Back at the end of April, Mrs Football Nerd and I had gone to watch already-relegated Leyton Orient at home to Colchester United in their last home Football League game (https://football-nerd.org/2017/05/05/the-terrible-state-of-leyton-orient-is-this-the-end-for-a-true-community-club/). That game will always be remembered for the protests about then owner Francesco Becchetti whose inept, if not frankly malicious, stewardship of the club saw them go from the brink of promotion to the Championship to relegation and a new existence as a non-league club in just three years.
Largely because of the defiant attitude of the fans that day and their plain refusal to let their club die, as well as Mrs Football Nerd having been a fairly regular attendee on the terraces back in the 1990’s; we promised ourselves that we would take ourselves back down to Brisbane Road whenever other football commitments allowed. The annoying International Break that comes so early in the season seemed like the absolute perfect opportunity to deliver on our promise.
The brilliance of London Underground’s timetabling of engineering work meant that there were no tubes running from Stratford to Leyton on this matchday, but this afforded us the opportunity to have a bit of a stroll in the September sunshine and to stop off in true football supporter style, at the Railway Tavern for some pre-match refreshment. It felt like the Tavern, with the Olympic Stadium in clear view, was one of those pubs that had benefitted from West Ham’s relocation whereas others near the former site of Upton Park now struggled; certainly the huge claret and blue umbrella in the beer garden suggested that the pub would now be pitching itself as a Hammers’ pub.
With our thirst suitably quenched we jumped on a bus for the remainder of the trip. If you have ever visited Brisbane Road you will know that it is a ground of two seemingly apposite feels. On one side the East Stand is a classic example of British football stadium architecture, with an official entrance and angular façade that faces the pitch and bears the name of the club that look like they belong to a bygone era when football was really football. Behind the goals two modern compact stands replace the terraces of decades ago and the modern West Stand houses the club’s offices behind and above the seats; while most bizarrely there is a residential apartment block in each corner of the ground.
While its composition seems slightly mind-boggling, the ground itself comfortably incorporates the new developments while retaining its old school charm. For those of us of a football-nostalgic tilt, it is a ground that we should relish and is far more preferable to those almost interchangeable soulless developments seen across the country ever since the Taylor report.
Once inside, we indulged ourselves in that pre-match tradition of having a pint and something to eat in an anonymous grey concrete area before heading in to take up our seats. The atmosphere all around the place was very different from when we had been here four months previously, it was palpably positive and upbeat, a feeling that despite losing its Football League status, the club had not only survived the turmoil that surrounded it, but was on the up and going places; we can only hope that that means a swift return to the League, although my Tranmere Rovers connections tell me that getting out of the National League is not as straightforward as might be hoped.
The match itself was a pretty lively affair and one that belied its standing in the fifth tier of the English football pyramid; both teams tried to get on the ball and play it around properly, although it was Orient that made all the early running. Denied a number of chances through a combination of the linesman’s flag and the reluctance of the attacking players to shoot from distance, the O’s dominated the early exchanges. However, as is so often the way, it was during this early spell in control of things that they conceded the first goal; an incisive dart through the middle and ball out to the right wing caught Orient too far forward and Guiseley striker Kayode Odejayi turned home the cross to make it 1-0.
With five minutes to go to the break, fearing that the O’s had blown themselves out, Mrs Football Nerd and I headed off for a half-time pint; only to miss home striker Macauley Bonne first level the game and then put the O’s ahead in added time, both goals coming from the penalty spot and both of which were nailed on penalties we were assured by those joining us in the bar upon the referee’s whistle.
The second half continued in very much the same vein, with both teams playing the game the right way but with Orient enjoying the upper hand. However it wasn’t until deadline day signing Matt Harold, an old school number nine if ever there was one, joined the fray just past the hour mark that the East Londoners took control. The debutant wasted no time in nodding home Widdowson’s cross from the left for 3-1.
Eight minutes from time that man Bonne latched onto a flick from Harold and fired home for his hat trick and to seal the 4-1 win. After the game we repaired to the wonderfully quirky Leyton Technical pub and reflected on a thoroughly enjoyable football experience, and eagerly scanned the fixture list trying to identify the next free Saturday when we could do it all again. The experience hadn’t just seen us deliver on our promise to make sure we supported the O’s but had actually strengthened our bond with a true community club.