CNN and Times journalist James Masters feels it’s time that Orient shrug off the ‘little old Leyton Orient’ title and deliver what no-one expects them to this season – promotion to the championship
“How very dare you?”
That is the question the football world has been asking Orient all season.
At first it was patronising.
Reporters and journalists lined up to tell the world that Leyton Orient was “the Cinderella of East London” and that they were simply “little old Leyton Orient” who were having their time in the sun before politely stepping aside for the league’s ‘bigger’ clubs.
Journalists lined up, fingers twitching, as they smirked to themselves and thought how fortunate they must be to have been blessed with such comic talents as the words “Orient Express” was crowbarred into their copy.
Should Orient win, then they would copy and paste “Orient Express powers on” while a defeat would bring out the well thought out phrase, “Orient Express derailed.”
Only a couple of weeks ago, Patrick Barclay wrote in the Evening Standard that Orient’s presence in the Championship would be ‘incongruous’ or out of place for those who do not spend all night reading a thesaurus.
Southend, Gillingham, Yeovil, Scunthorpe, Doncaster did or do all play in the Championship – but Orient’s presence would be out of keeping because they are somehow ‘smaller’ or less ‘high profile’ than those clubs?
As Saturday approaches and Brentford, one of the pre-season favourites for promotion given their run to the play-off final last season, come to E10. Orient have an opportunity to make a statement.
When the O’s won at Griffin Park earlier this term, many saw it as fluke, a result which occurred with Brentford still dazed by that horrendous final day of the season and their drubbing at Wembley.
Orient were on fire, eight wins out of eight and seemingly on their way to ensuring safety, perhaps a play-off place and no more.
How could a team of players, brought together for less than Will Grigg’s right toe, possibly combine to challenge the likes of Wolves, Brentford and Preston?
On Saturday, in front of the television cameras, it is time for Orient to destroy the myth that they are ‘last season’s Tranmere’ or simply going to fall off the pace and allow Brentford the opportunity to waltz into the Championship.
Given the league position and Brentford enjoying the luxury of having two games in hand, this surely is must win for Orient and ‘must not lose’ for the visitors.
That in itself represents a challenge but one that Orient will relish. They are aware of what must be done, have taken 13 points from the past 15 and defensively at least, have looked close to impregnable.
For Brentford it is different. Brentford know they cannot afford to lose but do they stick or twist?
When it comes to the big games, Brentford choke. We all know it. The players know it, the club knows it and the fans know it better than any of them.
Against Wolves, they simply did not turn up. When it mattered against Doncaster on the final day of last season, they fluffed their lines once again.
At Wembley last May, they were swept away by a so-called ‘smaller’ club.
Big games are when the big players step up. Orient may not have someone with the quality of Clayton Donaldson in attack or Adam Forshaw, a personal favourite of mine, in midfield, but they have a team which is stubborn in the supreme.
Orient has is something you cannot buy. It is a spirit fostered between men who would walk onto a pitch and lay down their lives for one another.
This isn’t just a team – this is a band of brothers who simply do not know when they are beaten displaying talents which they have scarcely been applauded for.
Each and every week since the start of the season, they have been written off, told they’re not good enough and that they will be punished for the temerity to challenge at the very top.
And yet, they do not give up. Instead, one game at a time, they ram those critics down the throat by winning when they have no right to do so, by taking points where Orient teams of old would have faltered, and maintaining that challenge.
When I look at this Orient team, I don’t just see players. I see warriors.
I see Nathan Clarke, a giant amongst men, who has led this team like a Roman general. I watch Romain Vincelot and his magnificent beard go into every challenge with the look of a man possessed.
I watch Kevin Lisbie throwing his ageing frame around as if he was still a sprightly teenager, while Lloyd James, derided for so much of last season, has emerged as man with a stomach for a battle.
I look on with a loving gaze at goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic and the way he cradles the ball like a baby each time it flies towards him.
I smile as Moses Odubajo skips away from another defender with ease or Dean Cox curls another effort into the top corner.
And yet people keep telling me, this is just a collection of players put together by Russell Slade who have a bit of talent but rely mostly on their work ethic.
A bit of talent? Is there a finer young right-winger outside the Premier League than Odubajo at the moment? Is there a better full-back in League One than Elliot Omozusi? And is there a better provider than Cox, the man who has had the highest number of assists in the division for the past three years?
Has David Mooney just been fortunate to score 18 goals this season or is he actually a very good player?
The tendency to overlook the amount of talent at Brisbane Road is embarrassing and gives further credence to the argument that this team does not deserve the recognition it deserves.
Brentford will arrive at Brisbane Road with an air of arrogance – that they are the better team, the bigger club, the rightful heir to that second automatic spot.
Every time these two teams meet, Orient are reminded that it’s ‘their cup final’ which is amusing given Brentford’s penchant for losing these kind of matches.
There is no doubt that Brentford possess a wealth of talent from Jake Bidwell in defence, Alan Judge in midfield and Marcello Trotta in attack alongside the impressive Donaldson.
But do they have the fight?
Orient’s win at Griffin Park gave them the belief that they could compete, that they could achieve something special and that Russell Slade could be the man to take the club into the Championship.
Orient have 10 games to go. It is the best chance they will ever have of reaching the second tier of English football.
And in essence, nothing has changed.
Nobody thinks they will do it. Nobody reckons they will stay the pace. Nobody expects anything else but failure.
But that’s the old Orient. Not this Orient. Not our Orient.
You can catch James on FanStand live from the pub on Thursday 13th March on the Beesotted1992 Youtube channel