I really don’t know where this came from. This utterly mad idea that I was going to put my ludicrously over-priced Arsenal season ticket on hold and instead spend the money I was wasting at the Emirates on endeavouring to watch all of Leyton Orient’s home matches and as many away ones as I could possibly manage for a season.
Regular readers of this blog may have spotted (and to be fair I haven’t done a lot to hide it!) that having become increasingly obsessed with Orient since the days in exile in the National League, I spent the last few seasons before football came to a grinding halt in March 2020 balancing an Arsenal season ticket with endeavouring to go to as many Orient games as I could with my wife. At the same time, I found myself becoming increasingly alienated from Arsenal, the Premier League and the way that modern football at the very top level has morphed into some commercial, income generating vehicle that prizes the never-ceasing pursuit of revenue over true fans. The European Super League debacle was probably the straw that finally broke the camel’s back for me.
Last season even though we knew we wouldn’t be able to go to very many games due to lockdown restrictions, my wife and I opted to buy Orient season tickets as much to help the club in these difficult times as anything else. All through the last year, because we were watching every match on the Orient TV stream I found more and more of my thoughts and blog posts being about Orient rather than the Premier League and Arsenal, unless they were to criticize the modern game and the ongoing alienation of true football fans.
As we toured the country with the O’s from the comfort of our own living room, you could tell that both of us were chomping at the bit to do it for real. The realisation dawning that even watching Orient’s games in empty grounds on a TV screen reminded us so much more of the football that we fell in love with all those years ago, rather than the soulless corporate environments that proliferate across the top levels of modern football.
As the Coronavirus pandemic stretched on throughout the season and into the summer, it became increasingly apparent that international travel was going to be, at best, a pain involving quarantine and testing even if it was to be deigned “safe”, thus we felt that we would have to rule out our previously regular football-watching holidays of which we are so fond. So what were we going to do with all that spare holiday allowance and the money that we weren’t going to spend?
During the early part of the summer I also read the excellent “Orientation” by Adam Michie a Spurs fan disillusioned with the Premier League who adopted Leyton Orient so that he could enjoy going to football with his mates again, as well as part of a search for his lost love of football. I guess that is where the flame was lit for me. Adam if for some strange reason you end up reading this, thank you for showing me the way and if our paths ever cross at Brisbane Road I probably owe you a pint or two.
Ahead of the new season came the offer of a season ticket holiday from Arsenal and the idea started to form in the back of my mind that if I didn’t have to commit to renewing my season ticket for an entire year, this would free me up. It probably says so much about me that my thoughts immediately turned to wondering if I could in fact go to every single Orient league match, home and away, for the entire season. My very own Premier League / Arsenal gap year if you will.
To her utter folly my wife Kay found herself first of all encouraging me, and then, worse still, actually agreeing to come with me on the away trips as well as to all the games at Brisbane Road, to this day I think she is still wondering what she was thinking!
So here we are then on the cusp of the maddest thing we have ever done in the name of football, while the challenge of going to every match is obviously part of this crazy plan, it is really about much more than that. It is about the adventure itself; it is about bookending our weeks and several midweeks with football and more specifically Leyton Orient as the key focus. It is about escapism, belonging and camaraderie, all those things that we all know that football can give us unlike any other pastime.
Just this afternoon we have booked the train, the hotel in Manchester (well we might as well enjoy ourselves for the first away trip!) and secured the tickets for the opening match at Salford and all of a sudden it now seems very real. Rather than being daunting or scary however we are both behaving like two children who can’t wait for Christmas to come.
I am of course planning to document all of our travels and adventures on this blog, but I am also hoping to pull it all together in a book with the aim of raising money for the Justin Edinburgh Foundation. As a complete novice in the whole publishing game, other than rambling on about Orient and football in general regularly, if any readers out there have any advice, guidance or connections to explore then please get in touch as below.
Equally if any of you travel to any Orient away games, or frequent the Star, the Coach & Horses or the East Stand concourses on a match day and fancy meeting two Orient obsessives who are setting aside the best part of a year to the Orient cause, stop by and say hello. We promise we won’t try and recruit you, well not unless you want us to of course…
Quite how I will feel at the end of this is anyone’s guess, although the wife and a number of friends, both Orient supporters and those who follow other non-Premier League clubs, have suggested I might never go back to Arsenal.
After the year that we have all had to endure I guess all I can do is focus on enjoying the ride and seeing where it takes me, and if Orient can muster one of those seasons that we will all remember for the right reasons, that would be the cherry on top of a very large cake. Mr Jackett it’s over to you!
Up the O’s
Gaz & Kay aka The Football Nerds