16 August 2016

Leyton Orient 3 Stevenage 0, 16/8/16

A game in which... Orient proved that they're not necessarily as shit as every single performance of the last two seasons might suggest. In fact I'd go as far as to say that this was the most enjoyable 90 minutes at Brisbane Road since the play-off semi-final of 2013/14.

Stevenage were rubbish, obviously, but you can only beat what's put in front of you, unless that's Newport and you lose. But Orient were in swashbuckling form, penetrating the opposition defence time and again with the near-forgotten tactic of actually passing the ball along the ground. Throw in some highly promising individual performances – Kelly, Massey and Erichot for starters – and it starts to look like things aren't quite as dire as they seemed on Saturday. Let the good times roll.

Jump off your seat moment... The moment Dean Cox – God knows it's good to have him back – scored with a header from the edge of the box, a feat that until tonight every single expert from the world of science and Professor Brian Cox had deemed physically impossible. From a Stevenage point of view this is beyond embarrassing: like Sir Bradley Wiggins being overtaken by a kid on a tricycle; or Lionel Messi being nutmegged by Bradley Pritchard.


Give that man a medal... Well done to Harry Cornick Jr for repeatedly getting dangerous balls into the box like an inverse Sean Clohessy. This was the type of blistering loanee winger performance that Ryan Hedges could have put in had he not had Fabio Liverani screaming insanely into his brain for 90 relentless minutes every time he played. But if this is the shape of things to come from Cornick, and Simpson stays and shakes off the rust, we may actually score more goals.

Taxi for... What a joy it was to see Jamie Jones kicking the ball with the same reckless regard for consequence with which he manages his Twitter account. How pleasurable it was to see him fumbling crosses almost like he was playing for Orient during the 2013/14 play-off final. And it would be an utter dereliction of duty of me not to end this paragraph with the words: Enjoy your relegation battle, Jamie.

Jamie Jones reaches for a cross
In the dug out... Positioning Dean Cox in a more central role is usually the last roll of the dice of an under-pressure Orient manager and it never works. Tonight, by total accident, this ruse actually paid off for Andy Hessenthaler and the 4-2-3-1 formation presumably dictated to him by the president looked to have promise. The thing is: Orient do have a good team on paper. Of course, that doesn't help you get promoted: after all, Ian Hendon should have been a good manager on paper, until it turned out that paper just bore a picture of a sunburnt holidaymaker furiously berating Ryan Air ground staff for the fact he's left his own passport in the hotel room. Where was I? Yes, Orient have a good team on paper and if Hessenthaler – let's just call him Yessenthaler and be done with it – can negotiate around the lunatics running the club then we may have a chance of achieving something.

Meanwhile on Twitter... "Just got told the biggest load of nonsense in my life" tweeted Paul McCallum, minutes before kick off, almost as if an Ian Hendon tactical team talk from last season had finally registered in his brain. Make of that what you will, but in the meantime let's turn to our former manager himself. Yes, his fiery-fingered wife Linda Hendon has been at it again, with this: "Ian Hendon and I have been informed by Becchetti that we are not welcome at Brisbane Road to support Orient or Hess. #completeclownofachairman." Which suggests that Linda and Ian were trying to score free seats rather than just paying like the rest of us mugs. Unless of course Mr Becchetti scrutinises the sale of every ticket to ensure no one inappropriate turns up. Wouldn't put it past him. Though in which case how did Connor Essam slip through the net so many times? The plot thickens...




17 April 2016

Leyton Orient 3 Dagenham & Redbridge 2, 16/4/16

A game in which... Francesco Becchetti proved – through his astute team selection – that he's more than just a psychopathic workplace bully and is actually in possession of a shrewd footballing brain. Who but him, after all, could have predicted that Orient's three goals would come courtesy of crosses from the much-maligned Sean Clohessy and Blair Turgott?

The three points and improved attacking performance were positives, of course, but the fact that in the closing minutes Orient were desperately clinging on to a narrow home victory over the worst club in professional football probably suggests no one should be partying too hard tonight. Worse still, in Francesco Becchetti's mind the result no doubt vindicates his latest round of lunatic decisions, meaning us fans can expect more of the madness while the club falls apart around us.

Jump off your seat moment... Take your pick from one of the many moments in which Armand Gnanduillet was either scoring or missing or being booed or being cheered or cupping his ear at the crowd or applauding the crowd or shooting at goal when Jay Simpson was unmarked and clean through to his right or not shooting at goal when clean through himself. To say that the Frenchman is an enigma would be an understatement on a par with describing the seventh circle of hell as "on the warm side". Or at least I assume it is – I'll check when Francesco Becchetti was last there and get his view on it.

Give that man a medal... "No man can test God's timing," tweeted Blair Turgott after his man of the match performance today, suggesting that he has waited all season to finally demonstrate his value to the team. The winger was a constant menace to the Dagenham & Redbridge defence – I say "defence", I mean "some random blokes standing around pointing a bit while Orient practised their attacking drills" – and well deserved his two assists.

Taxi for... Francesco Becchetti, naturally. So bizarre and damaging has been his behaviour and decision-making during his tenure at Orient that the official confirmation from Andy Hessenthaler that the president is now part of a committee that selects the team does not appear to have sent quite the seismic shockwaves that it should have. God knows I hope he never donates some of his billions to a hospital otherwise he'll be there in the operating theatre, Chianti in one hand, scalpel in the other, butchering patients on a daily basis but reassuring grieving relatives by recording video messages explaining how passionate he is about the medical facilities and that everything will be ok if they all stick together.

Nolan-watch... President Becchetti's masterplan to unleash the full potential of Kevin Nolan as a player by releasing him from the shackles of management had only 427 fatal flaws. One of which was that Kevin – who'd never been less than clear that the reason he came to Orient was to manage – was unlikely to be particularly motivated by playing under the cloud of the abject humiliation associated with being removed from his job after 14 matches. This was all moot anyway, as Kev was injured. So if he's out for the rest of the season does that mean he can resume management Mr Becchetti?

Meanwhile on Twitter... "No matter what you do, good or bad, people are always gonna have something to say about it. Keep your head up, stay strong and just breathe." No, not lyrics from a Christina Aguilera bonus track, but an inspirational quote posted by Orient's goalkeeping coach-turned-translator-turned-head of recruitment-turned goalkeeper coach again Rob Gagliardi. What prompted this? The negative reactions of fans to the news that loyal servant Lee Harrison had inexplicably been fired in favour of the Italian at the behest of Mr Becchetti, who entirely forgot to mention this grubby little episode in his video call to arms. Still, Forza Orient and all that...

07 April 2016

GUEST BLOG: How a Bermondsey social worker nurtured the precocious talent of Laurie Cunningham

Sunday Times sports picture editor Dermot Kavanagh is currently writing the first full biography of Orient legend Laurie Cunningham. To whet your appetites, here he reveals how the influence of social worker and youth football coach Bob Cottingham helped lay Laurie's path to Leyton Orient... 

Young Laurie
Laurie Cunningham has been in the news recently with four different organisations choosing to remember him. English Heritage announced in February that a blue plaque is to be unveiled at his home in Finsbury Park later this year, and, on the week of what would have been his 60th birthday, Waltham Forest Council launched a joint venture with Leyton Orient FC and Kick It Out to fundraise for a statue of him to be sited at Coronation Gardens.

Cunningham'stime at Orient is well documented. The five years he spent at Brisbane Road after he arrived as a gauche teenager and was transformed in to a dazzling young star are rightly credited to the careful management and patient guidance of George Petchey and his assistant Peter Angell. 

But one other deserves to be given his due for playing his part in nurturing the precocious talent that Cunningham possessed. After being rejected by his local club Arsenal in 1972 and being told he was “not the right material” Cunningham could easily have walked away from the game if it wasn't for a man called Bob Cottingham.

Born in Yorkshire in 1922, Cottingham worked as a social worker in Bermondsey, south London, where he established a five-a-side team for the youngsters in his care. Then he moved to north London and worked in Islington where he founded a football team called Highgate North Hill named after the primary school where his son was a pupil. 

Cottingham was serious about football and attended a residential FA coaching course at Loughborough College in the summer of 1966, the week after England won the World Cup, and was influenced by the great Hungarian side of the 1950s led by Ferenc Puskas, who broke the mould of European football when they thrashed England 6-3 and 7-1 in the space of 12 months. 

The schoolboy team Cottingham assembled at Highgate was a true reflection of the area where he lived and included Turkish, Greek and Caribbean boys among its squad and they dominated the Regents Park League for years.

Cunningham joined in 1967 at the age of 11 and immediately made an impact. His natural athleticism and energy was irrepressible. Cottingham gave him free rein as a marauding winger and built the team around his startling pace. 

Cunningham became a regular visitor to the Cottingham home in Muswell Hill where he often stayed for meals,joined in family excursions and played football until dusk in the large back garden with family and friends. 

On match days Cottingham picked him up from Finsbury Park in his camper van, remembering to bring a spare pair of boots or socks for the forgetful youngster, and after matches, it was all back to Muswell Hill for hot dogs and orange squash. 

The idyllic environment, based around a love of football, must have held a strong appeal to the young Cunningham and was perfect for developing his talent.

Then in 1968 Cottingham organised an unusual football tour in Austria that doubled up as a family holiday. Highgate played in a mini-tournament against the youth teams of the national side and Rapid Vienna among others. 

Twelve boys travelled to Vienna by train and ferry and were billeted with local families. The boys made quite an impact: some had long hair, one was a skinhead with boots and braces and then there was Cunningham sharply dressed, but most startlingly to the conservative Viennese, black. 

The boys drew attention wherever they went, either playing in the park or on a day trip to the nearby Alps. As interest grew a TV camera crew was despatched to film them and interview Cunningham, who was inevitably the team's top scorer. His photograph appeared on the front page of a daily newspaper as well. 

When the trip came to an end after two weeks the boys were given a farewell reception at the Town Hall where a buffet was held in their honour by the Lady Mayoress. Cunningham had been the star of the tournament.

Back in London, Highgate continued their dominance in league and cup competitions and by the age of 14, Arsenal came calling for Cunningham. But when they rejected him at the age of 16, Cottingham was determined to find another London club that was sympathetic to his mercurial talent. 

At Orient, after an impressive trial in front of Petchey, he found a nurturing club who were prepared to devote time and energy to his young charge. Peter Angell told the young player that football like chess was a game where brains meant more than anything and you always have time to play while George Petchey assured him that if he carried on the way he was he would play for England one day. 

The rest, as they say, is history - the sort of history that is now being recognised with a statue and a blue plaque.

Different Class: Fashion, Football and Funk – The Story of Laurie Cunningham will be published by Unbound Books. Anyone who makes a pledge can have their name in the front of the book as an Orient fan. 

Read about Laurie Cunningham's time at Orient in this extract from my book Leyton Orient Greats. 

06 March 2016

Leyton Orient 0 Luton Town 1, 5/3/16

A game in which... It was proved scientifically, philosophically and legally that Orient are still just a bit shit. Not chronic-dysentry-call-999-NOW! shit as we were under Ian Hendon. More like the type of shit that clings defiantly to the toilet bowl despite repeated flushes. Will.i.am, were it in human form.

Now, credit to Kevin Nolan for mostly shoring up the defence – Luton only had the one big chance really – but he still has a big job to do to eke out some sort of guile, some creativity, some surprise from this largely uninspiring squad.

Jump off your seat moment... Is it Neymar? Is it Ronaldo? Is it the final of the World Dressage Championships? No, it's Jerome Binnom-Williams doing step-overs in ultra slow-motion in an ill-fated attempt bamboozle the Luton defence. That said, the left-back actually looks half-decent at times and could well be the difference between Orient finishing 11th or 12th come the end of the season. 

Give that man a medal... Scott Cuthbert. He had Ollie Palmer so deeply in his pocket that it's likely he'll not notice he's there again until he eventually sticks his kit in the washing machine and finds a bearded bloke in a red shirt clambering out of it then theatrically throwing himself to the ground claiming a head injury.  

Taxi for... Sean Clohessy. I'm presuming that his selection at right midfield is based on the infinite monkey theorem which states that if you sit a primate in front of a typewriter for an infinite amount of time at some point it will inadvertently produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Similarly, were he given until the end of the universe, it is conceivable that Sean Clohessy might at some point put a decent ball into the box. Didn't happen today, mind, so instead the former Southend man offered a fan out a half-time. As you were. 

Nolan-watch... Imagine this scenario: Kevin Nolan, on a day off and craving some peace and quiet, goes to an east London park with the intention of calmly completing a jigsaw puzzle. But when he begins the task, he finds that not only are most of the pieces either damaged or missing, but that there is also a group of drunk and obnoxious Italian tourists in the vicinity who keep coming over and smashing up the little progress he has made for the sheer hell of it. What I'm saying here is the manager is actually doing a pretty good job, all things considered. 

Meanwhile on the opposition bench... We need to talk about Kevin. Firstly: Nugent, who was a loyal servant to Orient despite the fact he was demoted further and further down the hierarchy every time Sr Becchetti pulled the trigger on another manager, to the point where his final role profile at the club simply read "Hold a clipboard." Then of course there was also Kevin Dearden, who was a loyal servant to the club's restaurants and cafes. Given the current state of Orient, mind, I'm pretty sure where both of them would rather be sitting...

21 January 2016

GUEST BLOG: Can Nolan reignite Orient's flame?

In this guest post, Andy Brown tries to make some sense of the madness consuming our club and asks: Can Kevin Nolan be the man to make sense of this all? 

For the second time this season, the chant of “We’re f**king bored” accompanied by the now familiar mobile phone flashlights echoed around the stadium after another lifeless performance against Exeter, a defeat that pushed Orient further into mid-table obscurity and ultimately cost Ian Hendon his job.

Irrespective of views on the chant, what it signified was how Orient have become stuck in a rut this season – in terms of player quality, tactics, style of play and overall performances.

After a phenomenal start of five wins in a row (despite shaky moments even in those opening five games), the club failed to recover from a 4-0 thrashing down at Exeter, and it was the return fixture that was to be Hendon’s undoing. 

Too many woeful performances, direct, long ball football, dire defending (as a team) and too many draws has seen real apathy set in down at Orient and the mood sour dramatically from the positivity of performances in August.

Hendon: Setup to Fail

In retrospect, it appears Hendon was setup to fail, irrespective of performances and results.

Rebuilding a club from scratch with a squad decimated by want-away and out of contract players following relegation, Hendon had to rebuild an entire team from scratch on a far more limited budget than his predecessor, Fabio Liverani. 

This limited budget also impacted the size of the squad and the appeal of joining the club in League 2 is also a challenge. Injuries to vital players such as Paul McCallum and Dean Cox clearly also limited options in the first team. 

Coupled with highly questionable tactics, results simply didn’t materialise and despite Jay Simpson’s 20 league goals (which merely prolonged the inevitable), Hendon was released on Monday 18 January.

The background to his appointment was many fans seeking a more experienced manager that would have a good understanding and ability to guide the club back out of League 2 at the first attempt. And although the appointment of Andy Hessenthaler as his assistant allayed some fears, it was clear that his appointment was not only a gamble, but in fairness to Ian Hendon, a task of Herculean proportions.

Bizarre Becchetti

Interference from the club hierarchy made this job even tougher. Following the televised defeat at Hartlepool, the players and management were bizarrely incarcerated in a hotel in Waltham Abbey for a week on Becchetti’s orders, while the president was fined £40,000 and charged with violent conduct by the FA after the Boxing Day win against Portsmouth for launching a kick at Hessenthaler.

All this has happened against a backdrop of uncertainty around Becchetti’s seizure of assets by the Albanian government and an arrest warrant issued on behalf of authorities in Albania. 

The Metropolitan Police’s extradition unit in London arrested Becchetti in connection with fraud and money laundering and released him on bail after a security of £50,000 was paid. He was placed under curfew between 11pm and 5am and had to give his passport to the police.

Come Train with Me
On 8 September 2015, Premier League veteran and former West Ham captain, Kevin Nolan turned up to train at Orient.

Ian Hendon said: “It is great to have such a model professional in Kevin at the club, and I am more than happy for Kevin to come in and train with the squad. It is good for our players to be training with a vastly experienced and talented Premier League midfielder."

Nolan spent three months training at Orient, on the pretence of getting fit for a new club, no doubt getting to know the set up. Hendon confirmed the club made a serious offer for Kevin Nolan, which was turned down towards the end of last year.

Et tu, Kevin?

My first reaction to Kevin Nolan signing as player manager was disbelief. It appeared pretty obvious that Hendon was blindsided while Nolan was training at the club and the speed with which the club named a successor seems to suggest an agreement was already in place. 

Moreover, it seems bizarre that Becchetti moving onto his sixth manager in 16 months, has once again opted from a young manager, only this time with absolutely no management or coaching experience whatsoever.

With a good number of experienced managers available, it seemed strange that Orient had once again gambled wildly on a player who was a leader on the pitch, but completely unproven in management.

Might it just work? 

The more consideration is given to the appointment, the more sense it makes in the context of Orient’s structure and hierarchy. Hear me out.

Becchetti is trying to shape the club hierarchy in the manner of a European football club. This means the trainer or first team “manager” is not responsible for any affairs beyond the immediate playing staff and tactics. 

Transfers and non-playing activities are typically handled by a manager or technical director. The role of a first team manager in British clubs is often broader and extends to what players they want to bring in etc.

Hiring an experienced manager would automatically create friction around roles and responsibilities. It is possible that Kevin Nolan is happy to purely focus on the playing staff and tactics, supported by an experienced assistant manager, who has yet to be officially confirmed.

In addition, the appointment appeases many fans, who have been frustrated by the lack of leadership on the pitch since the departure of key players like Vincelot and Cuthbert. Nolan will resolve those issues on the pitch and may be able to identify those who have the leadership potential that has been severely missing this season.

There is, of course, the possibility that at 33, Nolan makes little difference on the pitch and his lack of managerial experience means Orient continue to slide in League 2. Only time will really tell if this was an appointment of real wisdom (or luck) or sees us looking for manager number seven in under two years. 

As uncomfortable as the underhand nature of this appointment makes me feel, Nolan’s arrival may just lift the atmosphere and banish the chants of “We’re f**king bored”. Well, for the rest of this season, at least.

16 January 2016

Leyton Orient 1 Exeter City 3, 16/1/16

A game in which... it looked suspiciously like the Orient defence was in fact a huge practical joke being secretly filmed for season two of the Italian reality TV show. What else could explain their catastrophic ineptitude, except maybe that they were all signed, trained, selected and instructed by Ian Hendon?

It was a fitting final swan song for the now-sacked manager, in which he characteristically selected the wrong starting XI in the wrong formation with the wrong tactics then subsequently blamed all the players for getting it all so wrong. Under the current regime it's unlikely we'll do any better with a new gaffer, but we surely can't do any worse...

Jump off your seat moment... Two thoroughly undeserved penalties which Jay Simpson presumably missed on purpose as a way of hastening the manager's departure. Imagine where we'd be if Hendon hadn't been gifted Simpson and Cisak: that's right, in the Guinness Book of Records for Worst Goal Difference Ever In The History Of Football.

Give that man a medal... The aforementioned Alex Cisak prevented the score being 42-1 and has undoubtedly chained his agent up in a basement with a view to systematically torturing him over the course of the next 40 years as punishment for his cataclysmic error of judgement in bringing the Championship-standard keeper to Orient in the first place.

Taxi for... The entire squad apart from Simpson and Cisak. I mean, imagine if a tone deaf but inexplicably aggressive guinea pig was appointed to be the conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. You'd certainly be sympathetic to a drop in their usual standards of performance, but you'd still expect a bunch of professional musicians to at least be able to string a few notes together, regardless of the incompetence of their leader.

In the dug out... Really, Hendon was on a hiding to nothing serving under such a batshit mental regime. God only knows what lunacy goes on behind the scenes and it's unlikely Orient will ever achieve anything other than another relegation or two until that changes. On the other hand the manager didn't really do himself any favours by offering to fight fans; being so willing to blame anyone but himself for his shortcomings; and signing Connor Essam. I'm not saying he was out of his depth, but... *taps microphone* ... if Brisbane Road was a leisure centre he'd have been flailing around helplessly in the kids' pool while threatening the lifeguards for criticising his attempts at the doggy paddle.

Meanwhile on Twitter... Now, we're all well used to the official communication channels of Leyton Orient airbrushing and manipulating stories like a psychotic North Korean dictatorship. But few of us would have expected them to go as far as trying to alter the result of an actual real-life football match being witnessed by over 5,000 people and the TV cameras of Channel 5. But, by Christ they gave it their best shot on Twitter after Jay Simpson missed the first of his two penalties, posting "2-3 Game On". I look forward to them re-classifying the reign of Ian Hendon as nothing more than "banter"...

29 November 2015

Leyton Orient 1 AFC Wimbledon 1, 28/10/15

Two of Hendon's substitutes against Wimbledon
A game in which... Orient went 1-0 up and then Ian Hendon substituted off the whole team and replaced them with 11 local bricklayers with the specific task of swiftly walling up the goal. I'm joking, of course: Ian Hendon's substitutions actually made even less sense than that and the fact that the manager was so ready to batten down the hatches at home against an average AFC Wimbledon side – even before we went down to 10 men – shows either a total lack of ambition or total lack of tactical nous. I'm opting for both. 

Jump off your seat moment... The moment a West Stand fan quite literally did jump off his seat at the final whistle and throw a bit of run-of-the-mill, seen-it-a-thousand-times-at-a-football-match abuse at Ian Hendon. And what did the manager do? Think to himself that since fans pay their money, they're entitled to their opinion? Consider that though he disagreed with the sentiment he was a professional and should not respond? No, Ian Hendon actually came tearing back to the touchline shouting "You talking to me?" like a deranged coke-head who's seen Taxi Driver 4,328 times. He then suggested the fan come back to the dressing room and say it to his face, despite the fact the fan was already saying it to his face. Next week: Hendon puts the club chef's head in a vice as a Joe-Pesci-in-Casino-inspired lesson for serving slightly lukewarm tomato soup. 

Give that man a medal... Imagine where Orient would be without Jay Simpson? That's right, in the Guinness Book of Records for being the only club in world football history to have gotten 20 games into a season without scoring a single goal. The striker is the sole reason that Ian Hendon is able to brush aside the deep chasms of concern about Orient's on-field performances, point at the league table and blithely state "We're still in touching distance of the play-offs." 

Taxi for... Ian Hendon. Sometimes this season his tactical decision-making has been baffling, sometimes it's been bewildering, but today it was just batshit mental. Ironically, it seemed that the manager had accidentally stumbled across a central defensive partnership that was actually holding firm in loanees Cole Kpekawa and the impressive Jean-Yves M'Voto. But then, with a one-goal lead and 35 minutes to go he elected to go 5-3-2 and bring on Mathieu Baudry wearing a sign around his neck that stated: "Hey, Wimbledon, I know you haven't had a single shot on target yet but why not just attack us for the rest of the game and see if you can do any better." 

In the dug out... Have I mentioned Ian Hendon's performance today? Well, the delights don't end there, for once Orient went down to 10 men the manager felt the best policy was to sit eight players in front of Alex Cisak and then hoof the ball long to a lone target man in the hope of hitting Wimbledon on the break. So naturally the lone target man he chose was winger Blair Turgott, who is well known for his heading, strength and ability to hold the ball up. This tactical ruse precipitated such relentless Wimbledon attacks that at one point their goalkeeper Ben Wilson was able to sweep up the ball in Orient's half

Meanwhile on Twitter... "The problem with Ian Hendon being 'one of our own'" wrote fan Laurie Hann as he hit a nail on the head with a hammer, "is that we are consistently shit." 
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