After the O’s stunning bounce back to league form with the brilliant 5-0 win over Hartlepool, the fixture list dictated that it would be a brief cup sojourn for the O’s before we head off to Rochdale on our league travels once again.
Much has been written and spoken about how the FA Cup has lost its magic over recent years as teams prioritise league position (and the associated financial implications) over progress in football’s oldest cup competition. For me, admittedly from a completely personally biased perspective, I want the O’s to have something of a cup run as I have never as yet had the opportunity to enjoy one.
In our relatively short time as ardent Orient followers and Brisbane Road regulars the missus and I had never seen us win an FA Cup match. The O’s were of course eliminated away at Gillingham in our first season of regular attendance, in 2018 we travelled to Maidstone to see them lose 2-0 in the Fourth Qualifying Round, in 2019 we fell victim to a giant killing by Maldon & Tiptree of the eighth tier of the football pyramid, and in 2020 we could only watch on the stream as we went down 2-1 to Newport County when fans were locked out of football.
Worse still, we had been at the Valley in 2006 to watch Orient lose to Charlton and I had been at Arsenal 5 years later to watch them go down 5-0 in the replay after dramatically snatching a late draw in the home tie thanks to Jonathan Tehoue’s legendary strike. To say we felt we were due a cup result would be something of an understatement. The fact that Ebbsfleet United, a team we had encountered in our National League days, were now a step lower in the National League South did however fill me with a small nagging fear that if things didn’t go well it might be another case of cup upset déjà vu.
Ahead of the game a lot of the discussion on the Orient social media pages centred on the club’s decision to only open the West Stand for home supporters and to locate what was anticipated to be a sizeable travelling Ebbsfleet contingent in the East. I get that opening all of the stands for what turned out to be an attendance of just under 3,500 (including at least 865 officially following the Kent club) would have significantly increased costs in terms of stewarding, catering etc, but I can also understand season ticket holders’ desire to sit where they usually sit. Football support is in such a big way founded on the matchday routine.
Perhaps the only balanced solution is to offer cup credits (as a number of clubs in higher divisions do) as part of the season card package, but would supporters really accept the increased price to cover the associated costs? Do the club want to incur the greater administrative burden of refunding or carrying over unused credits? Maybe the best way forward is to accept that is the way things have to be.
Onto the match itself, and it is probably fair to say that it wasn’t much of a spectacle. It was encouraging that KJ opted to field a first-choice side, the only change from the previous week being Hector Kyprianou coming in for the injured Alex Mitchell, a move that saw Craig Clay dropping into the back 3, another new position for the increasingly versatile number 8.
The visitors looked pretty lively right from the off as we struggled to settle, their attacking football in particular made them look like a team of a higher pedigree. On 24 minutes Shad Ogie sent Aaron Drinan racing through the inside left channel with a brilliant ball along the deck from back to front and the in-form striker made no mistake rifling home his finish across the face of the keeper. It settled my nerves as I am sure it did many others’.
Ebbsfleet continued to put up a fight throughout the second half and came close to finding an equalizer on a couple of occasions, but we managed to keep them out and secure passage to the Second Round for the first time in 5 years, and of course a first Orient FA Cup match win for the Football Nerds.
Monday night’s draw of course saw us paired with Tranmere Rovers at home, a game that always carries a special connection for yours truly as a born Wirralonian. Rovers currently sit just a point behind us in the League 2 table, while we might have wished for a lower ranked team with a view to making the potentially lucrative Third Round, it should make for a decent match against a team we face in the league just a fortnight later. Might the demand for tickets for that one see more of the stands being open?
Tuesday night saw us complete our EFL Trophy group fixtures with a game against Charlton. With both teams already having secured qualification for the next round the only issue to be decided would be which of us would have a guaranteed home tie in the next round. For thoughts on that match, Mrs Football Nerd has opted to make her official blog debut and also to give us a background to her (and consequently my!) Orient support and why she decided to accompany me on our mad Orient adventure, so it’s over to the missus…
Mrs Football Nerd’s (Debut) Orient Ramblings
Between 1993 and 2000 I used to live in Stratford. My friend’s grandfather was a groundsman at Orient and as a result she used to get us free tickets in the East Stand and we used to go regularly to watch Orient including a trip to Wembley in the Play-Off final in 1999 against Scunthorpe where we lost. I first introduced Gaz Football Nerd (or Gareth to give him his Sunday Best name!) to the “joy” of watching the O’s when we went to the Valley for that FA Cup game when one of my friends’ brother and Orient diehard Glenn (or as you will all undoubtedly know him: Ted Talks Orient) was over from Alsace. We also fatefully went to the Play-Off semi-final win over Peterborough and that oh so cruel penalty loss to Rotherham in the Final in 2014, a mere matter of days before we got married.
I moved away from Stratford after 2000 and as a result stopped going. A few years later I met Gareth, he had an Arsenal season ticket, so we didn’t get to go to football together much. However, when Arsenal were away we went on many trips to watch football around Europe, and later started to watch a few lower level games around London as well including: Dulwich Hamlet, and Hackney Wick v Clapton at the now defunct Old Spotted Dog. As fun as those experiences were, one day at the end of the 2016/17 season when Arsenal weren’t at home, I suggested we should go and watch Orient again.
I can’t claim to have been following the O’s intently at that point and had no real idea what was going on with the club under he who must not be named, however the protests that were going on in Coronation Gardens before the match against Colchester really resonated with us. The realisation hit us that the club was not only going to be relegated out of the Football League for the first time in their long and proud history, but also there was a very real chance that it would be going out of business permanently. How could this be happening to the proud and great club I once followed? We decided there and then that we would go and watch and support Orient as much as we could.
Two years later we won the league and we stood on the pitch, shook hands with Nigel, Kent and Justin thanking them for saving our club, I guess our football-supporting fate was sealed. As we all sadly remember just about a month later Justin tragically died, and we were both, like every single Orient fan, completely and utterly devastated. The following season we went to as many home games as we could possibly fit in (when Arsenal weren’t at home of course!).
During the pandemic we decided to buy season tickets to support the club and watched nearly every home and away game on the stream, possibly with the exception of one. We really were becoming hooked on this special club.
Another season ticket purchase later coincided with Gareth being offered a season ticket holiday from Arsenal and having become increasingly disillusioned with Arsenal and the Premier League, he accepted. Somehow during that season of watching from our sofa, we developed the mad idea of going to watch every Orient game home and away (not necessarily including cup games- Ed’s note: although we will of course be going to as many of those as possible!) and to see if it would work out cheaper than the extortionate amount Gareth paid for his season ticket.
This is why I found myself at Orient on Tuesday night, watching the EFL cup game against Charlton. A game we didn’t even have to win and to be fair wasn’t on our schedule of games to go to, but it was a home game and a mere five pounds, so of course we went along.
At our usual pre match pub there were some Charlton fans singing and downing Jager bombs. We left them to it and went to the ground for a pie and a pint.
As is usually the case with these cup games, half the ground was closed and we were allocated seats in the West Stand. The North stand was given to the very vocal Charlton fans who numbered just under 800. The nerves started to kick in and I decided we were going to get battered, like the Charlton fans were singing about Millwall! Why did I agree to come along?
It wasn’t a great game. Both teams played hoof-and-hope for most of the game, giving the ball away every other touch. There was a lot of shirt pulling by them and Gareth nearly deafened me in his enthusiasm to point this out to the Ref. With my ears ringing and the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, I thought about leaving, and if the row in front of me had been empty I may well have found myself jumping over and doing a runner to the safety of the pub where I didn’t have to watch.
On the course of our season-long journey, I have become strangely addicted to away days, something I never imagined when we started. Being there with however many of you have decided to travel to whatever god forsaken part of the country and singing all game, win or lose is weirdly satisfying even if you don’t win. Looking at the singing Charlton fans, I started to hope that we would actually lose so that we were guaranteed an away game in the next round. What was I thinking!
When Papadopoulos was sent off my heart sank, and I realised that I did actually really want us to win this match. There is nothing worse than losing at home. At some point, Smyth somehow managed to miss what looked like a sitter that may well have been saved by one our own players. With no replays it was difficult to see what actually happened, but this is the beauty of live football with no VAR.
With just over 10 minutes left, Smyth managed to score and the ground erupted however the elation soon turned to that feeling when you think the opposition will equalise and the last thing I could deal with at this stage was penalties as it would have been. A few rounds of you’re not singing anymore from the Orient fans made this worse for me. Don’t tempt fate! Thankfully it didn’t come to that.
After the match in the Supporters Club, we had a couple of celebratory pints and chatted to the lovely older couple who had been sitting next to us at the match, Lynda and Reg. For me, this journey is as much about the people we meet, the Orient family that I now feel I am fully part of and there really is no going back.
Up the O’s!