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What is it like to live INSIDE a football stadium?

In the corners of the stands at Leyton Orient stand four blocks of flats. But what is it like being a resident? Andrew Butler went to find out in his latest Turnstile column

It is a situation reminiscent of a dozen adverts.

You walk through a spotless flat, beers cooling in the fridge, Champions League football on TV, and you peer outside the lounge window to see a balcony with a real-life game about to kick off.

Only, this isn’t a pipe dream conjured up in the sterile offices of marketing execs – this is the scene that greets anyone fortunate to live inside the stadium of Leyton Orient FC.

For a lucky few tenants the pleasure of watching live football is a mere two yards from their sofa, as those living inside the blocks of flats that stand in the four corners of Orient’s Matchroom Stadium enjoy a unique footballing experience.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better living room than this

Andrew Butler
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better living room than this

It is a Tuesday night and Orient are taking on Chester in a bottom of the table Vanarama National League clash.

Heading up a lift and through a front door is a different experience to the usual creaking turnstile as I enter the flat.

Ben has been living in his flat for just over six months, but the novelty of having a football match outside your bedroom window is yet to wear off.

“The idea of living in a football stadium was hard to ignore – I’d invited half my mates round before we’d signed the contract and God knows how I convinced my girlfriend to say yes to the idea,” Ben says.

“We stumbled upon the flat when we were looking for somewhere to live. The pictures stood out.

“Once I saw the balcony I’m not sure I even bothered to look at the kitchen or bathroom.

“And I was pretty surprised that the cost was no more than other flats in the area.”

We are joined by a couple of others, taking in the atmosphere with an equal amount of awe and bafflement. It feels almost too good to be true.

Director’s Box or room in your house?

Andrew Butler
Director’s Box or room in your house?

Aside from standing on a balcony adjoined to someone’s flat, the other marked difference to a fan inside the stadium is the ability to drink alcohol in view of the pitch.

Due to English ground regulations, drinking alcohol is prohibited within view of the pitch, so the unique opportunity to have a beer whilst watching the game is a chance we rapidly seize upon.

I’m told by the club that it is not illegal to drink on the balconies because it is within a private property, but if tenants are unruly the police can be alerted.

The game itself isn’t without incident either. Orient take an early lead through top scorer Macauley Bonne, but a storm brews as Chester hit back with two goals to turn the game on its head.

Dilemma: Champions League on the sofa or real life action outside?

Dilemma: Champions League on the sofa or real life action outside?

Perhaps the only slight pitfall for those living in these flats is the positioning of them. From our viewpoint you have to crane your neck at times to fully see the action.

Ben’s balcony stands directly along the line of the North Stand goal, meaning we had a perfect view as James Akintunde’s deflected cross looped over O’s keeper Sam Sargeant, crossing the line by a inch before the stopper could claw it out.

The stadium comes fully alive in the 44th minute, as Jamie Sendles-White is shown a red card for a professional foul.

Sargeant saves the resultant penalty, but the view from the balcony comes into its own as a group of Orient fans taunt opposition manager Marcus Bignot on the touchline.

It is fearsome, tense, and is even too much for Orient’s American owner Kent Teague to take, as he rushes from his seat to calm the baying crowd.

But from the balcony, it has the feel of a Roman emperor inside the Colosseum, watching on in calmness as chaos ensues downstairs.

If it gets too much you can be in bed within five seconds, after all.

The stadium has had its moments, and had its fun with the balcony crowds as well.

Opposition fans have been known to chant “We can see you washing up” to unsuspecting tenants disinterested by the action, while arguably Orient’s most famous goal of the past decade, an equaliser against Arsenal in the FA Cup, saw TV cameras pan to one fan in their flat… only this fan was wearing a Manchester City shirt.

“You’re not gonna wear your City shirt to the Orient v Arsenal game are you? Oh, you have.”

“You’re not gonna wear your City shirt to the Orient v Arsenal game are you? Oh, you have.”

Then there are the hackneyed jokes about living in one of the flats that yes, you still have to watch the Orient, and isn’t that a punishment at times?

Very funny. With fans being priced out of the game up and down the country, you’d be hard-pressed to find any football fan who wouldn’t enjoy the experience of having real-life football outside their living room.

Of course, you can feel detached from the crowd and less swept up in the emotion of sitting amongst the Orient faithful, but there is the positive of being able to bung a pizza in the oven at half-time and catch up with the Champions League action during the 15-minute interval.

The second half is gilded with a Jobi McAnuff wonderstrike to level the scores for Orient, and the game ends with the O’s having secured a point.

It’s not ideal, but it’s the best you can hope for with ten men.

As the crowds filter out, we stay. There’s no stewards urging you out, no traffic to beat, no tube to catch.

Beat that for a back garden

Andrew Butler
Beat that for a back garden

Another beer is opened and snacks eaten as the reality of normality settles over Brisbane Road.

We observe the warm downs taking place, the media obligations get underway, and there’s even time for one of the assembled balcony boys to holler an almighty ‘Moooooooney!’ at Orient striker David Mooney.

Mooney waves politely upwards to us as the sound echoes around the now empty stadium – and for Ben, he has his back garden quiet again.

He says: “Living in what’s essentially a director’s box, you see all the behind the scenes stuff you wouldn’t as a typical fan.

“Like the groundsman doing his rounds, players letting their kids on the pitch post-match, the warm downs, briefings of the stewards and press activity.”

We take the floodlights dimming half an hour later as our cue to leave the flat, satisfied with the evening’s entertainment.

The reality of normality settles in post-match

Andrew Butler
The reality of normality settles in post-match

Exiting the block of flats, we are met with a trickle of Orient players making their way out of the club.

It is a slightly melancholic sight as the aforementioned McAnuff and Mooney walk by. You forget that for them, it is just another day at the office – it could have been better, it could have been worse.

But for those living inside the flats in the four corners of the stadium, it’s hard to see how the experience can ever get old.

“It is really nice,” says Ben. “You can sit out on a Tuesday evening with your dinner and a cuppa watching a professional football match while your other half is watching Bake Off on the sofa within shouting range.

“And we don’t even need to buy a second telly.”

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