Farewell to the Orient. “Never again kid, never again.”

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That’s it then. The end of 112 years of playing in the football league. Leyton Orient gone. Not many people will care. We never won anything of note. Ever. All those Spurs and particularly Arsenal fans who bleat about how tough it is for them up there in LaLaLand will barely notice. Don’t get me started on West Ham, squatting in their big fancy (free gift from the tax payer) stadium next door like the massive bloke on the train who takes up two seats and uses up all the oxygen.

We were never fashionable and in recent years there didn’t seem much point to the Os being in Leyton at all, with all the historic fans who used to turn up ten or twenty thousand at a time now living out in Essex, somewhere. Harlow Orient. That would have made sense. It still would, somehow, if the club can ever be saved by the fans, for the fans. Maybe there is a way out of the financial mess. Other clubs have been revived and returned. But let’s be honest, we were never great at comebacks. Three nil down with five minutes to go? Time to head for the pub, not dream dreams. They almost never came true.

Mine started in 1978, which was cruel. Our finest moment in living memory, as it turned out. My own memory says we won the FA Cup quarter-final against high-flying Boro in extra time with an overhead kick from outside the box, by Peter Kitchen. It’s not entirely true, but I was only 10 years old.

I’d been brought to the game by my Dad and my Grandad, Arthur and Frank, and what struck me most was the glare of the floodlights, the brilliant emerald of the pitch, the smell of sweat and beer and fags from all those big men packed so tightly together and the sound of the roar when the goal went in. I never heard the like again, there. I remember the language, too. Swear words are the poor man’s English, my father said. Then he called the referee a wanker.

We were standing, of course. This was before the tragedies that changed the game, for better or worse. Anyway we won. We bloody won. Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Wemberlee … Well, Stamford Bridge for the semi-final. Against the Arsenal. The mighty Arsenal of Pat Jennings, Willie Young, Liam Brady, Malcolm McDonald. Gods. We had old John Jackson in goal, young Glenn Roeder at the back running upright like a Brisbane Road Beckenbauer, nippy John Chiedozie on the wing, the Flash. My favourite. But only because I was too young to have seen Laurie Cunningham.

Ah, Laurie. The first black player to wear an England shirt. For the under 21s, but still. Ask the lads who came after: Sir Les, Wrighty, Incey, they all looked up to Laurie. He dodged the bananas, shrugged off the monkey noises and went off to play with enormous skill and flair for Big Ron at West Brom and then – fabulously, audaciously – Real Madrid. In a European Cup Final. One of us, promoted to glory. And then came the partying, the decline, the wandering, a brief final flourish and death in a car crash in Spain in his early thirties, at an age that seemed old to me then but now seems hopelessly young.

Laurie had gone by the time of the semi-final, but he left behind the scent of glory, the taste of possibility, the importance of style. We looked good, I remember that, in the all white strip with the two red lines running down the shirt and – marvellously – the shorts too. And the badge on the chest. I thought they were dragons.

So we won and we were through to the semi and my Grandad Frank was ecstatic. He had followed them forever, including the one season they played in the top flight at the start of the Sixties. Three seasons, actually: autumn, winter and spring.

Grandad played for the Os in the Thirties too, or so it was said. I’ve never seen any proof. I haven’t looked too hard in case it isn’t there. I know it isn’t. Maybe he played for them during the war, when records were slack. I know he played exhibition matches for the Eighth Army in the desert, keeping up morale. Tanky, they called him. Built like a tank, more accurately an armoured personnel carrier, busy eating up the miles in the midfield. My youngest son now has his name. Frank, not Tanky. I loved the guy when I was 10, even when he shouted at me. “Never again,” he used to say when he came home from the football to the house that was only a few streets away. “Never again.” But he would go back again and one day, that day, he took me with him. For the first time. What a way to start.

We won. I was hooked.

We were competing with West Ham and Chelsea in the league then, above them sometimes, it was respectable. We might go up. We might win the cup. Anything was possible. It was the start of something. But no, it wasn’t. It was the high point, the golden hour, the End.

Grandad died. Suddenly, from leukaemia. Between the quarter and the semi. Gone.

My sister and I sat either side of my Mum on the sofa in the early morning when the phone had rung and she held us tight and cried and we didn’t understand.

So now we went to the semi-final, my Dad and me, because we had tickets and because it was what Frank would have wanted, it was for him. A pilgrimage. Let’s see this through, son. We can do it. We sat high in the stand and looked down at the stars in the Arsenal team, heroes of the playground, and I felt sick.

So, as it turned out, did the Orient. They were trapped in the headlights of the Arsenal limousine. Paralysed. Useless. Destroyed. Three nil. It was over, over, over. I just didn’t know that. It still felt like a beginning, for me.

I got a job as a programme seller at the league games at 13, patrolling the perimeter, swaggering even, with a bag full of change and an armful of glossies, feeling like part of the team. You got in free. You had to watch for the animals: Millwall were the worst, throwing beer bottles full of piss, pressing in on you like a mob. I jumped over a wall to escape. The other side was far, far lower than I thought. Ten feet, maybe. I was starfished on the concrete, coins scattered around me like bubbles on the beach, the Millwall peering over the wall with leery, hungry faces like pissed seagulls. It hurt. It really bloody hurt. But it was, you know, great. Like being a man, when you were really just a little boy.

So I stuck with the Os. I had no choice. Family. The story. Grandad. Oh Grandad. Why couldn’t you have played (or not played) for Spurs? Too late to change, despite a flirtation with Ossie and Hoddle and Waddle and Gazza and that gorgeous Le Coq Sportif Spurs kit with the v-neck and the silky blue shorts; and later, an affair with the Irons, watching Rio, Joe Cole, David James.

Through all that, the Eighties and the Nineties and the Noughties, I kept going back to Orient when I could. Dad and I did make it to Wembley with the Os for a play-off final. The North Circular Road was gridlocked with cars decked in Orient flags. We could beat Scunthorpe. We were doing this for Frank. We went one nil down very quickly and never came back. Never seemed to try. Never again.

I moved out of London, because that’s what we do, families like ours. I moved to the seaside, supported my local non league team and saw Brighton, wondered if they might come good, (celebrating now as they do, although we will never really belong to each other). But always, I was an O. I’ve got a replica of that 1978 shirt. It’s special to me. I stopped going though, I’m sorry to say. If the point of it all was the dignity of perseverance, the taking part, I failed. I lost heart. Lost hope, really.

The last flurry was that glorious moment when we drew with Arsene’s Arsenal against all the odds in the cup. I watched on telly, and was taken by surprise. Arsenal again. We won that game hands down, one-one. So I went to the Emirates with my Dad and both my sons, to see them again, hoping. Hoping. Arsenal sent out the kids. They scored five.

After that, my father and I didn’t say so but we sort of felt that Frank would not mind if we stopped. We’d done enough. I admire those who didn’t give up, for their steadfastness in clinging to the O’s in the face of derision, mockery and abuse from fans of the easy clubs, with their cups and dramas that don’t always end in defeat. Ours always ended in an empty shrug. Oh well.

And now this. The Orient will probably never play in the league again, after this season. They might not even survive, if the courts go against them. Idiocy has ruined everything, even the dignity of persevering and being a very, very old league club. Gone.

I hope there’s some way forward, involving fan power, the rebirth of the club as something good and true. I admire those who will make it happen, I really do. I’m done.

Truth is, I was done a long time ago. It’s all been for Frank, really, so the last word has to go to him, as he comes home sometime in the Seventies, throws off his flat cap and scarf like a nicer Alf Garnett in white and red instead of claret and blue and says to my Nan, and to anyone who will listen, “Never again, Gladys.”

I’m saying it with him today, for all those who have loved and been faithful to the Os in far more impressive ways than me, for all the good times they somehow extracted from the experience, in sorrow for them that it’s over against their will and that it was ended for no good reason at all by the foolishness of a fool.

For those fine fans there will be anger, pain, dismay and hopefully a determination to begin again. Good luck to them, and may sense prevail.

All I can offer is sympathy and the emptiness that was such a feature of life with the Orient, after that first glorious game that felt like the start of great things to a dazzled ten year old but turned out to be the best – the absolute best – it would ever get. I should have listened, Grandad. The words mean something different today.

“Never again, kid. Never again.”

28 thoughts on “Farewell to the Orient. “Never again kid, never again.”

  1. Poignant summing up. I too fell in love with the Os in the 70s. I was so privileged to have witnessed Laurie Cunningham & Peter Kitchen play (what a shame they never played together – then we would have won promotion I am sure of it!). But I remember them one and all – the truly legendary (Cunningham and Kitchen of course), and some perhaps not so great, but I still loved them all. John Jackson, Bobby Fisher, Bill Roffey, Phil Hoadley, Glenn Roeder, John Chiedozie, Derek Posse, Gerry Queen, Tom Whalley, Joe Mayo, and the late, great, Tony Grealish – I could go on…

    I had my photo taken with Tony Grealish and Peter Kitchen at an Orient ‘open day’ in ’78. I still have those photos. I wouldn’t let my mum wash my Orient shirt for months. After Peter Kitchen had touched it, it became a holy garment! In my heart the Os will live forever.

  2. A very poignant and sad article. It’s never nice to lose a club, and rest assured that even if those in their ivory towers may not notice or care, there are thousands, tens of thousands of fans of hundreds of teams who do care, and who mourn the loss of a famous (in name only maybe) old club.

    Condolences from a Sheffield United fan, and best wishes for all Orient fans that you can survive against the odds, or at the very least form a “Phoenix” club in the style of wimbledon so your loyal fans continue to have a team to support, at whatever level.

    1. And condolences from a Colchester fan. We were relegated in the early 90’s and I thought it was the end for us. I realise your situation is worse because of the finances but it can happen. Wish you well anyway. I’ve always enjoyed trips to Brisbane Road, great club bar.
      Oh yeah, my first away game was at Orient in 1988. You beat us 8-0!

  3. A very poignant and sad article. It’s never nice to lose a club, and rest assured that even if those in their ivory towers may not notice or care, there are thousands, tens of thousands of fans of hundreds of teams who do care, and who mourn the loss of a famous (in name only maybe) old club.

    Condolences from a Sheffield United fan, and best wishes for all Orient fans that you can survive against the odds, or at the very least form a “Phoenix” club in the style of wimbledon so your loyal fans continue to have a team to support, at whatever level.

  4. West Ham fan in peace.

    I am truly gutted that this has happened. I know there isn’t much love towards West Ham (as evidenced in your opening paragraph), but for many Hammers, it’s not reciprocated. In fact I, like many Hammers, have watched the O’s over the years and have always had soft spot for them.

    So what is (holier than thou) Uncle Terry going to do now? He has truly sold you down the river. That’s where you should be aiming your angst.

    Here’s hoping that the O’s fortunes are somehow turned around.

    All the best.

  5. As a Fulham fan, who got so very close to be coming Fulham Park Rangers under David Bulstrode and the other associated pieces of scum! The loss of an association with your childhood club is the same as losing a well loved family member, I hope that should the worst happen you will rise like a ‘Phoenix from the Ashes’ as Leyton Orient (2017)!

  6. I’ve always had a soft spot for Leyton Orient, when I was growing up the name sounded almost magical and even though in recent years they proved to be a bogey team for Coventry City I still retained that fondness.
    What is happening to our football clubs? I always believed that they were something permanent, immovable, a cornerstone of the local community surviving on the hopes and dreams of supporters, a legacy passed down through generations.
    We’ve taken our football clubs for granted, rather like the terminally ill patient who ignored the early symptoms believing everything would turn out okay in the end – our governing body has chosen to ignore the unscrupulous owners, dodgy deals and creative accounting, hollow rhetoric about ‘fit and proper owners’. The reality is that many of the new breed of owners don’t share that association, that history or longing for success, they don’t share that sense of responsibility or notion that they are merely the custodian of something precious……..and that is why I think we’ll see many more clubs on the brink of extinction. I hope the O’s can return from this.

  7. Some things never leave you.I recall in April 1970 a mid week Orient game at Bradford City.The night they clinched promotion or the title not sure after 46 years.The players had a bottle or two as they boarded the coach.I think it was Mark Lazarus leading the party bottle of beer in each hand.I would be 13.They had a real happy feel amongst them and it made such an impression I looked for their results thereafter.

  8. Tommy Taylor later of West Ham was a star and Peter Brabrook was also in the party mood another with the Hammers connection together with Jimmy Bloomfield the manager.Hoping they can survive.It will be tough but Wimbledon show the way

  9. My first game Luton v Orient, 1969. I’m still in the spot at Kenilworth Road, but also retain a soft spot for the Orient. Luton were almost destroyed by reckless, careless, selfish owners, and then kicked in the teeth by the FA and FL. Like Luton, Orient will recover, and I hope you’re part of it.

  10. I found this today and as a Norwich fan it breaks my heart. After spending a lifetime watching my club squander the opportunity I understand the sentiments. Lads, dads and grandads were with us when I experienced my first football high as a kid, sitting on wooden benches on concrete blocks at Brisbane Road in April ’72 as we secured promotion to the big league for the first time. The benches fell over when we scored. For me, football changed that day. Little did we know that football was to be taken away from ordinary fans by money which has ruined so many clubs. I’ve always had a soft spot for the O’s and always will. Respect.
    Heres a memory of ’72
    http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/118588

    1. Nice to see footage of the old Brisbane Rd of the 70s (even if the Os lost) …wonderful vox pops at the end — different times, whole different world.. It didn’t seem as if the Norwich public were particularly enthused about their team winning promotion — especially the old gentleman at the end – classic! Why didn’t the interview find some Norwich fans to talk to??

  11. Norwich City Fan here. My condolences over what has happened to your club. May the ‘Os’ survive and rise again. Good luck.

  12. Norwich city fan here.I can’t imagine what’s this must be like for your fans we are all born into a club and they are not always the Arsenals and Chelsea’s of this world and yes you’re right big clubs don’t get what it’s like to be a fan of a smaller club i just hope something happens to prevent this from happening.

  13. Good luck to you .My heart broke when Bristol Rovers went down a couple of seasons ago. It was tough but get a squad of hungry non league fighters together and it can be done. We came back much stronger as a team and fans with togetherness. It can be done

  14. Norwich fan here always remember the 72 game at orient when we won promotion to the old do bit one for the first time ever ,,always follow the reports from your games and had respect for the club ,very sad to see clubs like yours drop out of the league hope you will be back soon .

  15. Another Norwich can here,a link to this great piece has been posted on our forum.
    I have always had a soft spot for Orient after going to home games when I was a student in London.
    I sincerely wish them all the best and genuinely hope to see them in the Football League in the not to distant future.

  16. For a lot of us who support the ‘big’ clubs but grew up in, for instance, Ilford, Orient was our 2nd team. When we were too young to go to away games we would get the bus to Spurs one week and the tube to Leyton the other. In between, we’d walk to see Ilford in the old Rothman’s Isthmian League. This was in the mid-70s and yes, I saw Laurie Cunningham play. Some fans today may still have 2nd teams but for many youngsters their’s is more likely to be Barcelona or Real Madrid which they watch on Sky rather than take a trip to their local club.

    1. I am from Ilford too (no longer – but born and bred there), and my older brother sometimes came with me to Brisbane Rd, when the Hammers were playing away. And I had a number of other friends who sometimes tagged along with me, when Spurs or Arsenal were away. Yes, I agree Orient was the favourite 2nd club for many young fans, and of course the fraternity between West Ham fans and Orient was always strong. I remember well the 1978 FA Cup Qtr. Final vs. Middlesbrough – there were thousands of West Ham fans in the West Stand at Brisbane Rd – I’d rarely heard such vociferous vocal support for the Os! It was terrific.

    2. As a further remark – I think it was fairly common back in the 1970s for young lads to support 2 clubs (albeit perhaps not equally but still with affection). There wasn’t the intense and exclusive partisanship that seems to be the case today. I remember my old Dad telling me of how he and his best friend would often go to White Hart Lane one week and Highbury the next, and support both teams equally. That was in the 1950s and 60s – and he said that practice was fairly common with football fans. Nowadays, rather sadly in my opinion, that would be unthinkable! There seems to me to be an aggressive, menacing tribalism amongst fans today (especially between neighbouring clubs such as Arsenal and Spurs) that I suppose reflects the nastier, angrier society we have become. Lamentable and regrettable.

  17. From a Gooner, I’m truly gutted…….. why are these people allowed to buy up clubs and run them in to the ground. Sad day all around.

  18. Such sad news, and so sudden: it’s almost an after-the-event metaphor for your grandad’s demise.
    As a local, and a Gooner, I’m genuinely gutted by the Os’ untimely obliteration – they were always my second team (much as you probably despise that notion), because they are the second-nearest to my home, after the Arsenal, and I always kept an eye out for their results; most recently with my hands over my eyes.

    Beautifully written piece too, Cole – it brought a tear to my eye as I read it.

  19. Just read your article with tears running down my face i am a spireite seen your team many times friendly fans everything you wrote is why I’m a spireite hope you come back stronger warning next season this is us ps fans of big clubs don’t get our love of smaller clubs

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