#7 A Journey to the Orient


windon’s 0-3 win away to Barnsley the previous Saturday propelled the Club to third place in the League One table heightening expectations among supporters. Word is getting around that Swindon aren’t too bad and a bumper away crowd is expected away at Leyton Orient on Saturday; apparently, 1000 plus.

Leyton Orient have been a bogey team in recent times with Swindon having lost their last four away encounters against the O’s. Orient reached the League One play-off final last season and to use that well-worn football cliché "are suffering a hang-over effect", currently sitting just above the relegation zone. This is a little surprising given that the team is largely the same as it was in the previous campaign. Russell Slade’s departure won’t help them. Being of a pessimistic bent, I would quite happily settle for a draw.

My girlfriend, my friend Mike and I take the DLR line up to Stratford before switching on to the Central Line for Leyton. Mike, with his cloth gap, cords and Chelsea boots, looks somewhere between Dr Who and one of those chaps in that Lowry painting. The rain is falling steadily, but not heavily, as we briskly walk to Brisbane Road. We are searched before we pass through the turnstile, but not with any great rigour. We are not the most intimidating trio. As we climb the stairs in the East Stand we come to what we think are our seats, but find them taken by three chaps dressed in onesies. I informed them that they were sitting in our seats. They tell me to ‘f**k off’. I do as instructed and thankfully find three unoccupied seats. As everyone is standing, sitting is not an option. I suppose admitting to a preference to sitting in such an environment would be akin to castrating oneself.

Brisbane Road is a compact, clean, tidy ground. I particularly like the fact that the seats are very close to the pitch*. Although it’s smaller than the County Ground, it’s more ‘up together’. The press area might even be described as plush. The residential apartment blocks on the corners of the Ground are an oddity. If you’re not an ardent Orient fan or football lover, I would have thought that such a residential arrangement might be a little inconvenient. The pitch, like many lower league pitches, these days, is immaculate. Swindon ought to be able to play their possession based football.

The 1000 plus Swindon fans are in good voice belting out the familiar “RED ARMY”, “SWINDON TIL I DIE” and “GO FETCH YA FATHER’S GUN TO SHOOT THE OXFORD SCUM”. The chant of “SH*T GROUND, NO FANS, SHIT GROUND, NO FANS” seems confused and hypocritical given Swindon’s stature. Former Swindon player, Scott Cuthbert, now Leyton Orient right back is subjected to a tirade of abuse, generally consisting of “W**KER, W**KER, W**KER” every time he is in possession. He seems unfazed. The Swindon fans have also adapted the popular Kolo/Yaya Toure chant ‘No Limit’ remix to the Thompson brothers – Nathan and Louis. A gentleman in the row in front of us is getting particularly exercised by this chant, crouching down in simian** fashion with his arms outstretched. He’s as happy as Larry. Good for him. His mood deteriorates when a fan tries to get the chant of “SWINDON FANTASTICO, SWINDON MAGNIFICO” going (or something not too dissimilar to Liverpool’s Balotelli chant). The said gentleman’s response is robust chanting something along the lines of “YOU ARE A TWATIO, YOU ARE A TWATIO”. His chant intimidates, and the ‘fantastico, magnifico’ chant ends abruptly. This confrontation is indicative of the relative lack of cohesion among the away Swindon fans: a collection of disparate groups rather than one body.

The atmosphere is charged; a flare is launched on to the pitch. Presumably, the Swindon fan believes that his menace rivals that of a Galatasaray supporter. The game is halted. Swindon will probably be fined. Lee Power won’t be happy. Not long after another Swindon fan – possibly in his late teens – is tackled to the ground on the edge of the pitch by approximately five police officers. I don’t know what he did to merit such attention. The fact that it takes five police officers to capture the hardly Herculean Inbetweener suggests that the Leyton/Leytonstone constabulary could do with flexing a dumbbell or two. Apprehended, the miscreant departs the Ground to a rapturous reception from the Swindon fans. He is beaming with pride.

Turning to the football, Leyton Orient enjoy the better of the opening exchanges carving out two clear goal scoring opportunities, breaking the offside trap of the high line of Swindon’s back three. The Swindon fans are incensed, reckoning that both these chances stemmed from offside positions (as did Mark Cooper in his post-match comments). Noticing that the linesman was not a linesman, but, a lineswoman, the Swindon fans concluded that her ‘poor decision making’ simply derived from the unfamiliar environment in which she was operating (not the kitchen). Swindon’s passing is a little sloppy (by their high standards), seemingly affected by the wet conditions. However, they resolutely adhere to passing the ball out from the back with keeper Foderingham rarely punting the ball long. The back three of Stephens, N.Thompson, Turnbull are very classy on the ball.

Swindon take the lead on the half hour mark when Michael Smith controls Luongo’s pass from the right before guiding a right footed strike into the top corner of the Leyton Orient goal. Swindon’s passing improves and the team, largely, controls proceedings until the 75 minute mark. At certain points the Swindon fans chant “WE’RE TAKING THE PISS, WE’RE TAKING THE PISS, WE’RE SWINDON TOWN, AND WE’RE TAKING THE PISS” (my favourite chant of the day). Just after half-time Swindon add a second goal when Byrne finishes off a sublime passing move involving Foderingham, Luongo and M.Smith (see the Youtube footage below).

In the final 15 minutes Swindon sit too deeply, inviting Leyton Orient on. The Leyton Orient tactic of long punts up to the big and burly Batt and Henderson cause Swindon a few anxious moments. Henderson pulls a goal back for Orient in injury time after heading in Cuthbert’s pin-point cross from the right. Swindon hang on for a 1-2 victory. An excellent win against a tricky opponent.

At the end of the game the Swindon players led by Nathan Thompson and Yaser Kasim applaud the fans. Kasim gives his shirt away; I cover my girlfriend’s eyes to blank out his chiselled physique. The Swindon fans belt out “WE ARE GOING UP”.

Swindon’s performance was not as good as most commentators have said as Leyton Orient could have drawn/won the game given the number of clear goal scoring opportunities they had. Being hyper-critical, Swindon’s passing was a little out of kilter, although they still had 62% possession (according to BBC Sport), probably disrupted by the rain and the persistent fouling of Orient’s central midfielders, Vincelot and Bartley, breaking Swindon’s rhythm. Swindon’s best players on the day were Nathan Thompson with his calmness, well-timed interceptions and distribution; Luongo with his inventiveness; and Michael Smith with his excellent link-up play. A particularly pleasing aspect was the performance of Birmingham loanee Amari’i Bell at left wing back. He was good in possession and strong off the ball. It’s difficult to fathom how he couldn’t get a game for Mansfield earlier in the season. Swindon’s scouting triumphs yet again.

* No doubt if I was a TV commentator I’d be compelled to substitute ‘pitch’ with ‘pitchside’.
** Mike’s observation.

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