Prayer groups, fan timetables and another promotion: Inside Leyton Orient’s rise up the leagues
“I’ve learned that celebrating is hard work”, admits Nigel Travis, Leyton Orient chairman and a lifelong fan of the club.
The Os are back in League One after an eight-year absence, having led the way all season in League Two and won the title by six points.
The squad had a pizza and drinks party after their final home game last month, held a fan event, a player awards night and enjoyed nights out in London. They then jetted off to Marbella on Monday to continue the celebrations.
Just as with 73-year-old Travis, it is catching up with manager Richie Wellens, too. “We’ve had constant celebrating for weeks,” he tells Standard Sport.
Following the disastrous ownership of Francesco Becchetti at Orient that culminated in relegation out of the Football League in 2017, Travis and Texan businessman Kent Teague set a six-year target to return to League One when they bought the club. Six years later, that goal has become a reality.
Open and accountable in the way Becchetti was not, Teague tweets out his timetabled whereabouts so fans can meet and quiz him whenever he is at Brisbane Road for a game.
It was when the players and staff shared a night out during the pre-season tour of Portugal that captain Darren Pratley felt “something special was going to happen this season”.
Sure enough, despite Wellens secretly targeting a seventh-place finish, Orient won nine of their opening 10 fixtures, which gave them a launchpad for their outstanding campaign.
Throughout the season, players, staff and the board have come together on Zoom meetings every three weeks to discuss club matters, with a leadership group in the squad of Pratley, Omar Beckles, Adam Thompson and goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux being vocal.
While communication is a key tenet throughout the club, so is belief. Midfielder George Moncur is a devout Christian and leads a weekly prayer group for players.
“It started off as three players praying on a Friday — it’s ended up as 16”, says Pratley. “We all believe it’s helped us get over the line.”
Wellens went one further and recruited the Stratford East Singers gospel choir to sing the team out to the tune of Old Church Basement in their final home game. “It had a few of us in tears”, says Pratley.
Tactically, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.
Wellens has transformed Orient since taking over as head coach in March 2022, with Orient in 20th position.
“Richie Wellens, who we hope will stay for a long time, is perfect for us,” says Travis. “He looks several games ahead, and his communication skills are spectacular.”
Pratley says: “Tactically, he’s the best I’ve ever seen. Before he joined, the feeling at the club was toxic, but he’s changed everything. He will go on and manage at the top level.”
Wellens says selflessness has been the key driver of the club’s reawakening. “What we don’t have at Leyton Orient is people that look out for themselves,” he says.
Orient will have one of the smaller budgets in League One, but they want to be competitive. One obstacle before next season is that Vigouroux, Beckles and Paul Smyth are among a group of senior players out of contract this summer.
“Teams will be looking at our players, and maybe financially we won’t be able to compete with them,” says Pratley, who is currently negotiating a new contract himself. “However, if you lose four of the starting XI that got you promoted, you’re playing catch-up. I believe the majority will stay.”
Travis admits: “We need to bring in four or five more players. We will strengthen, but you have to build steadily. Throwing money at it just doesn’t work.
“I don’t think that is being unambitious, it’s being pragmatic. The Championship is the longer-term aim.”