Hearn: We were offered Olympic Stadium first
PUBLISHED: 18:23 24 July 2013 | UPDATED: 07:09 25 July 2013
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Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn vowed to fight on in his bid to groundshare with West Ham as a battle for the survial of his club
Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn has insisted that they have not given up on moving into the Olympic Stadium with West Ham – an arena, he claims was offered to them first, way back in 2006.
Appearing in front of a House of Lords select committee set up to look into the legacy of the Olympic Games, Hearn was full of bravado, claiming that the deal to have West Ham as anchor tenants is not yet ratified because of a judicial review and a case against the Premier League.
He also stated that they were the first club to be offered the stadium for use as a football stadium.
“The initial plan with Tessa Jowell and Ken Livingstone was to leave a 25,000 stadium and we were to use the arena,” said Hearn.
“We turned it down because of the athletics track. We said that the only thing you can do was put in retractable seating, but they said they could not afford it.
“We were always intended to be the football tenant post games in a small 25,000 stadium.”
Plans have changed radically since then and the stadium will now be converted to a 54,000 capacity with retractable seating and Hearn states that is why he changed his mind about a move.
“We came back in the moment they said that retractable seating was going in. We were interested in a groundshare once we knew that the view for the fans was going to be compelling, rather than something that is happening way over there.”
West Ham were confirmed as anchor tenants by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) earlier this year, but Hearn still does not accept that everything is now decided.
“This is not a done deal,” he insisted. “There is a judicial review in the high court and there is a claim against the Premier League.
“Commercially this move will increase West Ham’s value by £100 million and yet they are paying £2m rent a year. They are paying £20m towards the refurbishment and they are being allowed to redevelop Upton Park.”
Hearn was also critical of the LLDC and the way they went about the bidding process which ended in West Ham’s success.
“I thought they were nice people and had a certain amount of skill, but I wouldn’t trust them to run a newsagents,” said Hearn.
“We were slipped out, bashed up, terrorised, bullied and made to think we are of no significance.
“Is legacy just a word or is money all that matters? In my dealings with the LLDC and with Boris Johnson, legacy has not been mentioned, it is money that has been mentioned.”
The Orient owner confirmed he is still open to a change of mind from the LLDC, when he was asked the question by Lord Falconer.
“I would welcome it and I would kiss you and I don’t usually kiss men,” he exclaimed. “We are desperate to survive and the only way we can do that is with a groundshare.”
Keen to play the innocent victim, Hearn stressed that he can’t understand what the problem is with sharing the stadium with the Hammers, despite the various run-ins he has had with the Upton Park club over the stadium.
“All I hear is that West Ham don’t want to share with Leyton Orient. I cannot come up with one reason as to what harm we would do. The stadium could make a profit out of us being there even at our current level.
“I am completely bemused, because it is a no brainer.”
Hearn confirmed that they had offered the LLDC a rental of £500,000 a year whilst they remain in League One, increasing to £1m in the Championship and going up to £5m if they were ever to reach the Premier League.
Without a move, Hearn thinks that the future for the club is a bleak one.
“No youngster in our catchment area would consider going to Leyton Orient if West Ham are at the Olympic Stadium,” he said.
“This would condemn Orient, not necessarily to death, but down the divisions over a five-year period.
“Our average crowd is 5,000, moving to the Olympic Stadium is a challenge, but it is a great challenge. We are not in this to make money, we are a community club and as a club we live in the real world,” said Hearn who has not given up hope.
“My front door is 750 yards from the Olympic Stadium. The Olympics was about dreams, but why does that dream die after three or four weeks?
“Football club owners have dreams too.”