So have we all recovered yet? Champions, promoted back to the Football League, bumper crowds all the way through the season and with a cup final still to come. For Orient fans used to facing life with a large self-protective dose of pessimism, does it get any better than this?
When we look back in years to come will we truly realise and accept that the dark days under you-know-who’s ownership had to be endured to get to where we are now? Will the memories of the protests on the pitch and the club very nearly becoming extinct make us more accepting and patient when we find the going a bit tougher in League Two?
For now it all seems very fresh and new, in quieter moments I am sure we all still find ourselves drifting back to the final whistle on Saturday the 27th of April, the pitch invasion, scenes of celebration and the parties that went on through the rest of the afternoon and evening, and, if we are honest, a fair proportion of the following week! Certainly the 2018/19 season is one that none of us will forget any time soon, and why should we?
It all started away at the-team-that-everyone-loves-to-hate, media darlings Salford City, with the late scrambled equalizer courtesy of an own goal. Little did we know at the time but that result provided an early indication of our intentions and credentials for the season ahead. Even if the three draws in the first three games suggested a bit of tweaking was required to get the team fully firing, the win against Maidstone and the run of thirteen games without defeat made us start to realise that we were most definitely on the right lines and that promotion and possibly even the title might be a genuine aspiration.
While the defeat at home to Sutton that ended our unbeaten start stung, getting back on track in the rain at Maidenhead sparked another run without defeat, this time nine games and a total of eighteen points towards the cause. Within that run was the special and moving day marking 100 years since the end of the Great War and this oh-so-special club’s contribution as so poignantly brought to life by the incredibly moving production The Greater Game, the Shrouds of the Somme exhibition at the Olympic Park and the brilliantly conceived retro jersey and kit for the 3-1 win over Bromley.
Then came another reality-check defeat this one at Borehamwood in front of BT’s cameras, (we’re Orient what did we expect? We never win on the telly!). That was followed by a dose of the winter wobbles as we lost at Dagenham on Boxing Day, drew at Dover, were humbled at home by Salford and then lost at Eastleigh. Had we run out of steam? Were we going to stumble just when we should be pushing on?
Progress continued in the FA Trophy but was this a distraction? Would we be better off out of it allowing us to fully concentrate our efforts on the main target of the promotion? Beaconsfield were dispatched, then Wrexham and then Blyth Spartans thanks to a late goal from new signing Jamie Turley, and all of a sudden a Wembley final was coming into view just over the horizon. When we won away at holders Brackley Town, the attitude of the fan base changed, why not give it everything we have and target the double?
As winter turned to spring, after dropped points at Hartlepool and at home to Maidenhead the ship was steadied with consecutive away wins at Havant & Waterlooville and Barrow. Then came the showdown with promotion rivals Wrexham in front of those pesky TV cameras again. This time however the O’s delivered, some the football they played that day was a joy to behold, the newly reshaped formation with three centre backs and a number ten behind first choice strikers: Bonne and Koroma seemed to have breathed new life into the team from an attacking sense.
That win may have only been a single goal victory but against a close challenger it felt very much like a key moment in the title race. The win at Aldershot two days later put Orient in a strong position when hostilities resumed after the two-legged FA Trophy semi-final against Telford which saw us clinch our cup final place, a 2-1 win over final opponents AFC Fylde put us two points clear with two games in hand and just eight games to go.
However just as the pressure was starting to bite Orient wobbled again; the goalless draw at Barnet was a creditable result in a hard-fought game but was nonetheless two points dropped. The defeat at Bromley followed by a ropey defensive performance which needed an added time equalizer from Plan B, Matt Harold, to salvage a point at home to Halifax, heightened concern that the O’s were going to blow it in spectacular fashion.
Then came that stunning Tuesday evening game against Eastleigh when our boys came back from 2-1 down thanks to goals from Macauley Bonne and James Brophy in just four second half minutes sent the entire ground into raptures. If we didn’t know for certain after that night, I think we were all at least starting to believe.
Revenge was gained over Sutton for that defeat early in the season, Harrogate beaten on Good Friday and the battling draw at Solihull as Salford lost to Fylde on Easter Monday left us needing just one point at home to already-relegated Braintree. Everyone reading this will have their own special memories of that day but it felt like the most appropriate and cathartic experience for every single one of us.
Who knows what next season has in store? Will we kick on and target a second successive promotion? Will it be tougher meaning we will have to face a battle to establish ourselves back in the League? For now though none of that matters as:
“We’re on our way! We’re on our way! To the Football League we’re on our way! How we get there I don’t know! How we get there I don’t care! All I know is we are on our way!”