Recently, my work has taken me behind enemy lines to two of our League One rivals. I work in my Father-in-Law's interior refurbishment business and we're currently doing some work for both Leyton Orient and Colchester United.
Our connections with both clubs are not coincidental. Back in 2006 we completely fitted-out the West Stand at Brisbane Road, which houses the club's administration, commercial and hospitality areas, and on the back of that work we were recommended to the then-Chairman of Colchester United, who were all set to leave Layer Road for a brand new stadium that was about be built on the outskirts of town.
As a result, I spent the spring and summer of 2008 at Colchester, overseeing large parts of the internal fit-out of the new stadium. It was a really great experience for me (and one I miss, if I'm honest), especially given my love and fascination of football stadia since I was a very young lad. In fact, to this day, there can't be many people who know that stadium better than I do. In reality, the club had no idea what they were doing when they left the tiny, non-league stadium that was Layer Road for their 21st century stadium (albeit on a budget). It was truely frightening, looking back, just how naive they were about the stadium they would be moving in to and the infrastructure they would need to maintain it. They hadn't got a clue! The faces have changed a lot at Colchester since my time there, as the slate was completely wiped clean in those first few months of being in the new stadium, but like the O's, they're a good club, and I retain a fondness for them as a result of my work there. I've been back to the Weston Homes Community Stadium with the Addicks in the last two years and it always feels a little weird ordering a coffee from a kiosk I built!
At Brisbane Road (I just can't call it The Matchroom Stadium), we're installing a new bar and hospitality area for Barry Hearn to entertain his match day guests. It's a tad sobering to see a framed shirt on the wall just outside his boardroom from Charlton's FAC victory over the O's back in 2006. Of course, back then, under Curbs guidance, we'd have been wallowing about in all the glory of the Premiership, so our place on the wall would have been notable and prestigious for the O's. Doesn't seem to quite have the same effect nowadays as we rub shoulders in the 3rd tier of English football.
I doubt you'd find too many people who dislike Leyton Orient. They're a good community club with a long and proud history. But there's no doubt about it, the O's face a most uncertain future. As if to rub salt in a wound, visible from the window of Mr. Hearn's Boardroom, as if so close it could be touched, is the Olympic Village, with the Hammer's new Stadium flexing it's muscles like a school bully. You do have to wonder if there will be a next generation Orient fan. It would be a real shame to see this football club muscled out of this neck of the woods.
There's something about an empty football stadium that I will always love. I guess it's the anticipation...
You never know, I may win promotion one day and win some work in a Premier League ground. Perhaps at The Valley?