"It has probably had a bigger impact on me than I could have ever imagined" - Matt Harrold

access_time 12 months ago

It was a summer of incredible highs and incredible lows for Leyton Orient, having achieved promotion to the Football League in April alongside a trip to Wembley in the FA Trophy final, before tragically losing Head Coach, Justin Edinburgh, to a cardiac arrest on June 8.

O’s forward Matt Harrold had signed for the Club on August 31, 2017, and had a dream start to life at the Breyer Group Stadium, scoring less than two minutes into his debut – the quickest debut goal scored by an O’s player. However, the Leyton-born striker failed to make a significant impact in his first season as he netted just three goals.

The appointment of Justin Edinburgh breathed new life into the forward and he established himself as a key impact player throughout last season, scoring eight goals in all competitions – several of which were point-gaining last gasp goals. Harrold credits his form to the man-management ability of Edinburgh who was capable of building confidence through tough moments.

“It was an incredible season. I started off injured, I had a ruptured hamstring which was tough as I didn’t particularly play loads at the start of the season but Justin’s strength was getting a real good group together. He didn’t do loads of coaching, he let his coaches do that but he was a leader, he was a man. You knew the line. He knew characters, he could weed out people who weren’t good for the group, he was so headstrong with it and we had a really good group, and some really good players.

“What I now realise is when you’re the favourites to win the league, there’s an extra pressure. It raises the other teams games and at times at home you’d be playing against 11 men behind the ball and it would be tough. We had a good group and we had some really good players who could deal with it: experience, quality, physicality, youth, old, we had a bit of everything and Justin kept it ticking along.

“He’d do things that were great. We played Wrexham and I’d been in and out, I’d been left off the bench and I’d been to see him and he was really honest with me. He was so honest, which I appreciated. He could have blown a bunch of smoke up my a*se and give me a lot of rubbish, but he was honest. Before the Wrexham game, there were three more experienced players; George Elokobi, Alex Lawless and me, who had trained and really kept going even though we weren’t playing much and he had a meeting just about how us three players were driving the rest of the group on to win games because we weren’t even in the team and we were training so hard and well that it made the standards high and that was why we were top of the league. Little things like that were just massive.

“Towards the end of the season, I came into my own and had a big impact and felt a really good connection with the manager. Sometimes in life you just get on with people and I felt that if he was in the dressing room, I’d have got along with him. He had a really good family, a really nice family. My missus went out with his missus [Kerri] in a group with the others so there was just a real great feel to the group and I’ll never forget some of the games. I don’t really believe in God but some of the things that were happening, it was so crazy. It’s like he’d be going out on a high, as a champion, looking back now.

“We were 1-0 down to Sutton United, away, hot day. The goalkeeper has flicked the ball up, Macauley Bonne has nipped in and we got a penalty from that. It was almost like ‘something is happening here!’. Everything was going our way. When you look back, he’s gone out with him being remembered and so loved and probably with a legacy at the Club for a long time to come.”

Tragedy struck on June 8 when Justin Edinburgh passed away, five days after suffering a cardiac arrest at a gym. Harrold cites the unity of his teammates as a major reason why he was able to process the loss.

“We’ve obviously got a group chat, I was driving going to get a coffee in Leigh-on-Sea and got a message through starting with ‘I don’t know how to say this, the manager has had a heart attack. We don’t know any other details at the moment but I will let you know’ so I’ve rung Brillo [Dean Brill] straight away, thinking ‘is this really happening?!’.

“Then I start thinking he’s 49, he’s healthy and a lot of people have had a heart attack and had been fine so I backed him to be so I went on holiday with my family and my best mate, Simon Francis who plays for Bournemouth. I was hearing some quite bad rumours that this was serious and then we were at dinner on the Saturday, at one of the best restaurants in the area and I saw a message from the group chat.

“The time was 7:44pm, and they were asking us to ring a conference call and I had one minute to call this number. I checked my other messages and Brillo had messaged me with ‘It can’t be, can it?’ but I knew. I knew even before the call. Lingy announced it and I just didn’t know what to do really. I was in shock, I didn’t really break down at the time.

“Over the next week I was really glad I was with other people and away but anytime I was on my own, I broke down. I’d go for a walk on the beach or a run and I’d find myself breaking down. I’d look through the internet and see pictures of him. I’d never been through that grieving process before. It gradually got easier, but the funeral was really really hard. His boy Charlie spoke so well, and there was a big memorial for all the football people. I still think about him now.

“It has probably had a bigger impact on me than I could have ever imagined. His family have been so strong, which gives you strength. The team got into the ground as a collective in the days afterwards and we got a chance to see all the memorials left to him from the fans, and we could talk about him and all our fond memories. We’ve got a genuine bond together as a group that I don’t think we’ll ever lose.”

Justin would have turned 50 on December 18. His birthday will commemorated this Saturday evening with the JE3 Foundation Gala Dinner as hundreds of people turn out to raise money for the Foundation and celebrate the life of a truly excellent man.

These quotes are an excerpt from a podcast interview with Matt Harrold on the Just Checking In Podcast with Vent. You can check out the full episode  here.

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