It has been a whirlwind week at Orient. Last week we booked our place at Wembley for tomorrow’s League One play-off final against Rotherham United by beating Peterborough on a night no one present will forget. The celebrations, however, were brief. The management and players knew their job was only half done, the staff knew we had one of our busiest ever weeks ahead. This is how it went.
The lads come back to the training ground after a three-day break but all the action is at the stadium. Wembley tickets go on general sale and there’s a four-hour queue of supporters desperate for them. It’s all hands on deck as myself and Tom, our commercial manager, head down the queue with clipboards answering questions.
There is also a queue at the club shop, which is stocked with an array of Tee-shirts, foam hands, flags and other paraphernalia. One of the biggest customers is a familiar face. Standing in line with supporters is our star winger Dean Cox, who scored the key opening goal in the play-off second leg.
“I need to kit my family out with Wembley gear,” says Coxy when asked what he is up to as he fills a basket. He is there a good few hours as he stays to talk with supporters and pose for photo after photo, even teaching some older supporters how to take a selfie.
After the first day of general sale 20,000 tickets have been sold. Wembley fever has taken hold in E10.
The lads train at the stadium in the morning before walking through Leyton for a free lunch courtesy of local restaurant Gyms Kitchen. After a quick bite to eat, it’s all aboard the team bus for a trip to Wembley. The lads have a tour of the changing rooms before being allowed to walk on the pitch.
The enormousness of the stadium hits you when you walk out to the centre circle. My main job is to take photo after photo on various phones and cameras for the lads and staff as the manager, Russell Slade, wants full focus on match day without the lads walking around like tourists. It’s all new for some of the players, while Kevin Lisbie jokes he hasn’t been since going to the old Wembley with Charlton in 1998!
There is a bit of delay getting back on the coach to go home as Jeff, the bus driver, has got lost somewhere along the tour.
Training as normal for the players before the press day in the afternoon. Coincidentally, the manager is linked with the vacant West Bromwich job, which sparks a bit of late interest – though he’s quick to say his full focus is on Orient and Sunday. The press normally come to the training ground but, with more than 30 turning up we are glad we moved it to the stadium, where we put a buffet on.
It’s a tiring afternoon, especially for Russell, who does countless interviews. He also treats Sky to a rare glimpse inside the Bunker, which captures the imagination of supporters – Russ has received a CD of Churchill speeches from one fan with instructions to play it in the Bunker!
Thursday is a day off for the players, but not the staff. As well as my media work and applications for Wembley accreditation to finish off, the gaffer calls me into his office for our last poster meeting of the season.
As you may have read, a lot of effort has gone into the motivational posters for the changing room. We go through all the ones we’ve produced this season as the manager decides which he wants to take to Wembley, and where they will be positioned.
The penultimate day of training for the players. They will have another session today then travel to a hotel to stay overnight. That is obviously a departure from usual procedure when playing in London but the gaffer has tried to keep preparation as normal as possible, though obviously it has been an extraordinary week and will be an extraordinary day. As the gaffer said after the game against Posh: “We are like a football club reborn.”
It looks as if we will have around 25,000 Orient fans inside Wembley. It’ll be tracksuits as normal for the players and while the manager will lead the team out in a suit he will be back in his trademark tracksuit and baseball cap for the match.
All our plans are in place now and for the staff there’s not much more we can do but enjoy the occasion – or at least try to. The bookies make us underdogs, but that’s nothing new.