Dad ate all of his Easter chocolate in a twenty-four hour period and was crashing hard on the morning of Easter Monday. I told him that I was heading out to go and support the Orient, that they were struggling financially and might go out of existence.
His Lindt smeared face darkened.
What, he spat, no English charities for ya? Don’t wanna keep ya money here and help your own? This is why we voted Br-
Coming into this game, London’s second oldest football club were in dire straits both on and off the field. The permutations against Hartlepool were simple: win to fight on another day. Anything less would see them drop out of the football league.
The coffee stakes were no less demanding, naturally. I opted for Deeney’s Café and they didn’t disappointed. A great flat white to settle the nerves.
The stadium itself is a very straightforward affair, apart from the fact that the four corners of the stadium have flat blocks built into them. The old East Stand has a gable a third of the way along the roof, for some reason, and the West Stand is positively hideous. It’s akin to a large office block in structure, but the seats only reach halfway up, leaving a sheer grey wall running up to the roof several hundred metres above. But overall, a nice boxy fit.
Tickets were only a fiver for this game, and while London museums are free admission, Orient really outdid themselves with a forty-five minute live-abstract-art piece entitled Reckless, Unfit Owner Runs Proud Football Club Into The Ground And Now Everyone’s A Bit Pissed Off.
Only in London, eh?
The villains of the piece were the FA, the EFL and owner Francesco Becchetti. The overriding themes were clowns, whistles, clowns with whistles, and a fervent wish to rid the club of the latter villain. One of the clowns, let’s call him Heroin the Clown, made his way up to the row in which I was sat, clown mask on, balloons tied to his back, whistle blowing hideously out of tune like a raver leaving a degraded field at 9am on a Sunday.
But this was merely the slow build. The artwork truly kicked in after Hartlepool took an early lead. The misery of conceding in such a do-or-die clash was compounded by having Heroin the Clown ramp up his efforts of revolutionising the ownership structure of the club through a plastic mask and a mouthpiece with a pea in it.
His numerous calls to arms were rejected by those around us, however.
Shut up!, they shouted from only two rows behind him.
Sit down, prick!
Heroin the Clown raised his mask and scowled, practically reaching out to touch them.
Fuck off! Make me!
Fucking sit down!
Pipe down, you old c*nt!
And so on.
Around mid-way through the first half, the piece took a violent turn into a structureless, impressionistic field. Beach balls started to reign down from the stands. A sex doll soon followed. The whistles around the ground grew to an incessant, piercing pitch, hunching shoulders and alerting neighbourhood dogs in equal measure. The police escorted several clowns out of the Tommy Johnston stand. Orient struck back with two goals in sixteen minutes. An Orient fan, a soft, long-haired, middle-aged man in socks and sandals, was escorted out after seemingly saying something untoward to the Hartlepool physio. Either that or it was the sandals and socks. Both are rightly punishable. Double fisted wanker signs reigned down on the physio, naturally. Heroin the Clown, even more irate that Orient were now winning, left his seat, asking stewards at the front of the stand to arrest him. They declined. They don’t have the jurisdiction for that, Heroin.
To all intents and purposes, the club seemed to be imploding there and then.
In the second half, however, the game reverted to the more familiar footballing territory of the poetry of life. The Orient fans, like anyone else in this grim game we trudge through, clung on to the tiniest slither of hope, railing against both obvious and imagined injustices for so long that by the end of it all they were praying for the black, shadowy figure to call time and put them out of their misery. I suddenly had an urge to check on Dad.
And after a wild denouement that included a red card for Hartlepool’s Liam Donnelly for near assault on the referee, a goal line clearance, and a Hartlepool defender grabbing an Orient striker by the throat being given as play on, time was finally called.
There was a pitch invasion, of sorts. About five people broke through, running on with giddy glee, presuming others were following their lead. They weren’t. At least not while I was making my own exit. Like their dreams, outside of these four stands, their happiness fizzled out quickly and they snuck back off the pitch again. Joy never lasts. They’ll probably just go down next week.
But the Orient’s ability to throw together this stylistic piece from such a sinking shambles has stuck with me. The sideshow may go on, the club will inevitably succumb to relegation, maybe even go out of existence for a while. But it will always, always come back to the football. Because, ultimately, we need it. Communities need it. People need it. In some cases, it’s all we’ve got. Except Heroin the Clown, he’s got football and heroin.