Being a Leyton Orient fan tends to bring pessimism at every given opportunity, it’s just in our nature from past experience. I’ve been an Orient fan since 2002, and witnessed them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory more times than I care to mention. Even when they’ve been at their lowest ebb in the National League for the last two years, you wouldn’t have been alone to think “What if we can’t get out?” in what is a notoriously difficult league to gain promotion of, given the one automatic promotion place on offer. Just look at Wrexham, 87 years in the Football League until 2008 and they’ve been stuck in non-league ever since.
Everyone reading this will know everything about where the club was in June 2017, with 9 players in the squad and no bank account, but it was December of that year where it all sunk into reality of the situation Orient were in – an away game vs Solihull Moors, which also happened to be Justin Edinburgh’s first game in charge. It was a terrible situation in more ways than you can imagine: a squad with no confidence, hovering around the relegation zone to the National League South and supporters facing the stark reality that it may take an awfully long time before the club returns to the Football League.
But fast forward to today and those concerns from 16 months ago are a distant memory, and it couldn’t be any different if Orient tried. Going into the final game of the season against Braintree, Orient only need a draw to mathematically confirm their return as a League club, and could even get away with a defeat provided Salford don’t overturn a 5 goal deficit in goal difference. It has been a herculean effort to change the club’s fortunes so quickly after it’s rapid and almost fatal demise, and what makes it even more satisfactory is it has been a team effort from bottom to top. From the playing perspective, every player in the squad has played a crucial part in steering us towards a Football League return. Macauley Bonne has led the way in terms of goalscoring. Craig Clay has dictated the midfield like Steven Gerrard. Jobi McAnuff marshalled the team exceptionally and ensured that they don’t drop their standards or give up too easily. Dean Brill commanded his area superbly and has 22 clean sheets to his name, and who could forget Josh Coulson and his magnificent forehead? He has been a rock in defence at times & he’s even scoring plenty as well (He’s got 8 this season!).
I could go on and on about the players because to a man, they have been superb when called upon. As a squad, I can’t remember watching a team as together and prepared to put their bodies on the line for the club as this one. They’ve made the fans enjoy watching football at Orient again, and that’s even without their immediate successes. A team that seemingly refuses to give up and fights to the bitter end, as we saw in the latter games against Eastleigh, Halifax and Sutton. In all honesty, I wouldn’t think of it to be fair to single out a player who has stood out this season because they all have in their own unique way, and all deserve immense credit. They deserve the title, they deserve the Wembley day out in the FA Trophy final, and they deserve the greatest of appreciation from every single Leyton Orient fan for bringing pride back to the club after it was all but guttered out.
Away from the playing squad, Justin Edinburgh and his coaching staff probably won’t have to buy another pint in East London ever again after what they’ve done to transform the club. Justin knew when he was appointed head coach what was expected of the club, but he also knew what to expect from the league having gained promotion from it with Newport County. It wasn’t going to be full flowing football, it certainly wasn’t going to be pretty and there was going to be occasions where luck wasn’t in our favour, but there wasn’t many occasions where you could say the team was ill-prepared or set out wrong tactically. Going into this season, Justin trusted his players hence why the summer recruitment was very limited. But he extracted every ounce of effort from the players and is potentially leading us to the Double. Leyton Orient don’t do trophies, but to win the double in your first full season in charge? That man deserves a stand named after him!
To be a Leyton Orient fan, you need the patience of a saint because the glory days are practically non-existent. We’ve probably had the toughest job of any football fan in the country over the last 5 years given how far we’ve fallen. From Brentford to Barrow and from Wolverhampton to Woking, it has been a massive culture shock for many fans, but our support has been magnificent. Record season ticket sales, attendances above 5,000 or even 6,000 in multiple home games and a sensational away following whatever or wherever the fixture, rivalling League Two and even some League One clubs with our attendances. Whatever obstacle has been put in front of the club, the supporters have stood firm with their backing of the team and have been magnificent when called upon. Every single one of us deserves to bask in this glory, because boy have we had to put up with a lot to get here.
Tomorrow’s match against Braintree will be a phenomenal occasion, an occasion that we’ll be speaking about for decades and telling the grandkids about. So as much as Orient has given you stress over the years, you can FINALLY enjoy the moment knowing that the team will do the job.
Who knows? If Alabi scores, we might actually be on the pitch!