You will often hear fans say “Orient don’t do things the easy way” and, with nine games to go, the route to automatic promotion is looking formidable – though far from impossible.
Ordinarily the changing room is awash with noise after a game but you could hear a pin drop on Saturday following the 1-0 defeat to Brentford. It was an unwelcome task having to pop in to fetch Scott Cuthbert and Kevin Lisbie to talk to the press as Ada, the kit man, swept up the discarded sock tape and mud.
The defeat hurt everyone at the club as there had been so much anticipation and build-up to the game. The last time before Saturday we had had a sellout crowd was against Arsenal in the FA Cup in 2011 and accommodating both a full house and the TV cameras takes a lot of preparation.
The game was live on Sky and the trucks rolled in on Thursday morning to begin constructing a makeshift studio and gantries, plus carefully laying mile after mile of cabling. The cameras were also at the training ground filming preview interviews with the gaffer, Russell Slade, and striker David Mooney.
Despite the media attention, the training ground was relaxed as usual and the players were in good spirits as they had received their voting forms for the PFA divisional team of the year. The voting can get quite political, with a few shouts of “Nah, don’t vote for him”, or “Stick him down, he’s a good lad”. In reality, though, the voting is a serious matter for the lads, as was the case when they were picking their World XIs, which produced one of my favourite moments of the season. “Did you see his goal in the Coppa Italia last night?” one of the boys asked Jamie Jones, our goalkeeper, as they were filling out their forms. Jamie responded: “Nah, I don’t watch Spanish football.”
The bigger games require careful planning and the ticket office staff were working hard all week, as were the hospitality team. Steve, the stadium manager, was busy keeping an eye on Sky and meeting the senior police officers on duty at the game to make sure plans were in place for everything to go safely. There was a lot to consider, given the scale of the game and the fact it was a London derby with a large away following – several hundred of whom would be arriving by boat along the Thames.
In the end the only police matter was a 15-year-old Bees fan who had to be picked up by his mum after he was cautioned for stealing, having decided to take home a bit of one of our seats.
The day itself went largely to plan off the field. The press areas were bulging, but organised, the 240 hospitality guests were all fed and watered on time, and the near 8,500 supporters safely shown to their seats for a feisty derby that, on reflection, we can feel aggrieved to have come away from empty-handed.
I felt about two stone lighter afterwards, as the only technical hitch was that the lift decided to pack up midway through the day. That meant too many trips to and from the fifth-floor press gantry by stairs for my liking, though it was the Sky staff who suffered most as they lugged their cameras and equipment down five flights of stairs after the game.