27 May 2014

GUEST BLOG! After the Lord Mayor’s Show: Where next for the “Group that never gives up”?

Instead of crying into his pint, Andy Brown - blogger for WAGU and The Two Unfortunates - has been looking at what happens next for the most successful Orient team in decades...

I write this on an overcast Bank Holiday Monday trying, as I suspect most Os fans are, to rationalise how we came so close to promotion again in a play-off final and yet fell short, for the third time in a row, to northern opponents.

Was it the West End of Wembley, the fact that the fourth team always seems to win play-offs or the fact that Slade didn’t bring on Robbie Simpson to score a 40-yard screamer in extra time?

This time we had real hope, unlike the dismal performance in 1999 or the team that fell short in 2001. Orient went into half-time with a 2-0 lead after a shaky start, but a combination of bad refereeing, Rotherham persistence and a wonder goal from ex-Orient striker Revell pegged the Os back.

Despite being the better team in extra-time, tiredness and a lack of cutting edge saw the game go to penalties, where Baudry and Dagnall missed to give promotion to Rotherham and leave us heartbroken.

Football is cruel, but in truth this game reflected our season; out ahead, only to be pegged back, then out ahead on penalties, only to be pegged back and miss out. It goes without saying that what Orient have achieved this season is phenomenal.

Joint LMA manager of the year Russell Slade has established a solid base of talented footballers that play good, passing football. With the vastly superior budgets of Wolves (and Brentford), it was always going to be hard to sustain an automatic push over 46 gruelling games, but third place was a massive achievement.

Nevertheless, the reality is we’ll be playing in League One again next season, travelling to Crewe and Scunthorpe rather than Leeds, Fulham and Middlesbrough.

As upset as I am, I’ll still get my season ticket, as I know many other Orient fans will - irrespective of what player or management changes happen in the summer. However, the question remains, where next for these players and this management team that came so close this season and how will Barry Hearn react to yesterday’s events?

Glass half-full scenario

Barry Hearn sees enough potential in Russell Slade and the key players to increase investment in the management team and playing squad to prevent fragmentation, very much as Brentford pushed on after falling short last season.

Key players Moses Odubajo and Dean Cox – even though they are under contract – stay rather than leaving for fees. Out of contract players Lloyd James and Elliot Omozusi decide to stay at the club. Hearn persuades Russell Slade to stay longer term and allows him to add to the squad in several key positions, setting Orient up well for a push on promotion again in the 2014/15 season.

Outcome: Orient finish top 6 again or pushing for automatic promotion.

Glass half-empty scenario

Russell Slade receives an offer from a Championship club and decides to leave. Offers come in for Dean Cox and Moses Odubajo and are accepted, while Elliot Omozusi and Lloyd James decide not to take up new contract offers and leave on free transfers.

A new manager needs to come in an entirely rebuild the midfield and get the new team to gel. Hearn stays true to form and invests zero in new players or improving the squad.

Outcome: Orient finish lower mid-table or fighting relegation.

Realistic scenario

Russell Slade stays. One of Cox or Odubajo leaves for good money. Orient bring in a winger to replace the departing player. James and Omozusi stay for another year. Most of this squad stays and Orient compete, once again, with a small squad.

The team doesn’t replicate this season’s success but still manages a top 10 finish. Tough decisions then need to be made in June 2015.

Outcome: Orient finish 10th

Overall it’s hard to know what to predict will happen after such an emotional day. Most of the key players are under contract, meaning that for them to leave, there will need to be good transfer fees.

But this team has been in the shop window all season, meaning a club of Orient’s size will not turn down a £1 million offer if it comes in for Moses Odubajo or a high fee for Dean Cox, both of whom are critical to this team.

Much of this also depends on Russell Slade. He was keen to talk to Barnsley when they wanted to discuss the job with him in 2011 and his stock is much higher after this season’s endeavours, which may make him hard to keep.

He may also feel he cannot go further with Orient and want a new challenge, after the disappointment of missing out in the play-offs. May and June’s movements will tell us much about the chances of this Orient team next season.

If this team stays together, there is a chance it could compete again next year. In the background, however, the Olympic Stadium and Barry Hearn’s desire to sell the club still loom large, leaving the long-term future of Orient questionable.

Orient fans are hoping the squad will stay together and grow, very much as Brentford have succeeded. But for that to happen, Hearn will need to invest even more, not just in the running of the club, but also in the playing staff, which would require a change in his philosophy or a sustainable club that succeeds on its own merits.

Either way, it has been a season to be proud of and I hope another is just around the corner. Up the Os!

26 May 2014

Play-off final: Leyton Orient 2 Rotherham United 2, 25/5/14

And so it all came down to the last kick of a ball. A season in which Orient defied odds, broke records, exceeded expectations, battled adversity and made new friends all hinged on Chris Dagnall's final spot kick.

The lifetime Orient fan in me knew he'd miss. Typical Orient, right? Two-nil up at half-time and we fucked it up. Typical Orient.

But maybe not. There was something different about this season. I sensed it first when Kevin Lisbie scored the late, late winner against Port Vale in September to preserve the winning run at the start of the campaign. The way the players, the crowd celebrated... It mattered more than usual, somehow.

The feeling built throughout the season. Coming from behind to win impressively away at Peterborough and Swindon. Grinding out four wins in a row in a bitter January. Winning the play-off semi-final on an electric night at Brisbane Road.

We had momentum, desire, a tight unit of talented, gutsy players. So when Dagnall stepped up to take that final penalty, though the lifetime Orient fan in me knew he'd miss, the deeply proud Orient fan of this season actually thought he'd score...

Play the game, not the occasion

The day didn't start that well. They say "play the game, not the occasion" and Orient did just that. Unfortunately the game they were playing appeared to be called "Let's spoon the ball into touch".

Orient celebrate Odubajo's goal
They settled down soon enough, mind - helped by Moses Odubajo's stunning goal. The celebration that followed was a strange one, as the Os players seemed to simultaneously congratulate the winger while admonishing him for taking his shirt off, much like a reluctantly aroused mother-of-the-bride forced to watch the Chippendales at her daughter's hen party.

Dean Cox's goal meant we went into half-time 2-0 up, and while no one who's watched Orient for more than three seconds of their life thought it was game over, the evidence of this season suggested this wonderful team would be able to see out a victory.

Revelling in it

It had to be, didn't it? 
But then there was Alex Revell. It had to be. Two goals for the former Orient favourite illustrated that in Rotherham, Orient had met their match.

Because ask any Millers fan the reasons behind their team's success this season and they'll tell you about their players' never-say-die attitude, their team spirit... Sound familiar? Yes, unfortunately this group never gives up either. (Though the £30 million of investment over the last five years probably helped too. Sour grapes? Don't mind if I do...)

With the scores level it was Orient who looked like they were trying to win the game (and with our penalty record this season, they had no choice) and Rotherham who were trying not to lose.

Twelve yards of heartbreak

And so it was penalties. We're shit at penalties. Though to be fair James, Lundstrum and Clarke all dispatched theirs with confidence and class. Two of Rotherham's spot kicks were what I like to call "coward's penalties" (straight down the middle) and Jamie Jones gave us temporary hope that Orient would prevail with one stunning save.

But, of course, it was not to be. No blame can be attached to Baudry and Dagnall. We would not have even been in the play-off final were it not for those two fine players.

Not so typical

So it hurts. It hurts real bad. I do not think I will ever get over this. Ever.

But let's remember that Orient have no monopoly on footballing heartbreak. Anyone who supports a club other than the handful in the world who can afford to be repeatedly successful will tell you that.

Are Orient fans feeling any worse than Brentford fans did at the same point last year? Any worse than the Peterborough fans who saw their team get relegated last season with record points? Probably not.

The boys of 05/06
In fact, there's no such thing as "typical Orient" - not really. And what I loved about yesterday and what I love about Orient are the untypical things. John Mackie, captain of the promotion-winning side of 2005/06 (nothing "typical" about that game at Oxford), galvanising his former team mates via Twitter to come and support their 2013/14 counterparts at Wembley.

Mathieu Baudry, after missing a crucial penalty, joining fans at the pub after the game to apologise and commiserate with them.

The almost 100 per cent lack of post-match recriminations from fans on Twitter and instead a groundswell of pride, honour and love for a team - heroes to a man - that has provided us with so many moments to savour in this wonderful season.

Yeah, it's shit that we're in League One again next season. This squad might get broken up. The manager might leave. We may never got a shot at the Championship like this one again.

But, you know, I wouldn't swap one second of it. Not one second. Apart from the one where Dagnall missed I suppose...

24 May 2014

Leyton Orient play-off final team 2001: Where are they now?

Eleven brave, talented warriors took to the pitch at the Millennium Stadium on 21 May 2001 for the Division Three play-off final. Unfortunately they were all wearing Blackpool shirts. 

Just kidding: there was actually a fair degree of guts and guile in that Orient side. Just not quite as much as Blackpool. Here's what the Orient players have been up to since...

The starting XI

Ashley Bayes

Who? Brilliant shot-stopping goalkeeper who quite possibly may have been a vampire, such was his aversion to crosses. Appeared to play every single game with an imaginary rope tethering him to his own goal line.
Where is he now? Goalkeeping coach at AFC Wimbledon. Released by Orient at the end of the 2001/02 season, Ash had spells at League of Ireland side Bohemian, Woking, Hornchurch, Grays Athletic, Crawley Town and Basingstoke Town. He also spent three seasons on the bench at Stevenage, although he put his time to good use.

Matthew Joseph

Who? Reliable, hard-working and classy right back in the fine tradition of Orient players so short you assume they're a ball boy until the game kicks off. Loyal Brisbane Road servant for seven seasons.
Where is he now? Released by Martin Ling at the end of the 2003/04 season, Matt went on to play one season for Canvey Island in the Conference, then a handful of games for Histon in the Conference South before retiring. After a spell as a youth coach at Tottenham Hotspur, Matt now works for the FA as a Regional Coach Development Manager. 

Matt Lockwood

Who? The goal-scoring left back, spot-kick specialist and Brisbane Road legend who, according to Barry Hearn, was a Premier League footballer playing in League Two.
Where is he now? Matt became a Premier League footballer - albeit in the Scottish Premier League. After unhappy spells at Nottingham Forest, Colchester, Barnet and Dagenham & Redbridge, he moved north of the border to sign for Dundee, and achieved promotion to the SPL with them at the end of the 2011/12 season. Currently a free agent after being released by Dundee in May 2014. We'll have you back, Matt!

Dean Smith

Who? Defensive rock who, though he could be outpaced by an overweight six-year-old, was a fearless, committed performer with a sizeable football brain.
Where is he now? After moving from Orient to Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship, and then playing his final season for Port Vale in League One, Smith became Orient's Youth Team coach and then assistant to manager Martin Ling, before the pair of them got the boot in January 2009. He moved to former club Walsall to be Head of Youth before being appointed manager in January 2011. He remains there to this day.

Simon Downer

Who? Young centre back - just 19 years old in the play-off final - who, when not injured (which was most of the time), had a fair degree of class about him.
Where is now? Sent out on loan to Aldershot in 2004, Downer left Orient at the end of that season and, over the subsequent years, became intimately acquainted with the treatment tables of Hornchurch, Weymouth, Grays Athletic, Wivenhoe Town and Sutton United. He temporarily retired to become a bricklayer but came back to play fairly regularly for Rushden & Diamonds in the Conference from January 2009 until the end of the 2009/10 season. He's still playing now for Sutton United in the Conference South.
Find him on Twitter: @sidowner

Andy Harris

Who? Gritty and talented South African midfielder who would regularly find himself on the end of loose balls at the edge of the opponents' penalty area, which he would summarily dispatch straight into Row Z with 100 per cent accuracy. Hence why it took him almost 200 games to score his first ever professional goal.
Where is he now? Let go by Paul Brush in 2003, Harris had spells with Chester City, Forest Green Rovers, Weymouth and Eastleigh. He returned to Weymouth in the for the 2009/10 season in the Conference South, where he briefly served as assistant manager and then caretaker manager. Harris has an IQ of 153, putting him in the top 2 per cent of the population, and appeared on an ITV show Britain's Brainiest Footballers in 2002. He's now putting his grey matter to good use as Head Coach of the football academy at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset.

Wim Walschaerts

Who? Exotic foriegn whizz kid... Well, maybe not, but a solid, hard-working midfielder with an unpronouceable name.
Where is now? The play-off final was Wim's last game for Orient, after which he returned to his native country and played for a handful of tongue-twisting Belgian sides, including KFC Strombeek in the second division. For Dutch-speakers, this is Wim being interviewed a few years ago when he played for K Berchem Sport. At the grand old age of 38 he was still playing for and captaining K Ternesse in the sixth tier of Belgian football, but finally retired at the close of the 2010/11 season.

David McGhee

Who? Defender-cum-midfield enforcer, David was nicknamed 'Mad Dog' because, well, he had tattoos and stuff. Consistent performer and often thrown up front by Tommy Taylor in the last five minutes of games Orient were losing, usually to no discernible effect. 
Where is he now? Off the radar. Released by Orient in 2002, he went on to play two seasons for Canvey Island in the Isthmian League Premier Division, then another for Chelmsford City at the same level. He played for Wivenhoe in the Isthmian League Division One South in the 2006/07 season.

Scott Houghton

Who? Chippy and chubby midfielder with a lot of bluster and the occasional moment of effectiveness, such as his goal in the play-off final.
Where is he now? Gave Tommy Taylor an earful for substituting him at the Millennium Stadium and was subsequently shipped out in February 2002. After seven appearances for Halifax Town and then handful more for Stevenage Borough, Scott decided it was a fair cop and became a policeman in Peterborough. He remained a fixture in non-league football, however, playing in the United Counties League Premier Divison for Wootton Blue Cross, Blackstones, St Neots (where he was also assistant manager and manager) and Arlesey Town (where he was also assistant manager). Scott also carved out a new career as a reality TV star in the Sky One show Cop Squad.
Find him on Twitter: @ScottHoughton71

Chris Tate

Who? The frizzy-haired striker from Scarborough who scored a wonder goal against Barnet in the run-up to the play-off final but was widely regarded by fans as hard-working, committed and mostly useless. Nonetheless, scored what remains the fastest ever goal in a play-off final to put Orient 1-0 up after 27 seconds.
Where is he now? Tate fell down the pecking order in the 2001/02 season to 37th-choice striker in Tommy Taylor's enormous, though mostly ineffective, squad. He was loaned out to Stevenage Borough and Chester City, but enjoyed something of a rennaisance under Paul Brush in 2002/03. Shipped out by Martin Ling at the end of the 2003/04 season, Tate signed for Mansfield Town but played only four games in 2004/05 and then spent the next two seasons playing in the lower tiers of Swedish football. Returing to the UK, he signed for Yorkshire side Goole Town in the Northern Premier League Division One South at the start of the 2006/07 season, and 
scored on his league debut. Retired at the end of the 2008/09 season and now runs a pub in his home town of York.

Jabo Ibehre

Who? Fans' favourite and Brisbane Road enigma. A striker who could confound defenders with breathtaking trickery, pace and strength, while at the same time spooning the ball over the crossbar with his elbow.
Where is he now? After spending the 2008/09 season at Walsall, Jabo moved to MK Dons. Despite a couple of loan spells at Southend and Stockport County, Jabo's become something of fans' favourite at Stadium MK and helped the team reach the play-offs in 2011/12. He moved to Colchester United in the 2012/13 season where he remains today.
Find him on Twitter: @ibehre

On the bench

Scott Barrett

Who? Reliable journeyman goalkeeper who joined Orient at the start of the 1999/2000 season from Gillingham. Mostly played back-up to Ashley Bayes.
Where is he now? After a long spell as first-choice keeper in the 2001/02 season, Barrett left Orient to become assistant manager at Grays Athletic alongside gaffer Mark Stimson. Since then, like a loyal puppy dog, Barrett has followed Stimson wherever he's gone, from Stevenage Borough to Gillingham to Barnet to Ryman Premier League club Thurrock, where he remains today.

John Martin

Who? A local East End lad done good - well, ok, anyway. Martin came up through the ranks at Orient and had a fair degree of promise, hampered only by the fact he had the all the physical stature of an 11-year-old girl.
Where is he now? After leaving Brisbane Road at the end of the 2002/03, Martin had unsuccessful stints at Farnborough Town and Hornchurch. Five happier seasons followed, where the midfielder played fairly regularly for Grays Athletic and then Stevenage Borough in the Conference. (Along with a brief loan spell at Ebbsfleet United.) At the start of the 2009/10 season Martin joined Chelmsford City in the Conference South, where he stayed for two seasons. In 2011/12 he played three games for Harlow Town, but these days plies his trade as a black cab driver.

Ahmet Brkovic

Who? Classy Croation midfielder who spent two seasons at Orient without, apparently, ever being fully trusted by manager Tommy Taylor.
Where is he now? Brkovic's substitute appearance in the play-off final was his last in an Orient shirt. He went on to have seven seasons at Luton, scoring 15 goals in their promotion season of 2004/05 and then a further eight in their first season in the Championship. In 2008/09 he appeared for Millwall in League One, before returning to Croatia to play for third tier side HNK Dubrovnik 1919, and he hasn't been heard of since. Presumably he's still searching for his missing vowel.

Steve Castle

Who? Leyton Orient legend and notorious pizza thief, Castle once scored 18 goals from midfield in a season. His third spell at Brisbane Road, however, was riddled with injuries and he was limited to a handful of appearances, including 23 minutes from the bench in the play-off final.
Where is he now? Loaned out to Stevenage Borough for a few games in the 2001/02 season, Castle returned to Orient to find he wasn't part of new manager Paul Brush's plans. In June 2002 he became player/coach for then Isthmian League side St Albans City and, after a brief spell as assistant manager at Peterborough - was made player/manager a year later, remaining there until October 2005. Since then he's managed Essex Olympian League side Tately FC, St Albans City again, Essex Senior League side Takeley FC and is now the gaffer at Southern League side Royston Town,  combining his duties with driving a cab in Bishop's Stortford.

Billy Beall

Who? Martin Ling had Loick Pires, Paul Brush had Tom Newey... and Tommy Taylor had Billy Beall. That is, a player who seems to enjoy the unwavering faith of the manager, to the absolute bemusement of any fan that's actually seen them play.
Where is he now? Billy Beall confounded the Brisbane Road critics by going to have a successful career in the Premier League... Just kidding, after leaving Orient in 2002 the midfielder plummetted towards pub football with spells at Cambridge City and then Farnborough Town. Released from the Hampshire side at the end of the 2003/04 season and not heard of since.

They should have been playing, if they hadn't stupidly got themselves suspended...

Steve Watts

Who? Preening but sometimes effective striker and part-time model who, when he wasn't being outpaced by the opposition team's mascot during the warm-up, was hanging out with Jordan in dodgy nightclubs. Watts' goal in the play-off semi-final against Hull City helped Orient reach the Millennium Stadium, but the two immature yellow cards he received in the same game ensured he was banned for the final itself.
Where is he now? After scoring 12 goals in the 2001/02 season, Watts was loaned out to Margate, Welling United, Lincoln City and Dagenham & Redbridge, before signing for Shrewsbury Town in March 2003. He then had spells at Dagenham & Redbridge and St Albans City, before returning to former club Fisher Athletic in the summer of 2004, scoring 95 goals in two and a half seasons and helping his team to promotion to the Conference South. He then played for Bromley, Eastleigh and Sutton United before retiring at the end of the 2010/11 season. Steve's now a professional poker player. Like his hair, however, the modelling work has receded.

Carl Griffiths

Who? Orient's best striker since Peter Kitchen. "He'd do fuck all, but he'd score a goal," was manager Tommy Taylor's opinion of 'Super' Carl Griffiths, who possibly ruined Orient's chances of play-off victory by getting sent off for violent conduct in a league game against Mansfield Town, ensuring he'd be suspended for the final.
Where is he now? Two seasons ago Griff was still playing - and scoring - at 39 years old for Barkingside FC in the Essex Senior League. His journey there encompassed two injury-hit seasons at Luton Town and then various spells at non-league clubs Harlow Town, Heybridge Swifts, King's Lynn, Braintree Town, Brentwood Town (where Carl also served as manager) and Maldon Town. In November 2010 he was appointed as manager of Ryman Premier League side Aveley FC, who he duly got relegated before being shown the door in November 2011. These days Carl runs his own travel company and scouts for the West Ham academy.

The manager

Tommy Taylor

Who? Former Orient player - a highly classy defender - who managed the club from November 1996 to October 2001, reaching two play-off finals and building a squad of what appeared to be about 350 players, a handful of which were good.
Where is he now? Since leaving Orient Tommy has been on the managerial merry-go-round, taking the reins at Darlington, Farnborough Town, Seba United in Jamaica, King's Lynn, Boston United and the Grenada national team. Tommy also had a brief three-month spell as Director of Football at Spanish fourth tier side FC Torrevieja in 2010, before taking the reins at Evo-Stik League Division One South side Belper Town from May to September 2011. He's currently managing Finnish second division side Palloseura Kemi Kings.

23 May 2014

Play-off final: The ten ways Orient can beat Rotherham

So in advance of Orient's biggest game in decades I thought I'd calm nerves by revealing 10 ways our east London heroes can win at Wembley. Worryingly I could only think of five. 

Luckily Os fan and Times journalist James Masters came up with another five, so together we present you the cold hard evidence that Orient will be in the Championship next season. Possibly. 

No need to dress up for the
Wembley cameras, Romain
1. Play the game, not the occasion
Yes it's Wembley, yes it's a big day out and yes, there will be half and half scarves, but it's important the players treat the game like any other. That means no waving to your loved ones on the way out of the tunnel, no stopping on the edge of the area to check out the big screen to see if your hair is in place and no smiling in the tunnel at your opponents. It's just another game. You're there to win - Wembley is not a place for losers.
James Masters

2. Out-sing the Millers
If you're one of the 19,000 new fans Orient seem to have acquired in the space of the week, you've got some catching up to do to learn all of our terrace chants. To be fair, that catching up will take you about seven seconds given we only have about three songs, but you'll need to sing them loudly and proudly to drown out the famously catchy Rotherham ditty "It's right grim oop north, but if thi'ivver does owt for nowt, allus do it for thissen".
Matt Simpson 

"We've got THIS much money!"
3. Don't mention the money
Steve Evans, who is rumoured to sleep in Egyptian cotton sheets, much to the dismay of the local UKIP councillors, hates nothing more than hearing how Rotherham have bought their success. The Millers have only paid for one player in their squad - one more than Orient, mind you. Forget the fact that chairman Tony Stewart has pumped in £30 million in the past five years and built a brand new stadium. Compare that to Orient who can't even get the Wi-Fi to work in the press box after running out of 10p pieces.
James Masters

4. Take out Revell 
Though there is no statistical evidence for it whatsoever, it is 100 per cent fact that all footballers score a goal whenever they play against a former club. Behold Rotherham's Alex Revell, then: he of chiselled jaw, ice-white teeth and one profitable season at Brisbane Road. The big striker has been strength training by trying to roll Steve Evans up a slight incline and will be a menace to Nathan Clarke and Mathieu Baudry throughout the final. Our defensive duo will need to be at their eye-bulging best.
Matt Simpson 

5. Don't concede early
You can't win the game in the first 10 minutes but you can certainly lose it. Don't start like Arsenal did last week at Wembley - still in the changing room with the headphones on whiling away time to what today's kids call "hip hop". Yes, Arsenal fought back but Orient probably aren't going to be able to bring Rosicky and Wilshere off the bench. Take a breath, stay calm and do what you've done all season. It's just another game.
James Masters 

Shaun Batt: unpredictable 
6. Unleash the Battman
When Russelll Slade brings Shaun Batt off the bench with 20 minutes to go - you can set your watch by it if you like - the Rotherham defence will know they're in for a rough time. The striker is delightfully unpredictable: sometimes, for example, he'll knock the ball 30 yards ahead of himself and then charge after it and sometimes he'll knock the ball 35 yards ahead of himself and charge after it. Two of Orient's three play-off semi-final goals were set up by the Battman, and he's sure to have a say in the final one way or the other.
Matt Simpson

7. Back our big man
Big games call for big game players and you won't find many men bigger than Kevin Dearden or Steve Evans. Dearden has grown into his role as a figure of fun, serenading fans with chants regarding his rather rotund waistline. Evans, whose list of misdemeanours is as long as his daily order a the local kebab shop, is far more prone to explode and lead to allegations of him pulling down his trousers. Wembley are apparently so concerned about the two men meeting that they've been given separate departure times to walk out the tunnel.
James Masters 

This guy's lined up to take a penalty for Orient
8. Do not let the game go to penalties
A word of advice: if the scores are still locked after extra-time you might as well cut your losses, leave early and beat the traffic rather than watch Orient lose a penalty shoot-out. The Os have already missed six out of 11 this season and in the vain hope of finding a reliable spot-kicker have rotated the duties between Mooney, Lisbie, Omozusi, James, Ada the groundsman and an 11-year-old boy who looked to have promise when he put one past Theo the Mascot in a sponsored shoot-out at half-time.
Matt Simpson

9. Keep it in the family
While Rotherham's "comical" duo the Chuckle Brothers might have got a giggle back in the 1990s with their famous "to me, to you" gag, Orient supporters the Lloyd-Webbers have brought the house down with their musical talent. While Julian chills out on the cello, Andrew has raked in the cash with Evita, Aspects of Love and Starlight Express - as well as Stephen Ward the musical, inspired by the Wolves and Ireland left-back. Nobody does a showstopper like Lloyd-Webber and his experience will be valuable to the Os on the biggest stage of them all - Wembley.
James Masters 

Robbie Simpson: secret weapon
10. Rely on our secret weapon
Every final needs a hero, and could it be that on Sunday that hero comes from the most unlikely place? Has Russell Slade been keeping Robbie Simpson well away from the pitch in the latter half of the season purely to preserve his strength and fitness for the ultimate play-off cameo? The answer is definitely no, but if Orient are losing with minutes to go, maybe - just maybe - the manager will throw one last roll of the dice and bring on Simpson. And then fate awaits...
Matt Simpson 

22 May 2014

Play-off final preview: The view from Rotherham

It's somehow fitting that the League One play-off final has ended up as a clash between Leyton Orient and Rotherham United: two unglamorous, unfancied clubs who've defied the odds this season. I asked Millers fan and WAGU blogger Michael Whitehead for his views ahead of Wembley... 

Has Rotherham's performance this season exceeded your expectations?
Absolutely. I knew we had the makings of a good team that would spring a few surprises and should be capable of getting in the top half. We had already brought in players of a high calibre that had played at Championship or League One level such as Kieran Agard, Kari Arnason, Craig Morgan and Lee Frecklington.

So our good start wasn't that surprising, but our long unbeaten run after New Year's Day was beyond most Millers fans' wildest dreams.

What are the secrets of Rotherham's success this season?
It's a bit of a cliche possibly but I think a lot of it is down to good old-fashioned team spirit and the never-say-die attitude. There were many pundits marking us down as relegation candidates, some 'experts' saying we didn't deserve to be in the top six, whilst in some quarters many have been critical of our style of play.

So in many ways, others did the team talk for us and contributed the togetherness in the squad, particularly away from home where we've been hard to break down at the back but further forward we have played with a freedom and work ethic that have put some home teams on the back foot from the off.

I think another big factor is that we ended last season on such a high, winning all five of our last five matches to pip Burton Albion to second place.

Your manager Steve Evans is a divisive character in football - how do Rotherham fans feel about him?
He's on the verge of potentially delivering back-to-back promotions in his two seasons with us so you can imagine we hold him in high regard! We knew his past when he arrived and many fans took some convincing that he was the right man, particularly when he served a stadium ban a month into his first season for his antics against Bradford whilst being manager of Crawley.

But he's been first class whilst in charge of Rotherham. All Millers fans ask of their team and manager is that they give it their all and Evans is as hard-working as they come. He's been very gracious towards fans for giving him a chance and takes time out to visit fans in hospital - so he's not always as psychotic as he appears on match day!

He's always busy travelling to see matches around the country and going abroad looking for new recruits, he keeps fans informed of what's going on and he's now very respectful, sometimes gushing towards our opposition. The only common trait he has brought to Rotherham is his passion and desire to win - nothing wrong with that!

Alex Revell is very familiar to Orient fans - how important is he to your team?
As Orient fans will be aware, Alex Revell gives you everything he's got. He plays like a fan and celebrates like a fan, so he has a lot of admirers for his commitment to the cause. Rotherham fans like their grafters and so does Steve Evans so he's a key part of the spine of this team. 

The only problem is he doesn't score nearly enough goals as he should.  He's excellent at bringing the ball down and playing in some of our attacking players such as Agard, Frecklington and Pringle, but if he's in a one-on-one you wouldn't put your house on him. Although as he showed against Preston in the first leg and against Orient at New York Stadium he can do it from time to time!

What were your opinions of Orient when you played us this season?
I didn't get to the away game at Brisbane Road but I was at New York for the match against Orient in February. I think you had been on a long unbeaten run and had obviously led the way for so long so we knew we had a difficult game in prospect.

I remember you kept the ball very well and had a lot of threat down the wings and up front. Odubajo was very lively and we came under pressure for long periods. I saw a bit of the first leg against Peterborough and you were much the same - very tidy in possession and very hard-working when not with the ball.

When Revell got his injury-time goal I think it was a turning point in the season really as it showed we could mix it with the best in the league and that we had nothing to fear.

You are the bookies' favourites for the final - is that fair?
I wasn't aware we were to be honest. I would prefer it if we wasn't as the underdog tag suits us just fine!  Not sure if it's fair or not - I think a case could be made for either side as we are both quite evenly matched. The table tells you that for nothing!

Is there anything that worries you about the Orient team?
There's a lot of goals in the Orient side - even on the bench. I know I would love Chris Dagnall in our side, very much in the Adam Le Fondre mould, a natural goalscorer which is what we have lacked really since ALF left us for Reading. My main fear is maybe that we might struggle to get the ball off you at times! I would say you have been the best passing team I have seen after Wolves.

Where will the game be won and lost?
This Millers team are at their strongest when Lee Frecklington and Ben Pringle have the space to do damage. The pair are match winners on their own and usually when they play well we win.

It sounds obvious but I think if either team gets an early goal it will be an uphill struggle for the opposition. Both are hard to break down and both can switch up a gear and get more goals if needed.  If its level going towards extra time then maybe Rotherham will have the edge as we like our late goals.

And finally, your prediction for Sunday?
It's going to be tight isn't it?  But its Wembley so anything can happen. This team have proven me wrong on several occasions and so it's tempting to be pessimistic! I'm going 2-2 after 90 minutes, with a goal in extra time to win it for the Millers.

One of my first disappointments as a Rotherham fan was when Orient beat us on penalties in 1999 at Millmoor to dump us out of the Division 3 play-offs. A lot of fans remember that so maybe its time for some sweet revenge!

GUEST BLOG! "Orient is not just a club. It's a family"

In a tear-jerking guest blog, Orient fan and Times journalist James Masters explains why he's got "O's CD"... 

EVERY MORNING when I leave the house, I walk down the steps and slowly turn full circle while clapping a non-existent crowd.

I wave to the bushes, who in my mind represent the thousands of fans lining the stands, and then readjust my tie and walk out onto the main road as if nothing had happened.

Each and every day, I replicate that  same routine and yes, I know it's not what you would call normal, but I don't care. I do it anyway.

It is not so much a case of OCD - rather what I've termed as O'S CD.

It has been that way, more or less, since I can remember and after 30 years, it's probably never going to change.

Consumed by a unhealthy and obsessive love for Leyton Orient, I somehow believe that every little thing I do is connected to the success of the club.

In itself, that is ridiculous and yet, I cannot stop.

On Sunday, when Orient face Rotherham in the League One play-off final, I am sure that I will not be alone in performing such rituals, for only pirates could be classed as more superstitious than football fans.

The dream of a victory at Wembley is one that we've all held dear for more years than we care to remember.

Wembley 1999: Didn't quite work out
In 1999, Wembley only brought misery. We consoled ourselves with a reassuring "next time we'll do it".

Next time came around just two years later at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and again it ended in defeat - a defeat which still rankles to this day.

"This year it will be different," is what I keep telling myself. And for once, I believe those words.

This time, older, ever slightly more mature, evidently balder and having somewhat miraculously managed to convince a lady to enter into an adult relationship with me, the realisation that it's not all about winning has finally revealed itself.

If football was all about winning then I'd probably not have plumped for Orient.

What I've come to learn is that, in all honesty, it's not even about football. It's about feeling like you belong.

It's about the four-year-old child who will arrive at Wembley and believe every week supporting Orient will be full of grandeur and glamour.

It's about the middle-aged supporter who, consumed by such bitter memories of years gone by and scarred with anguish, will drink in every last drop of the day knowing it may never come again.

It's about those who saw the East End blown to smithereens during the Blitz and sought refuge by clinging to the precarious fortunes of their local club.

It is about those who arrived as refugees from the shtetls and shtiebels of Eastern Europe and found somewhere they could call home.

It is about the keyboard warriors, the teenage tearaways, the romantics, the dreamers. It's about every single one of us.

For whichever walk of life we come from, and they are vast and plentiful, we all find ourselves searching for the same destination.

Leyton Orient is not just a football club. It is a family, a community, a place where people feel they belong. There is a togetherness, an atmosphere which is truly special, and a management which embraces those around it at every opportunity.

I've watched these players produce performances which they had no right to produce. I've witnessed displays of courage and resilience which no other Orient team has managed.

But it's not what they do on the pitch, but what they do off it, which helps the club cement itself at the epicentre of the local community.

For while the spectre of the Olympic Stadium and West Ham's impending move casts a shadow, this club strains ever sinew to reach the light and blossom in the harshest of times.

I've watched David Mooney spend hours in a care home carefully reassuring a 99-year-old fan that he will bring a trophy to show him at the end of the season.

I've seen Elliot Omozusi, a man who went to jail and did his time, emerge as a stronger person with a determination that the younger generation do not make the same mistakes as he once did.

I've heard of Russell Slade taking time out to send birthday cards to an 88-year-old supporter because he knows the importance of what 'community' means.

This is a club which has been reborn. It is a club which has had its very DNA transformed in the past year by Slade, a man who has understood what Leyton Orient is all about.

It has never been about solely winning - that much is obvious from the club's history - it is about making each and every person feel like they have a place they can call home.

It is about making each and every person, from the players to the supporters, feel that they are all in it together in a way George Osborne could only dream of.

Every single cog is as important whether that be Kevin Lisbie in attack, the famous bearded contingent who spend the entire contest stroking their fancy follicles, or the lady in the East stand who spends the entire 90 minutes reading her book.

Slade has woven together a spirit which has not been seen at Brisbane Road in many a year - and all that while opponents have waited for Orient's run to come to a shuddering halt.

That may yet come to pass at Wembley although defeat is scarcely worth contemplating.

But if the worst should happen, then ponder this.

At a time where the game's authorities consider introducing 'B' teams and a loan system which would render clubs as feeder sides and at a time where many 'smaller' clubs are struggling financially, the success of Orient is inspiring for real football fans across the country.

Not a single penny spent on players, no players in the League One Team of the Year, patronised whenever possible and consistently written off at every opportunity. But this group never gives up.

As Orient put Peterborough to the sword in the play-off semi-final, the Sky commentator coined the phrase, "The small club with a big heart."

A small club with a big heart perhaps, but don't define Orient by its size. Not any more. Define Orient by its ambitions.

Define it as the club which brings people together, which helps each and every person find their place in a jigsaw which only appears to grow with each passing day. It does not belong to you or I - it belongs to each and every one us.

And it is with that in mind that I will walk out my door on Sunday, jog down the steps, and slowly clap the non-existent crowd.

I will wave to the bushes, imagining thousands draped in red and white, chanting vociferously as I 'enter' Wembley stadium.

I'll adjust my tie, take a deep breath and then walk out onto the main road as if nothing has happened.

It may sound like madness to you, but I can't say I've ever felt like I belonged anywhere else.

16 May 2014

Play-off semi final: Leyton Orient 2 Peterborough United 1, 13/5/14

A game in which... everything finally made sense for Orient fans: all those bitterly cold 0-0 draws with Macclesfield; those long, gruelling trips to Carlisle to watch us lose 5-0; the toothless capitulations to lower league opposition in cup competitions; and the entire reign of Paul Brush... All that was worth it for this: a night of glorious payback courtesy of our gutsy, resilient, never-say-die squad and their heroic manager.

Something is different in the east London air this season - and I don't just mean Kevin Dearden's ongoing flatulence issues. It feels like this brilliant team genuinely has the talent, momentum and belief to go all the way. Or, as Russell Slade himself put it: "We're not just going to Wembley to make up the numbers." 

Let's all pile in on Coxy 
Moment of magic... The celebration that followed Dean Cox's opening goal in which the diminutive winger was descended upon by all his team mates and half of the North Stand. It looked dangerous: like the entire sumo wrestling community of Tokyo had inexplicably decided to attack a small guinea pig. That Tiny came out alive is a miracle. 

Moment of madness... When, in the fifth minute of injury time, Chris Dagnall decided that instead of herding the ball into a corner he'd unleash a loose speculative shot at the Peterborough goal, almost as if he hadn't seen - let alone played - a single second of football in his entire life. The Scouse goal hero apparently explained his folly in his post-match interview, but all I could make out was a repetitive high-pitched screech tempered occasionally with a word I believe to be "cheese".

Top gun... All of them. Really, all of them. This was a performance of collective brilliance and commitment. Admittedly the spectre of history loomed large in the dying minutes when it almost looked like 'new Orient' were going to revert to 'typical Orient' and blow their two-goal lead with all the staggering carelessness of a Euro Millions lottery winner who accidentally leaves his ticket on the bus while on the way to collect his cash. Thankfully they held firm, and were even confident enough to let Peterborough's Craig Alcock have a free shot on goal in the last action of the game. 

In the dug out... You have to hand it to Russ: he's got a sense of humour. Why else would he have played right back Syam Ben Youssef up front in 2012 or signed Marc Laird? His pre-match interview with Sky Sports was classic Slade:

Interviewer: Have you practised penalties?
Slade: Of course.
Interviewer: Are you confident you can win if it comes to that?
Slade: Not from what I've seen.

View from the opposition... You could make a book out of a season's worth of increasingly hollow tweets from the Peterborough trolls. However, that book would be the worst book ever printed, the literary equivalent of an embarrassing uncle still desperately trying to get a laugh by placing his glasses slightly askance on his face. Still, respect to all their proper fans at Brisbane Road who kept up a relentless chant of "When the Posh go steaming in" throughout the game. Good luck "steaming in" to the likes of Fleetwood Town or Burton Albion next season, lads.

Tweet of the week... Respect to the legend that is John Mackie, who's currently in the process of trying to round up the 2005/06 promotion-winning squad via Twitter for a trip to the play-off final. John tweeted this picture of the team in Las Vegas, where they appear to have been photo-bombed by a pasty white English guy on a stag do... Oh, no, hang on, that's Joe Keith. It seems there's one member of the squad who won't be getting an invite though: Joe Dolan. "He joined the year after," clarified John, who has perhaps erased from his mind the full horror of Joe's two appearances in the 2005/06 promotion season. Awkward. 

10 May 2014

Play-off semi-final: Peterborough United 1 Leyton Orient 1, 10/5/14

Peterborough prepare their pitch for today's game
A game in which... Peterborough did everything they could to stop Orient - ploughing their own pitch with an industrial-sized bulldozer, for example. Yes, this first leg proved exactly why the Os are in the play-offs as they took the game to the expensively-assembled home side and really should have come away with more than a draw.

The consequences of failing to win when dominant will become clear on Tuesday, but what's not in doubt is that this is a team burning with belief, desire and commitment.

Moment of magic... The moment in the second half when Mathieu Baudry, after riding a couple of tackles, began to stride majestically up the pitch like a returning French war hero leading a victory parade up the Champs-Elysees before spending the night in an expensive bordel. The move ultimately came to nothing, but it epitomised an epic performance from the central defender.

Moment of madness... The moment Kevin Lisbie - who, incidentally put in an awesome shift that belied his 56 years of age - found the ball popping up to him in front of goal in the first half. It was one of those at a height that makes a striker think "Should I volley it or head it?", although inexplicably Lis choose neither and instead opted for belly-flopping towards the ball like a fat kid trying to impress his classmates at the local swimming pool. It didn't work.

Top gun... Particularly excellent performances from Cuthbert, Baudry and (in the second half) Vincelot, but man of the match has to go to Moses Odubajo for a) a driving, penetrative 45 minutes down the right flank after half-time and b) somehow resisting the weight of Orient's entire history and not spooning his shot at an open goal over the bar.

Not quite so top gun... By his standards, John Lundstram had a disappointing game. At one point in the first half he gave away the ball four times in quick succession, the only explanation being that since he's been on loan so many times he literally forgot what team he was playing for. Either that or he was temporarily possessed by the ghost of Paul Terry.

In the dug out... You have to hand it to Russell, this season he's shown that he's not afraid to experiment when it comes to making substitutions. For example, sometimes he's brought Shaun Batt on with 20 minutes to go, and sometimes he's brought Shaun Batt on with 19 minutes to go. Today the manager went renegade, ripped up the rule book and brought Shaun Batt on with 21 minutes to go. It worked, mind, and the big striker was instrumental in Orient's equalising goal.

Orient's player budget for 2013/14
View from the opposition...  "Why does everyone think we come from money?" moaned the one-joke wind-up merchant
Secret Posh Fan, apparently without irony. "We spent just under £2 million on players this year." Yeah, we spent just under £2 on players this year, mate - and that was for a couple of packs of party poppers and a Twix to help the team celebrate securing a play-off place.

Tweet of the week... "Strange day today. No Prem games and no academy fixtures to watch," tweeted former Stoke City benchwarmer Michael Owen this morning, almost as if he had literally no idea that football existed beneath the Premier League. Next Tuesday: Michael expresses surprise when Sky Sports televises Leyton Orient v Peterborough: "Enjoying the Kabbadi from east London on TV tonight. In many ways, it seems to be a similar game to football."

Ready for the second leg? Read James Masters and me running the rule over the relative merits of Orient and Peterborough 

08 May 2014

Play-off preview: Leyton Orient v Peterborough United head to head

Leyton Orient have the looks, Peterborough have the money. But who is better placed to advance to Wembley through the play-off semi-finals? 

I thought I'd find out by scientifically* matching up the teams' relative attributes. However, since it was only a week ago that I discovered Peterborough were actually in the same division as us – I thought they were in League Two – I know literally nothing about them. Luckily James Masters is a proper journalist for The Times and stuff, so he's written all the bits about the Posh players... 


The Cats
Jamie Jones versus Bobby Olejnik

Jamie Jones
Former Everton trainee Jamie Jones guards the Orient net like a Scouser fiercely protecting his six-pack of Tesco own-brand lager from fellow guests at a Toxteth house party. Take a shot at Jamie and he’ll almost certainly save it; drop a ball from a great height and he’ll almost certainly waft a punch at it like a nine-year-old girl half-heartedly trying to burst a pinata. But never mind that: Jones is Orient’s best goalkeeper in years – maybe ever – and his prowess could prove critical.   
Score: 8/10

Bobby Olejnik
Bobby – or 'B.O' as the kids in the changing rooms at school are alleged to have called him – was born in Vienna where he became a national dancing champion with his famous waltz. Little Bobby’s quick dancing feet and 'can, can' attitude has made him a favourite at Posh where he was named player of the year and celebrated by busting moves to Haydn, Mozart and Schubert.  
Score: 9/10

The Rocks
Nathan Clarke versus Jack Baldwin

Nathan Clarke
A towering physique, threatening tattoos and a look of cold, hard terror in his eyes... which makes it all the more strange that when Nathan Clarke opens his mouth he sounds like an ageing bit-part actress from Coronation Street. Luckily the only words he needs to say on the pitch are: "Shit lads we’re losing, I’m going to luzz it into the mixer so get your fookin’ nonces on it."  Not much gets past Orient’s Captain Fantastic, so the Posh will have their work cut out.
Score: 9/10

Jack Baldwin
JB is the defensive rock – the young wolf who keeps the back door slammed shut. He cost £500,000 from Hartlepool earlier this season, a figure so large nobody in Leyton has ever managed to count to it. Balders, who ironically is well endowed in the follicle department, was actually born in Redbridge but was never welcomed at Orient – a club where there’s only room for one bald winner.
Score 8/10

The Engines
Romain Vincelot versus Michael Bostwick 

Romain Vincelot
Watching Romain Vincelot go about his job you’re minded not just of a footballer, but of an over-zealous French serial killer frantically trying to cover his tracks by eradicating all the witnesses to his many crimes. Yes, the immaculately-bearded midfielder is everywhere, tearing into opponents, breaking up their play and amassing enough yellow cards to build them into a full-sized replica of the Pyramids of Giza. This guy is immense.
Score: 8/10

Michael Bostwick
Posh’s enforcer, known as 'The Boss' because of his unyielding desire for victory and not his range of Hugo Boss underwear, is well known to O’s supporters. It’s unclear whether Bostwick has taken out an injunction over what I’m about to tell you…but he used to play for Stevenage. I say play, he used to run up and down while the ball went over his head. Posh paid £800,000 for him – imagine how many Bovril lids Orient could buy with that.
Score: 8/10

The Prima Donnas
Dean Cox versus Nathaniel Mendez-Laing 

Dean Cox
Orient's diminutive winger has a special talent – and I don't just mean his ability to enter and leave buildings via the cat flap. So far this season Tiny has 15 goals and 13 assists - the most in League One - proving he's absolutely critical to the success of the Os. Recently Russell Slade has been playing Cox in a position called "just fucking run about and try to do something" rather than on the wing, but wherever he's stationed, he's sure to be a threat. 
Score: 9/10

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing
Pies, doughnuts and a lifetime supply of Ben and Jerry’s – those are just three of the guilty pleasures which may or may not have contributed to NML turning up to pre-season a bit heavier than he was supposed to. His talent has never been in doubt but neither has his ability to seek trouble – as he did in November 2012 when he was cautioned by police after a wild night out and promptly transfer-listed. It is unclear if he escaped by eating his way out of the cell.
Score: 7/10

The Marksmen
David Mooney versus Britt Assomalonga 

David Mooney
Over David Mooney's time at Orient he has metamorphosied from a slow-moving caterpillar – all criss-crossed legs and malfunctioning antennae – to a beautiful butterfly, soaring to the top of the League One scoring charts in the early part of this season. Since chipping the keeper at Swindon back in November, Moon's will now only ever attempt to score through the medium of a lob. Despite this he remains a major threat. 
Score: 8/10

Britt Assombalonga
There are not many men fortunate enough to share a name with Jewish ritual circumcision but Britt is not any ordinary man. This guy, rather aptly, has so much cutting edge that he can scythe through the spurious bullshit espoused by UKIP on a daily basis. He cost a cool £1.5 million from Watford but his 17-point scrabble surname means he’s always a favourite at the local old-aged home.
Score: 9/10

The Gaffers
Russell Slade versus Darren Ferguson 

Russell Slade 
Legend has it that Russell Slade broke into football management only after erroneously turning up at Notts County's Meadow Lane when intending to interview for an assistant head of PE position at the nearby Nottingham Girls' High School. And when I say "legend", I mean I have made this up. But a lack of playing pedigree hasn’t stopped the balding Berkshire man from crafting a team of free transfers into Championship prospects – a feat that puts him right up there with the best football managers of the moment. 
Score: 9/10

Darren Ferguson
When Darren Ferguson retires he’d like to move to Turkey and become an expert in kebabs – that’s the word on the street in Leyton. What other explanation could there be for his constant presence in local haunt, Anatolia, on Leyton High Road, which even has its own shrine to Fergie in the gents toilets with a personalised hairdryer. It has also been revealed that every time Fergie washes his hands, he looks in the mirror, waves and says, 'Halloumi'.
Score: 8/10

And the final score? 
Leyton Orient: 51/60 
Peterborough United: 49/60

And THAT'S science so you can't even argue with it. Bring on Wembley! 
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