BARRY HEARN has been one of the most colourful figures in British sport for half a century.
Here, in the first part of SunSport’s exclusive serialisation of his autobiography, he tells how he got the a*** with officials over a young Ronnie O’Sullivan, royally revamped darts… and sold Orient to someone who “knew nothing about football”.
Barry Hearn’s new book My Journey: Knockouts, Snookers, Bullseyes, and Tight Lines is out on April 28Credit: Barry Hearn / Hodder & Stoughton
Barry Hearn owned Leyton Orient football club for 19 yearsCredit: PA:Empics Sport
WE had Leyton Orient for 19 years. We made a small profit twice, broke even twice and did our b******s for 15 of those 19 years.
I decided during the 2013-14 season it was time to go. I wasn’t prepared to put my personal wealth or my family’s welfare at risk.
I had plenty of interest from people with no money, the fur-coat-no-knickers brigade.
Then along came a very strange individual — Francesco Becchetti.
He was an Italian businessman, supposedly a billionaire who had made his money in waste disposal.
This rather flamboyant character brought his mother to every meeting of significance.
She was clearly the boss, although I never heard her say a word.
Becchetti was a very loud, aggressive person, clearly used to getting what he wanted.
There were times he was so annoying I could have whacked him.
The most important thing was Becchetti promised to put in as much money as necessary to achieve the dreams of all Orient fans.
Over the next few seasons, he pumped in around £15million and the club had the division’s biggest wage bill.
Unfortunately, he knew next to nothing about football. All he achieved was relegation to the National League.
Being Leyton Orient chairman gave me moments I’ll never forget but it was a balancing act between my wallet and my heart and the wallet had to win.
My Life: Knockouts, Snookers, Bullseyes, Tight Lines and Sweet Deals, by Barry Hearn, is out on April 28 and available to pre- order now (Hodder & Stoughton, £20).
Barry Hearn sold Leyton Orient to Francesco BecchettiCredit: PA:Press Association