Leyton Orient won’t let tragedy define them: Justin Edinburgh legacy will be built upon

In the manager’s office, where two desks once sat side by side, both are now pushed against a wall.

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In the dining room, cashew nuts sit alongside fruit and Nando’s Perinaise sauce. On the walls, one-word slogans (Winners, Togetherness, Determination) stand as a reminder of the fabric of this club.

Around Leyton Orient’s Chigwell training ground, there are few obvious signs of Justin Edinburgh’s reign.

Still mourning Justin Edinburgh's passing, Leyton Orient are determined to continue building

Still mourning Justin Edinburgh’s passing, Leyton Orient are determined to continue building

Ross Embleton has taken over on an interim basis as the club prepare for the coming campaign

Ross Embleton has taken over on an interim basis as the club prepare for the coming campaign

Ross Embleton has taken over on an interim basis as the club prepare for the coming campaign

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But scratch beneath the surface and the former manager has left an indelible mark on every corner of these grounds.

Seven weeks have passed since Edinburgh died aged 49, leaving his family bereft and robbing Orient of the manager who led them back to the Football League.

In the weeks since, the spotlight has burned brightly on a club that has known little but turbulence in recent years.

But soon attentions will have to turn elsewhere. On Saturday, the club begins life in League Two against Cheltenham.

Amid the misery, three young coaches have stepped into the void. Now Ross Embleton, Danny Webb, Jobi McAnuff and their battle-hardened squad are determined not to let a tragedy define them.

Regrouping for pre-season after the break was particularly difficult for the Orient players

Regrouping for pre-season after the break was particularly difficult for the Orient players

Regrouping for pre-season after the break was particularly difficult for the Orient players

Jobi McAnuff is one of the young coaches stepping up to help in Orient's time of need
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Jobi McAnuff is one of the young coaches stepping up to help in Orient's time of need

Jobi McAnuff is one of the young coaches stepping up to help in Orient’s time of need

While players train under the scorching sun, Martin Ling traipses around the pitch. He is exercising as much as observing. Orient’s director of football knows he must prevent them slipping back to the National League. But he has a more immediate target: 15,000 steps a day.

‘We feel like we’ve managed it the best we possibly can,’ he says of Edinburgh’s death. ‘But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. From the start we’ve also said it’s OK not to be OK.’

A former Orient player and manager, Ling watched Francesco Becchetti bring the club to its knees and helped it rise again. Following this latest setback, he has acted as a ‘soundboard’ for the new-look coaching staff.

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Inside, chef Adam Dudley is preparing a chicken korma. With temperatures reaching 30C, it hardly feels like a day for curry.

Martin Ling, Orient's director of football has been a soundboard for the new coaching staff

Martin Ling, Orient's director of football has been a soundboard for the new coaching staff

Martin Ling, Orient’s director of football has been a soundboard for the new coaching staff

Staff and players alike have stuck together during the difficult times recently

Staff and players alike have stuck together during the difficult times recently

Staff and players alike have stuck together during the difficult times recently

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‘They tend to let me have free rein,’ he says. ‘(Justin) made a request once for his birthday — he wanted paella — but he never outright requested anything.’ Except the cashews.

As the squad settle down for lunch, the mood is buoyant. They have come a long way already.

‘The first couple of days, I’ll be honest, were tough. There was a really weird sense: do we have a laugh? The normal things you would do on the first day back,’ player-coach McAnuff remembers. ‘But then Lingy said, “It’s all right to have a laugh and enjoy being around each other. You can take strength from that”.’

For Josh Wright, pre-season proved particularly difficult. He worked with Edinburgh at Gillingham and was the last player he signed for Orient.

‘It was all a blur,’ he says. ‘It was quite hard to accept. Not to have Justin around was very strange and always will be. Every day I keep thinking I’m going to hear his voice.’

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The squad have been helped by Edinburgh’s family.

‘I got a message from (his son) Charlie on the eve of us coming back in,’ says McAnuff. ‘It said, “When you speak to the lads, tell them we all want you to crack on. Dad wouldn’t have wanted you to have a hangover period”.’

Ross Embleton is recounting the first time he met Justin Edinburgh.

At 37, the interim manager has been coaching for 21 years. His links with this club stretch back further — aged six, he attended the first ‘Leyton Orient in the Community’ camp.

‘Justin and I went nose to nose,’ Embleton remembers. ‘Swindon v Gillingham on Boxing Day (2015), he was managing Gillingham and I was at Swindon. It was in the skirmish to get the ball back on the pitch.’ 

Two years later, he feared the fracas would cost him.

Embleton has been coaching for 21 years and an Orient supporter since he was six

Embleton has been coaching for 21 years and an Orient supporter since he was six

Embleton has been coaching for 21 years and an Orient supporter since he was six 

Embleton admitted he is not sure what a successful season looks like for Orient's players

Embleton admitted he is not sure what a successful season looks like for Orient's players

Embleton admitted he is not sure what a successful season looks like for Orient’s players

Embleton, aged six, wearing the Orient shirt
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Embleton, aged six, wearing the Orient shirt

Embleton, aged six, wearing the Orient shirt

Before Edinburgh took over, his agent rang Embleton, asking if he would put in a good word. ‘You’re joking! That’ll be me gone,’ he told him.

‘I was a bit nervous and edgy about whether he’d want to keep me around. But he quickly put that to bed.’

Embleton never wanted to be a manager and, in truth, it still doesn’t ‘overly float’ his boat.

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But since taking over he has refined Orient’s playing style and redesigned the office he and Edinburgh once shared.

‘We’re trying to make the place as relaxed as we can,’ Embleton says. ‘Then, at the same time, the biggest thing that we all picked up and learnt from Justin was the day-to-day drive. When it’s time to work, you work.’

Already he has had to be more than a manager.

‘We have individual player meetings daily — not with every player — whether that be from a tactical or analysis perspective or just to reassure them that we are there if they need us,’ he says.

‘I know the players who have had their moments or down days, but because we’ve all gone through the same thing, no one has felt uncomfortable.’

Orient begin life in League Two on Saturday when they play against Cheltenham
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Orient begin life in League Two on Saturday when they play against Cheltenham

Orient begin life in League Two on Saturday when they play against Cheltenham 

They have had support from the LMA and PFA, while Embleton plans to pick the brains of other managers such as Aston Villa boss Dean Smith. ‘The first week was like a whirlwind — I felt like the Tasmanian devil coming to work every day,’ he reflects. 

‘Then we came back (from a trip to Spain) and it’s been thrown up in the air again because we’ve had games coming out of our ears, a memorial service.’

Embleton isn’t looking for excuses. Rather he’s just trying to find his feet. Thankfully the relentless rhythm of league football is getting closer.

‘We’d like to say it’s going to be a successful season. What success looks like at the moment, I wouldn’t like to define,’ he says. ‘It’s really important we keep the momentum we had last year.’

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At the end of training, Adrian Martin pulls into the car park. The kitman has worked at Orient for 26 years. His wife is the club secretary and since 2014 he has worked with 13 managers.

Despite going through the grieving process, Orient have been putting the work in constantly

Despite going through the grieving process, Orient have been putting the work in constantly

Despite going through the grieving process, Orient have been putting the work in constantly

‘You see two sides of a person at football,’ he says. ‘Justin was one of the only managers who took an interest in the kit. This season we had to change the tracksuit bottoms because he said, “They’re absolutely terrible, I’m not wearing them!”’

So, at Brisbane Road on Saturday, Edinburgh’s legacy will be both in plain sight and hidden. It lives on through his family, the staff and players. But over 46 games in League Two, Orient know that won’t be enough.

‘Justin will be someone we’ll never forget,’ Wright says. ‘But if you sit still in life, especially in football, you get found out. To let that go, sit still and fall behind would be a disaster.’

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