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Megabucks players, not fans, should cough up to save football’s heritage

League Two side Leyton Orient avoided a winding up order this week at the High Court in London with the club £5,512,449 in debt

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 2:37pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 10:34pm

The indignity of having your club hauled before a bankruptcy court can only be topped by the absenteeism in the dock of the incompetent who led your team to Skid Row.

Just ask those Leyton Orient fans who took a day off work to attend the High Court in London to see if owner Francesco Becchetti had any solutions to save their old club – the second oldest in the capital - from oblivion.

The Italian multi-millionaire businessman didn’t even bother to leave his £20 million (HK$193m) Mayfair mansion and show at the winding-up hearing.

Instead, he left it to the legal team to settle a debt with the tax man thought to be around £250,000. This bought a stay of execution until the next court date in June.

Despite the reprieve, supporters fear the club remains in mortal danger – and with good reason. Orient have a list of creditors and the club’s latest set of accounts showed it had debts of £5,512,449 – more than the value of the club’s assets of £5.5m.

The court was told Becchetti would invest £1m to pay off remaining debts in eight to 10 weeks. He remains missing in action and any remaining trust in the man who bought the club in 2014 amid the usual fanfare of promises has long evaporated.

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The League Two strugglers have survived two world wars, a brace of financial crashes, peasouper smogs, industrial unrest, riots – the whole shebang of human folly since it was founded in 1881.

That such an illustrious pedigree is in danger of extinction because of a flawed ego makes the case all the more abhorrent – a crime against culture, an attack on football’s heritage.

Orient supporters have started to raise funds, but the gallant community spirt seems doomed to fail because of the sum involved.

Surely it’s time the multi-millionaires, who have done very well at the top of the football pyramid, stepped up.

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They could pay a percentage of their inflated and obscene salaries into an insurance fund to save such treasures, those that belong to the nation as much as say, Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament, or Stonehenge.

If every player in the Premier League donated just one per cent annually from their pre-tax salary, clubs like Leyton Orient and their fans would not be put through the ringer and have their loyalty slung in their faces.

The combined pre-tax wage bill of the 20 Premier League clubs for 2016/17 is just shy of £2 billion. One per cent would fill a sizable war chest to prevent any heritage club from going to wall from the mismanagement of shameless owners – an amount akin to chump change give the amount of cash sloshing around.

Of course, people like Becchetti would have to be discouraged from buying clubs per se, lest they use such an emergency benevolent fund as a licence to behave recklessly.

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So tight rules on ownership and extreme vetting - plus a secure bond in advance should be a prerequisite, but it’s time for mega bucks footballers to cough up, because it’s their heritage too.

Ferdinand’s tragedy a life-lesson for pampered players

It’s not often outside of the 90 minutes that you look at footballers as little more than overpaid, pampered princelings, but human they really are under the superficial surface.

Former England hero and Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand has told how his cosseted life as a footballer left him unprepared after he was made a widower at the age of 36 and became the sole carer for his three young children.

He revealed in a powerful documentary called ‘Being Mum and Dad’ how he had not realised how much of the parenting burden his wife Rebecca – who died of cancer in 2015 - had carried until she had gone.

He describes how “in football you don’t lift a finger until you go over the white line to play”.

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“Everything is done for you. When you sit down, your kit’s in your locker. When you finish getting changed, you throw your kit on the floor. Someone comes in and picks all that up. Your boots, they’re muddy, someone comes in and gets them, cleans them.

“When you get to an airport you don’t even look at a sign, you just follow feet.”

But after his personal tragedy, “it was ‘How do I go to the doctor’s?’ I’d only ever seen the club doctor. I didn’t have a clue”.

Ferdinand’s brave openness shows how sheltered our weekend gladiators truly are; two years ago Manchester United legend Phil Neville admitted he’d gone 37 years without learning how to brew a simple hot beverage.

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On retirement and finding himself with a visitor but sans a servant, he had to call his wife to ask how to put the kettle on.

Ferdinard’s insight should inspire clubs to teach their spoilt charges not only to wake up and smell the bitter coffee beans of life - but learn how to make it too.

Video nasties latest scare tactic to put bite back into Three Lions

England boss Gareth Southgate showed his England players a video nasty to as part of preparations ahead of the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley.

He made his squad watch his decisive penalty miss the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany and told the players they needed to learn the “brutal” truths about England’s lowly position, pointing out they had won only three knockout games since 1990.

Let’s hope they have been scared into bigger and better things because there’s a sizable collection of splatter movies in the Three Lions’ hurt locker that are pure torture to watch for any fan.