League One Play-off Final 2014: Leyton Orient made me want to be a footballer, says Kevin Lisbie
Striker idolised the little London club as a kid. Victory against Rotherham today will mean so much to both
Sunday 25 May 2014
As the oldest player in a dynamic young Leyton Orient team, Kevin Lisbie has taken to his role as father figure. The 35-year-old has got his wife Joanne to cook Caribbean for the squad, further bringing the group together.
"She has done it all through the season," Lisbie laughs. "The lads enjoy it. It has been a talking point. It helps after training and on the way to an away game. It must be part of our results because we have only lost three away games!"
Now, only one of those games remains: "the biggest" of Lisbie's career as he describes it. It is certainly the biggest in 32 years for Orient. Today's League One play-off final with Rotherham could see them return to the second tier of English football for the first time since 1982. The club has come alive in this season's surge under manager Russell Slade. And, despite his evident maturity, Lisbie displays a refreshingly youthful attitude to this game.
"You sit down and you dream it will be you one day, scoring the winner or just being in the winning team," the striker enthuses. "Please God that will be me on Sunday."
This may well be the young boy in Lisbie coming out, since he has been waiting for this game almost as long as the club. Although an Arsenal supporter growing up – to the point he is today hoping for a "Wembley double" after last week's FA Cup – he regularly visited Brisbane Road as a child.
"My mum and dad used to bring me here when I was young because it was the only place we could afford," Lisbie explains. "I am an east London boy. It means a lot to be here... watching Orient as a kid, I used to look up to them so much. It made me want to be a footballer."
It was also Orient, as well as a stroke of luck, that ensured he stayed a footballer. The former Charlton Athletic forward had just turned 33 when he found himself without a club for two months at the start of the 2011-12 season.
"I got Russell's number and asked if I could come down and train with him to keep myself fit," Lisbie explains. "I trained on the Monday and he gave me the whole week. They had a game on the Tuesday and three of their strikers got injured, so he called me on the Tuesday night and he said he would give me a three-month contract because I only have one fit striker. I took it and, after two or three weeks, he offered me a year-and-a-half contract.
"It was two months into the season and you start thinking to yourself that maybe you have to look for something else. I have a young family... then this came and, two and a half years later, I am going to Wembley.
"I have now signed a new contract for another year. I am 35 but I am a fit lad and I got 18 goals and played 40-odd games this season."
It is quite a turnaround, and not just for Lisbie. "When I came we were bottom with only two or three points in September," he recalls. "I was looking at more than likely playing in League Two. I did everything in my power to keep this team up and I got Player of the Season and we just about stayed up. The year after, we finished seventh and this year we are here."
There is an argument Orient should already be in the Championship, given how long they led the League One table, but Lisbie has no regrets. "We started off well and then finished well. At the end of the season, where you are is where you deserve to be. The two that went up [Wolves and Brentford] had bigger squads and bigger budgets. We have bounced back well over the last few weekends and, like Rotherham, we are going into the play-offs in good form."
Lisbie puts it down to that spirit of togetherness running right through Orient.
"The club this season have given season tickets to under-16s. I think it is the right thing to do. It is no coincidence that they have done it this season and we are where we are. You need fans in the stadium. The last two or three games they have been unbelievable."
It has fed on to the pitch. "I say it before every game. We are a tight bunch. We eat together and we go out together. We even play table tennis together. A squad like this needs to be tight in order to accomplish something. That shows on the pitch."
Lisbie plays his role. "I would like to think I am a vital part of this team and even when I am not playing a part and I travel with the team, I lend a hand with the younger ones. It is the job of every senior player to hand on their experience to the younger ones."
So, will his wife be handing out the food ahead of Wembley? "Not for the final! I don't want her anywhere near it just in case anything happens and someone gets ill. We will eat at the hotel and we will do things properly."
Leyton Orient v Rotherham is live on Sky Sports 1, kick-off 3pm
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