So here we are then.
It’s been over nine months since the season started and a marvellous trip to Wembley on Sunday will finally mark the end of a glorious campaign for the O’s.
Looking back, before a ball was kicked, as a Leyton Orient supporter of many a year, I’m sure that I was not alone in looking to find four teams worse than us in the league, so that relegation would not be a factor for us come May.
I had pencilled in Carlisle as one of the vulnerable sides, so that a first-day encounter at Brunton Park you felt may have been an early relegation six-pointer in our quest for survival.
However, a 5-1 away win saw us head the league and we all wondered if maybe mid-table was not beyond us this year. But then we won the next game. Then the next game. Then the game after that. In fact, unbelievably we won our opening eight games in the league and we found ourselves in a remarkable first position.
Even then though, many of us thought that we still had a good chance of ‘doing a Tranmere’ and slipping down the division. We’d get our injuries and suspensions of course, and the big guns of Peterborough, MK Dons, Swindon etc would all overtake us, no problem. Normal service would be resumed in the not too distant future.
Still, as our ‘we are staying up’ chants at Swindon in November indicated, finding those four teams worse than us did not look as if it would be an issue for us, for this season at least.
Alas our form did dip – though not disasterously – as the new year came – and with Wolves and Brentford both starting to show stunning form it became clear that the miracle of automatic promotion was going to be very difficult to achieve. And so it proved, yet nobody could argue that the final league position of third in the third tier – better than any we have managed in 32 years – was a stunning achievement.
And so we had the play-offs.
A wonderful atmosphere at Peterborough saw us come away with a creditable draw – though it could have been better – setting it all up for what had all the makings of a great night at Brisbane Road the other Tuesday.
Well Russ and the lads did not let us down. An absolute classic evening saw us through to the play-off final, culminating in celebrations the like of which we have not seen at Brisbane Road for many a year. Being Leyton Orient we couldn’t do it without a hitch – letting in a soft goal in injury time to take us all close to heart-attack territory – but hold out we did, resulting in a pitch invasion to match the one back in ‘89 after we beat Wrexham to secure a first promotion for 19 years.
And so now it’s Wembley.
When the new stadium was built I vowed that I would not go there until I could watch my beloved O’s grace the hallowed turf.
I’ve waited patiently for 12 years – we came oh so close last year in the JPT – but at long last we’ve finally made it and I’ll be there along with 20,000 other fans cheering on (with no disrespect to Dagenham and Redbridge) East London’s number one football team. It’s Block 143 for me, I’m just behind the technical area.
Indeed so close am I to the managers that I’ll be able to tell our man in charge that we all love him, and that despite the fact that he’s rather lacking up top it doesn’t bother us at all, Russell, Russell.
And how are we going to do? Well it has to be said that our record in these one off mega-matches has not been good over the years. Think Villa in ‘74, Arsenal ‘78 and the two play-off finals in ‘99 and ‘01.
Yet somehow you get the feeling that it’s going to be different this time round. We now have Russ in charge so you know at least that the Leyton Orient trait of freezing at the big games will not happen on this occasion.
Whatever happens I’m determined to have a memorable day. Watching my boys at the home of football will make all those trips to those not very welcoming places like Rochdale, Hartlepool, Bury and Upton Park over the years, all worthwhile.
We may be only ‘little Leyton Orient’ but we’ve been defying the experts all season, so who’s to say we can’t do it just one last time and end the day a Championship club?
Now that really would be something else.
Up the O’s.