In 2014, Leyton Orient were on the brink of the Championship, two years later Orient, who have spent 112 years in the football league, have dropped out of the football league and are struggling to survive. All because of their negligent owner, Francesco Becchetti who has saddled the club with £10 million of debt and is driving this historic club to the ground.
Unfortunately, this is not an untypical/solitary situation in the English Football League. Year after year, owners with little affection for the clubs they own are driving their teams down the football pyramid. Blackburn, Charlton, Coventry, Nottingham Forest, Leyton Orient, Birmingham and Leeds are among some of the clubs of the EFL with reckless owners who are making ignorant decisions when it comes to the success of their historic clubs.
Most notably of these irresponsible owners are the Venky’s. 7 years ago the Venky’s bought Blackburn Rovers; at the time they were a stable Premier League team, now they have fallen to League One and attendance has dropped by 70% and just like Becchetti at Orient, the Venky’s have drowned the club in debt. Other Owners, such as Massimo Cellino at Leeds and Roland Duchâtelet at Charlton, have had numerous different managers over their period of ownership, often sacking managers unnecessarily.
Yet, the EFL has done little to prevent absent-minded owners from taking over EFL clubs and have been heavily criticized by fans across the country. New owners are required to take a ‘fit and proper person’ test which has been describes as a “simple entrance exam”.
The EFL have failed in preventing owners from bringing football clubs to their knees and have insufficient power to forbid more mindless owners taking over clubs of the Football League.
Although, arguably, the responsibility should fall on the previous owners not the EFL. Some fans have argued that the previous owners of their clubs should have prevented the free fall of their clubs by looking into the background of the new prospective owners.
Barry Hearn, Leyton Orient’s preceding owner and life-long fan, sold Orient for £4 million in 2014 and has stated that he was “pretty certain” Becchetti would prove to be a good owner. He also has declared “Looking where we are now, I would never have sold if I had thought this was going to happen”. Some fans have argued he was wrong to sell the club to Becchetti and should have sold the club to someone more competent and reliable.
This month, controversial Greek Olympiacos owner, Evangelos Marinakis completed his takeover of Nottingham Forest. Marinakis has previously been under investigation for match fixing in Greece and has been accused of being part of a ‘criminal organisation’. He has also been accused of bombing a referee’s bakery.
Despite Marinakis’ questionable past, he has passed the ‘fit and proper person test’ (now known as the owner’s and director’s test) and has finished his takeover of Nottingham Forest from Forest’s previous dubious owner Fawaz Al Hasawi. If Forest, who narrowly avoided relegation this season, go into freefall as a result of careless decisions from their newest owner who is to blame? The EFL – whose “simple entrance test” has failed to keep out yet another controversial owner or Fawaz Al Hasawi who sold the club to Marinakis rather than holding out for a different buyer.
Conversely, some clubs have experienced success with new foreign owners. Leicester’s Thai owners took them from the Championship to the Champions League and Watford’s Owners (the Pozzo family) have also taken the club from the Championship to the Premier League.
However, only a handful of clubs who have been taken over in recent years by unknown owners have benefited. The problem still persists, clubs are being driven to the ground and to the lower reaches of the football league and in some cases, such as Leyton Orient’s, are on the brink of existence all because of useless owners. Something needs to be done to stop historic clubs with loyal, life-long fans from being taken over irresponsible, careless owners.
By Greg Kennedy