It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this, I was never supposed to care, it was supposed to just be something to do to kill the time when Arsenal weren’t playing; but increasingly I have found myself being drawn into following Leyton Orient. This stark realisation hit me as Mrs Football Nerd and I walked out of Brisbane Road last Saturday evening, tangibly disappointed in both the performance and the result that had seen our newly (re)adopted team go down 2-1 to National League new boys Fylde.
If I am honest, I hadn’t been intending to go to this game at all, but with an Arsenal-free Saturday it took only the merest suggestion by the missus before I was booking us two tickets for the match without the slightest moment of hesitation. Having thoroughly enjoyed our last trip a few weeks previously (https://football-nerd.org/2017/09/05/back-at-brisbane-road/), I guess I was expecting a pleasant day out, watching a match without the pressure of Arsenal and the impact of the result on my mood for the upcoming week; instead to my shock and consternation something altogether different occurred.
It all started out so innocently, we set off as per usual, this time having checked that the tube was running to Leyton, stopped in the Leyton Technical for the customary pre-match pint in quirky surroundings before heading down to the ground. The only slightly worrying thing being Orient’s recent form, or lack thereof to be precise; the O’s having picked up just one point from a possible twelve since the win against Guisely on our last visit.
We took up our carefully selected seats, deliberately having opted for the older East Stand as the football traditionalists that we are, happy to forego the more modern comforts of the newer stands in favour of a more nostalgic experience, hell even the fact that there was a post blocking some of our view of the pitch carried a sense of reminiscence rather than proving too annoying.
Right from the kick-off it became clear that recent results had had a major impact on Orient’s approach. Whereas last time they had looked to play a modern footballing style, building from the back and using the wing backs to get forward and offer the attacking width; this time the defenders and midfielders looked to go long as soon as they took possession rather than risk a mistake that would let the opponents in on goal.
The team looked completely bereft of confidence and a shadow of that which we had watched just a month previously; and the attempted more direct style actually proved to be meat and drink for the Fylde centre back duo as they simply nodded away anything coming their way.
As well as looking toothless in attack, the O’s looked shaky at the back and it was no real surprise when they went 1-0 down from a free kick after just a quarter of an hour, nor when they conceded a second just three minutes after the break, the goal coming so quickly that we hadn’t made it back to our seats after half-time, and in actual fact made us wonder why we had bothered returning at all?
Orient did manage to pull one back with just under twenty minutes to go, through captain and former Reading Premier League player and Jamaica international Jobi McAnuff, which fired hopes of a comeback and a grandstand finish to the match. Despite the increasingly desperate imploration of the crowd, ourselves included, it never really felt like the conviction and belief needed was there; instead the home fans were left to rue a fifth consecutive match without a win, in a league they had aspirations of escaping at the first time of asking.
Sitting (read: sulking!) in the pub afterwards, what was hard to take was that despite the disappointment we both know that the future is hopeless, we won’t just stop going or find something else to do just because Orient are rubbish; instead we know we will be back at the first opportunity, (21st of October at home to Macclesfield, just in case you were wondering!); and will go through it all again.
In many ways it isn’t the result or even the performance that mattered, simply that we had a football match to go to on a Saturday afternoon. With the trials and tribulations that the club has faced in the form of the malevolent previous ownership, which ultimately culminated in relegation from the League; it feels like we are at the start of a hopeful new dawn, a rebirth if you like, with the belief that the club is now doing things the right way and will be rewarded with a Phoenix-like rise to where it truly belongs; (I told you we were beyond rescue!).
Having started to embrace the hopelessness of our situation this week and while eagerly scanning through the Orient fixtures and working out which games we would be able to attend going forward; I realised that I was about to face a major football-supporting dilemma, when it dawned on me that the next fixture was away to the team that I had followed through my teenage years living on the Wirral and one that I still consider myself to be a fan of: Tranmere Rovers. Worse still it was to be broadcast live on TV on Wednesday evening!
What was I going to do? Could I simply ‘forget’ it was on and feign not being interested? Could I pretend that the frustration and feeling of obsessive addiction that I had felt after the match on Saturday hadn’t happened and that it had simply been a way of passing time on a Saturday afternoon? Anyone who knows me, or has read anything across these pages, will know that neither of those options was going to be in any way viable and so I had to face the challenge that no football fan should ever have to face, I was going to have to decide once and for all where my loyalties lay!
After anxious fretting through the first half of the week, I was still unsure of how things were going to play out. As kick-off approached on Wednesday evening Mrs Football Nerd made it abundantly clear that she was firmly in the Orient camp; while Our Kid urged me via social media to ‘remember your roots lad!’ as one says in Birkenhead! It was time to decide… and like a tidal wave it hit me, the spirit of Johnny King and the memories of Muir, Steele, Aldridge and Nevin and all those Friday nights under the lights at Prenton Park with the bloke in the stand whose only meaningful contribution to proceedings was to roar at seemingly random intervals: ‘every ball’s a white ball!’. There was no dilemma after all: I was, am and always will be a Rovers fan!
When Orient took the lead I felt that familiar sinking feeling that makes you realise what being football fan is all about, thankfully this was followed by the utter relief at Cook’s swift equalizer and Norwood’s late winner. I guess in a way I wanted Tranmere to win but Orient not to lose; a paradox that only a true football obsessive would understand. I know I will continue to go and watch Orient at every opportunity and will invest a significant amount of my concern hoping they do well, but I also know come February and Rovers’ visit to Brisbane Road, who I will be supporting. I guess in many ways the hope for me is that both teams will be promoted and then we can do it all again back where both teams belong!