Short-haul to the Orient
Football on a Friday night feels somehow wrong, although it is becoming a regular fixture at several clubs in Leagues 1 and 2. Despite my traditionalism, and finding myself at a loose-end after a hard day’s graft in London’s creative hub, a derby match between Leyton Orient and Brentford provided an early opportunity to get my weekend fix of Football League action.
It wasn’t a cheap night out, mind. By journey’s end – just a few stops down the Central Line – I was already £5.00 lighter. The 10-minute walk from Leyton tube station to Brisbane Road was partly clouded by my inner grumblings about Boris Johnson’s transport policies; however, the din as I crossed the A12 onto Leyton High Road soon sorted that out. Like many parts of inner London, the High Road has changed a great deal since I first took that walk 20-odd years ago (the Orient being one of the first clubs I was taken to by my dad in an odyssey of the capital’s footballing arenas). A long, gently meandering strip of newsagents and cafes with signage printed in a range of scripts bearing witness to the recent influx of residents from Eastern Europe and the Lusophone countries, in particular.
As the picture above would indicate, the old ground has undergone a parallel metamorphosis. Seemingly buried amid a modern apartment complex (complete with balconies overlooking the pitch), the old East Stand remains defiant, although now given over to away supporters. I, with a good number of the home regulars, found myself sitting behind the goal in the single-tiered Tommy Johnston Stand. £20 for a ticket represented comparatively good value for London football, but set me off planning a German-style fan protest all the same. An early arrival gave me ample time to check out Theo’s Burger Bar and the carpeted lounge below the seats, where I was amazed to be given a cold pint in a glass. Cold and in a glass, at football… I’m still having trouble computing this.
The first half began in typically lively fashion, on and off the grass. Both sides started brightly, but the ball seemed to jump from foot to foot without sticking around long enough for a decent chance to emerge. Meanwhile, the group stood (much to the consternation of the stewards) behind me making their disappointment with the away turn-out colourfully clear, displaying a thorough knowledge of London’s road network in the process. After a couple of briefly thrilling duals between Orient’s right-back, ex-Fulham prospect Eliot Omozusi, and Brentford’s Myles Weston, the Os started to press hard for an opener. A few deliveries from the left-side of the Bees’ box by the Lilliputian former Brighton winger Dean Cox caused much flapping and roused the home support to their feet. This period of sustained pressure continued and, 25 minutes in, the inevitable: the Os No. 9 Scott McGleish tapping home after good work down the left side from Stephen Dawson and Alex Revell. The play lacked a bit of fizz following the goal, but the denizens of the Tommy Johnston retired to the lounge contented.
The game was a bit like my half-time Bovril after the break: not as good as it used to be. Orient fans were in good voice again, but Brentford’s midfield struggled to get a foot on the ball. Gary Alexander and Charlie MacDonald scrabbled around for rare loose balls outside the box, though a wood-smacking header from full-back Michael Spillane and a powerful, wayward shot from Nicky Adams apart, the Bees struggled to impose themselves. The home side should have improved their goal difference further before the final whistle: Omozusi sending Craig Woodman dizzy on the right flank before Jimmy Smith put his cross just wide of the post. The slender scoreline reflecting the overall pattern of the game.
Russell Slade’s fist-pumping celebrations at the end showed how much the three points meant to the Orient, and how much Brentford have to do to get themselves out of an early rut. To be honest, neither side impressed me enough to revise my promotion predictions. Os’ midfield toil, and Ben Chorley at the back, made the difference between the two sides. However, old boy Andy Scott will be concerned over his renovated side’s lack of resolve.
Outside in Coronation Gardens, the Friday night experiment seemed to have reached a happy conclusion for most. As FL clubs look to increase their revenues in the shadow of the all-pervasive Premier League, I suspect it won’t be the last Friday kick-off in E10.