Leyton Orient v Crawley Town
Brisbane Road / League Two / 27th February 2016
Bored of listening to sleepy Craig doze off and repeatedly thud his head into the train window, I put on my ‘London’ playlist (I’m sad and have geographically-arranged playlists on my Spotify) and get myself in the mood for my cockney adventure listening to the likes of The Kinks, The Libertines and Madness. Craig had every right to be tired as we found ourselves in Manchester Piccadilly by 7am and then on the train to London at 7.35am. Our destination for today was Leyton Orient to watch Craig’s beloved Crawley, although technically he was the one tagging along to a Crawley game with me today. You see, when Swansea’s fixture with Spurs was moved to a Sunday, I figured I’d make a London weekend out of it by visiting a new ground on the Saturday. Immediately, Leyton Orient seemed the one I fancied and then I was fully sold on the idea when I noticed that they were playing Crawley. Clearly, deciding I couldn’t be trusted by myself with his fellow Crawley fans, Craig opted to come along too and got himself booked on the same train as me.
He did eventually wake up as our train shot through the outskirts of London and he almost immediately decided to fire some Powerade over the poor woman sitting opposite us (on accident apparently). Soon, after one last blast of One Step Beyond, we were navigating our way through the labyrinthine underground of London and towards south-east London; we did know that Leyton isn’t in south-east London, but my first port of call was New Cross Gate to leave my stuff in my pal Dai’s flat (he’d kindly agreed to letting me crash at his for the night).
More underground train-hopping was had and a good hour after arriving into London, we found ourselves going past the Olympic Park and it’s hideous tower thing and then into Leyton. It sunk in here why Orient have some gripes with West Ham moving into the Olympic Park next season, as I’d never really realised just how close Leyton and Leyton Orient are to the stadium in Stratford.
Leyton is largely made up of residential areas, but there were still enough pubs for me to go and explore. I’m all for taking a pub recommendation, so I took the advice of my groundhopping comrade Gibbo, who had been to Orient v York months earlier, and headed for the Gibbo-lauded Northcote Arms, hidden away from the main high street. Gibbo had recommended well. Apart from a female Orient fan at the bar, me and Craig were the first punters of the morning. The pub was definitely my sort of place and the barmaid was very chatty with us, whilst I sipped away at my beautiful Camden Pale Ale. The barmaid also explained to us that the pub had been offered the opportunity to become a ‘West Ham home pub’ next season, but the management had agreed that they were happy with the way things were currently. Good to hear that some of the locals will not be jumping on the Hammers bandwagon at least.
As we sauntered up the main high street through Leyton, we began to see a couple of Crawley shirts and it seemed that the away fanbase had begun rolling into town. Craig directed us towards the Coach and Horses, where he predicted that the majority of the Crawley away contingent would gather before today’s game.
The Coach and Horses is for me a typical, quite gritty London boozer and it seemed no-one had bothered to pay the electricity bill with how dark it was in there. Craig was right though and in here we found a whole load of Crawley fans. Having attended a few Crawley games now, I am always made to feel very welcome by the Crawley faithful and today was no different. Much festivity was had catching up with everyone and then it was time to attempt some sort of Lost Boyos record. I do like to make up silly awards at the end of the season and last season saw the ‘Lost Boyos Best Double Thumbs Up of the Year Photo’ award invented and won at Curzon Ashton, after their fans formed an impromptu group thumbs up photo whilst I was having one taken with Curzon fan Ollie. Well, Crawley fans decided that they wanted the biggest double thumbs up photo yet and so I found myself engulfed by Crawley fans as we all tried to squeeze into one photo. I’m fairly confident that it’s the biggest double thumbs up photo yet. Also adding to the ‘Matt Harrison-theme’, 6-year-old Crawley fan Matthew had even worn his flat cap for the occasion; he’d taken a shine to my flat cap when I went to Wycombe v Crawley at Christmas time and so I let him keep it as a late Christmas present. Good to see that the cap is still going strong.
As the time headed towards 2pm, our party slowly disbanded with some going for food and others heading to the ground. With Orient’s Brisbane Road home literally at the end of the road from the Coach and Horses, we figured we’d do the same and head to the ground – more specifically the supporters’ bar. Getting to the bar required circling around the ground and it was on doing this that it struck me just how peculiar a ground Brisbane Road is. I was well aware of the fact that the ground had blocks of flats in the corners having seen the ground on TV several times, but I hadn’t quite realised just how enveloped the ground is by the flats.
Predictably, the club bar was rammed, but there was a pleasant atmosphere in there between Orient and Crawley fans. Plus, I love a club bar that has a carpet with the club badge adorned all over it. I ended up talking to a couple of Orient fans and having to explain that I wasn’t really a Crawley fan at all and I was here mainly for ‘ticking off’ purposes; they shrugged their shoulders and said that they were not really Leyton Orient fans and were in fact Spurs fans (it seems everyone is slagging themselves out to different clubs these days). Obviously, with Spurs v Swansea the next day, this gave me plenty to talk about.
With kick-off looming, we headed out of the bar and completed our lap of the ground by ending up at the East Stand, where the away fans would be housed today. It cost me £24 on the turnstiles for the pleasure of today’s game – not that there would be much pleasure to be found in today’s fixture.
There was still time for me to fit in one more beer (bottle of Carlsberg – ergh) before heading up into the stands to join the Crawley faithful. The ground is nothing too life-changing, although I suppose you have to appreciate the quirkiness of a ground with flats in the corners (complete with fans drinking cans on balconies today too). The away fans were placed in the corner of the East Stand – the oldest stand in the ground complete with large Leyton Orient badge on the roof. Opposite is the far plusher-looking West Stand which houses the usual array of executive boxes and hospitality facilities, as well as the ticket office and the club bar we had been drinking earlier. Behind the other two goals are the similar-looking single-tiered Tommy Johnston Stand and the North Family Stand. Brisbane Road (officially called the Matchroom Stadium after chairman Barry Hearn’s sports promotion company, Matchroom Sports) has been the home of Orient since 1937 with the club playing at several other sites for the first 50+ years of their existence. As mentioned previously, there had been talks of Orient ending their time at Brisbane Road by moving to the Olympic Stadium, but, as I’m sure you are all aware, West Ham will be calling that home next season.
With the game moments away from starting, I headed back up to the top of the stand and found myself hoping for a good game (with a Crawley win obviously). It seemed like I was asking too much. It then occurred to me that since befriending the Crawley folk, I’d not really brought any luck to the club and perhaps I should stop going along. I worked out that since starting Lost Boyos I had seen Crawley 7 times before today and only seen them win twice and one of those times was against non-league Hednesford Town in the FA Cup where I found myself cheering the home team, as this was before my Crawley fling had started. Aggregate score over those 7 games: 16-8 to Crawley’s opponents. That’s my Crawley ban confirmed now.
The game started and…well nothing really happened for a long time. Crawley started the game okay with Orient offering nothing, but as the game wore on, Crawley’s desire to attack completely wore away. Dogged is perhaps how I would describe Crawley defensively, but in regards of passing, I’m not sure I’ve seen a team show such little desire or ability to keep the ball.
Leyton Orient, on the other hand, had a Premier League stalwart patrolling the middle of the pitch for them: current player/manager Kevin Nolan. Nolan, although no longer at his dynamic best, was definitely a stable and calming influence in midfield. However, it was his former Bolton and West Ham team mate Nicky Hunt who went close to scoring for Orient with a 25 yard effort that went just over. Even though I was in the Crawley end, even I would have had to give a slight cheer if Hunt had scored, after he became a Lost Boyos cult hero for getting me and Gibbo free tickets for his old club Mansfield when they played Wimbledon earlier this season (long story, but Gibbo is mates with him basically).
Speaking of cheering on players, just like at every Crawley game, I was willing on Gwion Edwards because of his roots in Swansea’s youth system, but he was still failing to impress in front of me; although admittedly he had little to work off.
After 41 minutes of very little football, a moment of quality came from nowhere. Sadly, for those around me, it came from a Leyton Orient player. Controlling the ball from 25 yards out, Armand Gnanduillet turned his man before launching a left-footed rocket from nowhere that shot into the top corner. A superb strike to put the home team 1-0 up at the interval.
Half-time: Leyton Orient 1-0 Crawley Town.
On arriving in the stand, I came across a gentleman asking some of the Crawley fans for a fan to take a penalty at half-time. Without thinking, I shouted that I’d do it, as I’m fairly sure I’ve never kicked a football on a Football league pitch before (not that I can remember anyway). However, when the moment came to head pitchside, I passed the penalty-taking responsibility over to Craig, as I figured that an actual Crawley fan representing Crawley was more suitable. It turned out to be one of those silly penalty games where you have to spin around a pole several times first, before then trying to score past the club mascot in goals. The Orient fan’s effort was quite pathetic and at least Craig had the decency to put a bit of a wallop into his – although he sent his penalty blazing over and into the stand behind.
Craig made his way off the pitch, although I actually think he could have put in a better shift on the pitch than some of the Crawley players did in the second half. Crawley were absolutely woeful second half and Crawley’s manager, Mark Yates, was right in dubbing them “pathetic” in his post match interview.
It should have been 2-0 to Orient when their manager Nolan made one of his famous breaks into the box, only for him to somehow fluff his effort from 6 yards when played in by goalscorer Gnanduillet.
The closest the Reds would come to scoring would come when Roarie Deacon’s effort from the edge of the box was well saved by Alex Cisak, but that was about it for the away team. The rest was all Orient. The game was pretty dire to be honest and I began to wish I could join the few lads up on one of the flat’s balcony to my left with some beer instead.
There were a few chances for Orient before they finally added a second goal in the 71st minute. A cross from Sean Clohessy was played to the back post to be met once again by Gnanduillet, who finished brilliantly with a first time volley.
By now, some of the Crawley fans had given up on the game it seemed and instead turned their attention to shouting abuse at the Leyton Orient fan taunting them from the stand to the left. Chants of “Who’s the wanker in the hat?” were aimed at the flat-capped gentleman and I commented to Craig that the lad did actually resemble me slightly – which was unnerving.
The final 20 minutes of the game offered nothing of note as Crawley continued to crumble and Orient seemed to settle for the 2 goals. Not even Lost Boyos favourite Matt Harrold coming on from the bench could rescue Crawley.
Full-time: Leyton Orient 2-0 Crawley Town.
The Crawley fans were rightfully despondent on exiting Brisbane Road and most seemed happy to just get on the bus and get the hell out of E10. On saying our goodbyes, me and Craig carried on back through Leyton and made one more pub stop in the rather interesting Leyton Technical (yes, I thought it was an odd name for a bar too). This is definitely not your typical bar with it being the former town hall and a Grade II listed building. It is cool with its fancy architecture and choice of ‘hipster’ ales and beers. £6 I paid for some fancy ale which I can’t remember the name of now. It was a beaut though. I even found myself standing next to my flat-capped lookalike (who looked less alike up close), as he bragged to his mates about how the stewards had threatened banning him for repeatedly goading the away fans.
Craig had a 7pm train back to Huddersfield (via Manchester) to catch, so I decided that I’d begin the trip back West into London with him, before our paths split in Whitechapel with him heading onwards to Euston and me heading south to New Cross Gate. I couldn’t let him go though without the silly tradition, post-Crawley disappointments, of kissing him on the head à la Laurent Blanc on Fabien Barthez in France 98 –a tradition that started when Craig looked particularly glum after Crawley blew a 2-2 draw at home to MK Dons in the legendary ‘Matt Harrold Game’.
So, for me it was onwards to focussing on Spurs v Swansea the next day and in an attempt to bring my team luck I headed into Covent Garden in the evening to visit the Hercules’ Pillars – the bar where Swansea fans partied the night before our 5-0 League Cup final victory almost 3 years ago to the day. It didn’t help though with Swansea losing 2-1 to Tottenham the next day. It seemed that north-east London was against Lost Boyos this weekend.
My visit to Brisbane Road meant that I have now done 71 of the 92 Football league grounds (219 grounds altogether for those interested). I found nothing really wrong with Brisbane Road, although it won’t be one I’m desperate to get back to either. Plus, the game hadn’t really been a thriller. Once again, the real winner on the day for me had been the Crawley fans. Even though they may have not been as vocal as other times I’ve been with them (they had virtually nothing to sing about today), they made me very welcome and were generally great company again. On walking up to my seat at half-time, I got chatting to a lady who recognised me and made a big point of thanking me for my positive writing of Crawley over the past year or so (Craig later told me that I’d ended up speaking to the former ‘legendary owner’ Bruce Winfield’s wife apparently). As I said to her, it’s easy writing positively about the club when the fans have been nothing but awesome to me since the day I randomly rolled up at Crawley’s home last January. No doubt, another Crawley away day will feature on these pages some time soon.
Highlights: Northcote Arms, Coach and Horses, spending time with the Crawley fans, the big double thumbs up photo, good club bar, Armand Gnanduillet’s goals.
Low Points: poor game – Crawley particularly bad, Swansea losing not helping the weekend.
See all my photos from my trip to Brisbane Road here.