John Sitton made over 300 appearances during his career. Since retirement the former Chelsea defender has become a London Black Cab driver.
The defender went into management in 1994 when he was co-manager at Leyton Orient.
With over 350,000 views on YouTube, John Sitton’s famous Leyton Orient team talk is something familiar with most football fans.
The famous clip is taken from Channel Four’s documentary, Orient: Club for a Fiver, a film made by an Orient fan who was given exclusive access to record behind closed doors footage.
Charlie Russell speaks to the former footballer about his career on and off the pitch as well as that famous team talk.
You started your career at Arsenal as a youth player before moving to Chelsea. How did you find your time at both clubs?
I was only at Arsenal for one year, it was very traditional, full of history and it seemed very, dare I say it, stiff, cold and forensic. I was coached by two coaches, Ian Crawford who with the benefit of hindsight and experience was very poor and overly aggressive to what were a bunch of thirteen year olds. The other one was Dave Smith who was an excellent coach and was a little gentler and humorous.
At Chelsea where I spent six years from the age of fourteen, there seemed to be more warmth and humour and the coaching was excellent. I was taught stuff or I saw stuff that would stay with me for life, from the likes of Dave Sexton, Eddie McCreadie, Dario Gradi and Ken Shellito.
I had a lot of recognition at a young age, I went through the youth teams, and became captain of the reserves which allowed me to break into the first team. Unfortunately, the club was poorly ran from top to bottom and it became shambolic. Things became gradually worse and I became gradually worse along with them. I left on bad terms on Valentine’s day, 1980 under Geoff Hurst and Bobby Gould.
In 1980 you signed for Millwall. Is it true you left the club after falling out with Peter Anderson?
Not really. Anderson said he just wanted to change things around. So he got rid of me, a promising young defender and kept people who had won The FA Youth Cup but were not in my class and added to them a fat Northerner.
You made over 140 appearances for Gillingham and Leyton Orient. At which club did you enjoy your football the most?
The first two years at Gillingham were incredible. The management team liked me, the lads were fantastic and some of the football was incredible. I made over one hundred and forty appearances. Unfortunately, in the third and fourth year that I was there, Keith Peacock made some incredibly bizarre signings both permanently and on loan and it decimated results, playing style and atmosphere. The spirit was never the same and for reasons best known to himself, Peacock treated me very poorly. I was gutted because I thought I had served him well.
In terms of achievement I suppose the promotion year at Orient (88-89) was memorable but “enjoy” would be too strong a word. The club had quite a few cheats, duckers and divers who I didn’t really care for. It’s not good if 50% of the squad are giving 100% and the other 50% of the squad are only giving 50%, most of the time it was like a holiday camp.
You ended your playing career at Slough Town. Was it always your aim to go into coaching?
I think I had one maybe two games at Slough. I did a deal to go in initially as player/coach and I was then offered the manager’s job, the person running the club at the time (Bob Pearson) reneged on the deal when David Kemp was sacked by Plymouth Argyle. He made Kemp manager so I walked away.
During your time as Leyton Orient manager you were known for your honest team talks. Have you always preferred the hair-dryer approach to management?
I always preferred honesty as a player, I made the mistake of thinking the players I had inherited would appreciate the same honesty, ways of training and approach to every game as I did. I used the supposed hairdryer four times in ten months in trying to appeal to the ego and professional pride of what seemed at the time overpaid, underachievers.
What are your three tips for managers who can’t get a reaction from their team talks?
The minimum for any side should be fit, organized and motivated. I have always felt that every player should approach the game as I did in wanting to play well and dominate their opponent. I never had the opportunity but at the first sign of a player not pulling in the same direction, get rid of him. Within the first ten minutes of the game make sure the players are sticking to the game plan, tactics and dealing with the opposition. Within your organization and framework, allow players to express themselves, freedom and liberty of thought. Constantly check and re-check the three units within a unit and what is happening in the three thirds.
Since leaving the professional scene you have become a taxi driver. What made you make this career change?
I spent fourteen months applying for jobs and after receiving no replies and realising that I had no friends and hadn’t done enough networking I needed to feed my young family. I realized I was chasing a dream and an ambition that only a lucky few get to achieve and I had to be pragmatic and put food on the table. I had never been unemployed and I thought I’d join a three hundred and fifty-year-old institution.
Do you wish to go back into management?
Although I can coach and it’s the same game I think it’s unrealistic. I could probably sort a club out from top to bottom, organize a team and get back into the groove, but it’s unrealistic. They say a footballer dies three times, the first time when he can’t play for the club he wants to play for, the second time when he hangs up his boots and the third time when he falls out of love with the game. I love football but I don’t particularly care for some of the people in it and what goes on. Suffice to say some of what has happened since my perceived indiscretions pales what I did into insignificance.
Former Spurs midfielder, Micky Hazard is also a taxi driver. Have you ever crossed paths both on the pitch and on the road?
Never, but he did used to live opposite me. Other formers footballers who are now cabbies are Derek Richardson, Paul Roberts, John Bumstead, Trevor Aylott, Vaughan Ryan and Alan Dickens.
Do your passengers ever recognize you from your famous Orient team talk?