After two stunning come-from-behind wins in succession and the jubilant scenes that followed the wins at home to Eastleigh and the absolute pandemonium of the win at Sutton, it always felt that the Easter, weekend with two pivotal games in four days, would be absolutely crucial to Orient’s hopes of a return to the promised land of the Football League.
My personal gut feeling was that if the O’s could seal three points at home to Harrogate Town on Good Friday and avoid defeat at Solihull Moors on Easter Monday that would probably be enough of a cushion to going into the final league game of the season at home to lowly Braintree Town. Having said that though I don’t think even the most optimistic (sic!- is there any such thing as an optimistic Orient fan?) amongst us expected AFC Fylde to do us a massive favour and beat media darlings Salford City.
As I am sure anyone reading this will already have worked through on umpteen occasions since Monday afternoon, Orient stand three points clear at the top of the table, with a goal difference advantage of +5, meaning that unless there is a massive swing in goal difference, we can probably even lose the final game and still be crowned champions. Surely even Orient can’t find a way to not win the league title…can they?
If Orient do what is required, then just over two years to the day that our protests about the malevolent previous owner’s reign forced the abandonment of our final home League game and its completion behind closed doors, we may well all be on the pitch again but this time in celebration of our redemption under the new ownership and a return to where we all know this very special club belongs. If that is indeed to be our destiny then there will be something not only appropriate but also cathartic about it.
From the position we found ourselves in two years ago and the very real prospect that the club wouldn’t even exist at all, bit by bit and step by step, the owners, management, players and not least we the supporters have all played our parts in rebuilding the club from the rubble that was left behind by the previous regime.
After what came before, the two seasons exiled in the National League have, to a certain extent, been enjoyable most specifically since we dispensed with the seemingly out of his depth, Steve Davis, and acquired the man with the plan Justin Edinburgh in the autumn of 2017. Since then we have won more than we have lost, attendances have boomed to such an extent that this season’s average is in excess of 5,000 and only just over 200 less than the oh-so-nearly-glorious 2013/14 campaign.
That is without even mentioning the small matter of a cup final with reportedly more than 19,000 tickets sold and counting. There is a tangible feel-good factor around the club and the very real sense that the future can be very bright indeed.
While there was always the supposed safety net of the play-offs, securing the one guaranteed promotion spot as well as the club’s first league title for nearly half a century, feels completely appropriate. This season Orient have looked like a team on a mission, one that had almost decided that it was now or never, that a third year mired in non-league might start to take its toll in terms of the probable loss of our manager and best players, recruitment difficulties and likely dwindling attendances.
The unbeaten start and a run of just one defeat in the opening twenty-two matches of the campaign firmly established not only the squad’s title credentials but the belief amongst the fans that we really might just go on to secure not only promotion but the League title itself. As the season wore on the team stayed strong in their belief, overcame the winter wobbles and held their nerve as the pressure really started to bite and as others faltered.
…and so here we are, the day we have all been waiting, hoping and praying for, when those players walk out on the pitch at lunchtime this Saturday afternoon for their very own date with destiny, it will bring a tear to the eye of all of us there, but also the conviction and belief that they can deliver and write a name for themselves in the history of this unique club.
More seasoned Orient watchers than I will tell you just how much Saturday means to them, however anyone familiar with what has befallen our beloved club over the last half decade can in no way begrudge us what looks very much like being our day in the sun.
The darkest moments, as they say, usually come before the brightest dawn. Thank you Orient for making us all believe again…and make mine a double!