Last Saturday (8th Feb 2020) saw a ‘first’ for my ‘London Shoes’ – as it was the very first time I had ever undertaken a blog on a football club.
The subject matter was East London’s “Leyton Orient FC”.
Another ‘first’ fore this particular blog, was that I had 3 people accompanying me for the day – Les, James & James’s mate Adam.
Les, James & me worked together at Barclays Bank-Whitechapel branch back in the late 1980’s – and they are both avid followers of my ‘London Shoes’ work – in fact, Les has accompanied me several times on previous ‘Shoes’ exploits.
James & his mate Adam are both bonkers Orient fans, and it was actually James who suggested the idea of me doing a blog on the O’s – and so he acquired tickets for the O’s home game on 8th Feb 2020 v Macclesfield Town – but before the kick-off, the 4 of us spent a good few hours ‘on-the-road’ tracing the history and historic landmarks of this great football club – the 2nd oldest team in London.
The following is my ‘London Shoes’ account of our day out and tribute to the history of the magnificent “Leyton Orient Football Club”:-
The origins of “Leyton Orient Football Club” go right back to the 3rd March 1888, when the ‘Eagle Cricket Club’ (formerly known as the ‘Glyn Cricket Club’) held a meeting at no.36 Dunlace Road-then in Lower Clapton–London E5.
The purpose of this meeting was to pass a resolution to officially form a football club, so that the cricket team had something to do in the winter months, to keep themselves fit.
It was mutually agreed by committee members that this new football section of the cricket club, be called the “Orient Football Club”.
It is believed that the unusual name of ‘Orient’ (for a team based in London), came about as a result of a suggestion by committee member ‘Jack Dearing’, who at that time, worked for the ‘Orient Steam Navigation Company’ (which went on to become the ‘P&O Group’) – the company, 10 years previous, had launched their very first ship the “SS Orient”.
It is also thought that the Orient reference in the Club’s name provided the club with an identity to ‘East’ London where the club was based.
This newly formed football club played in a red coloured kit with an ‘O’ on the back of its shirts (hence the terrace cry “Come on You O’s”) – and initially played its matches on a small pitch close to Pond Lane Bridge near the River Lea.
In 1893 the Orient Football Club joined the ‘Clapton & District League’ – Season 1896/97 saw the Orient join the London League-Division 3 & in season 1897/98 they were promoted to London League Division 2.
In 1898 in an attempt to drum up more local support – Orient FC changed its name to ‘Clapton Orient’ to signify the actual area of east London that the club were from.
For the 1898/99 season the newly named Clapton Orient were playing their football in London League Division 1.
In 1900 Clapton Orient moved to a new home – the ‘Millfields Road’ ground, situated in the same area they were already playing – the Millfields stadium could hold up to 40,000 and was also used for greyhound racing.
The 1905/06 season saw Clapton Orient elected to ‘The Football League’ which had been formed a few years previously in 1888.
1910 saw the Clapton Orient football kit change from a red shirt to a white shirt with a large red ‘V’ chevron on it.
During the 1914-1918 WW1 years, the Football League was suspended.
41 members of the Clapton Orient players & club staff signed up to the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, and became the first football club to collectively join the Great War – the largest representation of servicemen of any other football club.
20,000 spectators filled their Millfields Road ground on the last game of the 1914/15 season, to bid their heroes farewell.
During the Battle of the Somme, 3 Clapton Orient players were tragically killed in action – and they were:- Richard McFadden, Willie Jonas and George Scott.
Today, a wonderful memorial exists in a graveyard in the French village of Flers, as a tribute to these 3 fine brave young men.
Following WW1 changes were made to the Football League Div 3 and a new 3rd Division South and a 3rd Division North were created – with Clapton Orient playing its games in the 3rd Division South League.
In 1930 Clapton Orient left its Millfields Road ground and moved to the ‘Lea Bridge Stadium’ just down the road. The Lea Bridge Stadium was already an established greyhound racing track, and had a capacity of 20,000.
Their old Millfields Road ground eventually became the Millfields Housing Estate – and today a plaque is on display at the estate commemorating the fact that the site was once the home of Clapton Orient, and also the fact that a match played there in 1921 against Notts County, was the first ever Football League match attended by a member of the Royal Family.
Clapton Orient played at its newly acquired Lea Bridge Stadium for 6 years. Today, the site of the old ground is now a large industrial estate – however, tucked away in a far corner of the estate there is a commemorative plaque displayed on a random wall, and you can still see the remains of one of its old stands.
In 1937 Clapton Orient moved grounds again – this time, just down the road, further south, to its current home at Brisbane Road in Leyton-London E10 – and they’ve been there ever since.
In 1946, whilst still in the Football League Division 3-South, the football club changed its name from Clapton Orient to ‘Leyton Orient’ to denote the area of London in which the Club now played.
At that time a new Club Badge was introduced which depicted 2 ‘Wyverns’ holding a football in their claws.
These Wyverns were mythical half-dragon, half sea serpent creatures – and it is said that the dragon part represents the historic City of London crest, and the seas-serpent part of these Wyverns relates to Leyton Orient’s tenuous link to its original P&O sea connections.
Amusingly, the Club’s current mascot, who runs around the pitch stirring up the crowd on match days – is a Wyvern by the name of ‘Theo’……( The O’s…..get it!!).
Season 1958/59 saw the O’s incorporated back into the newly aligned Football League Division 2 – and in the 1962/63 season they were promoted to the heady heights of Division 1.
1964 saw Leyton Orient record is biggest attendance at its Brisbane Road ground, when 34,345 packed into the stadium for an FA Cup tie against local rivals West Ham Utd.
In 1966 a decision was made to drop the ‘Leyton’ part from the club’s name, and they simply became ‘Orient FC’. However, in 1987 the club’s name reverted back to being ‘Leyton Orient’.
Between seasons 1966 to 1996 the O’s flitted between Division 2 & Division 4 – and in seasons 2004 to 2006 they were in the newly named Football League-Div 1 (which was in fact the old Division 3 – in old money).
Season 2006/07 to season 2014/15 Leyton Orient played their football in League 2 (the old 4th Division).
On 22 April 2017, following years of serious financial and internal upheaval and turmoil, Leyton Orient very sadly dropped out of the Football League – ending an association that went back some 112 years – and were relegated to the National League.
In November 2017 the acclaimed ex Spurs defender ‘Justin Edinburgh’ was appointed as their manager and very soon, their fortunes on the pitch improved, to the extent that by the end of season 2018/19 Leyton Orient were crowned Champions of the National League – and after an absence of only 2 years, the Club returned back to the Football League.
However, on 3rd June 2019, just weeks after leading them back into the Football League, their manager Justin Edinburgh suffered a cardiac arrest, and tragically died on the 8th June 2019 – aged just 49 years old.
In January 2020, before a game against Newport County, the club renamed its main stand the ‘Justin Edinburgh Stand’ in commemoration and recognition of Edinburgh’s marvellous achievement in getting the O’s back into the Football League.
Throughout the years, Leyton Orient FC have had some legendary players turning out for them, many of whom have been honoured in one way or another by the Club.
One such club legend is record goal scorer ‘Tommy Johnston’ who played for the Club between 1956/58 & 1957/58 and clocked-up a remarkable 123 goals in 190 league & cup appearances for the O’s. In 2008, Leyton Orient renamed its South Stand the ‘Tommy Johnston Stand’ in recognition of his fantastic achievements.
Another O’s legend who went on to become a bit of a global super-star on the football front, was the late great ‘Laurie Cunningham’ – who I had the pleasure of watching play when he was with the O’s during the early period of his career.
Laurie Cunningham was born in 1956 in Archway north London and joined the O’s as a youngster in 1974.
Laurie Cunningham made a total of 75 appearances for Orient scoring 15 goals – before he was transferred to West Bromwich Albion in 1977 – where he formed part of the trio of players – Cunningham / Cyril Regis & Brendon Batson – who were famously nicknamed ‘The Three Degrees’.
In 1979 Laurie Cunningham became the first Englishman to join Spanish footballing giants ‘Real Madrid’ and by the end of the 1979/80 season with them, he had helped them to a Spanish League & Cup double.
Also in 1979, Cunningham made his full England debut, and goes down in history as being the first black footballer to represent an England international team organised by the current national governing body – the Football Association.
In Coronation Gardens right next to Orient’s Brisbane Road ground, there stands a marvellous statue of Laurie Cunningham that was unveiled in 2017, to commemorate this great player’s footballing achievements, and his connections to the O’s.
Sadly, Laurie Cunningham was killed in a car crash in Madrid in 1989 – aged just 33.
There also stands a statue of the ‘Three Degrees’ (Laurie Cunningham / Cyril Regis / Brendan Batson) not far from West Brom’s Hawthorns ground, up in the Midlands – 3 players I am also pleased to say, I had the privilege of also watching them play in person.
So – back to London Shoes blogging day out and the match in question.
Having spent the best part of 4 hours pounding the pavements of the E10 & E5 post codes of East London, searching for the elusive historic landmarks and sites relating to Leyton Orient FC – we ended up at their Brisbane Road stadium in Leyton, where we downed a few ‘cheeky’ beers in the Supporters Club Bar, where even some of the players pop in to mingle with supporters – before taking our seats in in the Tommy Johnston Stand which ‘young’ James had very kindly acquired tickets for – and settled down to watch the day’s match against the opponents, who were Macclesfield Town.
There was a comfortable family friendly & welcoming vibe amongst supporters throughout the game and ‘Theo’ the club mascot kept everyone amused with his lively antics on the touch-lines.
It was an entertaining game with both sides trying their best to get a result – and for someone like me who suffers the pain and torture of having to watch my beloved Hammers struggle week in and week out, it was a pleasant change to be a ‘neutral’ and just watch a decent & honest game of football.
Midway through the 2nd-half, the O’s went 1-0 up and looked as though they were going to bag all 3 points – until deep into injury time when Macclesfield grabbed a very late equaliser.
All in all, it was a really enjoyable day out – which was made all the better by having 3 accomplices on-board to share the day’s experiences with me, 2 of whom (young James & his mate Adam) were fanatical Orient supporters, so it clearly meant a great deal to them too.
I have to say, with this being London Shoes first ever ‘football’ related blog, I thoroughly enjoyed doing all the research and all the post-match composing & publication stuff – and, even though I am a life-long ‘Hammer’, I’m actually so pleased that the topic was all about the O’s
Well done Leyton Orient FC – great club – brilliant history – ‘real’ fans.
See below for the full range of ALL of the photographs relating to this Leyton Orient FC blog