The O’s have always liked to try something new. The O’s ladies were originally founded in 1968, three years before the FA’s ban on ladies’ teams being able to play on FA listed grounds was lifted. The O’s Supporters’ Club have had a football team from the early 60s that played against supporters’ teams such as Arsenal, Charlton, QPR and West Ham.
In the mid 70s the football team having been re-formed by Frank Woolf then applied to join the local Forest & District League and was very successful, so much so that a second team was formed. A Supporters’ Cricket Club was formed in 1985 and is now highly thought of.
The O’s also have the ‘Orientear’ - the countries second oldest fanzine, along with ‘Pandamonium’ and, of course, Clapton Orient were pioneers of the Footballers’ Battalion during World War One.
However, the O’s also helped pioneer the London Baseball League.
Baseball had been in Britain since 1890, when football teams such as Aston Villa and Derby (who played at the Baseball Ground until the Club made football their main sport) formed sides, British Baseball found its feet when the British Baseball Association (BBA) was formed.
The BBA was formed during a meeting at the Charterhouse Hotel, London, on Thursday April 9, 1906. The London Times newspaper stated that Clubs such as Orient, Fulham, Leyton, West Ham and Chelsea supported the idea of a League, so a London League was formed. The League was for the close season so it could provide money for the Clubs involved.
Extra money was very beneficial for Orient considering they had not yet completed their first season in the Football League - in fact there had been boxing events (2,000 people attended one boxing event) held at Millfields Road (the then current home of Clapton Orient FC) to raise money for the Club.
The O's had been in trouble since November 1905 when the Club were third from bottom of Football League Division Two. That became financial trouble in January 1906. However, Captain Henry Wells-Holland - Mayor of Hackney from 1903-04 - came in to help the Club. Wells-Holland had previously been alderman in Hackney and was influential in keeping the O’s a league Club.
Before the Baseball season begun, Wells-Holland made a wonderful speech at the League AGM and Orient were elected in a vote over Oldham.
At the end of the season, Wells-Holland created a committee of 20 supporters and Clapton Orient FC became Clapton Orient FC Ltd.
In the first league season, Orient were banned from signing players by the FA due to late payments of fines/fees and a member of because of staff made negative to a newspaper comments regarding a referee.
Therefore, baseball turned was a good venture for the Club, winning three trophies in three years was a good financially.
Clapton Orient Baseball Team was formed by the Orient secretary - Cornelius W. H. Dean - Club secretary from 1906 to 1926. Dean got Orient into the London League. Then, by 1910, the Club had made £1,000 profits.
The money raised from those games helped to create the team that Holmes got to fourth in 1910-11.
At first, only Orient, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham and Leyton competed in the League - Millwall and Brentford just played friendlies.
Orient fielded two teams, one played in the London League (First team) and one played in the British League (Second Team) - playing both games on the same day.
Tottenham Hotspur's team were the first ever team to win the British Baseball Cup, with 4,000 watching the Final.
The next year, Orient beat Fulham 8-7 at Millfields Road to win the National Baseball Championship on Saturday August 17, 1907. The O’s won in front of 3,000 spectators with the following team;
Right Fielder - L Strawson (Captain)
Shortstop - Leonard
Catcher - Gates
Pitcher - Holmes
Left Fielder - Pemberton
1st Base - E Strawson
Centre Fielder - Avery
3rd Base - Gull
2nd Base - Henbest
The Pitcher that day was William Holmes (aka. Billy or Doc) who managed Clapton Orient FC from March 1906 to February 1922.
Holmes joined Orient for £10 from Manchester City in August 1905.
Holmes played along with three other footballers. There was left-half Frank Pemberton, forward George Gates and forward Anthony “Micky” Leonard.
At the end of the ninth inning, Clapton Orient were losing by two points to Fulham. L Strawson then gained a point for the O's, although Pemberton was out for the O's, Orient capitalised on a Fulham mistake to score again. Finally, L Strawson hit and relieved Doc Holmes to bring the cup to East London.
The Orient fans entered the field as the trophy was presented to the Orient players.
Coincidentally, the O’s are the third joint most successful team in British Baseball.
On Tuesday July 9, 1907, history was made for Orient. This was the first game ever played by the Great Britain National Baseball Team. Although, the official title for the team that day was ‘English-Born.’ The opposition that day was ‘American-Born,’ made up of American players living or based in London.
The result of the game is unknown, but these are the first group of players to play for any international side while at the O’s and therefore was not Owen Williams when playing for England in 1923.
After this high spot for British baseball, everything went downhill - due to the London City Council. The City Council believed Baseball was a dangerous sport that should not be played out in the open, so banned it on any public space in London. This was between the 1908-11 seasons.
Therefore, the interest of the game went down and attendances with it. Considering that the O’s were there for some financial gain, the Council’s decision was particularly tough to take.
On June 6, Orient hosted the London League v Crescent game, the game was slightly cheaper than the League fixtures.
There would more than likely have been O's players in the game. They had an excellent start to the season winning four out of five games, Orient had won the National Cup and four of their players had just played for Great Britain.
The season had started with a 18-9 loss at Tottenham Hotspur in a Friendly on Saturday, May 2. A week later, Orient then beat Crystal Palace's Reserves and then on May 6, Orient beat Spurs 11-8 at home in the British League.
Then, Clapton Orient beat Leyton 16-0.
The first game that Orient played in the London League in possibly their best Baseball season was West Ham. On the same day that the second team beat Leyton. West Ham got thrashed 43-1 at Orient.
The following year (1908), Orient were champions of the British Baseball Cup in front of 3,500 spectators at Millfields Road. Orient played, yet again, Fulham. That attendance was very significant as only 3,000 watched Orient’s first ever Football League home game against Hull three years earlier.
This shows how Baseball very good financial venture for the O’s.
The following year (1909), Orient were again champions of the National Baseball Championship. Orient beat Leyton 6-4 at Millfields Road. The year before, Orient were very lucky to reach the final, Leyton had beat them 4-3 on the last inning.
Only 2,000 attended the final that day, which was disappointing considering previous years.
Leyton’s Baseball team was playing at Brisbane Road, 26 years before Orient moved in!
No details have yet been found about the 1909 Final, however, a cheroot holder, it’s silver box and the presentation box were awarded to Mr. J.C. Davies. The items came with a piece of paper that read;
“Clapton Orient Baseball Club
Winners British Baseball Cup
J. C. DAVIES”
These items are on display in the Leyton Orient Supporters’ Club along with a picture of the team and a small piece of text.
The year after (1910), the National Baseball Championship final was held at Millfields Road. West Ham beat Brentford 20-5. Orient's attendances were still higher than Brentford and Tottenham Hotspur - the O’s were also run by the football Club and didn’t need to worry about the relationship with the Club. Brentford's Team had lots of meetings regarding the use of Griffin Park, for which they were successful.
The Clapton Orient Baseball Team continued to play matches. However, I am not sure when the team officially ceased – it’s more than likely, that the baseball team played its last game in 1911.
When Orient played Tuffnell Park in 1911, the opposition came a few players short. Orient lent the side players, but still won 11-9.
In the semi-finals, the O’s played and lost away at Crystal Palace on August 5. Although, the team were very unlucky not to have been in the Final for the third time in five years.
That is the latest record of the Orient Baseball Team, they would've played a few more League games - in the region of three to five more matches.
There was no National Baseball Cup for 23 years, British Baseball must've stopped altogether. Judging from facts, like the O’s having to lend teams players and attendances dropping, baseball was dying out in Britain. Although, football (or soccer) in America is still running strong, it could’ve been baseball in Britain....
It is a possibility that the Orient team continued to play Baseball Friendlies for either enjoyment or when the they needed the money. Brentford and Millwall’s Baseball teams had originally just played friendlies.
So yet again, the O’s have been pioneers for sport.
Thanks to Tony Attwood for the information on Arsenal, Leyton Orient Club Historian Neil Kaufman for his support, Oz Ozman for the book that has provided many facts for the article and Steve Jenkins for his time and help with getting this article published.