“The One” by Tamar Braxton is an R&B song that only reached No 104 in the US charts and was never released in the UK, but it’s fast becoming the song of our season, as after a victory the lads put it on full blast and have a dance before heading out to do their warm-down. The track samples the Notorious B.I.G. track “Juicy”, which chronicles the rapper’s rise from rags to riches, which is in many ways appropriate as it was pumped out at full volume on Saturday as Leyton Orient, assembled without a penny outlay, overcame the free-spending Peterborough 3-1 at London Road to stay top of the League One table.
It was a massive win for us in front of more than 10,000, including a certain Sir Alex Ferguson, who was in attendance to watch his son Darren’s side. I’m sure Sir Alex would have gone away impressed. The only disappointment for the players was that they were late leaving, as the drugs testing squad were in town and Kevin Lisbie and Lloyd James were the players chosen at random to give a urine sample. Neither could manage a pee for an hour after the game and were still in their full kit with a tester shadowing their every move as they waited for nature to call.
Everyone else was showered, back on the coach and waiting when I popped on to get £20 off Romain Vincelot. At a club like Orient there’s not much in the way of a barrier between the fans and the players. Romain is a popular figure with the Os’ faithful and will often pop in to the Supporters’ Club bar on his way home and to talk to fans and pose for photographs. On this occasion our midfielder asked me to pass the money on to a fan who had tweeted him, asking if he would sponsor him for his Sunday league kit, which was a nice touch from the Frenchman.
I’ve seen pretty much everything at the club but certain things remain sacred to the four walls of the dressing room and will never be seen by anyone other than the players and the immediate coaching and support staff. One such is the gaffer’s pre-match talks. I was fortunate enough to get a flavour of it this week when the gaffer (Russell Slade) got a late call-up on Friday to meet with a group of around 50 youngsters who are working on the National Citizen Service. This is a scheme carried out by the club’s community sports programme designed to improve the confidence and life skills of 16- and 17-year-olds.
Having not prepared anything, he asked me to print off some of the posters he puts up on the dressing-room walls. While I stuck them up behind him, the gaffer went through each one and gave an off-the-cuff motivational talk to the youngsters on the ingredients for being successful. One of the posters says: “You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as life between.” The gaffer is a very much an “all in” character and he launched into a hugely inspiring and energetic 15-minute talk during which the youngsters turned from looking fairly uninterested and fiddling with their phones to completely captivated and queuing up for his autograph and photos afterwards. The gaffer looked so natural and in control of what was potentially a tricky audience. It made me realise how important that natural ability to lead and energise people must be for a manager aside from any coaching badges or knowledge of the game.
Talking of tricky situations, we owe thanks to Arsenal, who helped our academy out of one on the M25. The Under-17s side were on their way to QPR when the minibus unfortunately broke down in the middle lane. The police were soon on the scene to organise the traffic and Richard Thomas, our academy operations manager, managed to escort the players safely to the side of the road. Lined up and stranded in their tracksuits, they caught the eye of a passing minibus from Arsenal and the driver was good enough to pick the players up and drive them to the Gunners’ training ground nearby at Colney, where they were allowed to wait inside and even given refreshments.
In the meantime, Andy Edwards, the academy manager put a call in to Chigwell School. They lent us their bus so he fetched it, returned to pick the lads up and get them over to QPR. Our opponents were very understanding and allowed the kick-off to be moved back by more than an hour. With only 25 minutes preparation our boys even bagged a 2-1 win.
If anyone knows of a minibus going at a good price, please let us know.