Justin Edinburgh tribute

Justin Edinburgh
Justin Edinburgh

It was 20 minutes prior to kick-off of the Cobblers’ game against Sheffield United at Sixfields back in April, 2017, and while scrolling through the calls on my phone, I accidentally rang Justin Edinburgh.

Not ideal.

Justin Edinburgh talks to the press on the day of his appointment as Cobblers boss in January, 2017

Justin Edinburgh talks to the press on the day of his appointment as Cobblers boss in January, 2017

Ringing the manager of a football team just a few minutes before a crucial match as they battled to avoid relegation.

I immediately sent a quick text, apologising and explaining how my fat fingers had led to me calling him by mistake, thinking that Justin would see it later, and hoping I hadn’t annoyed him.

I certainly wasn’t expecting a reply, but seconds later there was a ping, and he answered me back with a thumbs up emoji, saying it was no problem.

On the face of it, a short and seemingly insignificant interchange, but for me it sums up what sort of a man Justin Edinburgh was.

There he was, readying his team for a big game, and he still found the time to contact me and put me at ease for my slip of the fingers.

The news that came through on Saturday evening, that Justin had passed away at the age of just 49, was as shocking as it was hard to believe.

As followers of football, we are all guilty of taking things too seriously, getting too uptight or angry about happenings and events that, in the greater scheme of things, mean absolutely nothing.

And Justin’s death has put everything into perspective.

Justin Edinburgh celebrates with Jobi McAnuff after Leyton Orient clinched the National League title in April

Justin Edinburgh celebrates with Jobi McAnuff after Leyton Orient clinched the National League title in April

There was an outpouring of grief on social media, with clubs, players and football fans from all over wanting to pay their respects to the former Tottenham Hotspur defender.

They were all heartfelt, and it was clear that Justin had left a positive impression on anybody who had worked with him, came into contact with him, or even just met him briefly over the years.

He certainly left a positive impression on me.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Justin on a weekly basis during his eight-month stay as Cobblers manager, and he was great to deal with.

He was always polite, always open, always accessible, always upbeat and nearly always cheerful, regardless of the situation his team may have found itself in at any given time.

I have dealt with a lot of managers over the 30-plus years I have been a journalist, and some have been easier to deal with than others.

Sometimes the thought of a pre-match chat with the boss can be a chore, perhaps even a daunting experience, but that was never the case with Justin.

Sure, things didn’t really work out for him at Sixfields, but there is no doubt he gave it his best shot, and it certainly wasn’t for the lack of trying that he didn’t get the success he craved.

It was perhaps just a case of the wrong club at the wrong time for him, and Justin certainly went on to prove he knew exactly what he was doing, as he transformed the fortunes of Leyton Orient, just as he had done at Newport County a few years earlier.

He took over an Os side that looked to be heading for relegation, and in the space of 18 months turned them into title winners.

He will have been busy in recent weeks preparing the Orient squad for their return to the EFL, but tragically that is now something somebody else is going to have to do.

When the Os clinched the title at the end of April, I messaged Justin to congratulate him on his success and said that it would be great to see him back at the PTS Academy Stadium.

Justin quickly replied: “Thanks Jeremy, much appreciated. See you next season.”

Sadly, and scarcely believably, that will now not be the case.

RIP, Justin.