Martin Ling remembers Leyton Orient’s last game at Wembley only too well and insists defeat in the play-off final is the worst way to lose.
Ling was in the team beaten 1-0 by Scunthorpe United in the 1999 Division Three play-off final. He has experienced the highs of managing the O’s to promotion in 2006 and the lows of playing in a play-off final defeat. But Ling believes there is no other match which offers such a stark contrast in emotions between winning and losing.
Ling said: “It’s a big occasion and everyone gets excited but it is all about winning on the day. It’s a wonderful place to win but God awful if you lose. It’s certainly the best way to go up but also the worst way to miss out and very hard to swallow.”
The former Orient winger said: “I had the jubilation of going up to the Premier League with Swindon in 1993 but then the pain of losing in 1999. All I can say is it’s a great day out if you win but if you lose it’s very painful.
“On the day we didn’t perform as a team. We got through against Rotherham United on penalties and were full of confidence but never performed in the first half.”
Ling believes the best chance of success revolves around minimising the hype of the final and treating it as just another game.
He said: “You just have to try and play it down as much as you can but that’s hard to do. I listened to Russell Slade the other night and he said there’s still a job to be done which is the right thing to say. You have to keep it as normal as you possibly can and try to ensure the players are relaxed.
“The pitch at Wembley is still green with white lines and the football is still the same shape and colour so you have to try and treat it as just another game.
“Win, lose or draw, he’s [Slade] done an absolutely fantastic job but he won’t want to hear that. He won’t want to be remembered for glorious failure.”
Ling finds it difficult to split Orient and Rotherham in Sunday’s final but is pulling for his former club with several family members still working at Brisbane Road.
“The opposition have a bigger budget but Orient have that consistency so it will be a real 50-50 game,” Ling said. “Orient are the best team in the play-offs because they finished third but I’ve always said that every final is a 50-50 occasion.”
Ling continued: “My daughter is a waitress at the club and my son Sam is a first year scholar so it’s the first result I look for. I would like to think they’ll finish the job and get into the promised land. The Championship is Leyton Orient’s Premier League if I’m being honest.
“If they could go up then I could see them filling the grounds most weeks especially with the amount of London clubs that will be in the league next season.”
The former Orient boss added: “The club wouldn’t be in the position it is now without Barry Hearn. I managed the club when there were two stands and now it is up to four and it’s amazing. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for him but this is a great chance and they have to grab it with both hands.”
Ling spent more than five years in charge of the O’s with his greatest moment undoubtedly guiding Orient to automatic promotion from League 2 after their dramatic win at Oxford.
The 47-year-old said: “Winning promotion in 2006 was the culmination of three years hard work. When I took over, the club were in dire straits and were 91st in the league. We went from the bottom of the league and were rewarded with promotion. It was nice to get out of the bottom league and now they have another big opportunity.”
Ling suffered two bouts of depression during his spells as manager of Cambridge United and Torquay United, before being dismissed by the Gulls at the end of last season following a period away from the club getting treatment.
He now runs a coaching school in Harlow, commentates for radio and is also the chief scout for Walsall. Ling would like to resume his management career but admits his illness has made it harder getting back into the sport.
He said: “It’s common knowledge I had a bout of depression four years ago at Cambridge and then a second one in January 2013. But 14 months later I’m a different person now and in good health. I had a period in the Priory and I came out of it and now feel an awful lot better and ready for another crack at management.
“It’s like a coffee stain. When you type my name into Google then it comes up with depression. It’s not stopping me getting a job but it does make it more difficult.
“One in four people suffer from it but the difference is I was in the public eye and if you go missing for three months then people ask questions. If I was in a normal job then it would be fine when I came back. It’s a barrier to get through but not insurmountable.”