Josh Clarke supports Leyton Orient, but in his younger days was an apprentice with Norwich City. Sod’s Law meant that they would draw each other in the Third Round of the FA Cup, which meant an unexpected trip back to Norfolk for him.
In what is normally the most romantic weekend of the English football calender, a week of deep introspection and soul-searching has left me unable to bask in the potential banana-skins, giant killings and Ronnie Radford moments that the FA Cup 3rd Round is capable of throwing up. The reason for my anxiety is that the cruel mistress that is the FA Cup draw, shoddily overseen by Noel Gallagher and Serge from Kasabian has slung together my two clubs. I’ve found out what happens when your home team, the team you know and love, comes head-to-head with your newly adopted local side.
Indeed, it’s hardly a game to capture the imagination of the countries sporting press, but when Leyton Orient take the trip up the A47 to meet Norwich City, my usually unwavering loyalty may have an uncharacteristic wandering eye. Having represented the Canaries from a young age and becoming an apprentice for the club in my teens, I have a long personal history with the club from Norfolk. And for that reason, I should be supporting Norwich. I will be supporting Norwich. Yet the step taken to become an Oriental after moving to East London four months ago was not taken lightly. I’ve spent money in the club shop on match day, which in these dark days seems to be the acid test of the severity of your support. Admittedly, it may be indicative of mental regression rather than stoic integrity but the fact that a Leyton Orient poster now adorns my living room wall shows that I’m serious. I also have a scarf, that bastion of sentiment for the English fan, as well as three home games under my belt.
For some reason, I’ve always had a second club. Something that was probably borne out of years of uncertainty on the pitch at Carrow Road creating some kind of deep-seated psychological need for an insurance policy. Yet this support has always been transient. Childhood support for Leeds, in retrospect, was rather ridiculous. Initiated by the fact that Leeds was the club of my dad’s choice (his namesake Allan Clarke was all the rage back in the day), my support was superficially maintained by Champions League football funded by the catastrophic economics of Peter Risdale. This was followed by a brief flirtation with Aston Villa. A rebellious appreciation of the sometimes nonsensical all-English recruitment policy of Martin O’Neill appealed to me. This was soon banged on the head though, with the appointment of Gerard Houllier. A dislike which was spurned from Houllier adopting the bipolar opposite philosophy to O’Neill during his spell at Anfield definitely to blame.
This time, however, its for real. Wishing to feel an affinity with my new local area that stretched beyond the Queen Vic and jellied eels, I reached out to the Orient. Although, after the 2012 Olympics, I’m due to have a new local club, either in the form of West Ham or Tottenham – but I’m not playing that game. Orient it is, for better or worse. And at the minute, it looks like the start of a beautiful relationship. My first three trips down to Brisbane Road have seen not only 2 wins, a draw and 20 (yes 20) goals, but revealed some strikingly comfitting parallels between my home and postcode clubs.
Firstly, ready-made replicas of my favourite genres of player seem to be thriving at Brisbane Road. For big, mobile, goalscoring front man Grant Holt, replace… big, mobile, goalscoring front man Alex Revell. Much the same for diminuative playmaker Wes Hoolahan, except his counterpart Dean Cox is even more diminuative. Secondly, the two seem to be reading from the same page in the form book at this moment in time. A prolonged assault on the top two of the Championship has seen Paul Lambert’s stock rise dramatically of late, whilst the less than desirable start made by Orient is slowly being rectified by a run of (if you wilfully avert your eyes to the 5-0 drubbing at Brighton) 9 games undefeated. Finally, you’d be hard pushed to find two more notorious benefactors in English football than Delia Smith and Barry Hearns. Being self-made millionaires who have rescued their local clubs from the brink of financial chaos, their narratives seem bizarrely inter-related. So much so that it doesn’t feel too abstract to picture Hearns in a pinny maternally teaching the nation how to boil an egg. Or Delia, sloshed at the darts, screaming ‘leeettts be aaavin you’ to a visibly agitated Phil Taylor at the oche.
Anyway, I digress. When the game actually kicked off at 3pm, I had figured out my ideal score. If Orient could repeat the excess that was evident in their last FA Cup game, an 8-2 extra time banishment of non-league Droylsden, I’d be a happy man. Yet, in terms of wanting an enjoyable afternoon, I’d plump for a 4-4 draw, predominately for the selfish prospect of a midweek replay at Brisbane Road, which would also see a sizeable chunk of money stashed in the Orient coffers. Sadly, it was not to turn out that way. Amidst all the paper chat concerning the future of Paul Lambert, City never got out of the starting blocks at Carrow Road. Rubbing salt into the wound of an uninspiring 1-0 defeat was the fact that former Canary loanee Jimmy Smith, who was completely anonymous during his time in Norfolk, was the one to stick the ball in the back of the net.
With Stevenage stealing the giant-killing thunder, Orient’s victory will remain largely unnoticed. Yet, for a club who find themselves in the bizarre situation of being halfway through a season and only four points away from the drop zone and six points of the play-offs, the prospect of an FA Cup fourth round tie represents an opportunity to create a buzz around the club that could prove the catalyst for a burst of life. Which actually suits me very nicely. Even though results didn’t quite go my way yesterday, at least I can salvage some joy in the fact that one of my teams made it through to the Fourth Round.
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