Showing at the Waterloo East Theatre currently is a show called ‘The Greater Game’. A true life story based on the book ‘They took the lead’ by Stephen Jenkins.


The Background

In 1914 War started and as other sports had finished for the season, Football was left as the one sport the country could get behind to keep spirits high. However as the war claimed its casualties over time, questions turned to why footballers hadn’t signed up to play their part and in turn fans instead started staying away from games. The authorities decided to encourage participation and along with the war office created ‘The footballers Battalion’ or to give it its proper name the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment. This story follows a group of Orient Players that signed up among a total of  41 other staff, players and fans to represent their country and make Orient the leading team for footballers signing up for the war effort. Here we follow the friendships of a small group within the 41, through trials and tribulations that war brought.

The Play

The story starts off with the friendship of William Jonas and Richard McFadden (played by Steven Bush and James Phelps respectively) A couple of Northern Lads who end up at Clapton Orient of which we see throughout the play develop and truly enjoy. Macfadden is the teams star player and a hero at heart who does it because ‘its the right thing to do’.

The first half of this play is endearing and mostly humorous throughout, we get to learn of the players and manager and form bonds and emotional attachments to the characters for differing reasons. Michael Greco plays Billy Holmes the Team manager. – Always ensuring the lads are keeping to schedule and being an authority figure that the players look up to and confide in.

”This now isn’t a ninety minute match, in fact in reality they never knew when the war would be over”

Michael Head who as ‘Jumbo’ gives us plenty of comical moments isn’t afraid to have a laugh at himself as we see him tackle the daily jogging routines set by the manager. We also see him display his serious side as a proud father as the play progresses. Jack Harding as the team captain Fred Parker, again one the team looks to as the elder statesman provided us with humour and a sense of calm in the first half. Tom Stock as Jimmy Hugall provided a constant ray of laughs as the slightly dim but lovable goalkeeper too.

Towards the end of the first half however the play turns serious and the attention takes to the war, and shows the response they get when they announce they have signed up to the army.

The second half is much darker, and portrays the true brutality that comes with being at war. This now isn’t a ninety minute match, in fact in reality they never knew when the war would be over.

”Jack Harding does brilliantly as he brings the raw emotion in his letters back home to manager Billy Holmes”

We see how war affects each of the team members for better or worse. Nolan ‘Peggy’ Evans, George Scott both played by Paul Marlon and Scott Kyle share a emotional moment in the second half as one reflects on the past and what bonded their friendship striving for what is now known as ‘the greater game.’

Jack Harding does brilliantly as he brings the raw emotion in his letters back home to manager Billy Holmes. McFaddens positive attitude helping to keep those around him in a good frame of mind and again Tom Stock brings the humour among the darkness that surrounds all of which even his comrades even find time to laugh about whilst in the trenches.

We are also taken through the lives of those left at home in the players wives of McFadden  played by Victoria Gibson and and Jonas played by Helena Doughty. Left to adapt to new environments, their dreams, wishes and wants shared as well as their emotion of being at home while their respective loved ones are on the front line.

”Its all for the Greater Game”

We are taken through a roller coaster of emotion from laughs to physical tears in moments you can only sympathise and reflect on. The play takes us from high to low and back again. Never have i seen a more poignant ending that leaves us to reflect, pay tribute and honour those involved.

This is a real life story. These characters were real life people. On the hundredth centenary of Armistice Day this play is a fitting tribute to a section of people that contributed and gave their efforts for the war. A group from Leyton Orient still go and visit the Somme yearly to remember this part of their club history. This is real life History. I urge you to find out more about this story and see the play. I then dare you not to be touched with emotion once finished watching.

Michael Head has a knack of touching your emotions and conveying a story that relates. His previous play ‘Worth a Flutter’ was engaging and connected, You could envisage yourself or may have even experienced similar situations in real life. It was exactly that true to life. In this i found a story that is hard to ignore and again paid homage to the very people they were bringing to life whilst drawing me in and touching my emotions.

A shout out to each and every cast member also if not named as they honoured those that they portrayed with class and dignity and so with that here was only one result for this review and that was 5 Star…or in football scores 5- Nil.