Leyton Orient centre-back Josh Coulson is excited ahead of an emotional Carabao Cup clash with Tottenham and believes the club have benefited from a clean slate this season.
Tuesday’s tie is poignant with the late Justin Edinburgh remembered fondly at the two London sides.
As a player, Edinburgh won the FA Cup and League Cup at Spurs before he turned his hand to management and guided Orient to the Vanarama National League title in April of last year.
He died two months later aged 49 of a cardiac arrest and while a devastating blow for his family, it also left O’s shell-shocked ahead of their return to Sky Bet League Two.
“Last season, with what happened to us, there was a lot going on mentally for different people,” Coulson told the PA news agency.
“As a group, it was hard and we didn’t really know how to cope. Throughout the season, the longer it went we started to hit some really good form and I think we just learnt how to cope with what happened.
“Not forget about it because we will never forget what happened but we learnt how to deal with it a lot better.”
Every O’s player and staff member went through their different challenges emotionally and Coulson recalled a moment in pre-season last year when he broke down.
At half-time of a friendly at Hornchurch, five-and-a-half weeks after Edinburgh’s shock death, the defender could not control his feelings any longer when he spoke to then-assistant Danny Webb.
Coulson added: “I didn’t feel right before the game, I don’t know why, and I just had a bit of a breakdown at half-time.
Dad 💙❤️ Justin Edinburgh – @SpursOfficial and @leytonorientfc cant wait to see these two special clubs go head to head on Tuesday night in @Carabao_Cup if you want to support @JE3Foundation please donate what you can, Thank you. pic.twitter.com/mOkDdtoc3B
— Charlie Edinburgh (@Charliedinburgh) September 20, 2020
“I think that was just never being in that situation before, not knowing how to deal with it and I opened up a bit to Webby and had a breakdown at half-time.
“The feeling now is a lot different. Pre-season this year was really good and obviously the crazy times we have had with coronavirus, it puts things into perspective as well but also just knowing how to deal with the loss of Justin.
“It still affects me every now and then because of what we achieved and how he was with everyone. He will never be forgotten but it is a clean slate and it has been really enjoyable. I don’t think last season was enjoyable for me personally.”
Orient were one of the first back in training this summer and have relished the return of football with four wins out of five games in all competitions.
The O’s have been the comeback kids in the Carabao Cup too, overturning a deficit to win at Forest Green and then fighting back from two down to beat Plymouth last week and set up a mouthwatering clash with Tottenham.
After the 3-2 victory, one of the first people Coulson messaged was Justin’s son Charlie and founder of the Justin Edinburgh 3 Foundation.
“I am a big Spurs fan and I didn’t want to say anything until we had played Plymouth,” he revealed.
“But straight after the game on Tuesday, I messaged Charlie knowing his Dad’s connection with Tottenham and he is a big Tottenham fan as well.
“He said ‘Dad was looking down and helped you out’ and it is the dream draw for us, for me and for Charlie. It makes it even more special with the gaffer’s connection to Tottenham and we hopefully have a good side coming to us.”
Orient faced Spurs’ Under-23s during pre-season and claimed a 6-2 victory, but it is expected Jose Mourinho will bring a strong squad to east London.
For Coulson, it will represent the stuff of dreams to potentially go toe-to-toe with Harry Kane, who has sponsored O’s three shirts for this campaign.
The 31-year-old insisted: “If they brought their Under-23s, we know what they are like so we would fancy ourselves!
“If we do come up against the first team and players of that calibre, Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world, if not the best.
“All those players have played for their country and at the very top of the game, that is what you want as a footballer and dream of – to play against that level.”
It is a special tie for Coulson and the whole Edinburgh family, but also for current Orient boss Ross Embleton who has endured a whirlwind 15 months.
🗣” It’s a personal one for me. It’s great to go back there.”
— Leyton Orient (@leytonorientfc) September 20, 2020
He was Edinburgh’s assistant and answered the call from the club to step up as caretaker in June 2019.
For Embleton, an Orient fan, the chance to manage his team may be viewed from the outside as a lifelong goal, but given the circumstances it was not the case.
He relinquished the job in October but after Carl Fletcher was sacked a month later, the former Tottenham academy coach was back and agreed to take over permanently in January with his record since eight wins, five draws and three defeats.
“There is definitely a different aura about him, especially coming into this pre-season,” Coulson said of Embleton.
“What he did for the club, to step up and for him to take that job, I think it would always have been the impossible job after what happened to Justin and what we achieved, so I can’t respect the man anymore than I do.
“I don’t think there will be many managers out there who have had as crazy a start to their managerial career as Ross. When he can write his own book, it will be some book.”