Saturday, January 24, 2015

Living for the Weekend: Leyton Orient

Match ticket and programme from Leyton Orient.
The professionals make falling off their bikes look so easy. The reality is hours of pain, blood and tears in Accident and Emergency, being told that you've fractured your cheekbone, need stitches and might have knackered your already knackered wrist. 

It’s Saturday 10th January and, clearly sensing I needed to get out, my friend and fellow cyclist Jonesy has made his way over to E17. As a complete spur of the moment thing, we decide to head down to the Matchroom Stadium on Brisbane Road in Leyton to watch Orient take on Fleetwood Town.

It's been a while since I last saw a live match in a ground (the last time possibly being Aston Villa vs. Charlton) and so I assumed that all teams, regardless of position in the English football league pyramid, require some form of advanced booking. I spend around twenty minutes on the ticket hotline listening to a pre-recorded East End woman telling me my call is important to her before I give up. 

We hop on the 158 bus for a few stops, wander down a few residential streets and find what would likely be non-existent at a premier league ground: a cash turnstile! For a princely £25, and a bit of manual effort getting through the vintage turnstiles, we've managed to bag two seats next to each other in the East Stand, just about on the halfway line.

Leyton Orient was originally founded in 1881 as Eagle Cricket Club, becoming Orient Football Club in 1888. Various permutations of the Orient name have been used over the years and it was only as late as 1987 that the name Leyton Orient was finally settled upon.

View towards the South Stand at Brisbane Road.
Despite being one of the oldest clubs in England, Orient's successes have been modest. They managed just one season in the top flight in 1962-63 and their furthest progress in the FA Cup is a semi-final defeat to Arsenal in 1978.

Orient's stadium at Brisbane Road has largely been rebuilt over recent years, with the exception of the East Stand. The East Stand was initially opened in 1957 and had some extra work done 1962 to extend the capacity further.

The moment you've fought with the rusty-looking old-fashioned turnstile you step back into a world that existed before all football stadia became a heap of soulless glass, plastic and concrete. The floor is wooden, there are roof supports in the way of some views of the pitch and there's only one tiny bar in the stand – but I love it.

The match itself was a reasonably tense affair, with small flurries of end-to-end action in the washed-out wintry sunshine. In reality, Fleetwood Town had the best of the chances in the first half and both Jonesy and myself began to feel the frustration of the regular Orient fans.

At half-time there was a bit of a scrum to get to the bar and the net result of it was missing the first few minutes of the second half – and subsequently the only goal of the game. Fleetwood Town’s Gareth Evans scored straight from the restart securing a 1-0 away victory for his side. Orient had a bucket load of chances in the second half, but all to no avail.

In the words of Orient’s defender, Scott Cuthbert, “We switched off and it was an easy goal for them and that's disappointing for us. It was one of those days – it was massively frustrating.”

So we may have missed the only goal of the game, but when the final whistle went, it was easy to make an escape onto a 158 bus and get home to the warmth once more.

Brisbane Road is well worth a visit. The intimacy of the setting and the seating’s proximity to pitch is simply something you wouldn’t get in a good many football grounds these days. I’ll hopefully be back again before too long.

For more information about Leyton Orient visit: http://www.leytonorient.com/

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2014 Cycling Year in Review


Those who know me well, or who follow me on Twitter, will know that 2014 has been a tough year for me in cycling terms.

It started well, completing the March Strava Gran Fondo by cycling overnight from Warwick to Walthamstow with my old schoolmate Jonesy, written up as 'In the Dead of Night' on this blog. As well as being a tough physical and mental challenge for a pair of relatively new road cyclists, it was also a good way to raise around £600 for the charity All Our Children.

Also, just for the sheer fun of it, I finished the May Strava Gran Fondo. This route entailed riding from Walthamstow to Box Hill and completing a reasonably-sized loop, before cycling back into the City. It was my first time riding around Surrey, and Leith Hill and Whitedowns are the toughest hills I have climbed thus far.

Coming to a bit of a fitness peak around about June, just in time for the Wiggle French Revolution, was a highlight. There is no better feeling than zipping up hills on a simple £650 road bike knowing that you weigh a good 90kg and dropping a load of people in the process. A rolling course all based in the Pas de Calais area of northern France with a few tough climbs, mixed with a stiff head wind for the last 25km, put last years' efforts in the New Forest to shame.

A slightly mangled, but very painful wrist.
Infamously, though, I came a cropper on my way from the ferry back to the car park in Dover, when another cyclist decided to stop suddenly at a green traffic light. Cue a fractured wrist and a saga that lasted from the 15th June until finally being given the all clear on 22nd December following a few CT scans.

My 'comeback' sportive on 15th August, after a couple of months of on-off training on the turbo trainer, was the intriguing and unique 'White Roads Classic'. A much smaller affair than a Wiggle sportive, but much more personal.

In reality, the comeback was far from smooth. The train from Paddington to Streatley was delayed meaning that a group of five of us arrived around 45 minutes after the majority of riders had departed. All being of different riding abilities, we cycled off at different rates meaning the majority of the first third of the ride was cycled in a showery solitude.

With the help of a small group of riders, all willing to take a bit of a turn at the front, I managed to save some energy and by the last third of the event I had started to catch some of the main group of starters. Once more, Sasha's reliability meant that I was able to navigate sections of rough chalk road without any mechanical trouble. Thankfully, with my weakened wrist, a friendly follow cyclist helped me to patch up the one slow puncture I did have. Overall, it wasn't the fastest ride, but I managed to complete it.

Starting a new job in September, but still on the other side of London, it meant that I was able to continue to build stamina and burn off the last of the blubber gained during my injury. Although unable to fit in another big really big ride, the year ended with me getting back to a much better state of fitness, albeit with a dull ache in my left wrist.

Let's hope that 2015 means more kilometres and hopefully staying upright on the bike.
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