2017 was a tumultuous year for the East London side as they suffered relegation from the Football League after 112 years, following a 3-0 away loss to Crewe Alexandra.
Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti took over the club in 2014 and oversaw a relegation from League One in his first campaign as owner. In his third season in charge, Orient were relegated again down into the National League.
Becchetti promised success when he took over following the shootout heartbreak against Rotherham in 2014 but managed to lead the club to two relegations in three seasons and removed them from the Football League altogether. It was unprecedented for long-time Orient fans who had seen their team remain competitive for decades.
In those three seasons, Becchetti hired and sacked eight managers, igniting sustained criticism from fans about his ownership of a historical football club. The beginning of the end was apparent when Orient fans invaded the pitch at home to Colchester in April 2017, which led to the game being abandoned and replayed behind closed doors.
Current owner Nigel Travis, bought the club in June of that year, saving Becchetti from further turmoil. The raucous from the fans was rooted in the fact that this Italian didn’t know how to run a football club and ultimately destroyed a club that was a penalty shootout away from Championship football.
The National League was a completely newfound experience. Smaller grounds, smaller fan sizes, but most importantly, less revenue. Travis took over the club in a vulnerable period. The O’s were expected to return to the Football League in one season, given the size and history of the club. But it wasn’t that easy.
Orient finished 13th in their first National League season with a totally revamped squad. Steve Davis took charge from the start but was sacked in November after a run of 12 games without a win. Justin Edinburgh was the next man to take the reins after Ross Embleton was caretaker for two weeks but then became Edinburgh’s assistant.
Justin seemed to turn the team around and, in his first full season in charge, secured promotion back to League Two in a campaign where his side only lost seven league games. Orient were on the up again thanks to Edinburgh and top goal scorer Macauley Bonne who netted 23 goals in 18/19.
But disaster struck the club in June 2019 as manager Justin Edinburgh tragically passed away following a cardiac arrest. It was a devastating period for the club who had just celebrated returning to League Two. Embleton took charge until October where Carl Fletcher replaced him. But Fletcher lasted less than a month in the dugout. Embleton re-entered the fray amidst a fluctuating season for the O’s who eventually finished in 17th following the suspension of football due to COVID.
Embleton lasted until February 2021 when former player Jobi McAnuff began his managerial career until the end of the season. The season was clouded largely by COVID still as fans were unable to attend for the majority. Orient finished 11th, 12 points off the playoffs but with a negative goal difference.
The club was stuck in transition, a multitude of managers without any real success, and a couple of seasons finishing mid table and no cup runs. Following that season, the board turned to long timer manager Kenny Jacket who had had success with Portsmouth, Millwall and Wolves, all established EFL outfits. The fans response to his appointment was largely positive and things began well as, by the halfway mark in the league, they had 10 wins under their belt. But then, a horrid run of form ensued where Jackett’s side went 14 games without winning in all competitions.
He was then duly replaced by current gaffer Richie Wellens. The Manc has since transformed the team in just under one year, and has them perching atop the League Two table, with 17 games to go. He had previously managed Oldham, Swindon, Salford and Doncaster prior to the move to E10. Despite a recent blip in form, Orient have still only lost five league games, winning 18. The squad has been relatively similar to the one that Jackett had, but the fact that Paul Smyth has managed to remain largely uninjured has been paramount to the team’s success. He has nine goals to his name and has Orient fans on their feet every time he has the ball with his direct play and close dribbling.
There is still a lot of work to be done if Orient are to be promoted back to League One, eight years after they were there last time. It has been a roller coaster of emotions if you have supported Orient for the past decade or so, but things do seem to be on the up again. After a rough reign under Becchetti, Nigel Travis has to be applauded for getting Leyton Orient back on track. And back where they belong.