A few years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to Tony Grealish about his time at Orient. The London-born Irish international made 195 appearances for Orient between 1974-79 and was a vital component in the team that reached the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal in 1978.
In advance of the forthcoming FA Cup tie against Arsenal, here's what Tony had to say about that semi-final of 33 years ago, a game Orient eventually lost 3-0, thanks to two deflected goals by Malcolm McDonald and another by Graham Rix.
"In the week leading up to the game, I just couldn’t wait to get out there. I couldn’t sleep. Everyone wanted to take a picture of us. We’d go to training and there’d be six or seven television crews there. It was massive. Even when I went for a game of golf people would be taking photos. Good thing was you’d often get a free Indian out of it or something. Peter Kitchen, in particular, was always scrounging something out of everyone. Typical northerner.
"Unfortunately it had affected our league form. In the bread-and-butter games, the ones that put bums on seats, we weren’t performing. You’re not supposed to be distracted as a professional player, but for some reason we couldn’t reproduce the performances from the FA Cup in the league. You go from playing in front of 40,000 people to going to Rotherham or something with people eating fish and chips in your face. It’s a bit of a comedown.
"To be honest, I didn’t think we could beat Arsenal in the semi-final. We’d ridden our luck to get that far and at times you’d think, maybe we do have a chance. But then realistically you think there’s no way on God’s Earth. If you looked at the players in the Arsenal team, well, you just had to hope it wouldn’t be an embarrassment. I know this sounds terrible now, but I thought if we could get through the game, it would be a bloody miracle. But then I just thought, who gives a shit? Let’s go out and have a blast and see what happens.
"I wasn’t too nervous before the match itself. I was excited and just wanted to get out there – my adrenalin was pumping. Jimmy Bloomfield [Orient’s manager at the time] always told me to express myself. That sunk into my brain. Be confident and express yourself.
"But I did my job - I got into him a bit and niggled him to slow him down. He got a bit huffy and puffy. Once they went two goals up, though, he relaxed a bit. And those two deflected goals by that bloody idiot Malcolm McDonald, well, one was going for a throw in and the other one was going for a corner. When they got the goals they played better. They had a two goal start and they started to take the piss. We needed luck on our side and we didn’t have it.
"In the dressing room afterwards, everyone was a bit sad and choked. As much as we’d lost, it was the way that we lost it. Those two horrible goals. But then Peter Angell [Orient’s coach] came in and said that we’d had a fantastic run, we’d been fantastic for the club, and not to forget who we’d played to get this far. He got a bottle of beer, opened it up and said, ‘Here’s to you lads, well done.’ It broke the ice. We were all feeling sorry for ourselves, but once a few more beers came out we realised that we’d had a good run. Then we all got fucking hammered.
"I’ll never forget the experience. For a little club in those days it was fantastic. I’ve had some good times since, but our FA Cup run of 1978 was one of my best all-time experiences.”
You can read the full story of Tony's time at Brisbane Road in the book Leyton Orient Greats