Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn looks at bigger picture ahead of Cup clash with Norwich City
Barry Hearn would not blame Norwich City for fielding a “youth team” when his Leyton Orient side arrive at Carrow Road for their FA Cup third round match on Saturday.
The Canaries sit level on points with second-placed Cardiff City in the Championship after picking up seven points from a possible nine over the festive period, despite the Bluebirds’ 2-1 home win over Leeds United last night.
But with a host of injuries stretching his first team resources, manager Paul Lambert could be forced to delve deeper into his City squad for the visit of a side Norwich shared League One with last season.
And with the promise of a promotion push a growing possibility for the Canaries, Orient chairman Hearn – better known for his roles promoting boxing, darts and snooker – would understand Lambert keeping his eyes on the big prize.
“Norwich are second in the Championship and looking at the bigger picture, shall we say,” said Hearn today. “I mean it’s huge, absolutely huge, and if I was them I would field their youth team and a couple of people from the old age pensioners home!
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“The Premier League, what’s it worth – �90m or something? It’s an astronomical figure; Norwich are a big club and deserve to be there.
“At the moment they must be looking at that land of milk and honey just over the rainbow: you’re halfway through the season, in prime position and playing well; goodness me, it’s exciting.
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“No one can deny they’ve got the facilities and the support to dwarf clubs like Blackpool and Wigan in the Premier League, and of course it is something where only an idiot would take his eye off that big pot. But the FA Cup is there, you’ve got to play the fixture or you get fined!”
Hearn laughed as he made that last point – but knows, when the players take to the pitch on Saturday, any financial implications for either side will carry little weight.
“I know Norwich are a hugely professional outfit, and we’re expecting a hugely tough game,” added Hearn. “We in the boardroom look at the bigger picture, that’s what we spend our time fighting for. But for the footballers, it’s a game of football and it really doesn’t matter. No one is going to say I’m going to give 95 per cent today because it’s only the FA Cup.
“What they are going to say is this is the FA Cup, this is what legends are made of, and in my career I want to look back at a successful run in these competitions. So you know it’s going to be a thoroughly competitive game.”
Orient were one of the first sides to suffer a City late show last season, as the eventual League One champions hit the Londoners’ 10-men for four at Carrow Road, in September 2009.
However, Orient did spring a surprise 2-1 win at Brisbane Road towards the end of the campaign as City closed in on the silverware – a result Hearn is still thankful for.
“We’re very happy to be in the third round, we’re very happy to be coming up to Norwich; Delia and her little team always make us very welcome – and the food’s not bad either,” he said.
“They’re a very good side. We managed to get one over them last year at our place, which saved our season really because we were in the relegation zone when they came and what you didn’t want to be then was at home to Norwich.
“So we know we can do it. Can we do it again? It’s doubtful, they’re the big favourites. But it’s cup football. It’s a game we’re looking forward to, it’s a fun day out and we’d love to beat them. We’ll give it our best shot.
“It’s the FA Cup. There’s a special type of magic about that. No one in the right mind doesn’t want to win it. For us it’s a lovely journey, but for them it’s a chance to get to the fourth round and possibly get drawn at home to Manchester United for the fans.
“So it’s a very significant game despite all the others pressures that exist in football.
“We are a small club that loses money every year. There’s only two ways we can make money: We have players that quite a few clubs are interested in and we’re not interested in selling, so that leaves us with the FA Cup.
“So yes, it can make a huge difference and a game against one of the bigger sides, away draw, wherever, can wipe out your losses for a year.
“And let’s be honest, a game with Norwich if it’s a sell-out brings us much needed finance. But at the end of the day it’s just a game of football and that’s what we’re in it for.
“For me, the football club is therapeutic. And the fact it loses money – it loses a controllable amount of money.
“I spoke to Delia once and asked her what it’s like to owe that type of money. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night – that’s my nature – but I do understand that other world when you’re going for gold.
“That’s fabulously exciting for the fans and, you know what, you’ve got little Leyton Orient going to come and upset the apple cart on Saturday for you.”