Behind the scenes at Leyton Orient: Skipper got some funny looks in Costa with two black eyes and still in his kit...
STARTING TODAY The first of a weekly column uncovering the realities of football at the sharp end, with our man inside League One club
Tuesday 06 August 2013
Thirteen hours and 650 miles of travelling, a 5-1 win, a red card, the captain taken to hospital unconscious, and we are top of the table. The season is back with a bang for us and the mood was good on the coach on the way home from Carlisle.
As we began the long haul south one of the players popped to a corner shop to stock the coach with a few cans of Coca-Cola to celebrate – no alcohol, as we had a match a few days later. I managed to nab one of the last fish and chips. Despite being cold it was very welcome after what had already been a long day.
The players stayed up in Cumbria overnight, but I had left London with our photographer, Simon, at 7.30am and we made decent time, arriving at Brunton Park around 1pm. Carlisle United is a club that gives you a good welcome and it was good to see my counterpart, Andy Hall, who is pleased to have relinquished the role of kit manager, having combined that job with being media manager last season.
The game itself was exhausting to watch, with the main talking point coming when our captain, Nathan Clarke, was knocked unconscious after falling head first from a challenge into a gravel area on the side of the pitch. The Carlisle player was given a red card but that was almost incidental at the time as players gestured urgently for a stretcher. Clarkey was out cold and they were panicking.
It was sickening to watch and, as I struggled to get any concrete information about how he was, I was fearing all sorts. At half-time – almost 30 minutes later – I was told he was still unconscious, which made it impossible to enjoy a ruthless second-half performance which saw us run out 5-1 winners. Fortunately, that information turned out to be wrong and word came through that he was talking to people in hospital.
We made a detour to pick him up and he got a great reception as he stepped on to the coach, still in his boots and kit. He had a strapped wrist, black eyes and cuts all over his face but also wore a big grin as he said: “Top of the league, lads.” He was still in his full kit a couple of hours later and got a few funny looks at Costa when we stopped to stretch legs at a service station near Manchester.
We have a telly on the coach so the lads watched Goals Express on Sky Sports News but the signal cuts out every five minutes – for which Jeff the coach driver gets pelters – so Nathan got the analyst to show him our goals on a laptop as he couldn’t remember anything other than us going 1-0 up.
It was a lively atmosphere with a fair amount of banter. The lads dressed up in some awful gear at our second service station stop and put a picture on Twitter, saying they’d found out where myself and Mathieu Baudry, our French centre-half, got our clothes from. As the miles wore on the coach quietened down, especially after we dropped the Essex-based lads off at a hotel just off the M25 to get their cars. The rest of us arrived back, tired but happy, at Brisbane Road just after 1am.
It’s a relief to be back in full-season mode as I think everyone gets bored of pre-season in the end. There’s only so much planning and preparing you can do, plus the friendlies are on strange days and at odd times, meaning I’m even less likely to find a girlfriend when I have to go to St Albans for a match on a Friday night.
There’s been a lot happening this summer as we’ve a fresh influx of staff in the office and the chairman, Barry Hearn, has been taking myself and the two lads in the commercial team for regular breakfast meetings at his favourite greasy spoon in Leyton to keep us on our toes. We’ve all got aggressive targets this year as the 60 per cent salary cap rule means we need to maximise our income to help strengthen the playing squad.
The gaffer, Russell Slade, has managed to keep the playing squad together while making a couple of choice additions and there’s a fair amount of optimism about as we finished strongly last season.
The gaffer obviously gets inundated with calls from agents during the summer and you’d be surprised how many people just turn up at a football club expecting a trial. Last week I was opening up one morning and a lad stopped me with his boots tied to the seat of his bike, demanding to see the manager for a trial. He wasn’t exactly pleased when I told him he couldn’t just turn up like that. It eventually transpired he lived in Walthamstow and played Sunday football in Clapham, so wanted to play for Orient as it was his local team to save money on travelling. You don’t ask, you don’t get, I suppose.
Off the pitch there have been a few changes at the training ground as our head of sports science, Lee Southernwood, continues to move the club forwards. Having a small squad means we need to keep players fit, so one of his main projects has been to build a gym in the squash court. Given the budget, he has done a remarkable job fitting it with some top-of-the-range equipment sourced through an array of contacts, topped up with bargains such as gear bought on eBay that had to be picked up from a travellers’ camp.
One highlight of pre-season was hosting the famous New York Cosmos for a friendly. What a lot of people don’t realise is that pre-season friendlies are as much use for the staff at the club to get back into the swing of things as for the players.
It felt a bit like going to school after a summer holiday and largely went to plan, though there were a couple of teething issues – like the commentary not working on the website and the Tannoy system playing inside the changing room while the gaffer was doing his half-time team talk, which I don’t think he was best pleased about. Obviously, it’s best to find these issues out in pre-season rather than discover them when the matches are under way.
We’ve got a busy week with two home games, Coventry City in the Capital One Cup tonight followed by Shrewsbury Town, also at our Matchroom Stadium, on Saturday. That will mean a few late nights getting programmes finished. There was even talk of me wearing the costume of Theo the Wyvern, our mascot, tonight, but having tried it on, it’s just too small for me. Shame.
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