Jay Simpson finally feels at home and remembers his lines for free-scoring Leyton Orient


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The Independent Football

Jay Simpson is remembering the challenges he faced during a brief stay playing football in Thailand. His club, Buriram United, were on course for the league championship but for the Londoner life in a rural corner of Thailand was not easy – he had to contend with stifling heat and humidity, long spells away from his family and also, as he explains, a significant communication problem. “When I went over there my manager was Spanish so the team talks were done in Spanish and then translated to English and then Thai,” says the Leyton Orient forward. “It took quite a while.”

If Simpson thought he had put such cultural barriers behind him when returning to London to join Orient, he had another think coming. His arrival coincided with the takeover by Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti last summer and a miserable campaign followed for the Os. Between them, four managers were unable to halt the club’s slide out of League One and for the man who oversaw their eventual relegation, Fabio Liverani, manager from December to May, it was particularly difficult.

“He didn’t have any experience of managing in England and, this is no disrespect intended, but I don’t think he had any real experience of being a manager at all,” Simpson says of the Italian. “The language barrier was difficult to overcome. Maybe he could have been a great manager but we had difficulty understanding what he was saying.”

Orient’s chief executive, Alessandro Angelieri, acknowledged that the club had learnt from its mistakes this summer when appointing Ian Hendon, once a crowd favourite at Brisbane Road, and the 43-year-old has effected quite a turnaround. Hendon, who had previously been working as first-team coach at West Ham United, has brought in nine new players and Orient have hit the ground running in League Two with four straight wins. Unlike his predecessor, the former Barnet manager has had no problem getting his message across.

“He has come in and stamped his style on how we play,” Simpson explains. “After what happened last year, the club wasn’t really left in a great shape but he has come in and is determined to do well. He has managed to get the players on board and believing in what he wants to achieve. He wants us to go out and play, get on the ball, try and play it out from the back and enjoy ourselves.

“This season there has been a massive change at the whole club. We have new players, new staff, manager, assistant manager, medical team. Everyone has come in with a positive attitude and it has had a good effect on the club and the atmosphere around the training ground and the fans are seeing it as well.”

The Orient fans have responded – the opening day gate of 6,151 against Barnet was better than all but two home attendances in 2014-15 – and Simpson too. He scored his third goal of the season in last weekend’s 3-2 success at Newport County and is forming a fruitful attacking partnership with summer signing Paul McCallum for the country’s 11-goal top scorers.

If 15 players departed after relegation, Simpson was happy to stay on after an itinerant career which has already featured seven teams. This may seem a large number for a 26-year-old but it is a familiar story for players schooled at the big Premier League clubs, in his case Arsenal. Simpson once scored twice for Arsenal in a League Cup win over Wigan Athletic but he did his growing up on loan at Millwall, West Bromwich Albion and Queen’s Park Rangers, prior to an eventual 2010 transfer to Hull City.

“I went on loan but when you come back and have to play in the reserves it is not really enjoyable because it is not men’s football,” he recalls. “You are not really playing for anything and at Arsenal you have to wait for the cup games to come along, hoping to get a run-out. Once you are out of the cup, it is back to playing resies’ [reserve] football again.”

Today, with Orient flying high, those frustrations seem a distant memory yet Simpson has learnt enough lessons on the long road travelled, a road that has taken him to Thailand and back, to take nothing for granted. “It is nice to be settled somewhere,” he says, “but I know football changes overnight so you never know where you might end up.”