12 February 2013

"I bet Eddie Baily I could walk on water" - Stan Charlton on Orient's promotion to Division One

In December last year Stan Charlton sadly passed away at the age of 83. The full-back had captained the Orient side that won promotion to the first division in 1962 and was an ever-present in the club's subsequent - and so far solitary - season in the top flight. 

Here Stan recalls some memories from those two magical seasons... 

“In the summer of 1961 Johnny Carey came in as manager of the club. I was sorry to see Les Gore go, but Johnny had quite a reputation. He was very quiet, but a nice bloke. He always had a pipe in his mouth, whether it was lit or not. He’d say, just keep playing football lads, push it around.

The season before we’d almost been relegated, but this time round, once we started to win games the whole attitude changed. We started to think, we can win this, we can win that. Confidence was high.

Towards the end of the season we were in second place, and we’d just beaten Luton on Easter Monday. The next day Sunderland – who were right behind us – were playing away at Rotherham. [Sunderland were two points behind Orient going into their penultimate game.]

Les Grade [an Orient director at the time] asked me how well I knew the Rotherham skipper Roy Lambert. I said I know him well. He said, I’ll give you £100 expenses to go up and see him before the game and offer him £1000 to win the game. It wasn’t a bribe to lose the game - just like an extra bonus among the Rotherham players to win.

I went up to Millmoor with Dave Dunmore and we met Roy outside the ground and told him the offer, and he said great. Then Dave and I stood on the embankment to watch the game and we had our caps and ear mufflers on, but still two kids came up and asked for our autographs. I couldn’t believe they could recognise us from Orient! Anyway, it didn’t matter because Sunderland won 3-0. We had to take the money back again.

[That meant Orient needed to beat Bury at Brisbane Road in their final game of the season and hope that Swansea could take a point or two off Sunderland at Vetch Field.] We knew we had to win to give ourselves any chance, but I don’t think anyone would have given Swansea that result.

It was very tense in the dressing room. The most tense I’ve ever been before a game. Johnny Carey said, ‘Come on lads you’ve got to do it today. This is the day. Don’t worry about Sunderland and Swansea. If you win today you’ve done your best.’

[Orient went 1-0 up at in the first half, but Sunderland were also winning 1-0 against Swansea. Then, in the second half, Swansea equalised – and a roar went up at Brisbane Road] It was tremendous. The buzz coming from the crowd was fantastic. I don’t think Bury would have scored that day – it would have been over dead bodies. The spirit that was in that side!

When the final whistle went it was the most wonderful feeling. You couldn’t feel any better. I remember being chaired off the pitch, then we all stood up on the steps. It was fantastic.

We all got a bit drunk that evening. We went to the local fish and chip shop in Leyton and carried on from there.

A few days later we went on a club trip to Majorca. It was fantastic – there was some drinking there! I remember betting the coach Eddie Baily 100 pesetas that I could walk across the swimming pool – that I could walk on water. I was fully dressed and went to walk across the water. Obviously I went straight in. I had to hang all the pesetas on the line to dry them.

That summer I also had a lucky escape. I’d been down to Eastbourne to pick my mother up from a holiday, and I dropped her off at the pub then I had a couple of drinks. As I was driving home across Clapham Common at about 1:30 in the morning I fell asleep at the wheel as I was coming up to a bend. The next thing I knew I’d hit a bollard.

I was with a lady – she was alright, but I’d gashed my eye open and cut my chest and my knee. An ambulance arrived to take me to hospital, and just before it left a policeman jumped in. Obviously I was worried because I’d been drinking. The copper said to me, ‘Here’s the contents from your van. There’s a picture of Orient here.’

I told him that I was the skipper, and he said that he played for the Metropolitan Police. He asked me what had happened and I told him that I’d fallen asleep at the wheel. He said, ‘Are you sure you want to say that?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s the truth.’ But I never heard another thing about it. There was no breathalyser in those days, but you couldn’t drive after drinking. I could have been in trouble were he not a football fan.

Before we started our first ever season in Division One, Johnny Carey had said we didn’t need to buy any new players. I didn’t agree. We needed more goals. We needed to sign someone to give Dave Dunmore a bit of assistance up there. There was an inside-forward at Southampton at the time called George O’Brien, who eventually did come to Orient in March 1966, and I badly wanted Johnny to sign him. I think he would have made the difference.

Our first game was against Arsenal and I knew most of their team having played there a few years earlier. It was a proud moment. But it was tough in that division. A few players had played in Division One before – myself, Dave Dunmore, Eddie Lewis – but we weren’t that experienced a side. I did think we might be able to hang on – we lost a lot of games by the odd goal – but we weren’t good enough for sure.

I remember when we played Everton at Goodison Park the Liverpool manager Bill Shankly asked Johnny Carey if he could give us a pep talk. He came into our dressing room and said that there are only two teams in Liverpool – Liverpool and Liverpool reserves. He was a terrific character. He told us that we could run the socks off Everton that day. We got beaten 3-0!

But back at Brisbane Road he was proved right. They weren’t the side we played at Everton. They weren’t up for it, and we were. As a unit we were good. This time we won 3-0.

Stan in 2008
In the last game of the season Manchester United needed to beat us to avoid relegation. It was at Old Trafford and I scored an own goal. I kept them in the first division! Bobby Charlton took a corner, I went to head it off the near post and I didn’t quite catch it right and it went straight in the back of the net. I laugh about it now but I was sick at the time.

But all through that season the team spirit was good. Even though we got relegated we never ever got downhearted. We enjoyed being in the division, the grounds, the crowds. Some of the lads had never played at places like that. It was a wonderful experience.”

You can read the full story of Stan's time at Orient in the book Leyton Orient Greats
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