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Orient chairman has a dream

last updated Tuesday 03rd January 2006, 2:09 PM
Orient chairman Barry Hearn
Orient chairman Barry Hearn

He may be more Don King than Martin Luther King, but Barry Hearn has a dream. It's a modest one for a man who managed a six-time world snooker champion, but despite a decade of disappointment as chairman of Leyton Orient, Hearn keeps rerunning a vision of his humble east London club rising above League Two.

"One day I will have my day," he promised. "I have a recurring dream that I'm standing with the biggest bottle of champagne - like a Formula One driver. I'm spraying the crowd. I haven't had that day, but I will have that day."

It's a defiant message from a chairman without a promotion during his near 11-year tenure and who is still receiving plenty of stick from the fans. The scepticism from the stands comes despite a team who are finally challenging to haul themselves out of the division, an ongoing project to rebuild the Brisbane Road stadium and Hearn's steadying of the club's finances.

"At the end of the day if someone is misguided enough to think I'm going to risk my personal fortune for a football club then they should be in a funny farm," he said. "I'm going to put enough in to keep it going and hopefully to have some fun myself. It's quite selfish. I'm doing this for Barry Hearn. I'm not doing it for the fans. The number of chairmen who say 'I'm doing it for the community' - to be honest that's a load of b******s. I'm doing this for me and I think that's the fans' best hope. I'm never going to fall out of love with me."

It's a brutally honest stance which might partly explain the supporters' attitude towards their chairman, who has supported Orient since he was 11. Still, questions about his priorities emerge. After selling land at each corner of the ground for £7.5 million to redevelop the ground, costs spiralled and a consortium led by Hearn bought some of the office space in the new development so the project could continue. "There's a suspicion that Barry Hearn did better than Leyton Orient out of that deal," said Tom Davies, a spokesman for Leyton Orient Fans Trust.

"The suspicion is probably not true, but I hope it is true," the chairman countered. "If people don't like it then come and replace me. But I've never met anybody that wants to do that."

It's a fair point. The club routinely lose more than £500,000 a year, but could it be that Orient are finally becoming more desirable? On the field, manager Martin Ling has not only created an attractive team chasing promotion, but also one on a decent cup run. Saturday's FA Cup third round tie at Fulham gives a showcase for his attractive new side as well as an estimated £50,000 windfall for Orient.

That should put a smile on Hearn's face, but probably won't change his relationship with the Orient fans. Not that he particularly seems to mind.

"I've got skin like a rhinoceros. There's nobody in football that's ever going to pierce that skin. I've dealt with Don King, Bob Arum and Frank Warren. This is not an issue for me at all. In fact it's a bit like playing with the children. But I think they're nice children and they're children I want to look after."

Nobody's going to believe that one after the "I'm in it for me" line, but if the chairman does eventually drench those Orient fans with champagne be prepared for another contradiction. There might just be chants of: "There's only one Barry Hearn".

Source Daily Telegraph by Simon Goodley
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