LEYTON ORIENT Football Club will die in five years if it does not change its name and move to the Olympic Park, said its chairman yesterday.
Barry Hearn said a controversial name change to London Orient and a ground-share with West Ham at the 80,000-capacity stadium are crucial to the club's survival, and gives the club just half a decade if the "bold" moves do not come off.
The League One club chairman hopes to revive the Os' flagging fanbase by attracting younger fans to games with the name change, and aims to put itself at the heart of the community by giving free season tickets to under-18s in London, students and members of the Armed Forces, and free family season tickets to new residents of Olympic Park housing.
He also wants to move from Brisbane Road Stadium to share the Olympic Park with West Ham, and has tabled a bid for consideration by the London Legacy development Corporation, with a decision expected in less than two weeks.
Mr Hearn said: "We are dead in five years without these changes. It won't be an immediate death, it's by slow torture. Giving ourselves five years we'd be lucky to be playing in the conference [non-league].
"It's an ageing fanbase, the support is diminished. We had Sheffield United on the weekend and there were 4,800 people there."
But the proposed name change proved unpopular with supporters when the Guardian interviewed them after their 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield United on Saturday, October 6.
Orient fanzine editor Sean McNeill, 31, of Geldeston Road, Clapton, said: "It’s not going to happen. It’s totally dependent on us getting the Olympic Stadium, which we’re not going to get.
"Calling ourselves London Orient isn’t going to make people in Kensington come and see us."
Tim Fountaine, 52, of Ellesmere Road, near Mile End, added: "London Orient – it’s a bit pretentious, isn’t it? Orient can’t represent the whole of London."
But Mr Hearn defended the idea, saying it would widen the fanbase to across the capital.
He said: "London Orient will come up first on Google. We have to be serious about rebuilding our fanbase. If our supporters are stuck in tradition I admire them for that, but we have to live in the real world.
"If West Ham get the stadium without us then we're competing with Premiership football down the road."