Keeping it real … Real Ale
When I was asked who my favourite footballer was a kid my answer was “Matt Lockwood”, the response to this was pretty much always “Who?”. Usually this was followed up with them asking which football team I supported, when I told them Leyton Orient I was either responded with a “oh” or again “who?!”. Matt Lockwood was my hero, we both had the same name, played in the same position (left back), both number 3 for our teams and both had the same dodgy curly barnet!
I didn’t really have a choice when it came to supporting a football team when I was younger, Leyton Orient is a family disease, passed down in our blood from generation to generation. One side of my family is Spurs and the other is Leyton Orient and even the Spurs side has Leyton Orient fans scattered amongst them. Although when I was very young you may have seen a Tottenham shirt on me, my Dad knew that the reason I wore this was because of friends at the time, he knew, waiting, that eventually the family disease will kick in. And it did. Fast forward to what seems like some weird moment of fate, on my first day of secondary school I was sat next to my soon to be best mate Glyn, football conversation came up and it turned out that out of anyone else I could have been put next to in my first lesson I was stuck next to the one and only other Orient fan in the year! So, from our early teens our Dads took turns in taking us to Orient games, which eventually turned into us taking the relay batons from our fathers and buying season tickets of our own. I then later went onto to meet my mate Bigz via MySpace, when we became online “friends” from sharing the same love of UK Hip Hop, we then soon released that we both were Orient fans. From there we ended up meeting more people through other Orient connections and we soon become a close group of great friends, the group still now being some of my closest friends. We went to away games all over the country, visiting such beautiful sights like Bradford, Gillingham and Swindon. We started to hang out outside of Orient and even had an Orient wedding when two us became more than just friends. My friend Amelia, who I met through Orient while away in Dublin for a pre-season friendly 8 years ago, helped change my life when she set me up for the job that I am still currently working in today. I celebrated my 30th birthday within the walls of the ground with friends and family. These are just a few things that has happened through supporting Leyton Orient, I have hours worth of stories that someday I shall pass down my family.
Leyton Orient is a huge part of why I am here now writing a beer blog and involved in all the beery related things that I do today. Beer wise I am blessed to be a Leyton Orient fan, we have the best supporter’s clubhouse for beer in the country. As a young adult, I had a choice of 10-16 different beers over a match day. 8 beer pumps all busily pouring pint after pint of perfect cask conditioned ale, I was drinking beers from all over the country at a time when it was fairly difficult to regularly drink beers outside your local breweries and big macros. Although at the start I may not have known what I was drinking, the fact of the matter was I was drinking real ale from about 18 years old onwards. It didn’t take long for the interest to grow, where was it brewed, have I had these beers before, what is it I like about it? I was educated at the school of LOSC. The years went on and eventually I turned the drinking pints into pouring pints and along with one of my closest friends Paul I joined the Leyton Orient Supporters Club Committee, starting off by bringing the club into the present a little more with a better social media presence, then to beer ordering and running the beer events. Anyone who has come along to a match day or a beer event can see that our hard work pays off, just look at our wall of CAMRA awards. I think it is safe to say over the years of shit football, LOSC has kept certain people coming back for more. No matter what the result we still see people come back in after the game to chat, drink and have a good time, including ex Orient players.
Along with the great beer, another thing that drew me into loving Orient was its throwback feel to East London. My family mainly comes from Wathemstow, growing up I was told about all these old East London times and Leyton Orient gave me a bit of that feeling. Based in Leyton, the stands full of East Londoners, run by a bit of a dodgy old wide boy geeza in Barry Hearn and the whole small club East London pride. Barry Hearn may not have been everyone’s cup of tea but I liked him, you knew where you stood with him, no money and lots of quotes to whichever media source would listen. I liked the fact there was no money, I’m not really a fan of the money being thrown around in the top leagues, the figures are sickening. Being a small club with not a lot of money suited me. With a tight budget, I saw us get promoted from League Two to League One, I saw us take the scalps of Fulham, Norwich, Swansea and getting a 1-1 draw with Arsenal in FA Cup games, I even saw us stuff Newcastle 6-1 in a mind blowing friendly but equally enjoying a crazy 5-4 game vs Billericay Town. I very very very nearly see us get promoted to the Championship under this regime, in a season when pretty much everything but that second half play off final and penalty shootout was perfect, we had the best squad I had ever seen, Russel Slade was the best manager at Orient I had ever seen, the place was buzzing and everyone was so happy. Then shit hit the wall. Barry Hearn sold us to Francesco Becchetti, a rumoured billionaire, dropping quotes like “The opportunity was too good to miss. I looked for 3 things, credibility, integrity and sparkle. Francesco ticks all boxes.” Fuck me he couldn’t have been more wrong!
I’m sure that if you follow football you would have heard what’s going on down at Orient. In the space of only 3 years we have gone from a penalty kick away from the Championship to rock bottom of the leagues, with a date in court tomorrow (20th March) facing the possibility of the club going into administration or at very worst folding all together. Thanks to the mismanagement of Becchetti we have gone through more managers in his ownership than my entire time supporting Orient, we have had an embarrassing reality TV show when a bunch of Italian kids were in a competition for a place in the Orient first team (this bombed and we never saw the “talents” of the winner), legal battles with Albania and possibly the oddest moment when he booted Andy Hessenthaler up the arse on boxing day (which was apparently “banter”) then going to run around the pitch celebrating like a pissed up lunatic who spent half time with his face in a Scareface size coke mountain!
This is just a few moments highlighted, I don’t have time to list all of it but I recommend you read Matt Simpsons blog post “An Open Letter to Francesco Becchetti” for a much better summery that I could ever put together. If I didn’t laugh I would cry.
The newspapers and Sky Sports started to pick up on the going on’s down at Brisbane Road, newspaper articles of how Becchetti was inferring with the team selection and signing players with contracts that wouldn’t look out of place in the top teams in the Championship. I don’t know what it is about Leyton Orient fans, maybe it is the doubled edged sword of the East Londoner, for all the whole East London pride which attracted me in the first place there seems to be an element of when things are bad we just take it, don’t openly complain, look strong then moan our arses off after it has happened behind closed doors. I look across the river at Charlton and what they did as fans to protest against their similarly bad ownership. Yet we only put a few signs up at Brisbane Road and there was a fans protest march from the Birbeck pub to the ground, but there was never a real coming together of fans to really protest like those seen at Charlton and other clubs. Not to take away the excellent efforts of the Leyton orient Fans Trust now, who are doing all they can to fight for our club and doing a fine job of raising a fighting fund so we can do our best to save Leyton Orient.
While bizarre press releases from our owners make for good headlines, it is incredibly embarrassing for us fans. I have a Orient WhatsApp chat group with all my close Orient friends and every time I have a notification from this group I am dreading what new announcement will be made. We have gone from the highs of sharing excited messages for the weekend a few years ago, to the doom and gloom of what the hell will happen next. The more it has gone on the more it has chipped away at my love for the club. The moment I was completely finished was the terrible manner of how Dean Cox was dealt with. Dean Cox, in my opinion, is the best player to wear an Orient shirt since Matt Lockwood. He wore his heart on his sleeve, he could have walked into any league one and many championship sides starting line ups. So, what does Becchetti we do? He not only shipped out the best player we have had in years, the last piece of the old Orient we loved someone who seemed to be keeping the current mess together, but he screwed him over by making him unavailable to play for another league club. As Cox has said in his own words, he could have gone to Northampton, but for whatever reason he wanted to stay, if that be for the love of the club or the convenient location to where he lives, whichever reason I don’t care, he wanted to stay. Cox turns down a move the night before the transfer window closes and we tell him “Sorry mate but you are off” and his contract is cancelled. Facepalm.
And as we go from problem to problem the FA sit there and live up to their name of doing sweet FA while us fans suffer. Every year teams get relegated and no team is too good not to drop out of the leagues, not even us, London’s second oldest team. However, when the reason you are in the mess isn’t solely down to the team not being good enough but to the actions of someone who is not fit or proper to run a bath let alone a football club, I can’t help but feel angry. This spoilt little brat has bought our club, with his mum’s money, for his own personal play toy. Only to throw his toys out the pram when things haven’t gone his way. Killing over a century of history. Thanks to him I have lost the love for the football club, he hasn’t had a penny out of me all season, I go to games to support LOSC, somewhere I still care for. If the worst happens and the club folds then there is plans set up by the Leyton Orient Fans Trust in place to set up a Pheniox Club in the same ways AFC Wimbledon did, but I’m not sure it would feel the same to me. I think I would struggle, the main part of my love for football for all those years was going to Brisbane Road, going to the ground, my second home. Even when there was rumours of Orient moving away to Harlow or Basildon I felt uneasy as I knew it wouldn’t feel the same for me. I pray for a positive outcome to all this and by that I don’t mean staying up, this is almost impossible. Being relegated then Becchetti leaving us by selling up to a new owner is the best outcome now, saying this out loud is such a heart-breaking thing, but it is sadly the truth. But hey in true Orient fashion I will grumble through the shit and look at the bright side, maybe we will visit some non-league club houses that are similar to ours with decent beer? I have found non-league grounds have much better beer and club houses than league clubs and of course there is the relaxed rules on drinking while the game is in play.
Tomorrow is the most important day in Leyton Orient history, the result of the court case will determine where we are heading. And if that day does come, then the saddest thing is there won’t be any kids of the future who when asked which footballer is their favourite will have the opportunity to name Dalby or Semedo or Koroma (all promising youth players trying to stay afloat in the deep end at Orient at the moment). I may joke about being an Orient fan is the family disease but the truth is the real disease spreading through Orient is Becchetti and we cannot let him kill our club or the chance for people to make the same memories that I have.