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Leyton Orient fan's view: Enjoy every moment of Wembley final against Rotherham United
Amongst the various pieces of Wembley merchandise and general tat you can buy to celebrate the O's getting to the play-off final (all of which I have bought, even a foam finger), there isn’t a T-shirt with the words "Eat, Drink, Sleep Football" on it.
There should be though, because from the moment the final ball is kicked in the semi-final the fans of the victorious team enter a utopian state that doesn’t subside until a few hours after the final. It might go on longer for the team that wins promotion but unfortunately I’ve not experienced that in a one-off final, so I don’t know.
It starts with the euphoria of that semi-final win. The Os have done it on penalties, with a Matt Lockwood wonder goal and now with a performance from the team and the fans that saw them both excel themselves and propel the club to a Wembley final.
The celebrations continued into the early hours of the morning. The pubs may have been shut but social media throbbed with Orient fans messaging each other the same thing - "I’m too excited to sleep".
The next morning people start to get their heads together and the scramble for tickets begins. Scramble is probably an exaggeration because there should be plenty for Orient fans old and new. The old ones still don’t entirely relax until they’ve actually got their tickets in their hands. I went up to the club to buy mine, not trusting the postman to deliver on time.
Tickets bought, the only thing to do is buy a Wembley T-shirt. And a scarf. And a polo shirt. And special commemorative team shirt. And then? There is nothing to do but wait. This isn’t like a cup competition, where the final is at least a month away and you forget about it until you’ve played your last league game before the final. The play-off final is just over a week after the semi-final.
There are no other games in between. There may be an FA Cup Final and England may announce their World Cup squad but who on earth is thinking about the World Cup when there are still promotions to be won in a single showpiece game?
So you just…wait. Friends and colleagues will talk to you but and you’ll pretend you’re listening but really you’ll be thinking about the occasion. And it will be the occasion that people will be thinking about. No one is thinking tactics and formations. I have almost no memories of the last game Orient played at Wembley.
It was in truth a forgettable game that would have stunk up Hackney Marshes, let alone Wembley. I remember the teams lining up in their red and white checked shirts and have had a photograph of that moment on my wall for the last 15 years. But the real memories I have of how the occasion was much bigger than the game itself. Everyone at work (even people who didn’t like football) talking to me about the final and even having friends at the game.
Getting frequently beeped in the street by taxi drivers as I walked along wearing my O's shirt. Getting to Wembley too late to buy one of the special Orient T-shirts from the venue’s merchandise stands. I look at them in others Facebook photos now and am thankful because they look like Theo the Wyvern sneezed into a T-shirt and they quickly made a thousand copies.
Then after the game, I can recall bumping into long standing fans whose families (who also didn’t like football particularly) had come to the game with because it was a special occasion, akin to a family wedding. They simply HAD to be there to share the moment.
Bumping into Barry Fry and asking him how he thought Simon Clark had played after a dressing room spat between the two had been shown in a recent fly-on-the-wall documentary. Sitting in the car lane in the drive thru McDonalds as it was the only way to get served and ending up eating a very soggy burger as the heavens opened with the mother of all thunderstorms.
Finally getting home, removing my cheap red and white stovepipe hat to find it had left a lovely black ring around my forehead. And that was it. The flags and hats went into the loft (you didn’t think I threw them away did you?) They are practically heirlooms, mementoes of a once in a generation event). Orient were still in Division Three. At least for a while those dour fixtures in a terrible division were slightly offset by the warm memories of a day at Wembley.
My advice to all Orient fans is to enjoy every minute of this experience. Not because I think we’ll lose again, I think the final will be tightly contested and have every reason to believe the Orient players have the mental fortitude to see it through.
But these days come around so rarely, when our team is the centre of attention and everyone is jealous of us. If you enjoy all of these small moments you’ll ensure you’ll look back at them as great days, regardless of the result. And just imagine if all of those silly random memories you cherish are all part of the story of the day the Orient were promoted to the Championship!
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