With the O’s preparing to face the iconic New York Cosmos tomorrow, one former Orient player can boast to have already got their first.
Striker Billy Jennings made 67 appearances for the O’s during a three year spell between 1979 and 1982 after previously playing for near neighbours West Ham. In 1977, Jennings followed in the footsteps of a number of British footballers heading across the Atlantic and joined Chicago Sting on a three month loan deal from the Hammers.
Jennings linked up with an outfit that contained a number of English players – including Ronnie Moore and Willie Morgan – and despite brushing shoulder with the likes of George Best during his time in the states it was an incident against the Cosmos which particularly stood out.
He recalled: “Twenty-one players trotted out on to the pitch, but then we had to wait for Pele to make a glitzy appearance. We stood there for about ten minutes while he lapped the pitch, the crowd went crazy.”
After all the razzmatazz surrounding the Brazilian legend had died down, the match got underway. “I received the ball and turned into one of the Cosmos players, we were both committed but I managed to flick the ball through his legs and wriggle away.”
Caught up in the flow of the match, Billy hadn’t realised that he had just in fact nutmegged arguably the greatest footballer of all time, Pele.
The Cosmos fixture would prove to be the highlight of Jennings’ career in the US as he returned to West Ham at the end of the Sting’s season.
Once back in England, a snapped Achilles interrupted Jennings Upton Park career. Once fit again, he had to be content with a substitute’s role. “I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and a bit disillusioned,” he said.
Billy heard of Orient’s interest and so after 99 league games and 34 goals for the Hammers, it was off to Brisbane Road. “I didn’t know too much about the O’s,” he confessed. “Manager Jimmy Bloomfield made me feel wanted, besides I knew Mervyn Day and Tommy Taylor from my time at West Ham.”
Although Billy didn’t enjoy as much in the way of honours at Orient, he was once again able to perform alongside some excellent footballers. One particular player stood head and shoulders above the rest; “Stan Bowles was a genius, possibly the most technical footballer I’ve ever seen,” he told me. “Had Stan been a slightly better athlete, and not had his well-documented problems he could have been the best player this country has ever produced, the fans adored him.”
After his three year spell in E10, Jennings teamed up with Luton Town under the guidance of David Pleat before spending the later years of his career in non-league. Jennings now works as a football agent but will always look back to his moment in the limelight against the Cosmos with great fondness.
With thanks to Brian Jeeves for the interview who is a writer for www.football.com