Leyton Orient Exclusive: “The situation at the club has forced all of us youngsters to mature quickly,” says Henry Ochieng

Leyton Orient Exclusive: “The situation at the club has forced all of us youngsters to mature quickly,” says Henry Ochieng

A big criticism of young players is that they get too much too soon.

The wages of some – who are even yet to make an impact on their first teams – are widely debated.

But have you ever thought what it would be like if they didn’t get paid for a long period of time.

It’s something Henry Ochieng, and his teammates, had to contend with when his club, Leyton Orient when huge tax debts at the club saw them faced with a winding up order in March.

Henry Ochieng battling with a Crawley Town player

Ochieng made his league debut against Crawley Town in March

Aged only 18, Ochieng had to grow up quickly.

“The situation has forced a lot of people to mature,” he said.

“It feels like we’ve experienced a whole life in two months. There are so many things that people don’t see – but it’s the everyday things that get affected.

“Some of us were left worrying and thinking how they were going to pay their mortgages, cars – even things like petrol.

The players have since been paid their wages for March and April, but the ill-feeling remains from fans towards owner Francesco Becchetti and the EFL – who they claim have not done enough to help.

Ochieng and his young teammates were suddenly flung into the lions den of a League Two football pitch.

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Unforgiving at the best of times, they were now being relied on not only to fulfill the club’s fixtures until the end of the season, but to keep the club from relegation to the National League.

As such, there was no sentiment shown from the opposition, and Orient’s 112-year status as a Football League club ended last weekend after a defeat to Crewe.

But for all the drawbacks, the experience has given Ochieng a chance to do what many young players fail to do – play professional league football.

“For many outsides looking in may be very hard time, but for us as young footballers wanting to play it was almost a blessing in disguise,” he said.

“It gave us a chance to showcase out ability and wear the shirt.”

Ochieng with the Olympic torch

Ochieng was chosen to carry the Olympic torch before London 2012 as a reward for his charity work

For the defender, his opportunity arose, firstly, in November’s EFL Trophy clash against Brighton. His League debut came in the 3-0 defeat at Crawley March, his first of five appearances so far this season.

Recalling the events, he said: “There were about 15 minutes to go when the gaffer told me to warm up.

“As I got ready and was about to come on obviously the nerves were kicking in, but there was nothing for me to lose.

“It’s been a big step up, technically, tactically and physically, from U23s football.”

It’s another turn in a footballing journey that has primarily centred around the east end of London.

Aged nine, Ochieng was plucked from Sunday League by West Ham United, where he spent five years. Despite his experiences, he always remembers his origins.

“My Sunday league manager, Mark, backed me from day one go far in game,” he said.

Ochieng on the ball vs Southend United

Ochieng is widely believed to have a bright future in the game

“From paying my sign on fee to picking me up for matches. He invested a lot of time in me.

“Mark Phillips at West Ham was the same. He was always on hand to give me extra training to help me develop in all areas on the pitch.”

After leaving the Hammers aged 14, he was quickly picked up by Leyton Orient, where he went on to get a Scholarship.

Such is the measure of the young man that in the build up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, he was chosen to carry the Olympic Torch in Rainham, East London, after being recognised for his charity work in the community and in Kenya, where he would often send pairs of football boots and other equipment.

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The professional contract at The O’s came in December, another proud moment for Ochieng.

He said: “I know about the club’s big history – it’s the second oldest club in London – so I was thrilled to get a contract.

“With all that history, it makes the situation [at the club] sadder.

“As players, all of that is out of our hands, we can only control what we can control, which is how we perform in the pitch.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen – we just have to play our best, give our all and see what happens in the summer. We just have to make the most of the opportunity to play.”

About Richard Amofa

Off The Post News Co Founder. @_RichardAmofa / @OffThePostNews

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