Recently I had been reading Stuart Maconie’s book Pies and Prejudice, in which he is shocked to inform readers that a posting on the Leyton Orient website states that “the north starts at Barnet.” Of course, being from the same part of the world as me, I felt every part of Maconie’s pain when reading such hard hitting news. Before I had time to slam down my pint of real ale and kick my whippet across the room a thought crossed my mind. Scratching my cloth cap in confusion, I conceded that perhaps Leyton Orient had a point? I mean, when I went to Barnet a few seasons ago, all it did was rain incessantly. The infamous sloping pitch was in such a state it looked like it should be hosting a match between Ribbleton Wanderers and Tarleton Corinthians in the Lancashire Sunday League. Added to this, the utter contempt and lack of support shown to the community club from the local council and government, then yes, it did feel like Barnet was a northern stronghold.
Unconcerned by such behaviour, in the words of Morrissey, ‘I left the North again, I travelled South again’ and this time it was for an overnight stay with the York City supporters. I had got to know a group of them quite well over the last couple of years while living in the city and I was thrilled to be invited along by them. We were going for a night out in that London. Instructions were quite vague from the travelling party in the lead up to the trip which made it all the more interesting and exciting. It felt a bit like a usual day at University for me really; not having a clue what’s going on and having to follow others.
“Gibbo, it will cost you £40 for travel and accommodation. Be on Haxby Road at 06:30 and the minibus will pick you up. Make sure there isn’t a repeat performance of Batley!” Those were the instructions from Ben. All very clear and sensible; I often forget he’s younger than me. It was practically idiot proof; all I had to do was gather my belongings, have an early night and walk out of my front door to be picked up.
In typical fashion and in a near repeat of Batley I went out and got hammered. I’m not sure what time it was when I stumbled back into my house having had one too many strong drinks, but there was a road sign obstructing the front door and my room smelt like a brewery. Ben was used to this kind of behaviour from me. I wouldn’t say I’m an idiot, I just like a bit of a challenge. As it was, Mr. Nicholson picked me up at 06:30 on the dot and we headed over to Tesco on Tadcaster Road to stock up on necessities… such as Fruli Beer and Rosé wine, the staple of any Yorkshireman’s diet by the looks of things. Being from Lancashire and wanting to distance myself from such behaviour I downed a Lucozade to get some much needed sugar in my body ahead of the long and daunting drive down South.
For some reason, the York lads love Peterborough Services. Collectively they mentioned stopping there more than watching the match. Undoubtedly some of the lads must have insecure girlfriends back in York wondering who their other half is visiting close to Junction 17 of the M1. On the way down to Southend last season, Pinder was quoted as saying “Peterborough Services has everything you want in life and more. It’s a place where dreams are made. It’s not just the best service station in the world, but it’s the best place in the world.” He still hasn’t been made chief marketing director of the services and I can only feel that this is an oversight.
I felt uneasy as I entered the services. I was familiar with my surroundings, that wasn’t an issue, I had been here before and had the situation under control. Well, unless there was an armed siege or a fire, then I would have to pass on responsibility. Realising I was the only member of the group wearing the York City badge meant I would be a target. Whether this was chanting from opposing fans, being asked where they were playing today or simply being glared at, I knew it would all be aimed at me. Fortunately, the worst thing that happened was an inquizzitive old fart trying to talk to me in the queue at McDonalds. We made it in time for the breakfast menu; don’t worry.
It always amazes me when strangers try to talk to me about York. They either talk about the river flooding (there are in fact two rivers) and they never fail to mention that they once went to a really decent pub, before expecting you to know which one they are on about. I did a quick count the other day and I think I have done around 50 pubs and bars in York, but my telepathic skills are lacking.
Onwards and upwards… or downwards… we pressed on down to London. Our destination was East Ham, where we were staying for the night. It was typical that the local Underground station was closed for the weekend, but fortunately there were other ways to get in and out of the area; it’s not like Skelmersdale. Having dumped the minibus in the car park of the Ruskin Arms Hotel, we marched up the road towards Woodgrange Park. The area was predominately Asian, and the owners of Gandhis Carpets must have wondered what on earth we were doing as we walked past arguing about oyster cards and travel passes.
Of course, the trains were frequent into Central London. It wasn’t long before we had arrived at Liverpool Street and were racing to the bar in the impressive Wetherspoons. We still had around three hours until kick off, but we really wanted a drink and who could blame us? It wasn’t going to get much cheaper, so we were stocking up while we could. This Wetherspoons – the Hamilton Hall – is probably the most impressive I have been in. It used to be the ballroom for the old Great Eastern Hotel and is named after Lord Claud Hamilton, chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company.
We spent an hour or so upstairs (in the posh seats) before making a move over to Leyton on the Underground. I know this part of London relatively well as I have stayed at Stratford numerous times since it was regenerated ahead of the Olympic Games. Leyton is only one stop up from Stratford, and now seemingly lives in its shadow. You wonder how the football club will cope when West Ham United move down the road in the coming years… more on that later.
I’m usually one to veer away from the beaten track when visiting somewhere different. I feel this is where you often find the quirkier people, places and stories. Plus, if you can’t be doing with lots of noise and dickheads for prolonged periods then you’re probably better staying off the main street. We headed right out of Leyton station, and then took the next right, walking within a deafening distance of a bloke shouting about Islamic State down a megaphone. Nobody took him on. House after house, unkempt garden after unkempt garden we saw a pub down at the far end of the street on the left.
The Northcote Arms is my kind of pub. Clean in appearance, rugged decor and with decent drinks. The regular beers were all on offer alongside an eclectic mix of real ale and cocktails. It catered for all tastes, and even had Blue Moon on draft. The prices of everything did make us laugh though. Literally everything in there, you could get two of in York for the same price and York is hardly cheap at the best of times. We didn’t mind though, we were down in London and having a good time. Plus the lad behind the bar was pleasant enough which always helps. Nothing worse than handing money over to a complete tosser just because you’re thirsty.
What also won me over about The Northcote was the choice of music. I had to pat my pockets to make sure they hadn’t taken my mobile phone and plugged it into the speakers. The Vaccines, Oasis and The Strokes but to name a few. Just as Last Nite finished playing, a few of us left and headed up towards the ground. By the time we reached Brisbane Road it was just Ben and I left along with an old bloke who we had befriended as we entered the Coronation Gardens that neighbour the ground.
He could barely walk, and his stick looked like it could give way at any time, but he was adamant he was going to show us the war memorial that was found within the gardens. He had seen us taking photographs and generally looking interested in the area, so assumed the role of tour guide. I don’t know whether he had connections to the war, but he seemed very proud to be able to say that the club he has followed all of his life supported the recent Remembrance Day commemorations.
Waving his stick at us – to say goodbye, not in self defence – we were left on our own to explore the area in a more childish manner. I noticed a maze consisting of small hedges further up the gardens. It had been at least three weeks since I last got giddy in a maze or in children’s play area (at Beningbrough Hall) so I ran over and set about making my way to the centre. Unfortunately, I gave up and soon became distracted by a large sign on the other side of the road that read Leyton Beach.
Leyton has a beach? Who failed to tell me this? I could have turned up in my bermuda shorts and armbands. I then realised having a beach in a peculiar area isn’t, well, that peculiar anymore. I mean, Wigan Council construct a beach in the middle of the shopping district every summer, allowing children to dip their pies in sand while their blissfully unaware mothers dash down Standishgate towards Primark. I suspect Leyton’s beach isn’t just a dumping pit for children and is probably a beach volleyball venue funded through the Olympic legacy.
As I stood there tearing up, remembering the time my mother tried to dump me on Wigan beach, I realised I had been bailed again as Ben was now halfway up the road. I joke of course, my mother rarely shops in Wigan. I bought a programme and caught up with Ben before we started taking a few photographs of the main entrance at Brisbane Road. “You want to go and take a photo of it from the other side of the road mate. You get a better angle!” came the shout from a bloke in a fluorescent jacket.
Unaware that French photographer Henry Cartier-Bresson had been reincarnated into a matchday steward at Leyton Orient, I smiled and carried on with what I was doing. The bloke kept looking at me, obviously wondering when I was going to take his advice. As I crossed the road, he was still looking at me. I felt like a naughty school child being told to stand against the wall. I wanted to produce my A-Level Photography certificate and waft it in his face, but that would have come across as churlish. Did I ever tell you I got an A?
I was keeping my head down as I went through the turnstiles in the away end. I may or may not have been using an U18 ticket, which may or may not have cost me £5 as opposed to £24. My clean shaven appearance, short stature and puppy dog eyes gained me admittance and I was through on to the very cold concourse. The place was a bit of a dive, but I loved it. I love dives. Every part of the stand looked like it wanted to fall down and yet it was still beautiful.
Leyton Orient’s roots can be traced back t0 1881 when members of Glyn Cricket Club formed their own football team. One of the players worked for the Orient Shipping Line and suggested the name, eventually becoming Clapton Orient in 1898. The club eventually moved to Leyton in 1937 and began playing matches at Brisbane Road.
The ground has seen a lot of development in recent years, with three new stands and housing blocks. This followed a period when the existence of the club was in jeopardy during the 1994/1995 season. A lot of this can be seen in the documentary Orient: Club For a Fiver in which manager John Sitton provides fantastic entertainment for an hour. The documentary did him no favours though, as he fell out of the game and is now a taxi driver in London. It reminded me somewhat of the recent Salford City documentary where Phil Power was sacked, and his reputation was left in tatters.
I opted to stand at the back of the Main Stand for the first half, standing with Haydn who had made his own way down from York on the train. It was more civilised standing at the back in the left hand corner, as seemingly a load of idiots had made the trip down from Yorkshire. The young ultra types were out in force, all in their Stone Island regalia displaying attitudes of contempt to anything and everything that wasn’t York City. While the pathetic youths with their skin heads were climbing up the stanchions of the stand, shouting at the police and stewards, I nursed a brew and a pie while flicking through the matchday programme.
The programme was very good and even had a double paged spread entitled ‘Gone But Never Forgotten’, in reference to lost football grounds. I don’t know whether a sports journalist student on placement at the club was taking the piss, but it seemed a bit odd to do the feature on Scarborough; a club traditionally hated by York City fans. These days it is one of the more peculiar rivalries around, as Scarborough Athletic (the town’s phoenix club) currently play in the Evo-Stik Division One North… which is where York may soon find themselves if they don’t start getting results on the pitch.
It has been all change at Bootham Crescent in recent weeks with Russ Wilcox being sacked as manager. Former Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara has been brought in along with former player Jonathan Greening. The latter choice seemed a bit odd, as last season I had seen the midfielder play for Tadcaster Albion at the likes of Parkgate and Heanor Town. His second spell at the club didn’t last long though, as in the few weeks it has taken me to write this blog entry he has already left York by mutual consent.
Going into the match, York found themselves one point and once place above the relegation zone, with Yeovil and Dagenham & Redbridge propping up the Football League. Meanwhile, Leyton Orient were occupying the final play-off spot, sitting in seventh place. Despite being in seventh place, the O’s players had spent the whole week leading up to the match living in a hotel after they had lost at Hartlepool United… oh, and the chairman Francesco Becchetti had been arrested in Albania where he was wanted for ‘alleged’ fraud and money laundering. All fun and games.
Leyton Orient were in their red and white home kit, while York were in black with neon trim. The hosts were on the front foot from the moment the referee’s whistle blew and after just 25 seconds Jake Payne was given time and space to rattle the City woodwork with an effort from 25 yards.
Ian Hendon’s side continued to apply the early pressure and Eddie Nolan thwarted former Arsenal striker Jay Simpson with a goalline clearance after the ball was pulled back to him 14 yards from goal.
York slowly began to grow into the match but in the 21st minute suffered a blow when Orient took the lead. A corner from the right was floated towards the penalty spot, and the unmarked Mathieu Baudry looped his header over Scott Flinders and into the back of the net.
The next 15 minutes saw the O’s push for a second but City remained resolute. However in the second minute of additional time at the end of the first period, they did double their advantage when John Marquis was given far too much space to run towards the byline before playing the ball across to Simpson who simply tapped home from a yard out.
It wasn’t to be the last action of the half though, as in the final of three additional minutes, City pulled a goal back when Bryn Morris’ blocked effort fell into the path of Vadaine Oliver whose deflected shot from 18 yards beat former City ‘keeper Alex Cisak and gave the Minstermen hope heading into the interval.
By now, I was absolutely freezing. I was regretting my clothing options that I had chosen at 6 o’clock in the morning. My one pair of socks, and jacket and shirt combination was not a wise one. I tried jumping up and down on the spot in an attempt to get warm, but the stand was bouncing up and down. I had never seen a concrete stand bounce up and down, but I wasn’t too keen about it so decided to head down on the concourse to thrive off the collective warmth of everybody else.
The hosts began the second period in much the same way as the first and within a minute of the restart Simpson’s overhead kick from inside the area went just wide of the upright.
City however soon settled and after the introductions of David Tutonda and Emile Sinclair, looked the team more likely to score the game’s next goal, and they almost managed it when a break away saw the ball fed into Bryn Morris who curled just over from the edge-of-the-area.
Jackie McNamara’s men continued to look for that elusive equalising effort but were dealt a third blow of the afternoon when Simpson curled home for the second time on 63 minutes to once more move the O’s two goals clear.
It proved to be the last piece of real goalmouth action for the hosts during the half as City penned back their opponents in search of a way back into the contest, and after Oliver was denied by a superb one-handed Cisak save in the 73 minute, the former Sheffield Wednesday forward wasn’t to be denied with four minutes left.
Orient failed to deal with an initial ball into the box, James Berrett’s left-wing cross was headed clinically into the back of the net much to the delight of the 500 strong away travelling.
The home crowd were full of nerves at this point as City staged wave after wave of attacks which saw Oliver and Emile Sinclair narrowly fail to connect with a Bryn Morris deep free-kick, before the former was denied a hat-trick, and point saving goal, in the final moments when his header from close range fell into the hands of the goalkeeper.
We were at the front of the stand when the final effort went close, with the drum in our possession. It proved too much for Pinder who hit the drum so hard that he snapped the drumstick much to the amusement of the stewards and home fans who were sat on the other side of the segregation. With a broken drumstick and no idea where we were heading to we left the ground.
Apparently it was quicker for us to walk up to Leyton Midland Road train station and catch the next service down the line to Woodgrange Park. This was correct. What nobody had failed to realise – myself included – was that there was no service today. The rail replacement buses that steamed past us at regular intervals as we trudged up the road were probably a bit of a give away, but we were all out of our comfort zones. “What’s the point in having a train station if nothing ever runs?” was the shout directed towards the group of workers who were stood manning the gates at Midland Road. Helpfully, they pointed at the road while muttering the word “bus” in response.
None of us knew which side of the road to stand on, but we guessed and after a while were boarding a bus back to Woodgrange Park, winding through the streets of Leytonstone on the way. The Ruskin Arms was soon in our sights and we checked into our group of rooms which were all very nice and spacious. I had joined the trip late, which meant there was no bed for me and I faced a night on the floor, lying on a plethora of pillows in front of the windows that overlooked the high street.
We had a few hours to waste before we headed out for the night, which meant it was time for tea. Tea, not dinner, tea. Our original plan of heading downstairs into the pub seemed like a decent plan, but it was rammed with locals who were watching the Manchester City v Liverpool match. Rather embarrassingly, everybody seemed to support these two teams as opposed to West Ham United who play within a stone’s throw of the pub. We couldn’t handle being surrounded by a load of plastic glory hunters so headed to the local takeaways before having a feast in our rooms.
If I were to draw one socio-economic conclusion from my time in London, I would say that Pizzas were quite cheap. A lot cheaper than at home, but I suppose you get fleeced in other ways down South. Perhaps the pizzas are so cheap because you are served by people who are incapable of even opening a bag of cheese, let alone constructing and cooking food from scratch. Pizza Go-Go, as the chain is named, is anything but. By the time we were in possession of our Meaty One and Beefy One it was nearly time to head out for the night.
I finished all of my pizza and went on to enjoy a luxurious sit down shower. As I sat there lathering my body I pondered whether everybody in the capital sits down when washing themselves. It was only when I went on to tell my room mates about such behaviour that I was informed we had been given a disabled room for the night; the hand rail and red chord next to the toilet were big clues that I failed to notice.
Ben had decided he was going to spend the night in the hotel on his own as he was still underage. We felt a bit sorry for him, as he was only two weeks off his 18th birthday. He may have missed out on the entertainment in Shoreditch, but at least his bank account didn’t take a bruising. The night began relatively cheaply as we supped on bottles of Heineken and Corona in Bar Kick, while watching the Valencia match on a large screen. It quickly went downhill from there.
“It says free entry there lads!” came a voice from the back of our twelve strong crowd. As we queued up against a brick wall we double checked with the obnoxious woman who was in charge of checking ID. Somehow we had misjudged the situation and were soon being asked to stump up £15 to enter this generic club that looked full of self obsessed wankers. Close to tears, we carried on through the streets of Shoreditch looking for somewhere to simply have a drink. I wasn’t expecting to find a pint of Taddy Lager or John Smiths for £2.06, but I was hopeful of at least finding a pint of something that I could afford.
We found cans of Carlsberg for £5.50. Bottles of San Miguel for £4.50. Champagne (with flutes) for £620. Our final stop was the Cirque Bar, which was probably the best place we found after leaving Bar Kick. It was expensive, and was busy, but at least it was free entry. Heading downstairs we eventually managed to move some local women who had obviously had enough of our accents and opted to move on; who can blame them? The most peculiar part of this bar was the fact the bouncer jogged down the stairs every 20 minutes and showered us in a strawberry scented air freshener.
Despite the fact we liked the smell of strawberry, we soon decided that we had had enough of Shoreditch. None of the locals seemed to be enjoying themselves, they were out in Shoreditch just to show off and impress their friends. Nobody could dance, nobody could smile and nobody had any manners. There was a reluctance to simply let go and make a fool of yourself with your mates. In truth we stuck out like a sore thumb all evening and were relieved when a taxi arrived to take us back to the hotel where we finished the night by drinking in our rooms.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy my sleep on the floor. The following morning I even opted to miss breakfast with everybody so that I could have an hour in bed. We left the hotel at midday and arrived back in York a good few hours later having dropped a couple of the party off in Sheffield. It had been another good weekend with the York fans and I moved a step closer to finishing the 92.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 205 miles
- ADMISSION: £5
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3