This was the first time a member of the royal family had attended a Football League match – the Prince’s visit was as a mark of respect for the O’s service in the Great War.
Contemporary reports confirm just how popular and important the visit of the Prince of Wales – the future King of England was to the people of Hackney. On that ‘special’ day in April it seemed all roads led to Millfields when the Prince paid his eagerly-anticipated visit to Clapton Orient.
The Prince of Wales was given a welcome so enthusiastic that it was almost ecstatic in its intensity. The Union Flag that proudly fluttered from the top of the nearby town hall set the tone for similar emblems to be displayed at other public buildings and by numerous shopkeepers and private citizens.
The Prince, as you would expect, cut a fine figure, in a grey tweed lounge suit with a striped tie of royal blue and red, and wore a spray of bluebells in his buttonhole; he frequently stood up in his car to acknowledge the cheering and shouts from the crowd by raising his hat.
The crowd of 20,000 or so gathered in the Orient ground appeared to be outnumbered by the huge crowds that had assembled to see the Prince’s arrival outside. The enclosure had been specially repainted for the occasion, and the grandstand was adorned by the flags of many nations.
Each of the roof supports at the front of the stand was embellished with a representation of the Prince of Wales’s feathers, whilst the area immediately underneath the roof was festooned with drapes of red and blue on a background of white.
The excitement caused by the royal visit was immense. The locality had been spruced up for the occasion many days in advance, with fresh paint, flags, banners and bunting stretching throughout Clapton, Hackney and Homerton. A crowd of over 20,000 was crammed inside Millfields and an estimated 40,000 were packed around the immediate area of the ground.
Long-serving O’s supporter, the late Ernie Walkerdine attended the match and he recalled this historic event to Steve Jenkins, the O’s WW1 historian and author of They Took The Lead during research for his book:
The whole of Clapton was excited with the prospect of the Prince of Wales coming to watch the Orient. People had been busy a good day or so before the match putting up bunting and flags throughout the neighbourhood.
On the Saturday of the game, I can still remember how colourful everything was, all the streets leading to the ground were decked out in flowers, and I can still recall that much of Millfields had been repainted, including the big grandstand.
I didn’t go to work that morning, as I wanted to make sure I got there in good time. I could now get a good view of the Prince when he arrived, and in the process of getting there early I got straight into the ground. There was no such thing as an all-ticket match in those days – it was a case of ‘first come, first served’.
My decision to get there early was right as the whole place was packed, not only inside the ground but also around the nearby streets. Because of the congestion the Prince had been held up – in those days there weren’t any crash barriers to hold people back out of the roads.
I remember that the kick-off had to be put back, but when he finally arrived, the crowds, although huge in number, let the entourage through with no problem. Mounted police lead the way and the Prince, who was waving to everyone from a shiny black open topped Rolls-Royce, looked extremely pleased to be there.
I can remember that it was a lovely spring day with bright sunshine. Club stewards directed the royal party to the main grandstand where they were introduced to the Orient chairman and directors. I also recall that the daughter of the Mayor of Hackney presented the Prince with a big bouquet of flowers.
I can still recall the noise the crowd were making, they were cheering really loud and when the Prince and his dignitaries made their way out onto the pitch everyone started singing ‘God bless the Prince of Wales.’ A local band was playing throughout and they continued as both teams were being presented to the royal party. It was the Orient who was introduced first of all and Jimmy Hugall – who was the O’s captain at the time, led the party along the line of players.
The Prince took his time, shaking hands and seemingly talking to every player. It was a funny sight when he moved over to the Notts County side, although he took his time – just as he did with the Orient. Everyone started laughing when he was introduced to Albert Iremonger, the visiting goal-keeper.
Iremonger was about 6ft 5ins tall and as the Prince was around a foot shorter, it made talking very uncomfortable. He had to crane his neck upwards to make any conversation with the player and it looked as though it was all too much for him what with all the din of the band and the crowd.
As for the match, I can remember the O’s scoring early on and I saw the Prince standing and cheering with the rest of the supporters. He seemed to be concentrating very hard, often ignoring distractions from other members of the party who were with him. We scored two more goals in the second half, so all in all it was a successful day for the Orient.
The following year, the Duke of York, the brother of the Prince of Wales and later to become King George VI, also showed his support by attending a league match at Millfields Road.
It is worth noting that some 12 years later, at a time when the O’s were struggling to make ends meet, the Prince of Wales continued to show his support by sending a substantial donation to Frank Snewin, the Orient Chairman, along with a letter sympathising at the Club’s plight. It was good to have friends in high places!
Extract from They Took The Lead by Stephen Jenkins, published by Print & Bind. Available from the Club Shop priced at £14.99.