Special report: Why Leyton Orient are a club on the up again after battling back from the threat of extinction

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 (Leyton Orient FC)
(Leyton Orient FC)

In a strange way, the run of four successive draws on which Leyton Orient find themselves provides a better metaphor for their progress over the past few years than were they riding high and dreaming of automatic promotion.

After a tumultuous period in the club’s history, more recently stability has been the aim of the game, Orient consolidating their return to the Football League after the disastrous ownership of Francesco Becchetti had seen them drop out of it for the first time in 112 years.

But stability does not mean stagnancy, as the Os seek to continue their rise back up the pyramid and move towards a more sustainable future — two key ambitions that share one caveat: that neither will be accomplished overnight.

“You can’t get promoted by the start of November, but you can probably be out of it,” says manager Kenny Jackett, whose side sit three points off the play-off places in League Two and whose appointment this summer was hailed as something of a coup.

“To be honest, we were quite shocked he was interested,” says chairman Nigel Travis. “I think it worked out because he saw a stability in the way we manage the club. He saw the opportunity.”

Jackett was sold on the vision of lifelong Orient fan Travis, who rescued the club alongside business partner Kent Teague in 2017 and set out a six-year plan to return it to League One.

This summer saw the latest stage of the rebuild on the pitch, as 11 new faces arrived in a major overhaul of the playing staff.

The first of Jackett’s new signings was former Charlton midfielder Darren Pratley, who knows all about the perils of mismanagement from his spells at Bolton and The Valley.

“I followed Orient from when they were in the National League and used to think, ‘How did they end up down there?’,” he says.

“But now it’s not a club where they’re chucking money at it like in the past, where they’re throwing out stupid wages to players to try to get out of the leagues. They’re trying to do it step by step.”

Jackett, also all too aware of the scars financial ruin can inflict, given his last job was at Portsmouth, adds: “You need to find a happy medium, having success while doing it in a constructive way financially. You’d hope that for every club that’s been in trouble, they’ll learn their lessons in the future.”

That is certainly the case at Orient, who expect to make a loss again this season of between £1million-£2m, but remain determined to become self-sufficient, despite the setback of the pandemic.

“We want to get to a position where every month or every year we’re not having to go to our board of directors to fund the club,” says CEO Danny Macklin.

Their chances of doing so depend heavily on external factors, most notably the redistribution of wealth from the upper echelons of the game recommended by Tracey Crouch’s independent review.

But within the club there is an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, typified by the development of a broadcast-quality match streaming service, which has potential to be even more of a money-spinner if rules around the 3pm blackout are relaxed.

“I speak to a family in Yorkshire that come down to the stadium once or twice a year,” Macklin says. “During the pandemic they watched all 46 games — now they’re only able to watch 15. At the moment they’re being robbed of the opportunity to watch their team and there’s money being left on the table.”

Even with the restrictions, Orient expect the service to generate an extra £300,000 in revenue this season.

The arrival of two new American investors, Coley Parry and Nick Semaca, to the board this summer has further brightened the picture and Travis has turned down more approaches from the US in recent weeks.

“My wife’s theory is that Ted Lasso has opened up the wonderful world of promotion and relegation and the excitement, disappointment and emotions that go with it,” he says.

As well as financial security, fresh input has brought a fresh outlook, a re-imagining of possibilities inspired by those not burdened by the recollection of walking into a broken club four years ago.

“They’re not fighting the fact we had no bank account, no training ground, no players,” Travis explains.

“Our original plan was just to get back to League One. They’ve made us think, ‘Can we go beyond that?’”

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