to the north-east of London, the club still sees itself as an East London community-focused organisation, an ethos that would be threatened by the arrival of a substantially bigger club.

Both the Premier League and the Football League have very strict rules on the relocation of member organisations, one of which states that the move must not adversely affect clubs in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location – yet the pleas, both public and private, from O’s chairman Barry Hearn have been met by silence.

If within a mile is not the immediate vicinity then exactly what, in the eyes of the governing bodies, is?

In 2007 Hearn did enter into discussions with the OPLC, with the idea of Orient becoming tenants at the reduced-capacity stadium post-Olympics being put forward. However the plans fell through, with Hearn rightly concerned about the matchday experience being destroyed if there were 5,000 or so fans rattling around behind a running track in a 25,000-seater stadium.

There's no need for Orient to move. They have slowly and sensibly developed their current ground, rebuilding three stands over the last decade or so, resulting in an attractive and suitable stadium that meets their needs while retaining an excellent location at the heart of their community.

However, if the OPLC choose to grant the Olympic Stadium to either West Ham or Tottenham and the Football League and Premier League allow the relocation, then, according to Leyton Orient, a huge question mark hangs over their long-term viability at Brisbane Road.

Sunset over Brisbane, and not an Aussie in sight

The club and chairman Barry Hearn have previously spoke about plans to move out of London and towards the commuter regions of Essex, where the majority of the club’s fans now live. And the fear among O’s fans and traditionalist supporters across the leagues is that a Premier League club rocking up a mile away will merely force Orient to move away from the communities they have invested so much in.

When the bid for 2012 was submitted a key element was legacy. The initial plans to reduce the capacity and maintain the stadium as a home for athletics in the UK was morally correct while using the arena as a multi-purpose facility, hosting everything from Twenty20 cricket to music concerts, would ensure it was used as much as possible.

A move to Stratford is wrong for both Tottenham and West Ham. Spurs fans are desperate to stay in North London while Hammers fans would lose the atmosphere of Upton Park and would instead spend their Saturday afternoons watching football in a half-empty athletics stadium.

The original plan no longer seems to be receiving worthy consideration but the idea of all three football clubs staying put and the stadium becoming a reduced-capacity multi-purpose venue should be strongly considered.

Football’s governing bodies, their political counterparts and the OPLC must stop ignoring Leyton Orient and instead take the O’s into consideration when making the decision as to exactly what will happen to the Olympic Stadium after London 2012. It's the very least Barry Hearn, his club and its fans deserve.

If they fail to do so, one true legacy of next summer’s Olympics could well be the death of a community-focused Football League club rich in heritage.