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Looking back: Leyton Orient v Arsenal, 1952

PUBLISHED: 10:30 09 May 2020

Street signage for Brisbane Road

Street signage for Brisbane Road

PA Archive/PA Images

Alan Martin contacted the sports desk with memories of when Leyton Orient met Arsenal in 1952.

With both clubs currently waiting to see if they will resume the 2019/20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, here is part one of Alan’s tale from yesteryear.

He writes:

It was George’s Dad who suggested it and him a Spurs fan. He knew the two boys chose to go to Leyton Orient because it was local, easy and cheap enough.

They willingly forwent the glamour of Highbury and White Hart Lane for the familiarity of Brisbane Road.

Arsenal had been drawn to play Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road in the fifth Round of the FA Cup on Saturday, February 23, 1952.

“Surely you two are not going to miss Orient’s big day? You’d never forgive yourselves if they won and you weren’t there,“ he said.

“Suppose you’re right,“ muttered George. “But it won’t be so easy to get in without a ticket.“

“Get there early and you’ll be fine.“

“How early?“

“Two hours – at least. They’ll open the gates early, just you see.“

“What do you think Pete?“

“Why not? We can only try and if we don’t get in we can listen to it all from outside.“

“Never thought of that,“ mused George.

So it was that over a very casual cup of tea and slice of bread and jam in George’s homely kitchen that the resolution was struck.

As it was they need not have worried. George’s Dad used his connections and got them two tickets. And insisted it was on him.

The big match was an adventure. For a day, at least, lowly Orient would take to the stage with one of the grandest clubs in the land – almighty, almost peerless, Arsenal.

Football was a big deal, a hot topic in Shoreditch and Hoxton. The rivalry, of course, was essentially between the Gunners and the Lilywhites. If you supported Chelsea you were not really an Eastender. West Ham was genuine but a bit outside the patch. Charlton Athletic was south of the river.

No-one argued if you followed the Orient; they were such a worthy cause. There were a few acceptable oddities, though.

Uncle Bill held to Pompey, but then he was ex-Navy and had spent a lot of shore leave on the south coast.

June’s Mum, Mrs Clayton, originally hailed from Lancashire. She loved to remind everyone that Blackburn Rovers were original founder members of The Football League.

Tom Ritchie, no doubt at all, was Glasgow Rangers. June loved to rib him by insisting Celtic were far the better team! The rivalry of football was great fun but loyalty was

what really counted.

George’s Dad was currently enjoying the champion football of Arthur Rowe’s ‘Push and Run‘ Tottenham Hotspur. He was constantly extolling the glorious skill and style of it all.

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George was tempted, but only by the football, not the club. If only Leyton Orient could play the great stuff; what a great world it would be.

But George and Peter played for the school team. George was the star forward, forever dribbling and scoring important goals. Peter, while not so talented, was a sturdy full-back with a powerful kicking foot to clear his lines.

The team had strange colours: blue and white halved shirts with black shorts. Incongruous to say the least. They won some, they lost some.

The teacher who took them for games was not really football-minded so George tended to make an unusually high number of decisions – who should play, who should play where, who should

take penalty kicks etc.

This was wonderful for him because in other areas of school-life he barely got a look-in.

The boys were going to the match, just the two of them, under their own steam. There would be a lot of people travelling to the match from all over North London, particularly via the Piccadilly and Northern tube lines. They decided that their best bet would be to take a bus from Old Street to Bank and then transfer to the Central Line.

However crowded the tube it was only five stops to Leyton via Liverpool Street, Bethnal Green, Mile End and Stratford. The boys never minded walking. You never knew what you might stumble across.

As it was the boys had departed early – 11am – so found themselves outside Leyton tube station at midday. As usual the boys turned right before before almost immediately crossing the High Road. Within a couple of minutes they reached Dot’s cafe where, if they had the time, they always nipped in for an iced bun and a cup of milky tea.

Dot invariably made a fuss of the Hoxton boys.

“What you been up to this week? Come to see the big boys have you? Don’t fancy their chances today (meaning Leyton Orient).”

“Oh, you just wait and see,“ answered George. “My Dad says however you look at it it’s just eleven men against eleven men.“

“But he’s Spurs, ain’t he? He would say that!“

Dot obviously listened to what the boys said. She was intrigued that they came so often to see Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road.

Brisbane Road was very near. It could be accessed from any one of a dozen streets of largely terraced housing. This lent the ground a decided air of cosy homeliness. No wonder Leyton Orient was regarded as “our team“.

Nonetheless those same homely streets were transformed for the day into a fever-pitch of anticipated excitement at the real-life drama about to be enacted before their very eyes.

The streets surrounding the ground with their royal names – Buckingham, Windsor, Balmoral, Osborne – or Australasian – Auckland, Dunedin, Adelaide, Brisbane – were teeming with fans agog with the unusual commotion.

Vendors presented favours in red and blue, mostly blue. Rosettes were in vogue. Bobble hats and scarves were in short supply. Pink-uns promoting the day’s game and others were raucously to the fore.

Chelsea were away to Leeds, Luton at home to Swindon Town, Southend United at home to Sheffield United, Spurs – out of the cup – were at home to Derby County.

Peter had noted that Blackburn Rovers were still in the cup, as were Portsmouth. Both had home ties. Mrs Clayton and Uncle Bill were kind of involved too. But not George’s Dad; Tottenham had been eliminated by powerful Newcastle United in the previous round.

Kick-off was at 2pm, the boys had planned to be in the ground by 12.30pm at the latest so at least they had a chance of getting a decent view.

The jostling around the ground was quite disconcerting. Many seemed to just mill around for the sake of it, enjoying being among so many.

Others nervously darted here and there seeking the right turnstile, the best turnstile.

The pungent smell of horse manure denoted the presence of those magnificent beasts with their dark blue helmeted riders. They had to be circumnavigated at strategic points.

“Best to get inside as soon as possible,“ insisted George. For once he was not his usual casual self.

“Yah, too right,“ agreed Peter.


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