27 May 2014

The Obliviousness Radius

The Orient half of Wembley Stadium fell silent when Chris Dagnall’s penalty was saved. A thousand thoughts went through thousands of minds. What to feel. How to cope. The why us of it all.

The play-off final was a pretty big deal for everyone at Wembley. It had been for the whole day. People from near and far had made their way there hoping for the best, fearing the worst. My gang of three included.

West Ticket Office?

The weather was nice as we made our way from hotel to stadium with detours to drop off our bags and some last minute shopping. We picked up our tickets, bought some playoff souvenirs, and went to the Green Man Pub. Surrounded by expectant fans you couldn’t help but smile and join in the chanting. Even though there was a tinge of nervousness in the air, the mood was a happy one.

I won’t dwell on the game. Others have done that better. We were there, we weren’t. Almost there, but not quite. So close we could smell it. But not. The thing that struck me as I made my way home amongst all the other Orient supporters, was how fast this momentous event faded away in the world around us.

As we walked to Wembley Central you heard the game being discussed. All around people with Orient kits, scarves and flags. But even here, this close to the stadium, you passed people looking surprised. They didn’t even know there had been a game.

On the train I ended up next to a jaded die-hard Orient supporter (seen all three play-off defeats) and his son. Opposite were two neutrals who wanted to discuss the game. One of them admitted to living in Leyton but supporting Man U. My Orient supporting neighbour said, You should support your local team, mate. That brought a smile to my face. Travelling from Stockholm as I was. The ref was biased and the result harsh, Orient deserved to go up was the next sentiment from the neutrals. Again my neighbour delivered, It was just a game of football. Beautifully, in those two sentences, summing up what being a football supporter is all about.

We parted ways at Paddington. Going home. Which in our case involved the Heathrow Express. As we passed through the turnstiles the guy working there, spotting Martina’s red play-off T-shirt, asked, Did you win? Martina, thinking she had broken some rule of the London Underground just stared at him. So I answered in her stead, No we lost - on penalties. He looked genuinely sorry for us as we continued into Paddington Station.

Walking to the train I didn’t see or hear anything Orient related. We had travelled just a few stops on the tube but here regular London life went by as usual. Was the obliviousness radius really this short? Wembley to Paddington. Surely not?

Leaving the Express making our way to the check-in at terminal 3 I heard a familiar cry. Up the O’s! Turning around I saw a guy talking on his mobile but spotting us as Orient fans. There’s always next time, he said. Where are you off to? Just like that the radius grew a bit.

A to capacity filled SAS-flight to Stockholm didn’t really trouble itself with football. What talk there was at this late hour turned to the Ice-hockey World Championships (Sweden finished 3rd, Russia won final against Finland) and the ongoing Swedish EU-elections. When we touched down at Arlanda it was well past midnight.

Next morning at work we were two guys covering for the rest of the department who was on their way back from a weekend conference in Riga (Latvia). A trip I missed opting for a day at Wembley instead. They arrived right before lunch. The first question I got was about the Orient game. As the day went on we swapped stories, pictures and videos. Drunken karaoke vs. orient chants. Latvian fish cakes with mashed potatoes vs. being 2-0 up at half time. Despite being the sole Orient supporter I had a lot of opportunities to talk about the game. Reflect on it. At the same time the radius expanded even further.

Later in the afternoon I got an e-mail from the Chairman of Norrtulls SK (support your local team remember), it started, too bad you losing on penalties yesterday. I have never hidden my double loyalties to him. But we didn’t discuss the fact that NSK lost a 2-0 lead to a draw against Handelskamraterna at the same time Orient played at Wembley. We talked politics.

With elections in september the smaller football clubs in central Stockholm have decided to raise awareness about the appaling lack of pitches. In Stockholm an estimated 19.000 people share one pitch compared to an average of 8.000 in the rest of the country. At the same time existing football pitches are under threat as they are prime targets for redevelopment. Ongoing projects show that building new pitches aren’t a priority at all. This has to change. NSK are starting a campaign and I have agreed be involved.

Radius is nil

On the face of it the obliviousness radius for an Orient play-off final at Wembley is but two to three kilometers. Further than that and ordinary life trumps your football club. But look closer and you’ll see that’s an illusion. Orient supporters rub off on people. I think we (yes I do include myself here) have been brilliant this season. The world weariness is still there but it’s been infused with a new measure of pride and hope. If you’re passionate about something it speaks to others. Makes them want to listen. Just don’t obsess about it, remember it’s just a game of football, mate!

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