O’s Need Protection From West Ham’s Stratford Move Feb18

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O’s Need Protection From West Ham’s Stratford Move

Sunday’s trip to Leyton Orient brings back great memories for this particular Gooner. When I was a student it wasn’t easy to afford Premier League prices so a group of us – supporters of teams as diverse as Arsenal, Wolves & Aberdeen – used to travel up the Central Line, as many other Gooners did when Arsenal were playing away from home,  to get our Football fix at Leyton Orient.

Whilst there has only ever been one team for me, I still get a bit misty eyed when I think about Leyton Orient’s 2001 playoff challenge. After a dizzy semi-final which saw a Matt Lockwood thunder bolt despatch Hull City, we travelled to Cardiff only to be disappointed by Blackpool who would take their first step on a road that led them all the way to the big time.

Those afternoons in Leyton taught me a lot about Football fans. As a Gooner I’ve been relatively spoilt. When a club has success, it encourages fans from all over to make the pilgrimage to watch that club, to be part of something special. As a result, the top sides in the country have little trouble filling up their vast stadiums, even in these straitened times. For smaller clubs, it’s not so easy to fill the terraces.

It’s for this reason that West Ham’s proposed move to the Olympic Stadium, just a hop, skip and jump from Orient’s current home, has me slightly concerned. As the game grows inexorably the smaller clubs risk losing their battle for market share with more powerful neighbours. Particularly in areas like London which has no shortage of variety when it comes to choosing a Football club.

The O’s have an average attendance this season of 4,498. They rely on local fans and people, like I used to be, that go there because they love Football. They hope to attract the casual fan market and keep the turnstiles ticking over with concessions for kids who can’t afford the bigger clubs that are only a tube ride away.

When West Ham move to Stratford, if they make good on their promise to provide cheap tickets to locals and community groups, this will arguably tap into the pool of kids that would otherwise have been tempted by Orient. Is a kid offered the chance of his first Football match going to favour Brisbane Road for an all important League 1 fixture with Plymouth or will he favour Premier League Football in the Olympic Stadium? It’s not likely to be a tough choice for most.

Maybe Orient, including Barry Hearn who intends to seek Judicial Review into the stadium decision, are making too much of this. Put it this way, when I was a penniless student I was still an Arsenal fan. If you’d offered me a cheap ticket at West Ham or the equivalent at Orient, I would never have gone to Upton Park. Going to watch a side who are closer to being a rival is not the done thing. I would assume the same of die hard Tottenham fans who also watch Orient. Orient will therefore hopefully maintain this casual market.

The biggest threat is to the future supply of real Orient supporters. Football is often passed down through families but I still know many where a son doesn’t support his Dad’s team, opting for a more glamorous option or to go with school mates allegiances. The Premier League carries a rule which reads;

We will not grant consent for a Premier League club to move grounds if it would adversely affect clubs or Football League clubs having their registered grounds in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location.”

We must hope that the relevant authorities seriously look into this and if not review their decision, look long and hard at the implications of this move and think seriously about how this will effect one of London’s oldest, and best loved clubs.