We are constantly being told that we live in a ‘fractured’ society (some would have it that there is no society at all). The red tops have us believe the country is made up of feral gangs of hooded youths randomly looking for prey while we cower in our living rooms terrified of leaving the house.
While it is true that the perception of crime and anti-social behaviour is on the increase, acts of kindness, civility, politeness are as much a part of our society as they always have been. Two weeks ago my wife was driving home around midnight when the car suddenly stopped, literally. Before she had the opportunity to call the roadside assistance, two people had stopped to help, offering advice, jump leads and a lift to near the house. In the end, thanks to the help of these two strangers in the night, she made it home safely and the car was rescued the following day.
Recently, I re-read the late Richard Titmuss’ classic work on giving The Gift Relationship. The book, which is still a sociological classic, looks at blood donating in the United States, the former Soviet Union and Britain. Titmuss compares the UK system of altruistic donation with the US system of payment for the donors. The work shows that the altruistic method is more effective than the ‘bottom line’ motivation of the US.
The reality is that people get pleasure and benefit from helping others but it’s the bad news of the feral gangs that gets the reaction the newspapers want. Rather like my reaction when I first read Titmuss 40 years ago; as a UK donor I was astounded to learn that people actually sell their blood in the USA.
If we are talking about care in the community, there is no better example than Leyton Orient Football Club aka the Mighty Os. As a season ticket holder (for me and my son the cost is £240 which works out at around a fiver a game each) we get to see a reasonable standard of football and more importantly, we are part of a real football club with a past, present and hopefully future. We are in talking distance of our heroes as they warm up and we benefit from one of the best outreach services in the community of any football club in the UK.
The demographics of the Os is interesting. In the 50s and 60s, much of the core support was moved from Leyton to new towns in Essex like Harlow and Basildon from where support still comes every home game. Newer communities living in the area of the ground are not filling the gaps left by families moving away from London so what used to be an average home game of 10-15,000 in the 70s and early 80s has dwindled to around 4-5,000 (occasionally bolstered by away fans of the bigger clubs in League 1).
The team has had a memorable season reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup (and taking Arsenal to two games in the process) as well as just missing out on the League 1 playoffs following an amazing 14-match unbeaten run from January to March. With a meagre £10m to spend on three half decent players (nickel and dime money in modern football) we would have surely made the playoffs.
The big talking point for Os’ fans off the pitch is what will happen should West Ham United move into the Olympic Stadium. Aside from the fact that it will be really funny watching a Championship side playing to a three quarters empty stadium should the Hammers go down, it is concerning that our little community club could go out of business if West Ham flood the local market with cheap tickets. It’s that old chestnut of the corner shop being bulldozed out of business by the big supermarket although in West Ham’s case it’s more like a slightly bigger and more dodgy shop muscling in.
One of the banners paraded each home game in the South Stand says: ‘No football without the Os’. In this day and age where clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United get support from Sligo and Seoul, what hope is there for clubs like the Mighty Os?