It’s always an exciting experience spending time with one of your heroes. Cyril Lea – part of the fabled half back line of Lucas, Bishop and Lea – is a hero to many Orient fans, having been ever present in our two most illustrious seasons, 1961-62 and 1962-63.
Let it never be forgotten that the club reveres its ex-players, especially those who played in what is universally recognised as the best ever team in our history. Cyril was our tough tackling left half.
I was honoured to be asked by the LOSC to visit Cyril at his home in Leicestershire, to present him with a bottle of Dom Perignon on the occasion of his recent 80th birthday. I am happy to report that Cyril is in fine health and is still involved in the game (scouting – for Manchester United!). I spent a couple of entertaining hours in his company.
Cyril and his lovely wife Valerie have been married for 54 years and are the proud parents to four children and enjoy their eight grandchildren. They have lived in this house for over twenty years. They met whilst Cyril was at Brisbane Road; Val was born in Leytonstone and worked in Leyton Library.
Cyril started in football fairly late in life; after having completed his National Service. He played for Bradley Rangers (the now defunct Welsh club that also discovered fellow Welshman, Malcolm Lucas) and the Wales Amateur Team. It was the great Phil Woosnam who recommended Cyril to Orient’s Les Gore and the rest is history. Cyril played over 200 games for the O’s from 1957-1964.
He maintains contact with many players although, sadly, many of Cyril’s ex teammates have passed on, including Woosnam. The latter moved on from the O’s in 1958, in order to better himself, and enjoyed a long career in England but also as the ‘father’ of pro football in the US, where he emigrated in 1966.
Cyril left the O’s in 1964, after falling out with Bennie Fenton, Orient’s manager at that time. Ipswich snapped him up for a paltry sum and he went on to enjoy a long playing career there before going into coaching and management. He played and coached under Bill McGary and the late, great Bobby Robson and clearly maintains the utmost respect for both. He then went on to a distinguished career as Manager or coach at Colchester United, Stoke City, WBA and Leicester City.
The O’s still clearly holds many happy memories for both Cyril and Val and they always look take an interest in Orient’s results and news. His eyes lit up, talking about former colleagues like Eddy Brown, Dave Dunmore, Ken Facey, Stan Charlton and Sid Bishop. Cyril, by common consent, should have gained a full Wales cap whilst at the O’s like his compatriot, Mal Lucas. However, a full cap wasn’t awarded until he was at Ipswich Town; another example perhaps of our Cinderella status in those days?
Cyril last returned to the O’s in 2002 for the fiftieth anniversary reunion lunch for the players of the promotion team of 1961-62. It was to be the last opportunity he had of linking up with our former captain and leader, the late, great Stan Charlton.
As a club, we don’t win many things but as well as being an integral member of the team that took O’s to Division One in 1961/62, Cyril was also a member of the Orient team which won the London 5-a-side competition in the late 50’s and still has the photo of the team with the trophy. I, too, remember us winning this competition (I know, perhaps I should get out more!).
Cyril was a good and enthusiastic player and trainer and sometimes put in three training stints in a day to improve his touch and control. To be honest, my memory of him was of a fiery little redhead. Indeed even today, he tells his grandchildren: “If you can’t get the ball, get the man”. We were certainly glad he was in our line up and not the opposition!. I recall one reserve game, against West Ham, when he got into a punch up with an opposition player; he boxed his ears, right in front of the ref, who apparently saw nothing.
I was delighted to find Cyril looking so fit and well and enjoying life and will most certainly remain in contact with him.
Subsequent to my visit on Friday October 17 Cyril has sent a message of thanks to pass on to LOSC and everyone at the O’s for thinking of him. He sends his good wishes to the fans and for the future success of the O’s.
Thanks for the memories, Cyril!