In January Orient re-signed defender Elliot Omozusi just over a year after his contract had been terminated with the Club for his conviction for intimidating a witness.
Whilst the decision to hand Omozusi a second chance divided some supporters, the Club was contacted by a number of fans with the vast majority supporting the Club’s feeling that having paid his dues to society and having shown a determination get his career back on track, the former Fulham defender deserved a contract until the end of the season.
However, several fans made their feelings clear in the press and online and Omozusi admits he can understand the anger shown by some.
“I wasn’t surprised at all to be fair [by the reaction]. The majority of fans I’ve had interactions with have been supportive but at the end of the day I made mistakes and everyone is entitled to their opinion and it’s the fans’ club first and foremost,” he said.
“All I can say to them is I’m here to play football and will try my best for the club and the fans and everyone that shown faith in me.
“What has happened put everything into perspective, I’m so grateful for what I’ve got and I just don’t want to let anyone down again.”
As part of his continued rehabilitation, the club have made the defender a key figure in some of the work undertaken by the Leyton Orient Community Sports Programme, whilst he is also scheduled to visit Feltham Young Offenders Institute to talk to inmates about re-integrating into society.
Since January, the defender has visited a number of local young people to share his experiences with them and answer their questions. Many of these young people are affiliated with gangs or have had experiences with gangs in the area.
In early March, Elliot gave a talk and answered questions to over 30 local 16-18 year-olds in the learning centre at Brisbane Road.
Honest and open with the youngsters, Elliot discussed life in prison, re-adjusting to society, his experiences as a footballer and the mistakes he has made with his life.
“It was very good and very inspiring for the students. Obviously Elliot has had his issues but they really look to him as a role model,” said Lloyd Boateng, a course tutor with LOCSP.
“They will have learnt that you need to remain focussed and you need to watch the people you hang around with and that prison is definitely not the place to be. He was very honest and open and handled the questions very well and gave good insight to the guys.”
Lamin Jawara was one of the youngsters in attendance and he was grateful for the experience. He said: “I think it was very beneficial. I had a few things to ask him which I wouldn’t get to ask anyone else as no-one else I know has been in that type of situation. I learnt about staying out of trouble and how hanging with bad friends will get you nowhere.”
Two weeks later Elliot visited a group of seven local youngsters in year 11 who have been excluded from the schools system and of whom some are affiliated with gangs.
He again spoke candidly on his time inside prison including his experiences with other inmates, his work in the prison gym, his emotions, the letters, cards and visits from other O’s players and the manager and his work to get engineering qualifications within prison.
He also spoke to the teenagers about his experiences with gangs, the importance of life choices and being grateful for what you have.
He asked them for their thoughts on gangs and urged them to learn from his mistakes and to strive to be successful and to sever their ties to gangs. He warned of the dangers of affiliation with gangs even if you are not actively involved.
“Life is precious, you need to stop and think because you can control what you do but you can’t control what anyone else does and you can get dragged into things that you shouldn’t do,” he told them.
For Elliot himself, the experience has been a rewarding one and he is keen to see young people chose a different path to the one he did.
He said: “It’s been eye-opening to see the response I’ve been getting from the young people I’ve been visiting and talking to. I want them to take on board my experiences and then prevent them from making the same mistakes and errors that I did.
“I see a bit of myself in some of them, they’re growing up in the same environment that I did and the most important thing I can impart on them is that there is a way out whether it’s football or something different.
“I made mistakes and look at football and life in general differently now. I’m very grateful I’ve been given another shot, most people don’t get one chance let alone two so I have to grab it with both hands.”