Good Game: Leyton Orient 1-2 Stevenage Borough

By Pete H

Good Game: The series looking at the amazing, utterly memorable, unbelievably dramatic and downright ludicrous games that involved Stevenage Borough over the years. But we’ll insist that we accept no blame for memories warped by time, age or alcohol consumption at the time. We’ll never refer to any games involving Macclesfield Town either – particularly any at Broadhall Way. Those sort of things never happened, dontcha know…

Leyton Orient 1-2 Stevenage Borough

Brisbane Road, London — 07 December 1996 — FA Cup R2

In the mid-1990s, Boro’ started to move the dial in the FA Cup. Ever since we’d first took part in the competition in 1983, we’d never got past the qualifying rounds. It wasn’t until 1995 – a season in which we staked our claim as the land’s premier non-league team – that we got to Round One (proper). On that occasion, we unluckily lost away to Hereford United. But, a year later, we were ready to establish our cupset pedigree with a trip to Leyton Orient.

The background

The stakes were higher than ever before during the 1996-7 campaign. After romping to a first Conference title the season before, Boro’ were now there to be shot at; the latest club to tap on the glass ceiling that was a thin line between Conference and Division Three at that time. We’d been to court to challenge the archaic rules that banned us from promotion. We’d lost. Now, to go up, we’d have to become the first team since 1981 to retain that championship.

We busied ourselves with the task at hand; hindered by the fact that Kidderminster Harriers, Macclesfield Town, and Woking were all sniffing around. Not that distractions weren’t wholly unwelcome. Let’s face it – the chance to take on a Football League team and prove our worth on the field was a tasty one. And so it came to be when, after wading through four qualifying rounds and a tricky Round One tie against Hayes, we landed Orient in the Round Two draw.

Setting the scene

To be clear, this was only the second time we’d faced Football League opposition in the cup. The FA Cup, that is. Not the Herts Senior Cup or anything like that. Being paired away wasn’t an ideal situation either. Much better, don’t you think, to invite them to Broadhall Way? Our hosts had earned their place in the hat with a 2-1 win indoors against Merthyr Tydfil. Yet, the chance was still there for Boro’ to create a bit of noise.

A quick look at where the Os found themselves at this period in time too. The 1994-5 season saw them relegated from Division Two; comfortably bottom of the table. It was also the year of John Sitton and his infamous approach to management. As we were soaring to the top of the non-league ladder the following campaign, the Os floundered again. Yes, they did finish 18 points clear of bottom club Torquay United. But 21st in the table was no triumph.

Leyton Orient hadn't enjoyed much success in the immediate period leading up to our FA Cup encounter.

Leyton Orient 1-2 Stevenage Borough: The rundown

You get the sense that Boro’ were chomping at the bit here. What gives us that impression? Well, the fact it took us just 29 seconds to take the lead for a start. Des Gallagher launched the ball into the Os half, with defender Andy Arnott then messing up his header back. That error let Corey Browne in to fire us ahead. The half volley left veteran keeper Peter Shilton stranded; the ball nestling in the bottom corner.

Just as an aside – we’ve always found Shilton to be overrated. There must’ve surely been at least one stopper better than him for England’s 1990 World Cup campaign? Anyway, he had arrived at Brisbane Road from West Ham in 1996 with his sights set on hitting 1,000 outings in the Football League. Or something. The Independent report at the time suggests this was down as number 998. Never won the Conference though, has he?

Anyway, back on track and so too were the Os after just nine minutes. A rapid start to affairs saw the hosts level. Justin Channing was the far post beneficiary from Peter Garland’s ball in – and it was game on.

Boro’ weren’t for buckling, however. Instead, we acted as if we’d been insulted by the sheer cheek of the Os equalising. Our slick passing and irrepressible movement had the hosts on the back foot once again. And Neil Catlin took advantage of another defensive mistake with 22 minutes on the clock; nipping in and sliding home past Shilton. Of course, there was still much of the game to go. But the scoreboard was in our favour.

Leyton Orient 1-2 Stevenage Borough: Holding out…?

As the game wore on, was it a case that Boro’ were holding on? Yes and no. It was natural to expect the Os to come back at us; spurred on by the embarrassment of a looming cupset in the making. Arnott and Channing had their chances to get the Londoners back on terms. On the other hand, Dessie was in no mood to let them spoil our day. While relatively new to the ‘proper’ stages of the FA Cup, we were now in sight of the fabled Round Three!

"I felt that Shilton should have gone off," said Cloughie afterwards. "But I suppose the ref must have taken account of who he was."

There’s still time for one more word on Shilton too. Just before half time, he stormed out of his area in a foot race with Barry Hayles. Bazza was through on goal after another howler at the back. Shilts unceremoniously brought him down, only to be let off with a yellow card. It was a decision that’d produce a rueful smile. “I felt that Shilton should have gone off,” said Cloughie afterwards. “But I suppose the ref must have taken account of who he was.”

Leyton Orient 1-2 Stevenage Borough: And next…?

As the full-time whistle screeched out across Brisbane Road, Boro’s thoughts turned to who we might be rewarded with in Round Three. In the end, it’d be Birmingham City indoors; the ‘home’ aspect rather lost upon the decision to switch the match to St Andrews. Brum were – at the time – comfortably mid-table in the second tier. We gave it a good go; both in making their home ours and in trying to create another upset.

Ultimately, however, our FA Cup odyssey would end there for the 1996-7 season.

We’d be back. And we’d create more FA Cup memories in the years that followed. The 1997-8 campaign was dismal on the league front. But it is perhaps best remembered for our Round Four match-up with Newcastle United in any case; a run in which we accounted for yet more Football League opposition. And we’d have more days in the sun, albeit less iconic, until we finally achieved our ultimate goal of Football League promotion in 2010.

Photos: Gary Wharmby

• Full details from the 1996-7 GM Vauxhall Conference season

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