Go Away: Leyton Orient

A red double decker London bus; on the front is the number 55 and the destination 'Leyton'. The bus is on a red background

As cranes tower over the city as far as you can see and luxury apartments are demolished to make way for even more luxury apartments, the centre of London ceases to be a city in its own right, one where people actually live, and instead evolves into a cross between an old boys club and a duty free lounge. But whilst London becomes anywhere, Leyton is very much London.

Terraced houses and council estates, bombed in the Blitz, stripped of industry under Thatcher, peppered by African supermarkets and Caribbean barbers, and with craft beer options and coffee shops, it is as East London as East London gets. In 2012 the Olympic Games pitched up across the other side of the River Lea, bringing a prosperous future of regeneration and legacy to Leyton. And who knows, maybe some time soon that’ll begin. Apparently the presence of the Olympics did bring new ‘street furniture’ to Leyton so if you see a fridge in a front yard, or a sofa in a back alley, remember, Seb Coe did that.

The railways transformed Leyton from a quiet parish to part of the wider city and in the years between the World Wars it thrived off the back of its key industries. Rail? Ironworks? No, Thermos and neckties. Hard to believe an area can be kept solvent by people who liked to keep up appearances and enjoy a hot cup of tea at any time, but then equally, is there anything more British?

Although synonymous with the area, Leyton Orient didn’t pitch up in this part of London until the 1930s as like most London residents they moved around a bit initially, enduring some awful houseshares; apparently QPR always leave washing up in the sink, and you don’t want to know about what West Ham would do with the milk. Anyway, Orient initially spent 34 years in Clapton until 1930, then edged closer to Leyton by playing at Lea Bridge Road for six years, before finally committing to Leyton in 1936. 

It’s believed the name Orient was chosen at the behest of player, Jack R Dearing, who was an employee of the Orient Steam Navigation Company. Suppose we can be thankful that Albert Jenkins didn’t insist on calling us Doncaster Great Northern, but not as thankful as Sheffield Wednesday must be that their founder, Arthur Rowbotham-Smythe, didn’t insist on naming the club after his employers at the Heeley Sewage Works.

What’s it famous for?

If you find your way to Leyton easily then you can thank one of its most famous sons. Harry Beck, designer of the iconic London Underground map could be found in Leyton as a lad, or perhaps he couldn’t, given how hard it was to navigate the Tube before his revolutionary design.

Iron Maiden were formed in Leyton in 1975, sharing a spectrum of musical talent from the town that also includes early hiphop act Gunshot, and Bobby Crush. If you’re wondering who Bobby Crush is kids, he was the 1970s equivalent of Rylan; only where Rylan broke out from initial TV talent show success by partnering his singing with a polished yet personal and self deprecating presenting style, Bobby just had a piano and a camera-friendly range of winks. They were simpler times, the 1970s.

How to blend in

Navigate with ease, wear a tie to any occasion, play the piano as if you may be having a mini stroke, complain about gentrification whilst drinking a £7 pint, and enjoy food from any nation you care to think of.

What’s the stadium like?

I like Brisbane Road. It’s got four stands and proper floodlights and has been enhanced and modernised without being left completely unrecognisable from what it was before. Think more Demi Moore than Simon Cowell.

Though three of the stands date from this century, the old East Stand, where you’ll be sitting as away fans, is approaching its 70th year. According to The Football Ground Guide this stand has ‘an interesting gable on its roof which has ‘Leyton Orient’ proudly emblazoned across it and gives a nice link to the club’s history’. Hardly Anecdote of the Year is it? Remind us never to get stuck talking to the writer of The Football Ground Guide at a party.

In the corners between its stands, Brisbane Road famously boasts blocks of modern flats, constructed to help fund the redevelopment of the ground. So if the game isn’t up to much, you can always shout over and ask the couple in 317 to stick Homes Under the Hammer on.

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