There are times when there are no words that can express how you feel; no sentences that can be constructed to explain or make sense of a tragic loss of life; no paragraphs strung together that can offer comfort or condolence at the cruel early death of a popular man.
But as a Leyton Orient fan, I owe it to Justin Edinburgh to try. When someone is taken too young, so suddenly and shockingly, it is important to ensure a tribute is paid. I did not know him, I never even spoke to him, but he will always have a special place in my heart and thousands like me.
It is imperative his achievements are recognised and his family and friends can read something that shows them, even in their grief, how important he was to so many lives; how special he was to thousands of people they – and he - never met; how highly he was thought of by so many.
They must know that he leaves behind so many wonderful memories and a legacy that will never be forgotten. It is too raw for anyone to appreciate that now, the pain will be too much, at best there will be numbness.
The football world is still coming to terms with the news as I write this, so it is hard to imagine what his family are going through. Life is horrible, cruel and brutal. Death stalks us all and nobody knows when the time will come for them to feel its cold embrace. Life is fragile; every life is vulnerable, it must, it simply must, be cherished and enjoyed.
Justin Edinburgh was just 49-years-old. Apparently fit and healthy, he had just savoured one of the greatest moments, leading Orient back into the Football League in his first full season as manager, when he died of a heart attack.
He was, in so many ways, at his peak. A strong man, a leader of men. And he has gone, taken in the afterglow of promotion, his last game as manager, leading his side out at Wembley in the FA Trophy Final.
Devistatated to hear the very sad and tragic news regarding Justin. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this extremely difficult time. pic.twitter.com/qwdTh5ej47— Glenn Hoddle (@GlennHoddle) June 8, 2019
Orient lost to AFC Fylde. Nobody really cared. Promotion was all the mattered and Justin Edinburgh had delivered it. But he delivered so much more for Leyton Orient, he achieved something far greater than that.
When a football manager who helped stabilise, consolidate and then relaunch a football club, closing a horrendous chapter in the club’s history, it is about more than winning games of football, wins, defeats and draws.
He was not alone in restoring Orient to something like its former glory. He had help, allies and fellow dreamers, but he was the manager, the figurehead. No matter how well a football club does off the pitch, regardless of the best intentions of the owners and board members, it is the manager who leads the team and the team are the thing supporters care about most.
They might have called him the head coach, but Justin was more than that. He helped bring everything together. When he arrived, Orient were still suffering from the shambolic mismanagement of the former regime, they were in danger of suffering a third relegation in four years. A club that could still not believe it had dropped out of the Football League, with a team that was used to losing.
He changed that, he dragged the players with him, he was the glue that stuck everything back together, that united a football club with its supporters.
And he brought joy and happiness, he restored hopes and allowed fans to dream again. He won plenty of games, but perhaps even more hearts and minds.
Justin Edinburgh ….deeply shocked, deeply saddened… RIP my friend, I shall miss you ��— David Ginola (@teamginola) June 8, 2019
One death too many from cardiovascular disease, a silent global epidemic…
He delivered promotion, he sparked those delirious celebrations, the pitch invasion, the hedonism and the delirium. Yet, through the season, he was the man who kept everyone calm, he steered the team through the setbacks and the losses. A source of strength and comfort to both players and supporters.
We will never be able to thank him for that again, to shake his hand or pat his back, but his family must know he has achieved immortality at Leyton Orient. He will not be forgotten, his name will forever live on, his achievements carved into stone, his legacy a rich and magnificent one.
His family’s sense of loss will be acute, it will hurt and will continue to do so, the grief and sadness will consume them, but eventually, they should be proud. They have to be of the man they loved and knew so well. It was too short, but he lived his best life and that is all anyone can really hope for.
Their loss is Orient’s loss too, but it is also Tottenham Hotspur’s, Southend United’s, Portsmouth’s, Billericay Town’s, Fisher Athletic’s, Grays Athletic’s, Newport County’s, Gillingham’s and Northampton Town’s.
He was not always successful, he tasted failure at some of those clubs and was bruised by it, but he also had some wonderful times, as a player and a manager. And he kept coming back for more, he took and deflected life’s punches and kept marching forward and, in his final days, he did something truly remarkable in a little corner of East London.
I did not know him, but I wish I had done. I never had the chance to thank him, so I can only thank his family on every Orient fans’ behalf.
Rest in Peace Justin Edinburgh. Gone but, truly, unquestionably, never forgotten.