LOFT Special General Meeting - Fund launched
LOFT held a momentous Special General Meeting on Thursday 2 March, where vital matters affecting the very future of Leyton Orient Football Club were discussed.
A packed venue, with estimates of around 300-350 members present plus more who couldn't get in, heard from several members of LOFT's Board on the current crisis situation at the club. Several hundred people at any one time were also following the event via a live stream on our Facebook page, the progress of the meeting was also covered live by, among others, the Orient Outlook podcast and the Waltham Forest Guardian.
The meeting had been called several weeks prior, to discuss LOFT's progress on its disaster recovery plans and the forming of a fighting fund. These plans were presented following a rousing introduction by LOFT's chair, Doug Harper, who made LOFT's overriding position clear: "There is only one Orient and we will not let it die!"
Following a report of a recent meeting with the local council, wherein the council affirmed their overwhelming support for the club to remain in the borough and for the Brisbane Road ground not to be redeveloped for housing, LOFT Board members Mat Roper and Adam Michaelson presented a summary of our recovery plans, as set out in the documents made available several days before the meeting.
The summary included the progress so far on 'phoenix club' plans if the current club is liquidated. Inevitably of course, the meeting wanted to focus on the issue of the winding-up petition served on the club, that had been announced less than 36 hours before the meeting started.
In essence, the key issues are these:
- A winding-up petition has been served on the club by HM Revenue and Customs, believed to be for non-payment of PAYE - the exact amount isn't known but has been reported as £250,000 in the media
- It is likely (but not known for certain) that the club's bank accounts have been frozen in light of the petition
- The petition is due to be heard in the High Court on Monday 20 March
- LOFT has been speaking to potential investors about taking over the club; we are also aware of other offers to the club's hierarchy - both we and they have been met by silence
- LOFT therefore believes there is a very real risk that neither Francesco Becchetti nor any other authorised representative of the club's board will contest the petition - essentially, walking away from the club
- In that circumstance, if there were no other intervention, the judge would accept the petition and wind up Leyton Orient Football Club Limited - the club would be liquidated
- LOFT's position is that liquidation should be avoided at all costs - if there is a chance to preserve Leyton Orient, that should be taken
- LOFT therefore feels it has no choice other than to try and preserve the football club by seeking an administration, if it becomes apparent that neither the unpaid debt to HMRC has been settled nor that the petition will be contested for other reasons (such as imminent sale of the club to investors willing to settle the debt)
- An administration would take control of the club off the current owner into the hands of an administrator, so that all offers to buy the club could then be looked at and an arrangement sought with creditors over unpaid debts
- An administration would however mean a 12-point deduction this season, if it takes place before the EFL's deadline of 23 March (i.e. 3 days after the hearing) - almost certainly relegating the club to the National League
- If an administration takes place after 23 March, the points would be deducted at the start of the following season (including if the club is relegated to the National League, where it would be a 10-point deduction instead)
- An adjournment to the hearing could be sought, but if it is used solely to delay the process and the situation doesn't change by the following hearing, it risks a later application for administration not being agreed
The meeting heard various arguments and questions from the floor (and indeed Board members) about the situation - there are no easy answers, and with the situation having only become apparent the day before, LOFT's Board itself had not had time to reach a settled view on the way forward.
The meeting briefly considered either holding a ballot of all members on this one issue, or to hold an open meeting to allow for discussion by all supporters - however, neither would work with the timing required for LOFT to start preparing an intervention to seek an administration.
Ultimately therefore, the Chair moved to a vote on a Resolution drafted during the meeting:
"This meeting agrees to seek the appointment of an administrator at the winding-up hearing of Leyton Orient Football Club on 20 March. However, that application should be made as late as possible to give the club's current owner time to settle the bill.
This meeting agrees that if the committee believes requesting an adjournment provides a more stable course for the club, then we should seek an adjournment."
This Resolution was passed with an overwhelming majority - a momentous decision, but clearly a necessary one if the club in its current form is to be saved.
What this means is that if no effort is made by Francesco Becchetti to settle the debt or contest the winding-up petition, LOFT will seek to have the club put into administration as late as possible to prevent its liquidation - or seek an adjournment from the court if the LOFT Board believes that is the better course of action to protect the club.
What this does not mean is that the club is in administration now, nor that LOFT's Board will seek for the club to be put in administration unless it believes there is no other option to prevent the club being liquidated.
The meeting then voted on the first planned resolution of the night, to endorse the work of the disaster recovery sub-committee thus far and its plans - this was passed unanimously.
Rob from the Blackpool Supporters Club then gave a message of support which was very well received by members - the key point being, other clubs' fans are there to support us in our endeavours. LOFT is particularly grateful for support received from its friends at Blackpool and Swansea, who we have been proud to support in their current and past issues with owners.
Finally, LOFT's secretary Jonathan Kaye set out the proposal for the Leyton Orient Regeneration Fund, including amendments to the original proposal based on feedback received:
- LOFT's Board would review each year before its AGM whether the fund would still be needed, and if it felt it was not likely to be needed soon, then all 'larger' donations (one-off donations of £100 or more, and all standing order donations of £20 a month or more) would be offered the chance to ask for their donations back
- Following feedback from the floor, the initial target for the fund was agreed to be set at £250,000
It was also explained that the fund would not be used to settle any debt or loan owed to the current owner, which was welcomed by the meeting.
The Resolution to approve the Fund was passed nearly unanimously with only one vote against (this may not have been a serious vote against, but is recorded in the minutes nonetheless!).
The meeting closed, with the Regeneration Fund launching online within minutes and with collection buckets in the room.
To those attending or following online, it must have sometimes been a difficult meeting. The issues facing the club are huge, and with an absent owner the race is truly on to ensure the club's survival past 20 March. It was no less difficult for LOFT - we are, ultimately, just fans doing our best to try and safeguard this wonderful club's very existence.
Our apologies to those who couldn't get in to the meeting or left early due to the packed conditions. Every time we book a bigger room, it seems not to be big enough!
This is a testament though to the passion and desire among fans to not let their club simply die - demonstrated by the hundreds of people joining LOFT in the days since the winding-up petition, with the membership count surging past 1,000 over the weekend.
The Regeneration Fund has also been incredibly well supported already, with £35,000 being raised by hundreds of individual donations in just the first few days. Donations and messages of support have come from far and wide, from east London to Des Moines, Iowa!
We will update all O's fans in the coming days regarding the winding-up petition - rest assured that LOFT's Board is more resolute than ever that we will not let Leyton Orient die.
Up the O's!
Our very grateful thanks to Elliot Byrne for live streaming the meeting, to Paul and Steve from the Orient Outlook Podcast for live Tweeting, and to Shona Duthie from the Waltham Forest Guardian for their live coverage.