The beautiful game is at the forefront of many people's lives, but sometimes unforeseen events happen in our lives which force us to comprehend that football occasionally needs to be in the backseat.
This was certainly the case on the 3rd October this year at Brisbane Road. It was a mid-autumn Tuesday evening and Leyton Orient hosted Lincoln City in a League One encounter. Striker Joe Pigott opened the scoring ten minutes in to put Orient in front. But that ended up being the game's only goal. There were chances for both sides but, as the match entered the last quarter of an hour, it seemed as if Orient were going to run out one-nil victors.
But that's when the tide turned.
It was apparent that there was a disturbance in the crowd because there was some unrest on the far side in the East stand. Ostensibly, the players and officials were unaware and the contest carried on. But the severity heightened when a fan from that stand ran onto the pitch. Not towards a player, not as a boast or gloat, but towards the nearby linesman. There was an aura of confusion amongst other fans but it was soon understood that there was a serious issue in the stand. Despite this, the game continued, but fans started to shout at the man in the middle for the game to be stopped whilst the incident was attended to. It took too long for those in charge to react to the situation.
Sometime down the line, it was hard to gauge just how much time had passed, because everyone was numb watching the events unfold, but the referee called players back form the touchline onto the pitch and was going to get the game restarted. However, more fans pitch invaded to try and prevent this, and players began to see some sense, so the referee eventually came to his senses.
All focus was now towards this Orient fan who was in a serious medical emergency. Just how serious was unknown but the whole stadium fell into complete silence as medical professionals tended to the fan.
The game was eventually abandoned as it became clear of the magnitude of the situation. Fans were left motionless in their seats, unsure whether to stay or go.
It was later revealed that the fan had unfortunately passed away. He was named as Derek Reynolds, 74 years of age, lifelong O's fan, who had managed the tannoy system at Brisbane Road in the 90's. The whole club was in shock. The atmosphere had switched in an instant. Derek's beloved team on the road to an important three points against a strong side, and then the catastrophic circumstance that followed is impossible to process.
Fans around the country paid their tributes to a special man and he was commemorated fittingly at the Orient games that followed.
But the thing that stuck out the most was the repercussions of the abandoned game. Orient winning with not much time remaining. The disastrous sequenced of events that everyone present endured, not to mention Derek's' family. Both Leyton Orient and Lincoln were in talks with the EFL for several weeks and it was consequently decided that the game would be replayed in due course.
Fast forward to the 21st November, and it was déjà vu for both sets of fans and players. Same location. Same kits. Same amount of points on the line. Many felt, and not just O's fans, that the choice to replay the game was unjust. Either the remainder should have been played behind closed doors or Orient should have been handed the three points. Even some Lincoln fans agreed with that. And there's no concrete rule in the EFL handbook that decided what happens in this unique situation.
Nonetheless, the game was replayed, and in true Orient fashion, an 88th minute winner from Hamilton secured a 1-0 away win for the Imps. Cue backlash. Fans were furious. Not only had the game been made to be replayed, which most believe shouldn't have happened in the first place, but then Orient put in a poor lacklustre performance and went from three point gained to dropped. It wasn't the way Derek would have wanted to see his beloved team play.
But the overarching moral of this heart-wrenching story is that sometimes, there are things that are more important than the result of a game where men kick a ball around a field. The situation on the night could and should have been handled better by those in authority and Derek's untimely death may have been saved had things panned out differently.
Rest in Peace, Derek Reynolds.