“Orient For a Fiver”- A Review of a Classic Sporting Documentary
On the 31’st of August 2020, football fans from around the world were treated to a 9-episode “fly-on the wall” documentary of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club during the 2019/2020 season. The “All or Nothing” series created by Amazon, was sold as being an insight into the running’s of one of the world’s biggest football clubs, giving a behind the scenes look at how the major stakeholders in world football like Daniel Levy, Jose Mourinho and Harry Kane take on the day-to-day pressures of working at the highest level of competitive sport. But many that have watched these programmes, like myself, have been left disappointed by what they were shown. At best, these shows are great adverts for the clubs and the people that work within them. With each episode filled with the narration of a Hollywood actor (Tom Hardy) placed over a vast number of heavily edited camera shots showcasing the team’s impressive training facilities and stadiums in all their glory. Intertwined with this cinematic feast are various interviews clips with the managers and players. In which the personal are given the opportunity to present themselves as humble, caring, down to earth individuals that separates them from the negative modern-day professional footballer stereotype. As Miguel Delany best explains “these documentaries are brilliantly made television, but not necessarily brilliant television”. Put simply, these heavily financed, blockbuster productions leave the viewer bored. Being left with a general feeling that they are being lied to and robbed of the opportunity to gain a genuine betrayal of what life is like behind the scenes at one of these iconic clubs.
Contrast this, with the “Orient for a Fiver” documentary. A 52-minute short film shown on Channel 4, capturing the dysfunctional 94/95 season of Leyton Orient Football Club. A campaign that saw the club relegated from Division 2 (now League One) under the management of the infamous John Sitton and Chris Turner. The program looks at both issues on the pitch and at boardroom level, with Orient spending the entire season on the verge of liquidation due to then Chairman Tony Wood losing his coffee business in the Rwandan Civil War, leading to the club reportedly losing around £10,000 a week. The impact of this meant that the club were banned from signing players throughout the campaign. Meaning that for most of that season, Orients playing squad size accumulated to a mere 13. With each player’s wage being paid by the PFA. All these factors created the ideal backdrop for an entertaining television spectacle as we watch Sitton and Turner fight to perform a miracle.
But what differs this from the modern-day efforts seen on Netflix and Amazon Prime, is the production value throughout. Recorded by film student Jo Trehearne on a tuppence in comparison to “All or Nothing”. The one-shot style and untouched natural sound give a more accurate portrayal of a “warts and all” type documentary and helps to heighten the harsh reality of how every setback and defeat affects all the key characters within this story. None more so is the best exemplified, then during Sitton’s infamous team talks. Sound tracked by every swear under the sun, whether he is offering his players to pair up and fight him outside or sacking someone at half time, Sitton provides pure theatre every time he steps up to a give a rousing speech. What adds to this chaos is the fact the camera allows the audience to feel that they are one of those team members receiving a Sitton verbal roasting, as each explicit remark is mixed in with the sound of studs scraping along the changing room floor or a player removing mucus from his throat. It is gritty with a capital G and while it would never see the light of idea in a modern production room, it serves as a far more engrossing spectacle then anything offered by Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho in their centre stage efforts.
However, one may argue that while “Orient for a Fiver” presents us with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It can also create quite a dark and disturbing atmosphere, especially towards its finishing sequence. The final shots of Sitton coming to terms with the club’s relegation and his subsequent sacking from the management position are uncomfortable. His mile-long stare past the camera to eerie silence as one of the last shots of the film may take away from the show being one that is simply “great entertainment”. Couple this with the fact that Sitton never managed in football again and undertook therapy for depression not long after the airing of this documentary. It becomes clear why this presentation of the inside workings of a football club was not used again within the realms of professional sports media. Therefore, “Orient for a fiver” is certainly a sporting movie classic, but not something we are likely to be see repeated.