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Hong Kong Bees reminisces about how the Orient manager John Sitton, Sitton Bingo and that infamous dressing room rant against Brentford had an enormous effect on everyday working life in the IT industry in Hong Kong. 

When Brentford played Leyton Orient at home in 1994-5 season I can remember very little about the game. The Bees won 3-0 with goals from Denny Mundee, Simon Ratcliffe and Nicky Forster. I only know I was there because in those days I used to keep a record of every match I went to, and so I know I was there because it says it on the sheet of “foolscap” I found in my parents’ loft. In a strange twist of providence I can remember glancing at the programme and noting that the Orient manager was John Sitton. That’s it – as tenuous a link as you could come up with.

Sitton was Leyton Orient Manager in 94-95 season, an exciting one for the Bees that would end in that most unjust and heartbreaking disappointment in the play-off shoot-out with Huddersfield. In any other season a second placed finish would have been automatic promotion but for the realignment of the league structure. If memory serves this was to reduce the size of the top division to help the England team be more successful at major tournaments. That worked well then.

Orient went down that season, and Sitton, featured in a channel 4 documentary called C lub For a Fiver, was filmed making a couple of spectacular dressing room rants, one of which was is in the game at Griffin Park. Little did I know that as I (probably) ate a chunky Kit-Kat at half-time feeling somewhat unsure about the Brentford Babettes forming a shaky pyramid, that just out of sight in the away changing room, “Sitts” was delivering a team talk that would become part and parcel of my working life 20 years later.

On first viewing the half time rants (above) though entertaining through their unique blend of high-brow philosophy and low-brow swearing, paint a picture of a fairly obnoxious individual. His disappearing from view after his dismissal at the end of that season seemingly no great loss to the football world in general.

When one lunchtime I sent the YouTube link to “John Sitton half-time rant” on to a couple of workmates as a lunchtime curio, I didn’t realise that I was starting a cult of John Sitton that before long permeated every aspect of the working day.

Most of the following resonates much more if one is familiar with the source material, but quoting John Sitton became a necessary part of our office vernacular. It started by dropping references into email exchanges and conference calls we were involved in. So when a work initiative had not gone to plan it had “not been fired in with any quality” or if someone made a mistake, something had “affected their control” – a reference to Orient’s failed tactic to intimidate Brentford’s attacking genius Robert Taylor. 

Working in IT, it became nigh on impossible to explain anything to do with infrastructure without being told “ F*** the technical sh*t!!!” in response – this a direct quote from Sitton where he appeals to the the players to show heart above any tactics.

As “Sitton Bingo” became the mainstay of our otherwise dreary office move calls, we even found ourselves speaking at conferences and slipping in Sitton references. In the Griffin Park dressing room Sitton appeals to his players to perform because the new owner has “looked at it” and decided he wants players on £250 a week. I managed to say “we’ve looked at it” with regard to some piece of strategic decision making, and earned extra points for holding my hand out like a piece of paper recreating the original Sitton gesture in the video.

For those familiar with the documentary, perhaps the most infamous line is where Sitton offers out a couple of players saying “you can pair up if you like, and you can bring your mates, and you can bring your dinner…” This doesn’t initially make a lot of sense, and he later admitted that it was a bit too obscure a reference to a film he’d been watching. Nevertheless at work, it was seamlessly inserted into an international conference call by a senior manager. “ Let’s have a follow up call in two weeks, there’s not an ideal time due to time zone with US, Hong Kong and Australia but you can bring your breakfast, or you can bring your dinner…” Those in the know were howling on mute and sending clapping emoticons over the corporate instant messaging system as the holy grail had been reached.

All this office in-joke repartee which brought us so much amusement masks a more poignant story. The Channel 4 documentary was a sensation in an age just before the internet. Today internet sensations go viral and are largely forgotten about as soon as they have exploded onto social media, then fading into two-a-penny obscurity. A search of YouTube returns similar managerial rants. Neil Warnock’s up there, and a Brentford BBC Radio 5 documentary from the Noades era positions Brentford coaches in pretty much the same sweary territory.

For Sitton though, his reputation was destroyed. The editing of the documentary did him no favours at all, and the fuller picture is one of a hard working man trying desperately to make good things happen despite everything being against him. A coach who was well-qualified, and really only trying to motivate a response in his players that matched his own passion for the game, became a TV monster. He never got a job in football again. This all because of some colourful swearing, dishing out the type of rollocking that was surely commonplace in football at the time – as the stories from Brentford players at the recent Beesotted social would evidence.

Whatever opprobrium can be levelled at his conduct, it’s hard not to feel sorry for a man caught in the lens. A career destroyed while perpetrators of far worse misdemeanours – even without the context of recent news headlines – were able to make a career in the game. Sitton had to give up on football for a living. He took the Knowledge and became a taxi driver, now directing his forthright views on Twitter at Transport for London and the safety and conduct of the newer competitors to the established London black cab trade. Like the half-time team talks, some of the expressions might be high-octane but it’s hard to disagree with the underlying points a lot of the time.

So there we have it, a Brentford match that I barely noticed at the time, but within the away dressing room at GP (which looks Sunday league it has to be said) a man was ranting his job away, with expressions that made my job much more enjoyable 20 years later. It’s a funny old game, as another ex-Chelsea player once said. Sitton has just released a book that recounts his experiences. I can’t help but feel obliged to give this a plug, as I wait for my copy to arrive.