There are conflicting stories about the origins of the club. In the latest and probably most accurate version the club’s roots can be traced back to 1891. From a group of cricketers at Homerton College, a theological college for non-conformists and Puritans. Founded in 1881, twelve members created the Glyn Cricket Club, playing on some waste ground in Glyn Road. In 1886 the club changed its name to Eagle cricket club. On 3rd March 1888, a Mr Jack Dearing, an employee of the Orient Steamship Navigation Company, proposed the name of Orient should be adopted. In that same meeting a football team was formed for the purpose of keeping fit in the winter months.
Whichever of the differing versions of Orient’s origins is correct, all agree that the club played at The Pond Lane Bridge ground from the early 1890’s until 1896. A move to an adjacent field was made and this ground became known as Whittles Athletic grounds. They assumed the name Clapton Orient during June 1898, in an attempt to win the hearts of local public. They moved to Millfields Road grounds in 1900, a stadium that could hold in excess of 40 000 people, after the local council took over the Whittles grounds to build a power station on it.
Orient vacated Millfields Road stadium in 1930 for Lea Bridge Road, an established speedway stadium with an overall capacity for around 20,000. After the seventh home League match in November 1930, Torquay United, after their 4-0 defeat, complained that the fencing around the ground was to near the touchline, so when Orient were ordered by the Football League to extend the narrow pitch within seven days, the club found themselves banned from using their new ground. An amazing interim measure for two League matches was taken whereby Orient arranged a temporary move to the famous Wembley Stadium. In the meantime, the Lea Bridge Road pitch was adapted to form a proper home.
Although attendances rarely rose above 7,000 the local derby against Millwall in March 1937 produced an unmanageable 20,288 crowd, frequently forced to invade the pitch with no room to move. This event made Orient anxious to move from this unsatisfactory home and coincidentally another club’s misfortunes became beneficial. Financial problems of the amateur team Leyton FC who were playing at Osborne Road, later known as Brisbane Road, provided the answer. A suitable agreement was made and the first game at the new home was played in August 1937 under the name Clapton Orient. A new name Leyton Orient was officially adopted on 2 October 1946.
In 1966 Orient opted to drop Leyton from its name but the suffix was reinstated in the early Eighties. The nickname O’s came about when in their early days Orient wore shirts with a big white ‘O’ on the blue backs and the supporters would shout ‘ play up the O’s’
Different names, different grounds and different colours. Orient sported red shirts in their maiden years, followed by blue shirts, with white ‘O’ on their backs between 1899 to 1905. The club were elected in the English Football League in 1905 and wore red, white and green striped shirts.
From 1909 until 1932 they wore white shirts with a large red chevron. They changed to red and white hooped shirts between 1932-1943 and during the World War Two years they wore white shirts with a blue chevron. After the War in 1947, all blue shirts were introduced, and it was in blue shirts that Leyton Orient spent their one year in the top flight in 1962-63. When Orient dropped Leyton from their name in 1966, it coincided with the introduction of an all-red strip, only to be replaced by an all-white outfit with red stripes running down the shirts and shorts. It is in fact quite rare, as you will see throughout this book, for a team after the turn of the Twentieth century to change its colours so dramatically – but Orient have done this. Imagine Arsenal suddenly deciding to wear blue shirts with white sleeves, or Wolves to turn out in blue and white halves!!
Orient have never been conservative in their choice of strip, and throughout more recent times have worn red and white chequered shirts, red shirts with a distinctively striped black and white band, and red with a broad white hoop, white shirts with a red chevron again, amongst other variations on the theme.
Orient have had five different badges on their shirts since a badge was first worn during the mid 1940s. The initial badge was introduced to the fans on a programme cover on 28 September 1946 for the visit of Crystal Palace when the club announced it would be changing it’s name to Leyton Orient Football Club. It was based on the arms of the Borough of Leyton. Leyton consisted of the manors of Marks, Ruckholt and Leyton and the arms are derived from the heraldry of the various holders of these. The Manor of Marks belonged until 1545 to the Priory of St. Helens, it was then granted to Paul Withipole and his son, whose family is recalled by the lion passant from their arms. The Church of Leyton was given by Gilbert Montfitchet to the Abbey and Convent of Stratford in 1134.
The gift was confirmed by the Charter of Henry II in 1182, and later in 1200 the Manor of Leyton was also given to the Abbey. The Abbey of Stratford was founded in William Montfitchet in 1134 and the chevronels are from his family’s arms. The Manor of Ruckholt was held until his death in 1417 by Sir Adam Frauncey, from whose arms comes the gold and black lion rampant in the crest. The crozier is another reference to the Abbey of Stratford.
The Latin motto ‘Ministrando Dignitas’, means ‘Dignity through service’. The colours of the emblem were red and gold and although not used on the shirts from 1954/55, it remained as the official club badge until 1965 when the Borough of Leyton was incorporated into the new Waltham Forest Administration.
During the mid-1960’s, O’s replaced the Latin motto by incorporating the name ‘Leyton Orient PC’. In 1965, new manager Dave Sexton designed a simple small blue and white striped badge, which was dropped when Sexton departed in December 1965. In 1966, when Orient changed their official shirt colours from blue to red, two new badges were introduced. One was a blue, white and yellow oval badge, worn on red shirts. It is said that O’s director and shipping owner Reg Briggs suggested this badge, which was comprised of the official colours of shipping company P & O Group, this being the company that took over the Orient Shipping Company, whose ship the SS ORIENT, O’s had been named after. This badge was worn up to the 1969/70 season.
The other badge, shown on the front cover of the matchday programme was that of a left facing red dragon, this creature was said to be a guard against danger and keep evil spirits away and the words Orient FC above it within a shield, presumably representing the idea of ‘Orient’ and arguably alluding to the first league match at Brisbane Road in 1937 against Welsh opposition, namely Cardiff City. From August 1970 onwards the same creature, although slightly altered, was reversed out in white and worn on shirts without the addition of the club’s name.
In August 1976, Orient announced a competition for the design of a new club badge. On 27 December 1976, the final version of the badge was introduced. The winning design was based on two different suggestions submitted by Clive M. Brown and Mark Hodges. The final design was completed by chairman Brian B. Winston and sent to the London based College of Arms. It shows two severe wyverns, holding a football in their claws, encircled by the name of Orient Football Club. It was seen in August 1977. Wyverns were chosen because they are half dragon, half sea serpent, the dragon being the supporter from the City of London coat of arms and representing the O’s connection with London and the serpent part alluding to Orient’s connection with the sea, some of its founding members having worked for the Orient shipping company. The name Leyton Orient was added on July 1, 1987, when the club incorporated the name Leyton back into it’s title.
What Orient really need now of course is for Three Kings to arrive on the doorstep with priceless gifts. They can then choose a strip that is recognisably theirs.