The O Zone: Deserved recognition shows everyone is worth a second chance

Behind the scenes at Leyton Orient: The decision to re-sign Elliot divided supporters, but the club gave him another chance

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The Independent Football

One important job for all our players is their community work. Every week the players are out and about visiting schools and hospitals, appearing at events and more.

Most of the trips are done in pairs and happen on a Thursday afternoon organised by Howard, our Community Liaison Officer, who you’ll find at the training ground on a Thursday morning frantically handing out postcodes and directions to players’ respective destinations.

Howard keeps a tally of the hours the lads put in and it gets a bit competitive as the season wears on as they compete to come top of the pile in terms of appearances.

We were delighted to hear recently that our defender Elliot Omozusi has made the shortlist of three for the PFA Community Player of the Year at the Football League Awards this Sunday. It is richly deserved for Elliot, who has turned his life around in the last 12 months.

‘El’ is a former England youth international who came through the ranks at Fulham before first signing for us in 2010. He showed plenty of promise during that first spell with us before his world was turned upside down after his conviction for intimidating a witness in 2011. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. After his release, the club gave him a second chance last January.

The decision to re-sign Elliot divided supporters, but the club gave him another opportunity and it was decided he would also have to dedicate significant time to our community programme.

Since then he has been regularly mentoring local youngsters about the dangers of gang culture and the importance of making the right decisions.

I was fortunate enough to attend one such session last week and the most striking aspect was how candid and open Elliot was about his own experiences. He spoke of his deep regret for his actions, about how even being on the peripheries of a gang can be dangerous and about how he dealt with prison and went about rebuilding his life.

Elliot mentioned how he feared he had thrown his career away but was given hope as Russell Slade, our manager, would visit him in prison. The gaffer also wrote a letter that helped him get a job in the prison gym.

The youngsters at the session were gripped as he told how team-mates, whom El feared may abandon him, would visit and send letters and cards, while some of them even helped out his girlfriend financially.

No longer are the sessions a requirement for El but instead it is something he enjoys to the extent that he has said it is something he’d like to continue long into the future.

We’ll all be rooting for him on Sunday, and hopefully it will be following a victory over Brentford on Saturday, one of our biggest games of the season and live on Sky.