Saturday, 12 April 2008

Leyton Orient Football Club

the team

There is a football club in the East End of London known as Leyton Orient. If you go into their history you find the Orient part comes from the Peninsular & Orient Line that had many ships travelling on the world seas some 40 years ago. I should know I worked for them for a year as a clerk when I left school. Anyhow, drifting away from all of this I used to watch this team when West Ham United were playing away. Some time ago I wrote a blog about West Ham United which were and are still my team, reasons being in this blog. However, my best school friend (it was an all girls school), was a faithful follower of Leyton Orient for the same reasons that I loved West Ham United - her father was a fan. We were both totally in the ban of football at the time. Cutting out newspaper cuttings about our teams, sticking them in scrap books and collecting all we could for our teams.

We both had the same problem which we solved together. Two young teenagers not working had no income, just the ten shillings weekly pocket money from our parents. Although in those days football was a game to be shared by everybody and the entrance fees were reasonable enough, there were other expenses. We could certainly not afford to see the so called "away" matches - today it seems the world is smaller and all faithful fans travel to see their teams. So what did we do. West Ham United and Leyton Orient were in the same part of London, East London. West Ham's tube station was on the District Line, Upton Park, and Leyton Orients was on the central line, Leyton. As Mile End was on both lines, I would usually bus it to where my friend lived and we would alternate with the football matches. Leyton and West Ham always played at home on alternative Saturdays so this was the solution.

I knew as much about the Leyton Orient team as I did the West Ham team. Of course the Orient were a 2nd Division team and did not have the stars at their matches. They did get promoted to the 1st Division once, only to be relegated again the next season. It was also a team that had big financial problems, and almost went bankrupt once, but were saved by a business man although this was after my time.

Ok so we also found that we could even save more money. Although West Ham was too far to walk, Leyton Orient was not, although we needed a good hour to do it, but we did. Every second Saturday we would save our train fare money and walk to the ground. I can't remember the exact route but somewhere along the way it was open country along the River Lea. At that time the River Lea was a meandering river through London and was nice open countryside. It seems over the years it got neglected and was full of all sorts of rubbish. Then someone got the bright idea of turning it into an area to hold the London Olympics, so at the moment it is being developed, built on and transformed. The East Enders are not happy, but that again is something else. Their captain was Ken Facey, I think the right half, and there was a player called Syd Bishop. I remember this player particularly well as I saw him score a goal twice from the half way line through the goal posts, an amazing feat, very impressive. There is also a player called Cyril Lea - he was Welsh and had a red sports car (the things that come to mind).

So back to the Orient, the photo above is the team we would watch. Although the goalie is shown as Frank George, they had another goalkeeper called David Groombridge who was one of our favourites. As you can see we would stand behind the goal, it was cheapest. Eventually we had a bit more pocket money and could afford entrance to the place where the players entered the field. This was very interesting if your were an Orient fan. One of their directors at the time was a certain Les or Lew Grade. I am not sure which one, but they were both show business impresarios and through this connection there were often well known people at the matches.

Arthur Askey, a well know British comedian of the time was often at the matches. The stadium was small and if the "O's" as they were called, managed to have an interesting cup match then it would be packed to the edges. Arthur Askey would take the microphone, stand on the pitch and tell the people to "Move along please" is his amusing way. He was so popular. Through this show business connection I also saw Cliff Richard in the stand once (our standing place was in front of the director's stand) and upon the visit of Pat Boone to England, he was also there.

The team 1959 with hats from Pat Boone

Just to prove it here is a photo taken at the time. I received most of the photos by e-mail, but I don't know where they were available. Even the 2nd goalie David Groombridge can be seen in this photo. Les Gore was the manager at this time.

Harry Gregg and Tom Johnston

Here is an action photo of the team. The goalie shown, Harry Gregg, may well be a memory for the Mancunians amongst us. I remember in the school holidays, with lack of something intelligent to do, my friend and I might take a walk to Brisbane Road with our autograph books and if we were lucky the team would be having a training and coming out of the ground. No problem, they signed. Although the Orient never really made it big, they are still in the English football league and I still have fond memories.
I am probably one of the rare claret and blue West Ham supporters that got to know this team so well. Now and again they even transferred players. One name that comes to my mind was Phil Woosnam. Woosnam was actually a physics teacher at one of the local schools and was born in Wales. West Ham bought him in 1958 for thirty thousand pounds from Orient, seems cheap when you compare it to the prices paid today.

One of the players at the time was Terry Macdonald. When I was in England last year visiting my school friend (she is also godmother to my youngest son) she showed me a book that had been given to her written by a certain Tony McDonald, full of reports and photos from "our" time. It seems that Tony McDonald is Terry McDonalds son and has also written a book featuring West Ham United. I remember Terry Macdonald very well. A left winger I believe and had a wonderful head of blond hair. Memories, Memories - after all this was more than forty years ago. My friend and I celebrated our 60th birthday together, and I think we will be celebrating the seventieth as well. I found another group photo of the club, funnily I found none on Internet.

I am into football again, but it has changed so much. Money speaks the football language today. I just can't get used to the fact that players are loaned out to other clubs for a certain amount of time, and that forwarders are now known as strikers. Where are the days of the No. 5 centre half and the no. 10 inside left? I must be getting old.

The team 1957


  1. Wonderful stuff! I was an O's fan in the same period. One minor point, David Groombridge was not in the first of your photos (1960 - 61) as he had been forced into retirement by a knee injury by then.

    Happy days!!

  2. Dave Groombridge never kicked the ball he threw it every time when it was in his hands,he was in competition with Pat Welton and later Mike Pinner who was an a part timer then big Bill Robertson.

    I played for spurs south east counties team where Eddie Bailey and Pat Welton were in charge, Bailey wasn't very nice to us kids ,after finishing our games at Cheshunt on Saturday mornings I'd shoot away to get over the O's for 3 while all the other lads stayed on to watch spurs, I used to meet up with Harry Gregory to go over the O's, Harry was a hero to us kids on Kingsmead estate.Bill Harvey.

    1. I am sorry to comment so late on this posting, but it sort of got lost amongst the others. Very interesting comments. I never saw Harry Gregory play, but my dad was a big West Ham Fan (and so was I) and he was one of the best. My football watching days were many years ago, about 50, but the memories remain.

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  4. I saw the midweek game between Leyton Orient and Doncaster, it was a midweek evening match at the beginning of the season. Both Tommy Johnston and Charlie williams were sent off for fighting. Alick Jeffrey was playing for Doncaster

  5. I saw the midweek game between Leyton Orient and Doncaster, it was a midweek evening match at the beginning of the season. Both Tommy Johnston and Charlie williams were sent off for fighting. Alick Jeffrey was playing for Doncaster

  6. The first time I ever watched an Orient game was at the end of the 1956 season , and it was the match which clinched promotion to Division Two from the third division South. In those days you had to finish top to be promoted, not like nowadays when you can be promoted even if you finish sixth.The match was against Millwall, Orient won 2-1, and I think the winning goal was direct from a corner taken by Phil White, known as Phylis at that time. Probably because he never tackled anybody.