16 March 2024

The Circus Upstairs podcast Season Two

The Circus Upstairs podcast Season Two is live! 

Listen here: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/west-stand-o

This is the story of how Italian billionaire Francesco Becchetti bought Leyton Orient and almost put the club out of existence, told by club insiders and pieced together by me and James Masters. In Season Two we wade our way through the 2015/16 campaign. 

Here's a list of links and other references to some of the stories from Season Two:

Episode 5: "We made some mistakes"  

Story suggesting Becchetti is considering selling the club

The State of Albania issues arrest warrants for Becchetti and his mother for fraud. 

Press conference with Ian Hendon and Alessandro Angelieri announcing Hendon's appointment. 

Becchetti goes super-fan

Orient Outlook podcast interview with Alessandro Angelieri.  

Episode 6: Banged up in Waltham Abbey  

Ian Hendon publicly blames players after 0-1 defeat to Accrington Stanley.

Becchetti faces initial hearing over extradition to Albania to face fraud charges. 

Guardian story on the squad being imprisoned in a hotel after defeat at Hartlepool. 

Episode 7: A £40,000 kick up the arse   

Ian Hendon squares up to a fan after a 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon.

Hessenthaler's post-match interview after being kicked up the arse by Becchetti. 

Orient appoint an Italian TV broadcast journalist as Technical Director. 

Ian Hendon interview after a 3-1 home defeat to Exeter, publicly blaming players. 

Episode 8: Roberto rides again    

Kevin Nolan interview on becoming player/manager of Orient. 

Rob Gagliardi returns as Head of Recruitment. 

Francesco Becchetti's video address to Orient fans after removing Nolan as manager. 

Scott Kashket interview on how he was treated at Orient. 

13 April 2023

The Circus Upstairs podcast Season One

The Circus Upstairs podcast season one is live! 

Listen here: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/west-stand-o

This is the story of how Italian billionaire Francesco Becchetti bought Leyton Orient and almost put the club out of existence, told by club insiders and pieced together by me and James Masters. 

Here's a list of links and other references to some of the stories from Season One:

Episode 1: The Iron Pact of Inviolability 

The statement announcing Becchetti's take over of the club 

The Barry Hearn / Francesco Becchetti press conference

Mauro Milanese's hair: 

Russell Slade post-match interview after Notts County game and "ultimatum" 

Becchetti's column in programme explaining actions around the Slade ultimatum 

Episode 2: The Manager Merry-Go-Round 

Rumours of how much Andrea Dossena was being paid 

Blog from Liverani's first game in charge, a 2-1 home defeat to Peterborough 

Dean Cox's furious post-match interview after defeat to Barnsley 

Liverani says he should have replaced all 11 players after 4-1 home defeat to Scunthorpe 

Episode 3: Leyton Orient: The Reality Show 

Story in The Independent confirming upcoming reality show

Nicole Kidman at Agon Channel launch party in Milan

Trailer for reality show 

Clips from the show

Focus on joint winner of reality show Jacopo Colangelo

Joint winner Jacopo Colangelo signs for Certaldo in the Tuscan league

Joint winner Andrea Paloni signs for Cynthia in Serie D 

Episode 4: The Strange Tale of the Mole and Stolen Honey 

Becchetti interview with the BBC 

Evening Standard article claiming club is in turmoil 

Nathan Clarke hits back at Evening Standard article 

Andrea Dossena smashes ball into supporters face

Report on bizarre half-time announcement criticising Darius Henderson for turning up late 

Andrea Dossena arrested for stealing honey from Harrods

Alessandro Angelieri blames players at LOFT meeting 

Nathan Clarke admits to BBC off-field problems have affected players 

Liverani on being relegated at Swindon 

20 November 2021

Leyton Orient 4 Sutton United 1, 20/11/21

A game in which... Orient treated fans to a white-knuckle ride of a performance. Albeit a white-knuckle ride that has so many potentially fatal design flaws it's a miracle anyone makes it to the end alive. What I'm saying here by way of tortuous theme park analogy is that this was a rip-roaring win, made all the more thrilling by the reckless disregard for the basics of defending that may have given Sutton a few more goals of their own had they been able to shoot properly. 

Anyway, never mind all that: let's rejoice in the occasion and be confident that with performances like this we should be capable of finishing just a handful of points off the play-off places. 

Moment of magic... When Kenny Jackett sought to sign Harry Smith' he probably wasn't thinking "This is the guy I need to hammer a left-footed volley into the top corner from outside the box." (He was thinking "This fucking lump will probably nick a couple if we get in the mixer enough.") More fool Jackett because Smith's goal today was almost transcendental in its beauty. If you see three wise men and some shepherds turn up at Brisbane Road, you'll know why. 

Praise be... Let's take a moment to herald Alex Mitchell, shall we? It's quite something to be singled out for the nickname of "Meathead" at Millwall – a bit like a tower of giraffes deciding to dub one of their own "Lofty" or a member of the Royal Family going by the moniker "Posho". This is a man who has never knowingly controlled a football when the option of booting it over the stadium roof is on. But note this: Meathead is never the one catastrophically gifting goals by trying to do drag backs in his own penalty area or the one bemusedly watching a ball fly over his head to an oncoming opponent. And I'm all for that. 

In the dug out.. Orient have now scored more goals than any other team in League Two, which is quite something given Kenny Jackett's alleged negativity. In fact, the former Portsmouth manager has come up with a pretty sophisticated attacking ploy, which is to solely work towards putting the ball out of play on the right hand side and hoping Tom James's medium-length throw-ins do the trick. It actually worked for the first goal today. Also credit to Jackett for seeing sense and reinstating Dan Kemp into the starting eleven of late, for his buzzing creativity was behind much of today's attacking intent. 

Dove sono adesso? Or "Where are they now?" in English, a continuing series in which I investigate the whereabouts of some of the key figures from the Becchetti era. This time: Alessandro Angelieri. Now, if we put the former CEO's infamous and jaw dropping ineptitude aside, by all accounts Big Al was a pretty nice guy. So as long as he isn't involved in important things like medical procedures or aviation then I think we can all wish him well. Except, well, he is now actually involved in things like medical procedures and aviation. I'd write more, but I just need to cancel a couple of flights... 

29 August 2021

Leyton Orient 2 Bradford City 0, 28/8/21

A game in which... Jacketball returned to E10! What is "Jacketball" you may ask, other than the term used by the official club Twitter feed whenever they stumble across a clip that features Orient completing more than two consecutive passes? Well, on this evidence it seems Jacketball is the new tactical innovation of lumping the ball towards a big striker and hoping for the best. And before you scoff, you think that's easy? Well a) it didn't work against Harrogate. And b) this was a performance full of energy, bite and control. A joy to watch. 

Moment of madness... Ruel Sotiriou's goal and the scenes of absolute shithousery that followed. The strike itself was a geometric marvel – blasted in from an angle so acute that today mathematicians across the world are frantically trying to rewrite the rules of trigonometry. The striker then ran the full width of the pitch to knee-slide in front of the away fans, a handful of whom had booed the South Stand's Justin Edinburgh chant. Watch this clip closely and you'll see a couple of Poundland Tony Montanas from the Bradford faithful swagger to the front to voice their displeasure and throw lighters... And kudos to Harry Smith for sparking up the fag he keeps slipped into his sock with one them.

Praise be... Difficult one because every Orient player was a titan today, but let's firstly talk about Hector Kyprianou who controlled the midfield today with rangy brilliance – like a Matthew Spring who can pass forward, perhaps, or a Jimmy Smith with a brain. And to Shadrach Ogie who until five minutes before the game was looking forward to 90 minutes of sitting on the bench picking his nose and surreptitiously checking TikTok on his phone. But he then put in a defensive performance so intimidating that the people of Bradford – from Gareth Gates to Kimberley from Girls Aloud – will be having nightmares for years to come. 

Let's talk about... Harry Smith. Only Leyton Orient could sign a 6ft 7in forward who can't actually head the ball. And remember, Martin Ling had actually been searching for a "big striker" since the summer of 2008 when the then manager tried to convince us that 5ft 11in Ryan Jarvis could do the job. Smith, then, doesn't so much have a head like a 50p piece, but a head like thousands of 50p pieces welded together into a jagged globe by a radical artist with the express purpose of illustrating the concept of "chaos". Or "shame" – as when he somehow managed to ricochet an absolute sitter onto the crossbar from six yards. That said, Smith's now scored two goals in three games, so I'm all for the non-heading lummock. 

In the dug out... It's taken only six games, but after the catastrophic defeat by Harrogate Town manager Kenny Jackett has reverted to the well-worn and archaic Orient formation of 4-4-2 with a central midfielder on the right wing, in this case Craig Clay. This, of course, is a ploy used by countless previous Os managers such as Russell Slade (with Jimmy Smith on the right); Fabio Liverani (Bradley Pritchard); and of course Alberto Cavasin, who somehow played Ada the kit man in that spot for one game after his pre-match instructions were lost in translation.  

Dove sono adesso? Or "Where are they now?" in English, a new series in which I investigate the whereabouts of some of the key figures from the Becchetti era. First up: translator/goalkeeping coach/head of recruitment Rob Gagliardi who, given his searing Italian good looks, you would assume had moved into a career in either catalogue modelling or porn, right? Wrong: Rob is currently Head of European Scouting at actual football club Portsmouth, who unrelatedly have recently signed a 56-year-old Albanian left back, the striker from a Faroe Islands fisherman team and Zan Benedicic. 

29 December 2020

Leyton Orient 2 Southend United 0, 29/12/20

A game in which... Orient took to the field massively disadvantaged by the fact Ross Embleton was self-isolating on account of wanting to finish season four of The Crown. Well, I say massively disadvantaged but it soon became apparent the Os were playing with exactly the same tactical nous as in previous games. Which was none.

Luckily this was ultimately an improved performance nonetheless and two typical moments of class from McAnuff and Wilkinson and a unprecedented lack of catastrophic defensive errors were enough to polish off a woeful Southend side. 

But let me say this: Orient really aren't as bad as many doomsayers have been making out in the past few weeks. We're actually worse. Ok, JUST KIDDING... Christ! We're one point of the play offs, and while we obviously won't actually get promoted, in a messed up season we ain't doing too bad, and very occasionally have looked pretty good. And remember, finishing 17th in the fourth tier is actually Orient's natural resting state, so we're all good... 

Moment of magic... The moment referee Craig Hicks measured out the 10 yards required for the placement of the Southend wall when facing an Orient free kick. It seems finickity Southend players and fans believe that the man in black miscalculated by, say, a couple of kilometres or so making it too simple for McAnuff to pop the ball in the net. I guess looking at the evidence we can concede that Mr Hicks probably does have a problem estimating measurements, but it's not Southend you should feel sorry for, it's the referee's string of disappointed lovers sold a false promise, amirite? 

Praise be... It's now a firmly held Orient tradition that whenever Sam Ling – who unrelatedly is the son of the Director of Football – doesn't put in a car crash performance we have to overly praise him, so let's get that out the way: MIND-BLOWING 90 MINUTES FROM SAM LING – WHO UNRELATEDLY IS THE SON OF THE DIRECTOR OF FOOTBALL – ONE IN THE EYE FOR ALL THE LING-BASHERS. Aside from that Akinola played quite well, hey? 

Taxi for... It's now five months since Martin Ling's bizarre interview in which he ends up congratulating himself on signing Ouss Cisse then realises in horror what he's done so tries to backtrack by executing a two-footed tackle on the English language: "A sigh of a job well done we thought we were losing." So let's all think about what Cisse has achieved since then. Well that's three milliseconds of your life you'll never get back. But let's not be too harsh on the player who looked so promising on loan but has delivered so little this campaign. After all, I think he's just about to complete the tackle he began in the season-opener against Oldham. 

In the dug out... Forget Brexit, the real schism in this country is between the ROSS OUT-ERS and the ROSS IN-ERS. (Not forgetting, of course, the MONSTER RAVING ROSS-ERS, the THE PEOPLE'S FRONT OF ROSS, THE ROSS-IAN PEOPLE'S FRONT and a new organisation called RECLAIM ROSS set up by the actor Laurence Fox, who believes that #allRossesMatter and that all the rich, privileged, white Rosses have a really hard time these days.) 

Is Ross the right manager for Orient or not is the question. The answer: hard to say for the long run, but it's difficult to imagine that a different gaffer would have us topping the table right now without some changes to the squad. Still, there may be a neat compromise lurking in the fact that we now have a 100% record in games in which Embleton was the manager, but didn't actually attend... 

04 October 2020

Leyton Orient 0 Cheltenham Town 2, 4/10/20

A game in which... the global scientific community discovered multiple new symptoms of Covid-19, including complete loss of positional sense, deterioration in the ability to understand the basic concepts of a game and – in the case of Sam Ling – an overwhelming compulsion to boot a football into his own net. So let me be clear: THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE FOR THIS PERFORMANCE. 

It is true that Leyton Orient were the first team in professional football history to ever play a competitive match while collectively suffering from a debilitating respiratory virus and without any training, tactical instruction or face time in the preceding fortnight – although that still left them better prepared than they ever were under Fabio Liverani, and even then they managed to win once or twice

I'm joking of course: let's cut the players some slack and acknowledge that we were always going to lose this under the circumstances. And by "circumstances" I mean fielding a team in which three of the four defenders were Joe Widdowson, James Brophy and the aforementioned Ling. 

Praise be... Now, technically Jobi McAnuff should have been the most debilitated by Covid-19 given that he's of the generation most at risk. In fact, McAnuff was head and shoulders Orient's most energetic and inspirational player, as he is every single week. Curious then, that he delegated set piece responsibilities to Josh Wright, the footballing equivalent of Mick Jagger inviting H from Steps on stage to sing Sympathy For The Devil for him.

Taxi for... Sam Ling divides fans' opinions. Some believe he is far from a League Two standard defender and is only in the team because we haven't signed anyone better. Other believe he is far from a League Two standard defender and is only in the team because his dad is Director of Football. The latter obviously isn't true because if Martin Ling did have any influence on team selection then Brian Saah and Ryan Jarvis would be playing every week. 

In the dug out... Ross Embleton seems to have something of a mental block around what constitutes his best team, rotating the squad so much it's little wonder they spent most of this game running around in circles to little effect. He actually has an embarrassment of riches for the front three slots – Johnson, Angol, Wilkinson, Maguire-Drew, Dennis, Dayton, Sotiriou – at the same time as having the opposite issue in defence, where currently no one seems up to the job. Meanwhile he hasn't answered the question as to who partners Cisse and McAnuff in midfield, flip-flopping between Clay and Wright almost as if the former wasn't much, much better than the latter. 

Meanwhile in the stadium... As we all know, games continue behind closed doors, which makes it curious that the volume of noise emanating from the West Stand has actually increased. (Albeit that largely consists of the entire coaching staff yelling "HE'S BEHIND YOU!" pantomime-style at James Brophy.) But, as we also know, outdoor theatre events are allowed to take place with socially-distant audiences, which has given me an idea: How about we simply rebrand Leyton Orient as an experimental repertory company? That way they could put on weekly 90-minute "shows" designed to artistically parody what an actual football match is like. This would allow an "audience" in and is also not that far from the truth. 

Meanwhile in the programme... Another fascinating insight into the life of one of the squad. "What do you like to do away from football?" asks the programme editor earnestly of Ouss Cissé, who answers bewilderingly, "I like to play FIFA. I like to watch football too." Next week: Jamie Turley on how he takes his mind off the game by watching replays of Orient matches from two weeks ago. 

And happy birthday to... self-proclaimed club historian Neilson Kaufman, whose tireless work in deleting any Wikipedia mentions of Orient books not written by himself should always be heralded. 

23 April 2020

The loyal family man: Sid Bishop (1934-2020)

This is an extract from my book Leyton Orient Greats 

If ever one needed evidence of how much football has changed, then it would be worth glancing at the career of Sidney Harold Bishop. Despite being courted by Manchester United and other big clubs, along with repeated calls for him to be included in the England squad, the inspirational centre-half chose to spend his entire professional football life at Leyton Orient. 

Were a player of Sid’s calibre to come through the ranks at Brisbane Road today he’d be off like a shot, racing towards Premier League glory in a Ferrari Maranello with only the slightest of glances in his rear-view mirror to check that his diamond earring was correctly adjusted.

For Sid, life was much simpler. His priority was the happiness of his family, and they found it in east London. ‘We were set up perfectly there, and I wouldn’t have wanted to see it all go up in smoke,’ he says. 

It meant that Orient supporters had the pleasure of seeing one of the finest centre-halfs of the time turning out at Brisbane Road for over 12 years. ‘Sid is by far the best defender we’ve ever had,’ says fan Mickey Kasler. ‘He never put a foot wrong, he was sheer class. He wasn’t tall but he could beat most people in the air. He had a fantastic tackle but he wasn’t crude. And he had tremendous pace. If the ball was played down the middle and the forward had a three-yard start on Sid you wouldn’t worry. He’d catch them up and get a sliding tackle in every time.’

In all, Sid made 323 first-team appearances for Orient, and formed part of a formidable half-back line with Malcolm Lucas and Cyril Lea that helped take the club into Division One in 1962. These days he lives alone in Harlow, Essex. Tragically, in February 2003, his beloved wife of 50 years Vera died after a hospital blunder during a routine operation. His son Warren, who works as an air-conditioning engineer, and daughter Denise, a former hairdresser, live nearby, and between them have given Sid four grandchildren, two boys and two girls. 

Sid is quite a character and spending time with him is an entertaining experience – his enthusiasm, warmth and humour make him great company. He smokes like a trooper – he has done since he was 20 years old – and is not shy of an opinion. Get him going on the state of football today (in summary: not good) and you’re in for a long afternoon. And he’s quick to point out that he’s still slightly upset by the fact that nearly 50 years ago Orient chairman Harry Zussman refused to sell him the club house that he and Vera were renting. But that aside, he has nothing but good memories of his time at Brisbane Road. ‘I couldn’t see how it could be any better,’ he says. 

Sid owes his very existence on this earth to football. His father, Harold, was involved in the day-to-day running of amateur club Tooting Town. His mother, Lou, volunteered at the nearby Mitcham Wanderers. When the two clubs merged in 1932 to form Athenian League outfit Tooting & Mitcham United the couple’s eyes met over a muddy field. The rest, as they say, is history: Sid arrived two years later, born on 8 April 1934 in Tooting. Harold worked as a foreman for Crittles, a heating and ventilation company; Lou volunteered at a local hospital. Sid has an elder sister, Betty, and a younger brother, Clive. 

His earliest memories, then, are of football shirts strewn around the house – Lou was the official team kit-washer – and regular trips to Sandy Lane, Tooting & Mitcham’s old home ground. It seems Sid had a destiny. ‘At times I scratch my head and think was my life set out like this,’ he says, while literally scratching his head.

Unsurprisingly, Sid took to sport – pretty much all of them. ‘I just loved being involved in anything active,’ he says. ‘I was hardly ever in the classroom. I was reasonable at table tennis. I used to do gymnastics on a Friday with the Boys’ Brigade. I won a ball-throwing contest in the playground. I tried ice-skating. I played cricket. I have an old school mate who still rings me up and says, “I remember you at cricket – I’d go home, have my tea, come back and you’d still be batting.”’

It was football where he really excelled, captaining his school team at Defoe Secondary Modern and representing South London Schoolboys. It was for the representative side that he first came up against future Fulham legends Johnny Haynes and Trevor ‘Tosh’ Chamberlain, both of whom featured in the North London Schoolboys team. 

Even at that young age Sid claims that he was never anything but a defender. ‘To get your name in the paper you had to be a forward, but I never craved that,’ he says. ‘I felt that I could talk to the lads as defender. And I enjoyed winning games, keeping clean sheets.’

At 15, after impressing in a trial, Sid began turning out for Chase of Chertsey Football Club, at the time Arsenal’s nursery side. A year later he travelled with the Chase of Chertsey team to a youth tournament in Sanremo, Italy, where they eventually lost 1–0 to Barcelona in the final. 

He returned to England to find that Chase of Chertsey had been taken over by Leyton Orient, which no doubt sent many of the youths involved scuttling for the safety of careers in plumbing and carpentry. Not Sid, though – upon leaving school he was one of the handful of players invited to join the ground staff at Brisbane Road. He says he was made to feel at home at Orient. He was also made to work hard. ‘I spent the morning cleaning the ground, sweeping the terraces, goodness knows what. In the afternoons we’d do some training – mainly ball control and head tennis.’

Sid continued to skipper Chase of Chertsey and began to turn out for Orient in the midweek league. In January 1952 he was offered a professional contract at £4 a week. ‘It spins a young person’s head around,’ he says of his first few months as a salaried footballer. ‘It’s a wonderful feeling. You sat there in the dressing room with your ears open and did what you were told.’

One player in particular stands out in Sid’s memory. ‘Tommy Brown!’ he exclaims. ‘He ruled the roost at Orient; a real character. In the mornings he’d come in, look at himself in the mirror, slap his face and say, “How do I look lads?” He’d been out all night.’

Sid began to turn out for the reserves, but his pathway to first team was blocked by two obstacles. One was the fact that just a few months after signing his contract he was due to do his National Service. The second was Stan Aldous. The former Bromley player had made the centre-half position his own at Orient since signing in 1950 and he wasn’t going to be dislodged easily. ‘I idolised Stan,’ says Sid. ‘He was a big, strong centre-half. Hard as nails, he was. Down on the ground he was lacking a bit, but he was very good in the air. His timing was perfect.’

Just after he turned 18, Sid began his two-year stint in the army, stationed in Aldershot, Hampshire. He was given the job of physical training instructor and played for his regiment’s football team alongside Ben Cook, then of Arsenal but later to sign for Orient. He also had an accommodating, sport-loving sergeant major, who saw to it that Sid didn’t have any duties on Saturdays so that he could continue to play in Orient reserve fixtures. He’d play midweek too on occasion. Sid recalls, ‘Sometimes I’d be put on a five-mile walk – or a run, jog and walk – at 10 in the morning, then I’d have to play for Orient in the afternoon. But I managed it. That really helped with my stamina.’

Fitness was to play a big part in Sid’s career – the 20 cigarettes a day notwithstanding – and it was something which he prided himself on. ‘It was always important to me, ever since I was at school,’ he says. ‘At Orient I would do a bit of extra training on my own to sharpen the edges. The physical training there was a joke. Later on Eddie Baily used to take it and he was hopeless. I just used to laugh.’ 

It was while he was on leave from the army that Sid met his wife-to-be, Vera, at Wimbledon Palais. As he was nearing the end of his national service, on 27 February 1954, he finally made his debut in the Orient first team, playing centre-half in place of the injured Stan Aldous in a 1–1 draw with Swindon at Brisbane Road. He went on to make a further seven appearances that season. Sid says that by then he was confident that he had the ability to play at that level, but that it wasn’t easy for a teenager. ‘I took a few bad knocks. One player said to me, “You’d better watch yourself, son. You haven’t been in the game long.”’

With his national service completed, Sid could devote all his time to football. Unfortunately in the 1954–55 season that meant reserve football – he didn’t make one single appearance for the first team. ‘I was disappointed but I knew in my mind that I still had things to learn,’ says Sid. ‘By then I was whacking a good ball, especially a dead ball, but I was struggling with my timing for jumping. I was only 5ft 10 and a half inches so I had to get it right. But I worked on it and in the end I had a good jump.’

That season, under the stewardship of Alec Stock, Orient came within a whisker of promotion, finishing second in Division Three South in the days when only one team was promoted. The next season of 1955–56, the team went one better and topped the table – and this time they did need to call on the services of Sid. He played a total of 16 games, mostly covering at right-back in place of Jimmy Lee. It was Sid who twice hooked the ball off the line in the 1–1 draw with Brighton in April that effectively sealed promotion to Division Two.

Sid describes the season as a battle and, in a game against Shrewsbury at Gay Meadow in December, he found himself under attack. ‘I’d gone in hard on the winger and ended up with my back against the terrace wall. Then suddenly: WHACK. An old lady hit me over the head with an umbrella.’

She wasn’t the only one unimpressed with Sid that day. ‘I’d given away a few fouls, which wasn’t like me,’ he says. ‘As I came off the pitch at half-time I walked past Alec Stock, and he said, “You dirty bastard”. That’s what he called me! It was one of his favourite swear words. And it was in ear shot of a few of Shrewsbury’s players and officials. I felt horrible. I thought, whose side is he on?’

This was symptomatic of Sid’s relationship – or lack of one – with his manager. ‘You didn’t see Stocky standing around having a laugh with the players,’ says Sid. ‘And he wasn’t afraid of giving a bollocking. He was a good motivator, but he didn’t do much coaching – that was at a minimum. And he seldom praised people. He never once said to me, well played, terrific.’ 

Sid recalls a time he invoked the ire of Stock during that 1955–56 season. ‘One afternoon Vic Groves and I went down to a sports shop on Fleet Street to buy a new pair of Adidas boots with the white stripes down the side. They were £4, which was the top price for boots in those days. We must have been two of the first players to wear them – they were like carpet slippers. The next day we went out to train with them on and Alec Stock said to us, “You flash bastards”. I said, “Oi! We paid for these ourselves.”’
Most galling for Sid was the way in which he received his medal for being part of the promotion-winning side of 1955–56. ‘I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t presented with the medal after the last game,’ he says. ‘But a couple of days later I was in the tunnel going towards the dressing room and I bumped into Alec Stock. He said, “Here you are” and this black box came floating in the air towards me. The medal flipped out and hit the bleedin’ concrete! There wasn’t a smile on his face.’
During that summer Sid proposed to Vera and they set a date for an October wedding. Alec Stock wasn’t impressed. ‘He said, “For Christ’s sake do it bloody right, young ‘un – get married before then,”’ Sid explains. ‘So we brought the wedding forward to the week before the first League game of the season, when we used to have the ‘possibles v probables’ match at the club between the first team and the reserve team. The goalkeeper Pat Welton was my best man, but Alec said that he’d have to play the first half of the game. So I went to the ground with the two hired morning suits, and when Pat came off at half-time we put them on. But at that time there was building work going on at the ground, so we had to climb over bleedin’ scaffold poles in our suits to get out.’

The wedding itself went off smoothly, though Sid didn’t have much time to enjoy a honeymoon. ‘I asked Mr Stock how long I got off and he told me I had to be back by Wednesday,’ says Sid. ‘So we had two nights at the Savoy Hotel in London then one night in the Grand Hotel in Brighton and then I was back in training.’

Disappointingly for Sid, his performances in the promotion-winning season were still not deemed good enough to warrant a permanent place in Orient’s starting XI, with Stan Aldous continuing as centre-half and Jack Gregory and Stan Willemse taking the full-back slots. Sid made just four appearances in that 1956–57 season. ‘It was frustrating but you took it on the chin,’ he says. ‘I did think that I deserved to be playing by then but I said this is part and parcel of the routine, this is what professional football is about – you have to fight for your place. And if you’re keen enough you know you’re going to make it in the end. And I was thinking to myself, Stan Aldous has to retire one day.’

It was actually the next season, after five years as a pro, that Sid finally made the centre-half spot his. ‘Stan Aldous was struggling in the end,’ he says. ‘He couldn’t keep the pace up.’

They were big boots to fill, for Aldous was much-loved by the Orient fans. But Sid didn’t feel any added pressure. ‘I was turning out performances in the reserves off the back of my hand,’ he says. ‘A lot of the fans thought the world of me for that. And once I got in the side I knew that if put in 100 percent every week and was consistent, I’d always be one of the first names on the team sheet.’

Sid quickly proved that he had the temperament and the skills to play regularly in Division Two and he helped Orient to a respectable 12th place finish. He also showed that, though young, he wasn’t to be messed with. ‘If I had someone giving me a dig I’d just have a word in their ear. I’d say to them, “Oi, I’ve given you a quiet game so far. You better start looking for me now.” And it used to affect them. There was one game where one guy kept nibbling me from behind and fouling me. I thought, right, I’ll sort him out. So I said to the referee, “Can I hit him in a minute?” And he replied, “Well don’t let me see you.” So that player got three-penneth – when I could get near him, that is. Because he knew I was after him.’
He also showed his versatility when, during a Challenge Cup game against Arsenal in December, he filled in for goalkeeper Pat Welton, who was injured after six minutes. The local Walthamstow Guardian reported that Sid gave, ‘an eye-opener of a display. He took everything any experienced league keeper might have been expected to stop – and was often better-than-most with his work in the air.’ 

Sid chuckles at the memory of his one and only game in between the sticks. ‘I thought it was terrific,’ he says. ‘I was clapped off of the field. I was quite proud of that. Les Gore said to me, “We’ve found your position after all!”’

Asked if he thinks he could have made it professionally as goalkeeper Sid replies emphatically, ‘Yes, I really think I could.’

That said, it was as a centre-half that he was really impressing, which must have made it a little galling that at the beginning of the 1958–59 season Alec Stock brought in Welsh amateur international Trefor Owen and stuck him straight in the first team in Sid’s place. ‘He was always getting other centre-halfs in, top amateurs and so forth,’ says Sid. ‘I thought, what’s this bloke trying to do to me? Am I not good enough? People used to stop me in the street and say, what’s he got him for? The boys in the reserves would say, what the hell are you doing here, Sid? It was ridiculous. I can count the number of times I had a bad game on one hand.’

Does he think that Alec Stock never quite trusted him? ‘I don’t know,’ he replies. ‘But I think I must have registered in his head as a good player because he’d always pick me for the key games. I felt let down when he dropped me for Trefor but I just swallowed it, did my training and hoped my name was on the team sheet for the next week.’

Sid did force his way back into the side by mid-November and stayed there. Orient were struggling in the League that season and only managed a 17th place finish. It marked the end of Alec Stock’s rein at the club, leaving to manage Roma in February 1959. The coach Les Gore took over as manager. ‘Nothing too much changed, though there were a few less bollockings about the place,’ says Sid. ‘Les was a nice guy and things just rolled along.’
By now Sid and Vera were living in a club-owned house in Woodford – the same property previously occupied by Tommy Johnston and his wife Jean. He socialised with the likes of Frank George, Stan Charlton, Dave Dunmore, Ronnie Foster and Terry McDonald – all players who liked the occasional drink. Sid was partial to a pint of bitter but, ever mindful of his fitness, would always be in bed by 9pm from Wednesday onwards. He points to a good atmosphere at the club. ‘We had a terrific social side,’ he says. ‘There was good happy banter. If anyone wanted an argument they could sod off outside – there was no point in upsetting the dressing room.’

Sid’s pastime of choice outside of football was snooker and he’d spend many an afternoon at Jelks Snooker Hall on Leyton High Road. In the summers Sid would top up his salary by getting a part-time job. ‘I was being paid £12 a week in the winter and £10 in the summer,’ he explains. ‘So if I got a job for six or seven quid I’d be much better off. I used to do work on the stadium, or digging holes – anything really. A few of us did a bit of grass cutting at the City of London Cemetery.’

The 1959–60 season saw Orient’s fortunes improve slightly and the team managed a 10th place finish. Sid remembers in particular his battles with Middlesbrough’s Brian Clough. ‘He was never any trouble to me,’ he says. ‘You couldn’t take away the fact he got 40 goals a season, but the way I played him stopped him scoring. I didn’t kick him all over the place either. You had to be on the ball with him, and not let him turn. If you let him come at you he’d hardly get to you – Cloughie would shoot from anywhere.’

Unfortunately Orient couldn’t build upon their good work and the following season of 1960–61 saw them slogging it out in a relegation dogfight. ‘We had to dig in at the back, by Christ we did,’ says Sid.

Aside from holding the defence together, Sid also contributed to the cause with his first three goals for the club. (He was hardly prolific – he only scored four in his whole time at Orient.) One of them – against Bristol Rovers in February – was a full-blooded drive from near on 40 yards that surprised the opposition keeper and slipped through his legs. ‘I’m not too sure what happened,’ Sid laughs. ‘But I could clout a ball.’

It was a goal from a more likely source that secured Orient’s status as a Division Two club – Tommy Johnston’s winner against Norwich in the penultimate match of the season. They had avoided relegation and Sid has an insight into what may have given the players the extra resolve that was needed. ‘The chairman Harry Zussman promised us a holiday in Jersey if we stayed up – so we did,’ he says. 

The chairman was true to his word and the players got their holiday. Zussman even came out to visit and, intoxicated by the sea air – that or the potent Jersey ale – promised the team that if they got promoted the next season he’d take them all to Majorca. The promise of a holiday in a Spanish tourist resort proved to be all the incentive the players needed, for they went on to do exactly that. If Zussman had upped the offer to Tenerife they’d probably have won the FA Cup too. 
That famous season of 1961–62 began with two arrivals. The first was Sid and Vera’s first child, a boy they named Warren. The second was a new boss at Orient, the former Manchester United player and Everton manager Johnny Carey. ‘We were glad to have someone like that – a big name – at the helm,’ says Sid. ‘He had a good reputation as a manager and I think that inspired the players mentally. He wasn’t supernatural or anything, but I think he was the right guy to have at the time.’

Sid describes Johnny as a ‘pleasant enough bloke’ and says, ‘He always had a bleedin’ pipe in his mouth. And he had a quiet sense of humour. One time we’d just finished training and he turned to Les Gore and said, “Les, has Sid been out there training with us today?” I didn’t have a bead of sweat on me. I said, “What are you talking about, Guv? Of course I’ve been out there.” But that was just his sense of humour.’

Sid finds it difficult to pinpoint why Orient performed so heroically in 1961–62 when they’d almost been relegated the season before. But he singles out as significant the fifth League match of the season, a 5–1 win at Walsall. ‘There was nothing special about us but we steamed away and Walsall went for a burton,’ he says. ‘It was the hottest day I’ve ever played football. We came off the pitch at half-time and one or two of the boys were complaining about the heat and saying they were knackered. I said, “We’re knackered? How do you think they bleedin’ feel, they’re three goals down?” And then we went out and knocked in another couple. And to get off to a bang like that. It gave us a boost, and we had the feeling among us that we could win every game. We had a fantastic record up until Christmas.’

Sid also says that the strength of the team was built from the back, and the 1961–62 season was the first in which the half-back line of Sid, Malcolm Lucas and Cyril Lea really came to the fore – none of the three missed a single game of the entire campaign. ‘When Malcolm and Cyril first came to the club a couple of years before the other players were having long looks at one another as if to say, “Where have they got these two from?” But they worked hard, they did some afternoon training and they proved to be good players. I’d do all the calling and talking. Sometimes I’d say that I would be preoccupied with a certain striker so they would have to fill up the hole. In the end I didn’t have to talk because they knew what to expect. The defence had a good understanding; it moulded.’

It needed to, because in the second half of the season Orient’s goals dried up. Sid marks the turning point as the two fourth round FA cup ties against Burnley, in which Orient creditably held the First Division high flyers to a 1–1 draw at Turf Moor before unluckily losing 1–0 at Brisbane Road. ‘In the away game I got knocked out cold twice,’ Sid recalls. ‘They’d come on with the sponge and the smelling salts and I’d carry on playing.’

In the last 13 games of the season Orient conceded just eight goals. Their bid for promotion came down to the last day of the season, when the team needed to beat Bury at home and hope that Sunderland failed to beat Swansea at Vetch Field. ‘It was an interesting day,’ says Sid with a smile. ‘You couldn’t think about what was going on in Swansea, you just had to make sure you did the right thing at Brisbane Road. The all of a sudden Malcolm Graham decided to go and whack in two goals. Malcolm had a terrific left foot, but if he’d used his right foot as well he’d have got even more goals. I’d give him a bollocking sometimes, saying, “Use your right foot – and not just for standing on either!”’

As the final whistle went and the news that Swansea had held Sunderland to a 1–1 draw filtered through, Sid realised that all his hard work had paid off – Orient were promoted to Division One. ‘I was just elated,’ he says. ‘All the various people that volunteered at the club on match days were tearing around like headless chickens. You couldn’t get a sensible word out of anybody. Then we were in the bar celebrating afterwards and it wasn’t beer in our pint glasses, it was champagne. The director Leslie Grade got so carried away that he told us he would buy all of us a Jaguar if we got to the FA Cup Final the next year. That was a promise that would never have to be honoured.’
No matter, for the players did get to enjoy the reward of a trip to Majorca they’d been promised by Harry Zussman at the start of the season. ‘He had to keep his word,’ says Sid, ‘because if he didn’t he’d have had 11 wives on his back.’

Sid says that, with all the wives in tow, there wasn’t too much opportunity for mischief in Majorca. The team did manage an outing to a bullfight, though for Sid it was not the beginning of a Hemingway-esque love affair. ‘I didn’t think much of it, all that prancing about,’ he says dismissively. ‘The animal was half dead by the time they meet up with it for the final kill. I thought, sod this and left.’

Orient’s first game of the 1962–63 season in the top flight was a home fixture against Arsenal. Incredibly, Sid was nutmegged by striker Joe Baker. The memory still prickles 46 years later. ‘Lucky sod,’ Sid scoffs. ‘He was a good player but he didn’t give me what I’d call a hard time. I applauded him when he pushed the ball through my legs.’

Sid soon realised that Orient’s stay in Division One was going to be a short one. ‘The leap in quality was very noticeable,’ he says. ‘I felt straight away it was going to be too tough. The season before we’d fought a long, hard promotion battle, and the season before that was a long struggle against relegation. They took a lot out of certain players. We were well and truly knackered.’

He continues, ‘We’d lost a bit of that edge from the promotion season. It just drifted away. The players had a challenge in front of them: do they want to be a better players or don’t they? And what do they have to do to achieve it? I don’t think enough players took it into their heads to do that. In the end we were flogging a dead horse. We weren’t beating the teams we should have been.’

Even though Orient won four matches in September – including a famous victory over Manchester United – Sid still doubted the club could escape relegation. ‘I just couldn’t see it happening,’ he admits. 

Sid does have some happier memories of the season, such as his goal in the 2–1 victory over Liverpool in May. He recalls, ‘I took it up from the back and did a push and run with Malcolm Musgrove. I was just outside the box and the goalkeeper was staring at me. I just walloped it and in it went. We didn’t have many moments like that. It was a shame.’

He says that his own form remained good throughout the season, and one of his regrets is that he didn’t have the chance to play at the highest level again. ‘I was on a learning curve. It was my first season in Division One. I’ve often looked back on it and thought I’d like to have improved even more.’

But Sid’s performances were getting him noticed. He remembers a cryptic conversation he had with Johnny Carey on the way home from an away game. ‘The train was passing through Manchester and Johnny turned to me and said, “Would you like to live up here, Sid?” I replied, “No, not really. I’m quite happy at Woodford Green.”’

Sid made a connection between this and an earlier chat he’d had with the short-lived Orient player Don Gibson, who was Manchester United manager Matt Busby’s son-in-law. ‘He told me that Busby had had three looks at me over the past few weeks, and that he’d be looking again at the weekend,’ says Sid. ‘So linking this up with what Johnny Carey said I assume there was a bit of interest from Manchester United.’

Sid appears remarkably non-plussed by the fact that he was potentially being courted by a team containing names like Bobby Charlton and George Best. It comes back to the stability he craved for his family. ‘I was just settling into a house a Woodford Green so I didn’t want to be selfish and say to Vera, look, we’re moving. She was in glory land – her mother was just down the road at Hackney Wick and we had a good life. She worked as a dressmaker, even once the kiddies came along – our second child, Denise, was born in May 1963. So if I’d have gone to Manchester I might have regretted it. I’d pushed so hard to get where I did and set up a good life for the family.’

Sid does admit to occasionally wondering what might have been if he had ended up at the northern club – or one of the others that were rumoured to be interested in him – but says, ‘There’s no use in regretting anything. I might have regretted not going there if I had a bad time at the Orient, but I didn’t. People-wise, I was with a good club; a happy club.’

There were also calls for him to be included in the England squad. And while Sid was never convinced that the national selectors even knew there was actually a football club in Leyton, he believes he could have acquitted himself with three lions on his shirt. ‘Big Jack Charlton was playing for England and while he was good in the air he needed to sharpen himself up a bit on the floor. Then there was Bobby Moore. He was a great player and good at reading the game but when it came to hard graft I can’t remember seeing a lot of Bobby. I was being looked at and noticed and was getting top marks in the paper every week. I couldn’t get any more consistent. I think if I’d done another season in Division One, or if I’d been playing for one of the bigger clubs, I’d have been straight into the international set up.’

It doesn’t appear to trouble Sid too much that he wasn’t. ‘I was just happy trying to play a good consistent game,’ he says.

After relegation – the team managed just 21 points – Orient began the next season of 1963–64 back in Division Two and, surprisingly, Sid claims there were no big ideas about bouncing straight back to the top flight. ‘I don’t remember a single conversation about it,’ he says emphatically. ‘There was no chance. We didn’t have enough strength in depth.’

The fact that by then Johnny Carey had left to take over at Nottingham Forest and was replaced by ex-Colchester United boss Benny Fenton was also significant. ‘To me he was laughable,’ Sid scoffs. ‘I thought, what can he do to save this club? Early on he came up and put his arm around me, Cyril Lea and Malcolm Lucas and said, “The team is going to be built around you three. You’re the kingpins.” I replied, “Well, these two want transfers and I’m retiring.”’

It seems strange that Sid was already thinking of hanging up his boots. He was only 29, he was fit and his performances were as good as ever. Even Sid himself struggles to explain it. ‘I’m not exactly sure why, but I think I was getting anxious about how I was going to provide for Vera and our two children. I didn’t want to be travelling all over the country living out of a bleedin’ suitcase. I wanted something stable. I thought I’d done enough at Orient and that I was too old to go to a really big club.’

Though Sid did play the entire 1963–64 season – a pretty unmemorable one in which Orient finished 16th in Division Two – he was committed to leaving. What he wanted before he said his goodbyes, however, was the chance to buy the club-owned house he and Vera had lived in since 1958. Sid recalls, with some anger: ‘I went to Harry Zussman’s office in Shoreditch and said, look, you can you have a couple more years out of me, can you let me buy the house? But he refused. I was disgusted. After all the time I’d been at the club, and the consistency I’d given them. Surely they could have respected me and helped me out? It wasn’t as if I’d clawed money from Orient.’

Worse still, in Sid’s eyes, was the fact that although he was allowed him to go part-time, Orient retained his registration so he was unable to move to another League club. ‘It was all about money,’ he says. ‘They didn’t want someone to come in and take me on a free transfer. They wanted a fee for me. But I thought, that’s it, I’m digging my heels in now, sod it. I wasn’t going to move.’

Sid actually stayed at the club as the 1964–65 season kicked in, and he made four appearances. In January 1965, after the sacking of Benny Fenton, Chelsea coach Dave Sexton took over as manager. Once an Orient player, he was a former teammate of Sid’s and looked upon his situation favourably. Sid explains, ‘Dave said to me, “What’s all this about you packing up?” I said, “I’ve had enough, Dave. I’m worried about the wife and the two kids now. I love this place but I’ve got to go.” Then he told me that I was free to leave. Just like that.’

It was a sad ending to an Orient career that spanned over 13 years – and the club’s refusal to let Sid buy the house in Woodford Green still rankles with him today. 

Sid took a job as player-manager at Southern League outfit Hastings United but dismisses his year there as, ‘a ridiculous waste of time’. Boardroom politics – or ‘jiggery pokery’, as Sid puts it – sent him scuttling away to another non-league outfit, Guildford City. He remained there for 18 months, first as a player, then as caretaker-manager. 
It was Sid’s curtain call as a footballer, for in 1968 he left to manage a pub in Leigh Park, Hampshire. A year later he relocated to Harlow, Essex, and ran another pub for 18 months before becoming a storeman at various local factories, a job he retained until he retired at 60. Aside from a couple of charity games, Sid never played football again. ‘It wasn’t in me,’ he says. ‘I was working hard. I only used to have a day and a half off. So it was unfair to the family to have a day of football.’

He did manage to squeeze in the odd game of cricket, and continued to turn out for a local Over–50s side until he was past 60 – despite the cigarettes.

Sid remains in the same house in Harlow which, after the death of Vera, he shares with his dog, Belle. He still gets to Brisbane Road a few times a season and those in earshot will always be well aware of Sid’s opinions on the current state of the club, football in general, the country… and so on! 

Looking back, Sid is rightly proud of his playing career. ‘I think a brought a little bit of football at the back,’ he says. ‘Not just kick and bleedin’ rush stuff. People knew I liked to play a proper game.’

But over and above that it’s Sid’s family that most fills him with pride. ‘That was always the most important thing to me,’ he says. ‘And I’ve got a smashing family. I think that’s worth a lot of money. Being really happy.’
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