Barry Hearn didn't need the media to undermine Leyton Orient's anti-racist policy. As Dave Winter reports, he was quite capable of doing that himself
Apart from the regular awards for the best turned out pitch in their division, the greatest source of pride for many Leyton Orient fans in the recent years of failure has been the club’s imaginative community programme, featured in WSC 148. It has played a leading role in the Kick Racism Out Of Football campaign, yet the credibility of this award-winning scheme has been thrown into doubt by the recent comments of Orient’s chairman Barry Hearn.
Speaking on Nicky Campbell’s Radio 5 Live programme on March 8, Hearn made a number of offensive remarks about immigrants and asylum seekers. “I think it’s disgraceful we let all these people into the country,” he said. “It’s about time we started looking after ourselves.” Although, of course, as Hearn jokingly added, “If you don’t let them in, you may never get your car windscreen washed again.”
When Campbell pointed out that several boxers whose families had once been migrants, such as Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Naseem Hamed, had helped line the Hearn wallet, the Orient chairman replied: “In my ideal world I would have to let those three in because they made me so much money and I would obviously change my principles at that stage, being the person I am.”
Although the Leyton Orient Community Programme operates as an independent registered charity, and is not funded by the club, Hearn has never been slow to miss a photo opportunity when the scheme is in the limelight. But following this outburst the Community Programme has sought to distance itself from him and, by association, from the club itself.
A statement issued by the Community Programme noted that: “Leyton Orient FC is situated in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the country, which includes many refugees, asylum seekers and other minority communities. The Community Programme is proud of its work with these communities. The views expressed by Barry Hearn contradict completely the principles of the Community Programme.”
The Leyton Orientear fanzine drew attention to “the enormous damage” Hearn’s views would do to the club’s attempts to reach out more to its locality and insisted that “our chairman represents nobody but himself on this issue”. They urged the Football League to reconsider Hearn’s position as the Third Division’s representative on the League’s management board in the light of his comments.
Hearn was notably absent from Orient’s next home game, against Darlington (he may have been preoccupied with the promotion of the Naseem Hamed fight which took place the following day), and so avoided the sight of Orient substitute Iyseden Christie warming up in a T-shirt bearing an anti-racist message. Nor did he run the risk of bumping into youth team star Niam Uka, a Kosovan refugee who has seemingly traded in his windscreen squeegie for a pair of football boots.
Club stewards, however, prevented a group of fans displaying the official banner of the Kick Racism Out Of Football campaign, claiming they were acting on orders from the club. Feelings towards Hearn have been running high among Os fans since he branded those who dared to object to his running of the club as “morons”. For many supporters these latest comments are the last straw.
From WSC 159 May 2000. What was happening this month