Minnesotans tend to be passionate about the sports teams they support through thick and thin; this past weekend Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins (for the past three seasons in the Twins’ case) was a disappointment for their fans. And that has also been true in recent years for those that “live and die” with the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves. Only the Minnesota Lynx have provided their supporters with consistent success the past two-plus seasons.
My passion on the sports front dates back to my childhood days growing up in London, England, where soccer is the sport of choice year-round. The professional soccer team from London that I have supported since the early 1950s is not one of the glamor clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur. Rather, it is a club that has languished for many years in the lower reaches of the four divisions that make up what used to be called the Football League and now go by the English Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two. That club is Leyton Orient, which is located in the east end of London.
So why support a club whose success has been limited at best during its 132-year history? One reason is that it was within easy traveling distance by the London Underground train system from where I grew up. The second reason is that the-then captain of the club, Stan Aldous, coached soccer at the primary school I attended in the early 1950s. That got the O’s, as the club is affectionately known, on my radar.
It did not hurt that the club began to have some success at that time, being promoted from what was then Division III (now League One) to Division II (now the Championship) in the 1955-56 season. I started going to home games on a regular basis in the 1956-57 season – I still have the programs from the hundreds of games that I have attended – and in one stretch from the 1957-58 season up to including the 1961-62 season when the club won promotion from Division II to the top division for the one and only time in its history, I attended every home game and a few away games, especially in that promotion year.
Unfortunately, Leyton Orient spent only one year in Division I, finishing bottom, but there was a bright spell at the beginning of the season when it won home games against West Ham, Manchester United and Everton. Not much else went right during the season, however, and I was unable to go to as many games as I would have liked because I started my journalism career in late August of 1962 and that meant working on Saturdays.
Once back in Division II, the team did not fare well and was relegated to Division III, which precipitated a financial crisis. A possible closure of the club was averted and it bounced back into Division II, where it stayed for a decade before the hard times hit again in the 1980s and the O’s were relegated back to Division III and then Division IV.
The 1990s were even worse; there was another financial crisis when the-then owner faced bankruptcy and put the club, which was on the verge of elimination again, on sale for five pounds. Sports promoter Barry Hearn of Matchroom Sports, which promotes darts, billiards and snooker, bowling and fishing as well being involved in European PGA golf, bought the club in 1995 and still owns it.
Promotion back to what is now League One took place in the 2005-06 season and the club has twice avoided relegation by the skin of its teeth, but has twice also finished seventh out of 24 teams, one place out of the playoffs, which determines promotion to the Championship.
One of those seventh-place finishes occurred last season and the O’s have started the 2013-14 season in fine form. They are top of the table at this point with five wins from five games, 13 goals scored and only two conceded. It’s the best start to any season since the club’s founding in 1881. It has not been easy to support Leyton Orient in the mostly famine years and I have to confess that for in the 1980s and 1990s I lost track of how they were doing, except on my trips back to the U.K. But the Internet changed that and I follow the team with a passion via the BBC and club’s websites. The great start to this season gives me hope for the future, but even if the O’s can’t sustain it, I will continue to keep the faith.