The O Zone: Lads now have one eye on Vegas as we hit six on the spin

Behind the Scenes at Leyton Orient:

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The Independent Football

It was like déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra said, on Saturday as we made it six wins out of six in League One, this time with a 3-2 victory at home over Port Vale. As you can imagine, the club is on a real high at the moment and it was nice to leave the ground on Saturday and hear the fans spilling out of the Supporters’ Club bar singing: “We’re Leyton Orient, we’re top of the league.”

Nobody is getting too carried away, though, as there are 40 games to go, but the chairman, Barry Hearn, did commission me last week to make a poster for the changing rooms with a map plotting a line from London to Las Vegas. It has an aeroplane on it for captain Nathan Clarke to move along the route as we accumulate points, as Barry has promised to take the players to Vegas if they can make it to the play-offs.

We had a special celebrity guest visit the training ground this week in the form of Larry Lamb as the BBC programme The One Show came down for some filming for a feature on the club’s involvement in the First World War. It was a good experience for the lads and quite humbling as many of them were unaware that 41 of the club’s players and staff signed up to fight. Inevitably, some did not come back, and some of those who did weren’t in great shape. I’ve never seen the lads so quiet as they were when they were shown the footage of the players’ farewell parade in 1915. They were a bit star-struck too, as I was passed phone after phone to take photos of them with Larry.

The atmosphere was more chipper at Wednesday’s golf day as we all hacked our way around 18 holes in teams assembled from staff, players, fans and sponsors. I went in a players’ group with Scott Cuthbert, Lloyd James and Mathieu Baudry, who spent most of the time mocking my golf shoes (shock) and trying to get me to fall out of the buggy, which happened twice. The chairman’s group, including darts star Wayne Mardle, came top of the pile. 

We also had a behind-closed-doors reserve-team game against Portsmouth. With smaller squads and tighter budgets nowadays, it’s difficult to justify regular reserve-team football, so these training matches happen on ad hoc basis with the team made up of Under-18s, trialists and first-teamers who haven’t played much.

They are good experience for the youngsters, and help them integrate ready for the step up to being a pro. I’ve been to other clubs where the youth team live a completely separate existence from the pros and sometimes even have a different training ground. At our place space is at a premium and everyone piles in together for lunch. Having a small squad means some of the youth-team players get the chance to join in with the first team.

As a result the pros all know the scholars by name and often look out for the youngsters. The day after the reserves’ friendly, Kevin Lisbie was questioning the academy manager, Andy Edwards, as to how one of the Under-18s forwards had got on, as Kevin keeps an eye on some of the young players at the club and is a role model to many.

I often help Andy with some work on the computer (as he struggles a bit) in return for a lift home and this week we printed out his set-plays and the academy players’ chores rota. Every morning they are first in to get on with jobs such as getting the balls out for training or getting the breakfast things ready – like a lot of clubs at this level, we don’t have a dining area as such, just part of the training ground building which has to be set up every meal-time, then cleared away.

After a quiet period during the international break, we are busy again with another home game tonight against Notts County. There was still plenty going on when I popped in on Sunday to finish a few bits for the programme. Ada, the kit man, was doing some washing, while Lindsey – his wife and our secretary – was working in her office. Then the gaffer (Russell Slade) popped in. His family home is up north, but he lives in one of the flats in the corner of the ground for much of the season and was moving an air-conditioning unit from there to his office. He spends so much time in the office it is a toss-up as to where the unit is needed most.

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